written by
Laura Frustaci

Columbia University Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

Essay Guides 10 min read
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Not sure how to approach the Columbia essay prompts? With tips from an Ivy League graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the Columbia University supplemental essays will show you exactly how to write engaging Columbia University essay prompts and maximize your chances of admission.

For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on Columbia, click here. Want help crafting your Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2021? Create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.


Columbia Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • Columbia has an acceptance rate of 5%—U.S. News ranks Columbia as a highly selective school.
  • We recommend answering all Columbia University supplemental essays comprehensively and thoughtfully.

Does Columbia require supplemental essays?

Yes. In addition to the Common App personal essay, there are Columbia University essay prompts. The most unique of the Columbia essay prompts are the “List Questions,” which will be discussed later in this article.

Need tips on writing your Common App essay? Check out our blog article.

How many supplemental essays does Columbia have?

There are six Columbia University supplemental essays: three Columbia essay prompts of 200 words or fewer, and three Columbia essay prompts called the “List Questions” which vary between 75 and 125 words maximum.

How many essays does Columbia require?

All six of the Columbia University essay prompts are required. Some schools offer optional essays in addition to their required supplementals, but you must write all of the Columbia essays to be considered for admission.

How to answer the Columbia supplements:

The Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022 are on the Common App site, but you can also visit the main Columbia website for a full list of application requirements. Let’s start with the short answer Columbia University essay prompts.

Columbia Supplemental Essays - Short Answer Question 1

A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? (200 words or fewer)

For this Columbia University essay, you’ll want to make sure you address both parts of the question: how you will learn from, and how you will contribute to Columbia’s campus community. You’ll want to show that you are an eager, collaborative learner and that you are comfortable in spaces with people who are different from you.

You should also describe how you would contribute to diversity on Columbia’s campus, maybe through your sexuality, race, gender, a chronic illness, or socioeconomic status. Talking a bit about your background will give admissions officers insight into where you will fit with the student body. Once you describe how you will contribute, you should then explain how you will grow from being surrounded by the Columbia community.

Mentioning how your background has impacted the way you have discussions and format opinions will demonstrate your ability to learn from circumstances and people who differ from you. You can do this by discussing something you lack exposure to; maybe you have never left the country before, or perhaps you grew up in an ethnically homogenous hometown. In this Columbia University essay, Columbia is asking you to showcase your own diversity and then demonstrate how you would learn from others’ diversity.

Columbia University essay draft tips:

  • Do you discuss how you will contribute to diversity on Columbia’s campus?
  • Do you prove you will learn from being a part of Columbia’s student body?
  • Does your response teach the reader something new about you?

Does Columbia have a “Why Columbia” essay?

Yes. This is a typical supplemental essay question, and Columbia essay prompts are no exception—all colleges want to know what makes them special. This is your chance to showcase any research you’ve done about Columbia while you’ve been writing your Columbia University supplemental essays or as you’ve been completing the application.

Columbia Supplemental Essays - Short Answer Question 2

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer)

For this Columbia University essay, avoid over-generalizing with statements like “Columbia’s campus has a great location” or “I just feel like I belong there.” Instead, offer concrete examples of why you belong there. You want to get as in-depth as possible; consider reading Columbia’s student publication, the Columbia Spectator, or looking through the course catalog to pick out specific titles that interest you.

Show off your expert investigation skills and name drop courses, clubs, professors, and research opportunities only available at Columbia. Colleges can tell when you swap out their name for another University and submit the same “Why here?” answer. Your application will be stronger if your answer to this Columbia University essay could not be swapped interchangeably with any other schools.

Columbia University essay draft tips:

  • Do you prove that you’ve done research on the school?
  • Do you explain the unique opportunities Columbia would provide you that you could not get elsewhere?
  • Do you provide specific details about what you hope to do on Columbia’s campus?

Columbia Supplemental Essays - Short Answer Question 3

Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

Whether you choose to focus on academic, personal, or a combination of both influential experiences, provide specific examples which connect to your intended path(s) of study. If you are interested in creative writing, talk about the very first poem or story you ever wrote. If you want to study chemistry, describe your favorite chemical reaction and why you find it interesting. Or maybe, your parent studied history and you grew up having historical debates at the dinner table.

Try to focus on anywhere from one to three experiences, perhaps one past and one current. Additionally, if you said you were interested in multiple areas of study, try to give one experience that relates to each. Be sure to connect the experience directly to why you want to pursue the academic path you have chosen. Columbia is most interested in your ability to articulate the reasoning behind your interests in this Columbia University essay.

Columbia University essay draft tips:

  • Do you use active storytelling with minimal fluff?
  • Do you prove that you’re an expert on your subject?
  • Do you connect your anecdote directly to your chosen academic subject?

How do you answer the Columbia list questions?

These questions can seem the most daunting of the Columbia University supplemental essays. There is no right or wrong answer here, and there is no one text that will guarantee your admission or rejection. Just try to be honest and follow these helpful tips for the “List” Columbia essay prompts:

  • The lists should provide insight into both your intellectual and personal background.
  • The lists should not be too long (or too short). You do not want to add too many extraneous, heavier titles just to look “smarter,” but you also don’t want to undersell yourself or edit down too much.
  • Feel free to include non-intellectual titles, as long as you have balanced them with some more critically acclaimed works. Try not to exclusively list historical autobiographies, and don’t only put down rom-com films for these Columbia University essay prompts.
  • Try to make lists that reflect areas of interest you have previously stated on the application.
  • Also, don’t fabricate any part of your list. Leave off titles you haven’t actually read, watched, or listened to! If you get an interview, you don’t want to be caught off guard by your interviewer.

Columbia Supplemental Essays - List Question 1

List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

This question is pretty straightforward. To start, it might help you to make a list of everything you have read for English classes. Go back and look through your past course syllabi and see which texts you remember enjoying, and then you can narrow down from there. It would be best to choose anywhere between four and ten titles to put on your final list.

For example, your finished list could look something like this: 1984, The Scarlet Letter, Hamlet, The Handmaid’s Tale, Life of Pi, and Of Mice and Men. For this Columbia University essay, you don’t need to worry about being too original with your list; this is the place where you should have fairly universally recognizable titles. Just make sure you actually enjoyed the text and that you actually read the whole thing!

Columbia Supplemental Essays - List Question 2

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. (75 words or fewer)

This list will be more varied than the previous one since each person will have a more broad range of interests than the standard English curriculum. The most important thing is that these titles are not ones you have read in school. It might help to stick to media you’ve read in the past year or two since they will be the freshest in your mind and will reflect your most recent intellectual and personal interests.

The same amount as the last list, anywhere from four to ten titles, is good. If you are struggling to narrow down your list, pick the titles that best reflect who you are as a person and a student; what interests you, inspires you, and entertains you. Maybe you have an interest in the American pop culture of the 1960s. An example of a list inspired by that time period would include Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and Sylvia Plath’s poetry collection Ariel.

The above list includes a play, a nonfiction novel, a fantasy novel, an essay collection, and poetry. It shows a great variety of media all focused around a specific time period, which is not a requirement, but it provides a unifying factor for this Columbia University essay. This kind of list would be particularly useful if you were perhaps interested in a history major at Columbia.

Columbia Supplemental Essays - List Question 3

We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)

This list is much more flexible than the previous two. You can include newspapers like The New York Times, or magazines like Time. You can list that podcast you burned through every episode of or a sampling of albums from your favorite artists. You’ll want to balance your list; don’t intentionally try to make it seem all intellectual, but try not to list solely shows like The Bachelorette. This is the list, though, that you can have the most fun with. Out of all the Columbia University essay prompts, this is the one you can get creative with!

Columbia Supplemental Essays 2021-2022—Concluding Thoughts

Completing the Columbia essay prompts can seem daunting, but don’t let that discourage you from applying. The Columbia University supplemental essays are a great opportunity to demonstrate who you are for admissions officers reading your application.

These Columbia University essay prompts can boost your application if you have a lower than average GPA or SAT score. Use this guide as a step-by-step aid when approaching the Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022, and start earlier than you think you should. Especially with the Columbia University essay prompts that are lists; you may think it will be simple to complete those Columbia essay prompts, but they will require a lot of thought. Also, do not be afraid to ask for revisions from someone on your Columbia University essay prompts. It’s always helpful to have another set of eyes checking your Columbia essay prompts for grammatical errors, tone, and clarity. To see examples of essays written by our advisors who were admitted to Columbia, check out this article.

Good luck!


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This 2021-2022 essay guide for Columbia University was written by Laura Frustaci. For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on Columbia, click here. Want help crafting your Columbia supplemental essays 2021-2022? Create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

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