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Julia Riew

Columbia University Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

Essay Examples 17 min read
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The following Columbia University essay examples were written by several different authors who were admitted to Columbia University. All names have been redacted for anonymity. CollegeAdvisor.com has shared these essays with admissions officers at Columbia University in order to deter potential plagiarism.

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List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

Supportive and collaborative (Let’s trauma bond and get through college together!); Tight-knit and friendly; Accepting; Socially and environmentally-aware; Quirky but also down-to-earth; Know how to enjoy a good movie/book/tv show marathon; Appreciate the arts, scientific achievements, and social accomplishments; Be willing to help out a first year being lost around campus for the first few weeks; Not afraid to stand up for what is right and use our resources to create a difference in the world.

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

AUTHOR 1

Uncle Tom’s Cabin-Harriet Beecher Stowe (APUSH): This book offered me the raw and emotional look at slavery and showed me the complexities of the US society before the Civil War.

The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck (APUSH): Another emotional book that offered me a raw look at how the migrant workers were hurt during the Great Depression. This book along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin humanize history for me.

L’Étranger-Albert Camus (AP Lang): Existentialism. Interesting read. It really made me question life.

AUTHOR 2

Sociologie des pratiques culturelles (Sociology of Cultural Practices) by Philippe Coulangeon is a required text I particularly appreciated this year. I enjoyed how the novel examines the principle trends that characterize the evolution of modern cultural practices, as well as the results of the democratization of culture in modern-day France.

Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Baudelaire is an extremely powerful poetry collection that I found to be at the same time thought provoking and a pleasure to read. The poet expresses both his “Spleen,” or his agony, and his Ideal through beautiful and captivating verses.

I also absolutely loved Don Juan by Moliere, a play written and set in 17th century France during the reign of Louis XIV. Moliere’s clever mix of the classic and baroque styles was a joy to read, and the way he uses comedy as a tool to criticize society was brilliant.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

This response to the Columbia University essay prompt works well because it highlights the cultural and linguistic diversity of the student. The student succinctly and convincingly discusses what they connected to in the various works, showing their intellectual curiosity as well their ability to appreciate mature pieces of literature.

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

AUTHOR 1

Most haunting book: Kindred-Octavia Butler (Like Dana, I rooted for Rufus, hoping he wouldn’t turn out to be a villainous and selfish enslaver. I was betrayed)

Most emotional book: Thirteen Reasons Why-Jay Asher (This is one of those books that makes you question your entire life after reading it. It just has the power to make you wonder: Am I a good person? Have I made a good or bad difference in the lives of others? Highly recommended)

Best reread of the year: To All the Boys I’d Loved Before-Jenny Han (Three claps for Asian representation in YA books!)

Most nostalgic book: The Percy Jackson series-Rick Riordan (Earlier this year, I was at the Met, where Percy willed his power to push Nancy Bobofit into the water! Bucket list item #14: checked)

Honorable mentions: The Jungle-Upton Sinclair, The Hate U Give-Angie Thomas, Jurassic Park-Michael Crichton, and The Sympathizer-Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

I like this response to this Columbia University essay prompt because the student is unapologetically herself. A lot of students feel the need to make themselves more impressive, or more sophisticated/well read, and the risk in that is that they lose that personal warmth, genuine voice, and connection with the reader. It’s far better to be honest and forthcoming, inviting the reader into your world view, humor, experience, and unique and fun perspective on the world.

AUTHOR 2

One novel I read for pleasure that I found gripping and profound is Brave New World by Huxley. In addition to being a call for freedom during the rise of totalitarian societies, the novel also addresses philosophical and ethical questions that remain relevant today.

Bel Ami by Maupassant is another novel that spoke to me. This naturalist novel depicts the journey of the protagonist’s rise to power through manipulation and corruption in late 19th century France. I enjoyed following how this anti-hero climbs the social ladder from his humble working-class beginnings to become one of the most powerful men in Paris.

I was inspired by Histoire de l’autre (Story of the Other), a book that presents both the Israeli and Palestinian points of view on key historical events throughout the conflict. It was written by six Israeli and six Palestinian history professors, who narrate the same events from different perspectives.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

AUTHOR 1

I get caught up on current events from three main news sites: the Saint Louis Post Dispatch for the local perspective, the New York Times for the national perspective, and the BBC for the international perspective. It’s a habit of mine to read about current events from at least 3 perspectives. That way, I know I’m getting the most objective view of the world.

Entertainment news: Buzzfeed and Kenh14 (a Vietnamese newsite)

News not covered by mainstream media but are highly important: Stories on Instagrams, Facebook, and Reddit.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

Again, I feel like this student is being honest and forthcoming. You get a sense of ethnicity/identity, and also of a person who is willing to be informed without trying to prove anything. There’s a fine balance between being genuine and trying to seem impressive.

AUTHOR 2

I follow the news on BBC (www.bbc.com). BBC gives me a well-rounded view of political, economic and social events from around the world, with the necessary background information to understand today’s global issues.

I also use the mobile app News Republic on a daily basis. News Republic provides articles from over 1,000 trusted news sources, so I can be informed of global issues from multiple perspectives. Further, I can design my news page to follow the topics I am most interested in.

Another website I follow regularly is Time Out Madrid (www.timeout.com/madrid). It helps me take full advantage of all the opportunities Madrid has to offer, such as cultural exhibitions, hidden parks and cafes, concerts, plays and movies. My latest discovery is a list of eleven original bookshops, where, in addition to finding books, friends and I can have a coffee, enjoy a concert or listen to a lecture.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

Again, what works about this kind of response is that the reader can get a sense of the global perspective and experience of the student. Without being too obvious with it, the student brings the reader into their life - bookstores, social life, international experience - and makes the reader a part of it.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

AUTHOR 1

Musical: Hamilton, Legally Blondes, Miss Saigon (I love the music but hate the historical inaccuracies as well as the ignorance of Vietnamese culture portrayed in the musical)

Films: Avengers: Endgame, Spiderman: Far from Home, Candy Jar, Lincoln, Us, Get Out.

TV shows: Marvel’s Agents of Shield (My all time favorite show. I learned English watching Shield in middle school), Goong (amazing soundtracks, jump started my K-drama binge for the last 2 months, inspired a Viet-styled Goong fanfiction currently in the works), and High Kick Through the Rooftop (It’s an awesome Korean sitcom. I highly recommend it. Just ignore the last 6 episodes)

Music: Soundtracks. My current favorite is Dah Ji Mot Han Ma Eum from Goong!

AUTHOR 2

I saw back-to-back Ionesco’s two classic plays, La cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano) and La leçon (The Lesson), at Le Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris, where they have been playing non-stop since 1957. It was fascinating to see these plays with the same original mise-en-scene dating back to the era when they were written.

Additionally, I loved the exhibition Pop Art Myths at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. I enjoyed seeing how this art form developed in the 50s and 60s and its witty critique of consumerism.

Finally, I was inspired by the documentary Beyond Right and Wrong. It follows the stories of individuals who lost their loved ones in terrible conflicts from Northern Ireland, the Middle East and Rwanda, and shows what it took for them to forgive the other side. Their strength impressed me, and their courageous acts allowed me to observe forgiveness under a different light.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

The reader gets a strong sense that art, in a variety of forms, is an important part of this student’s life.This is someone who looks beyond the entertainment factor. An admissions officer would most likely get the impression that as a student, this is someone who considers historical context and likes to make deeper connections with the curriculum.

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

AUTHOR 1

I hate the word “common” and avoid being associated with it at all cost. Being called “Common” is the worst insult possible. It implies that I’m just another face in a sea of faces and reminds me that not so long ago, in order to blend in with the crowd, I had ignored the injustices I saw. To me, a common person of a common society is nothing more than a lonely cog in the machine who is unable and unwilling to protest against the injustices in the society.

Given my hatred of all things common, it’s a surprise to see me apply to Columbia University, a place famous for its Core Curriculum. However, after October 14, 2019, all my negative thoughts about the Core Curriculum have vanished. Instead of a group of passive ancient philosophers in modern vessels molded by the Core, I got to see a vibrant, accepting, and socially aware group of changemakers on Campus that morning. Columbia students are powerful individuals who are not hesitant to use their power to demand changes. Exhibit A: the mini awareness events to demand the recognition of Indegenous People’s Day that I got to witness. The students made their presence known with posters and chants, demanding for recognition.

It was this display of bravery that changed my view of Columbia. Upon closer research, I can see that the Common Core is not a rigid mold but rather a template for empowerment by making sure that all students are equipped with the knowledge to lead courageous lives and be informed citizens. After all, why else would the university has all students learn about Contemporary Civilization?

Columbia’s Common Core will prepare me to lead a life of courage. Haizz, of course Columbia would be the place that makes me tolerate the word “common.”

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

This essay works for a number of reasons. Overall, the reader gets a great understanding of what the author values. This is someone who has grown in terms of their thinking, and will continue to seek opportunities for growth. This is a student who will more than likely be involved in a number of communities both on and off campus; a future change agent.
Naturally, most applicants will write about Columbia’s Core Curriculum, for which they are well known. However, this student’s evolved understanding of why and how it’s central to Columbia’s pedagogy, and how they would engage the curriculum is radically refreshing, I would imagine. As an admission officer I would get the sense that while the author is opinionated, they will likely lead and contribute to great classroom discussions. However, what’s equally important in a university setting is that they can listen to others’ perspectives and are also open to change, which it seems this applicant is.
Lastly, the student incorporated the fact that they had been on campus in an effective way that communicated their connection to the University, and allows an admissions officer to understand how this student would fit on campus.

AUTHOR 2

In 2013, I embarked on a whirlwind tour of seventeen American universities. Of all the schools I visited, Columbia stood out. In addition to stellar academic programs, its emphasis on civic and global engagement really spoke to me. It is vital for me to attend a college where both academic rigor and openness to the world are widely promoted.

Perhaps what draws me to Columbia the most is the impact it has had on my sister, Maysa (Columbia College 2018). I have never seen her happier than she is today, as she talks about the diversity of the student body, her amazing professors and advisor, and the truly transformative and eye opening educational experience the Core Curriculum is giving her. Her experience at Columbia makes me dream of having my very own Lit Hum discussion sessions, surrounded by a group of passionate Lions.

At Columbia, I would also take advantage of the many enriching clubs and student organizations. For example, I would like to become a member of the Columbia Model United Nations Team, one of the most renowned in the United States, and the Peace by PEACE club. In addition, I would like to join or set up a Club or Intramural Swim Team.

Being at Columbia would also allow me to take advantage of everything New York has to offer, from acclaimed guest speakers visiting campus to world-class performances and exhibitions. I believe Columbia is the place where all the aspects of my personality would thrive. Columbia students and faculty are motivated, active, and inspiring. At Columbia College, I would grow both academically and socially in an international and openminded environment. It would be an honor to spend the next four years “in the greatest college, in the greatest university, in the greatest city in the world.”

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

This student took a more traditional approach to writing this essay. The author gave a well rounded response as to how they would engage in Columbia’s community both inside and outside of the classroom. They named specific clubs and organizations they envision becoming a member of, and highlighted characteristics of the University that resonates with them. Lastly, because the author’s sister attended Columbia, they were able to incorporate some personal reflections as to why they too wish to attend.

Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently, undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest in at this time. (300 words or less)

AUTHOR 1

In seventh grade, a phenomenon exploded at my school: YA stories about a world without adults. The premise is simple: A strange accident evaporated all the adults, leaving only young people to inhabit the new world.

Like everyone, I was in love with those stories and enjoyed fantasizing how I would be in that situation. However, something didn’t sit right with me: Why only the adults? How come anyone under the age of 16 got to stay? I was desperate for an answer and since I couldn’t find them in the pre-existing stories, I decided to write my own story with a valid reason for the disappearance of the adults. After weeks of theorizing and researching, I finally got it. The story premise was similar: All adults on Earth have been turned into zombies by invading aliens. Luckily, thanks to a DNA mutation caused by a live virus vaccine that was administered to all children aged 17 and younger, the young people were spared. Now, they are our planet’s last hope.

What started as harmless research to satisfy my curiosity quickly developed into a long lasting fascination with cells and mutations. I marvel at how simple changes in our genetic codes could have great impact on our bodies. It’s interesting and scary to realize how easy it is for our DNA to be manipulated by outside factors. Similar to the unforeseen benefit of the DNA mutation in my story, my research has helped me discover a great passion of mine.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

This is a great story! Colleges, particularly top tier schools, are looking for intellectually curious students. The author effectively demonstrates that curiosity, shows its inception, and how they have further pursued their interest. This applicant is clearly a deep and creative thinker who has discovered their passion and will fully engage in furthering their understanding in their chosen field.

AUTHOR 2

Columbia University offers many fields of study closely aligned with my academic and career goals.

My Middle Eastern heritage and international background have made me passionate about social justice, peace, and conflict resolution. I am especially interested in Middle Eastern international affairs and social problems. The unrest and violence in this region have repercussions all over the globe. I believe it is vital for our generation to find long-lasting solutions for peace in the Middle East and to protect the rights of women, children, and ethnic minorities that are being abused in the region. I hope to pursue an undergraduate program focused on Human Rights, taking classes such as “International Human Rights Law,” “Equality, Identity & Rights” and “Human Rights and Human Wrongs.”

For example, in summer 2013, I participated in a two-week course called “Identity, Diversity, and Leadership” at Brown University. This course challenged me to study my own social and individual identity. I learned the values of listening, sympathizing, and understanding those who are unlike me. Similarly, in October 2014, I took part in a seminar on Non-Violent Communication organized by Seeds of Peace, focusing on ways to bridge dialogue divides and maintain empathy during difficult conversations.

Like us, an American-Lebanese-Colombian family living in Madrid, my extended family all have very international backgrounds and have lived all around the world. I have American-Lebanese-Austrian cousins living in London and American-Lebanese- Belgian cousins living in Hong Kong. Even though we all have lived very different lives, we have something in common – the feeling of being citizens of the world, immersed in a plethora of distinct cultures, yet being part of one close-knit family.

I am lucky to have been raised in this environment. It has helped me become a more adaptable, flexible, and understanding person with intellectual curiosity and openness to the world.

Additionally, Columbia College would offer me the opportunity to take an array of classes taught by leading scholars in the Departments of Political Science; Middle East, South Asian, and African Studies; and Linguistics. These classes would give me a global view of the complex world we live in, help me better understand the international challenges we face today, and further expand my global outlook and knowledge of world cultures and customs. I look forward to taking classes such as “National Security Strategies of the Middle East: A Comparative Perspective”, “Rethinking Middle East Politics” and “Language and Society”. I am also keen on continuing to build on my Arabic language skills to complement my interest in Middle Eastern history and politics through the amazing resources provided by the Columbia Global Center in Amman, where I hope to spend at least two summers.

With my background and experiences, I believe I would contribute new perspectives to class discussions and learn from the ideas of the inspiring and diverse students that Columbia University attracts.

Why this Columbia University essay worked, according to an ex-admissions officer

This essay works because the author did a great job at showing what their interests are, ways they have already pursued them, and how they will take advantage of Columbia’s curriculum to further pursue and achieve their academic and personal goals. While not every student has the opportunity to participate in tuition-based summer programs (colleges do not expect this), this student was able to highlight their participation and the ways in which they grew as a result.
The author has an incredibly diverse background and global perspective, which they effectively used to demonstrate what they will be able to contribute to the classroom as well as take away from it. This is precisely why diversity is important in a college setting. More importantly, however, the reader gets a strong sense of this student’s values and what’s important to them in terms of the contributions they hope to make to society.

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These Columbia University essay examples were compiled by the advising team at CollegeAdvisor.com. If you want to get help writing your Columbia University application essays from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.