A Guide to the Columbia Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the Columbia Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Located in the heart of New York City, Columbia University has long been one of the most competitive schools in the world. Consistently ranked among the top five colleges in the U.S., Columbia attracts a wide range of students from all over the world. Although it is no easy task, it’s time to think about ways to distinguish yourself among a strong pool of applicants. If your interest in Columbia stems from genuine enthusiasm towards the unique opportunities offered by the school, then the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 can help you bolster your candidacy. 

The Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 are designed to help the admissions committee understand your intellectual pursuits, interests outside the classroom, and the real motivations behind your interest in Columbia beyond its esteemed ranking. Help the admissions officers understand why you’d be an ideal Columbia student by carefully considering and answering the prompts below. To guide you through a smooth-sailing writing process, I’ve outlined each prompt, provided some tips and tricks for answering them, and included some further advice to help you write your Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022

Prompts for the Columbia Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Prompt 1

For the four list questions that follow, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. 

  • List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school.
  • List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school.
  • List the titles of the print or digital publications, websites, journals, podcasts or other content with which you regularly engage.
  • List the movies, albums, shows, museums, lectures, events at your school or other entertainments that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school (in person or online).

The instructions make it very clear that there’s no minimum number of titles you must include. That being said, don’t just insert one answer for each topic. For the first prompt in this question, don’t just mention the classics just for the sake of letting admissions officers know you’ve read them. They are aware of the usual high school reading lists, so they have a good idea of the kinds of books most applicants have read. Think honestly about what you actually enjoyed. It doesn’t have to be a novel - or even limited to your literature courses. It could be a chapter in your chemistry textbook, an essay on a historical event, or a particular poem that you’ve been unable to get out of your head. 

From your answers to the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022, the university also wants to know what kind of topics and genres you enjoy outside academics. All of these could follow a particular theme - your answer to the latter three bullets could be a great way to show that you’ve pursued your academic interests through more than just schoolwork. Or, you could highlight a passion outside your intended major, such as sports or cooking, by mentioning relevant books or magazines.

Don’t list big-name publications such as The New York Times just because you think it sounds impressive. It will probably be one of the more common answers anyway. Go through your subscriptions, browser history, and think about which publications you’re always drawn to when at a newsstand or library.

Check out all supplemental essay prompts here!

Prompt 2

Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group or another community that surrounds you. (200 words or fewer)

Because so many academically qualified students apply to Columbia, admissions officers want to pinpoint the candidates who will meaningfully contribute to their community. Through this supplemental prompt, Columbia is interested in knowing exactly what you’ll bring from your current life as a high schooler to the Morningside Heights campus in Manhattan. If we break this prompt down further, you’ll notice that the word “community” is broad here — the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 has given you flexibility by listing some possible examples of the type of community you might write about — as well as saying “another community” if it’s more applicable.

As you brainstorm, start thinking about all of the communities you interact with on a daily basis—school, student group, sports team, neighborhood organization, family, etc. From there, think about what—from any of these communities—you’ve had the most impact on and why. The list could go on, but may include things like helping your parents with your siblings, or stepping up as a leader to initiate a new community center in your neighborhood. From there, you want to think about how your skills can benefit others, specifically at Columbia University.  When approaching this essay, try to be as specific as possible. 200 words is a short essay, so make sure you get straight to the point and explain the unique contributions you would bring from your current life to Columbia. 

Prompt 3

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (200 words or fewer)

Now we come to the “why this school” portion of the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022. Remember that this essay isn’t about what makes Columbia a good school - admissions officers already know that it is! What do you find the most appealing about the university? How do these great features relate to your learning and your future plans? The points you should try to get across are why the college’s resources are a good fit for you, how you will benefit from all that it offers, and the aspects of campus life where you believe you can contribute the most. 

The best strategy in answering this question is conducting research specific to your interests and goals, as Columbia wants to see an emphasis on what you “value.” Since you have a good number of words, you can mention both academic and extracurricular offerings that call out to you. At the same time don’t go all over the place - stay within describing two to three of the most appealing factors, and then elaborate on them. What classes and activities do you currently enjoy that you hope to continue at Columbia? Which particular Columbia courses align with your ideal career? Is there a unique student organization that you want to join, such as Columbia Undergraduate Film Productions or the Columbia University Glee Club?

Don’t just think about the internal resources - but the external aspects of Columbia that make it great as well. You can mention the New York City environment - but don’t dwell on this as this essay should be about Columbia and not how much you love Manhattan! Are there ways in which this particular urban academic setting works better for you than a suburban or rural one? Use your response to the first prompt for clues about what you’re looking for from your college experience (but don’t be repetitive!) and articulate how Columbia is the perfect place to explore your aspirations.

Prompt 4

For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you previously noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

Continuing from the “why Columbia” question, this prompt among the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 asks you to delve deeper into the academic aspect of your interest in Columbia. A memorable answer to this prompt should successfully tie in where your passion for your academic interest stems from, as well as how Columbia can help you explore it further. 

If you’ve chosen creative writing, for example, think about when this interest started, how your love for the topic grew, and how you’ve honed your writing skills.  Perhaps you participated in competitions or creative writing clubs. Anecdotes outlining these activities and accomplishments should dominate your essay. If you have space remaining, talk about how Columbia’s creative writing program is the perfect place to help you as a budding writer. Is there a professor whose writing you’ve followed? Are there any specific courses that perfectly suit the genre you dream of mastering someday such as WRIT UN2110 Seminar Approaches to the Short Story?

No matter which field of study you’ve chosen, admissions officers should leave with no doubts regarding your dedication and commitment to the discipline. Columbia appreciates individuals who avidly pursue intellectual growth. Use your answer to demonstrate that your interest in the topic is deep and sustained. 


For applicants to Columbia Engineering, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you previously noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

This prompt is the same as the previous one - but only for engineering applicants. Just like applicants to Columbia College, your answer to this question should focus on tying in your previous engineering experiences to the opportunities available to you at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering at Columbia. Don’t just write about engineering as a broad discipline. Think about the area you’ve chosen - such as Electrical Engineering or Earth & Environmental Engineering - and express how your curiosity about that specific field arose. 

Detail any specific instances of you working with topics that fall under your chosen concentration. If you want to study computer science, for example, what specific experiences do you have with programming or app-building? Was there a particular incident where you decided that this was the field for you? Then, connect your answer to the Fu Foundation School. Which courses under Columbia Engineering’s Computer Science curriculum fit with your plans the most? Is there a particular research program that perfectly augments your interest within computer science?

Your experiences and active persuasion of your choice of concentration should leave admissions officers with the confidence that you’re not just a good fit for Columbia, but for Columbia Engineering specifically. 

Further Tips on answering the Columbia Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

  • Let Your Personality Shine - The purpose of the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 is to get to know you. You can’t be a memorable candidate if admissions officers are unable to gauge who you are, sense what you’re passionate about, and identify your goals. Don’t just repeat your personal statement. Instead, exemplify each point as concretely as possible. Whether reading about your favorite books or learning about your interest in biology or history, the reader must be able to get a clear picture and learn new information from every essay.
  • Demonstrate an In-Depth Knowledge of Columbia - The Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 strike a balance between asking questions specific to your experiences and asking about what appeals to you regarding the university. A lot of students apply to Columbia only because it’s an Ivy League school or because it’s located in Manhattan. Assure them that you’re not one of those students by showcasing a comprehensive knowledge of the school’s curriculum and resources, and demonstrating that you’ve done the research to understand how those opportunities specifically pertain to your aspirations. Your essays should convince the admissions officers that you and Columbia are a perfect fit.
  • Think about Your Application Persona - A lot of the questions asked by Columbia want you to reflect on your chosen disciplines, so you need to stay true to your application persona in your responses. Your application persona is the overall theme of your application. You could be a student who’s worked with environmental issues throughout your time in high school. Or, you could be a budding director who has taken charge of all the school plays. Think about how your approach to the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 can convincingly harmonize with your application persona and portray authentic interest in your field of choice.

Your answers to the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 should convey who you are through an exploration of topics you’re interested in and how you want to continue pursuing them in college. When reading your responses, admissions officers should clearly understand what your goals are and how Columbia can help you get there. By perfectly blending your passions with what appeals to you about Columbia, you should be able to write standout essays that help separate you from the rest of the impressive applicant pool. Best of luck!

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