The Ivy Coach Daily

August 3, 2023

2023-2024 Columbia University Supplemental Essay Prompts

Columbia's library is lit up at night beyond a walking path.
Columbia University’s essays are out for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle (photo credit: Andrew Chen).

Columbia University has released its supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle. There are five essays in this year’s Columbia supplement. These essays are required of Columbia’s applicants in addition to The Common Application’s Personal Statement. So what are this year’s Columbia supplemental essays? Let’s dive in!

2023-2024 Columbia Essay Topics and Questions

1. List a selection of texts, resources and outlets that have contributed to your intellectual development outside of academic courses, including but not limited to books, journals, websites, podcasts, essays, plays, presentations, videos, museums and other content that you enjoy. (100 words or fewer) 

Columbia’s admissions office truly wants a list of items separated by commas or semicolons. Year after year, many students submit prose in response to this prompt, which is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Columbia has given clear instructions, and thus students would be wise to adhere to the instruction.

In short, Columbia wants to know that an applicant will appreciate New York’s culture within which Columbia lives and breathes if admitted to their institution. Including books that appear on required reading lists in classrooms across America, like The Great Gatsby, is as solid an indicator as anything that a student doesn’t read for pleasure. And if a student doesn’t read for pleasure, how intellectually curious could they be? In every Columbia essay prompt, it’s vital to showcase intellectual curiosity.

2. A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (150 words or fewer)

This essay prompt is Columbia’s retort to the Supreme Court’s outlawing of Affirmative Action. While colleges are now outlawed from explicitly considering a student’s race in the admissions process, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, “At the same time, as all parties agree, nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” Herein lies that opening.

But even if a student is not an underrepresented minority, it’s a chance to convey their story and what interesting viewpoints and perspectives they can offer the Ivy League institution. Students should thus not shy away from voicing a view that some may deem unpopular.

If a student is passionate about environmental science, for instance, and, in an essay, eloquently substantiates the economic benefits of fracking — from their own lived experience growing up in North Dakota — they’ve accomplished the task. Of course, it would also behoove them to write about some of the environmental harm from the practice — and what can be done about it.

3. In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant’s ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result. (150 words or fewer)

Applicants need not have survived cancer to answer this prompt powerfully. They need not have grown up in an underprivileged community. But they need to pick a genuine obstacle and showcase how they overcame it. Maybe there were few research opportunities for astrophysicists in a student’s area. Maybe their school curriculum didn’t reach AP Physics 1, much less AP Physics C. Whatever the story, this is an applicant’s chance to tell it.

That being said, applicants should avoid writing about issues that may lead them to face discrimination in the admissions process, such as learning disabilities. Because while no college will tell you that they discriminate against students with learning disabilities, it has long been our belief at Ivy Coach that these schools don’t want to deal with special accommodations if they can avoid it.

4. Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)

Every college includes language here that’s slightly different, but — make no mistake — this is a Why College essay prompt. This essay needs to be filled with specific after specific of how a student will contribute their singular hook — rather than well-roundedness — to the school’s community. And, no, name-dropping professors and class names do not count as specifics. Students should instead endeavor to capture specifics about a school that are enduring and paint a detailed portrait of their life at Columbia.

5. What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 words or fewer)

This prompt, which only pops up once an applicant clicks an intended major, asks, in short, Why Major? Columbia’s admissions committee wants to know why a student has chosen a given field and how they hope to contribute to that field over the next four years. Columbia seeks to admit students who will change the world in one super specific, often small way. So if students aren’t clear on what they want to study — at least in their application — it fails to inspire readers. Of course, once at Columbia College or the School of Engineering and Applied Science, students can change their intended major every Tuesday. But on the application, it’s another story entirely.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Columbia University Essays

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s assistance in presenting a powerful narrative in your child’s Columbia essays, fill out our consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to delineate our college counseling services for seniors.

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