How to Write a Stellar “Why Columbia” Essay

Picture of a high school student sitting at a bench writing the "why columbia" essay
October 19, 2022
Purpose of the “Why Columbia” Essay“Why Columbia” Essay PromptWhat to IncludeEssay Writing TipsColumbia Essay Example“Why Columbia” Essay FAQs


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 7/20/22

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? This question can help guide you through Columbia’s “why us” essay. Read on to learn more and show Columbia why you’re the perfect candidate! 

You’ve got your sights set on the elite Columbia University. You’ve probably dreamed about its stone buildings and sprawling campus, and you know you want to earn a higher education in the heart of New York. You’ve put in the hard work to meet application requirements. The only thing standing in your way is tackling the essays. 

Columbia University wants to get to know you and what you can offer to the campus community. But they also want to know why you want to attend Columbia. There are several top colleges to choose from, and they want to know why Columbia called out to you. 

Trying to pinpoint an exact reason can be difficult, especially if you’re unsure of the “why.” Lucky for you, there’s not a right or wrong answer because every student is different. Read on learn how to ace the “Why Columbia” essay and maximize your chances of getting accepted!

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Purpose of the “Why Columbia” Essay

It seems that nearly every university wants to know why you chose them over other schools. Columbia is no different. The admissions team wants to know your rationale for applying. Your job is to describe why Columbia is the perfect school for you. 

Columbia is one of the top schools in the country. The school provides a rigorous education that a select few get to experience. Columbia wants to accept students who will add to the school’s culture. 

Your desire to attend Columbia can stem from many things: maybe you’re carrying on your family’s legacy or pursuing a pathway unique to Columbia. Just ensure you show that you genuinely care about the school. The admissions team uses this essay to find the most interested applicants, so approach this task with the utmost care.

“Why Columbia” Essay Prompt

You can find a direct link to the “Why Columbia” essay prompt on their website.  As the title suggests, the admissions team wants to know why you want to attend Columbia. 

Before you sit down to write this essay, think about Columbia’s significance to you. Out of all of the colleges you could choose, why Columbia?  To some, the answer is quite simple, while others might struggle to articulate their rationale.

The word limit might intimidate you: at a measly 200 words you have little space to express your interest. Columbia receives thousands of applications annually, so it makes sense to impose such a restrictive word limit. 

What to Include

It’s best to write about all things specific to Columbia. Some directions you can take your essay include:

Check to see if there are any unique majors that interest you. You could also mention any professors or research that relates to your passions. Look into any extracurriculars they offer that are unlike any other university. 

Think about the programs the university offers or the professors who teach at Columbia. Admissions want to know that you genuinely care about the school and that you will contribute to the culture they have built. They want students who see attending Columbia as a life-changing experience. Columbia wants to mold you, and in turn, they want you to leave your mark.

Columbia also offers plenty of internship and entrepreneurial opportunities, so if there are any that pique your interest, make sure to talk about them and why you would excel in those opportunities. 

You could also talk about what you will offer Columbia, or how your unique perspective and experiences could add to Columbia’s incoming class and campus. Whatever you choose to write about, make it personal. You don’t want to give a generic answer that seems disingenuous. 

Don’t include topics that aren’t specific to a Columbia experience. Writing about your desire to visit New York and live in the city won’t effectively answer the prompt. You also shouldn’t generalize about wanting to attend an Ivy League school.

Though admission to a prestigious school provides clout, you can achieve this by attending any other Ivy League. Remember, your goal is to convince the admissions committee that Columbia is your dream school! 

Essay Writing Tips

Knowing where to start can be the most challenging part of writing an admissions essay. These tips can make the process a little easier and ensure that you write a worthwhile essay.

Tip #1: Determine Your Why

Ruminate on why you want to apply to Columbia. It could be a specific major, a professor you’re interested in learning from, or extracurriculars that the school has to offer. You want to articulate what Columbia means to you, so the admissions team understands why it’s your top pick. 

Tip #2: Do Your Research

Don’t tackle this essay without first researching the university. Consider your passions and how they align with Columbia’s majors. If you want to pursue a unique major that is only offered by Columbia, browse its list of majors. Each listing provides a detailed account of the major, which can aid you in your essay. 

For example, if you’re interested in pursuing creative writing, you can see what the program offers and determine how that benefits you. If you’re interested in learning from a specific professor, ensure you research that professor and explain why you want to work with them. 

Tip #3: Be Concise

Remember that you only get 200 words to explain why you want to attend Columbia. Choose your words carefully and ensure your writing flows cohesively. If you’re prone to wordiness, editing for concision is critical.

Tip #4: Be Passionate

Use the “Why Us?” Columbia essay as an opportunity to show how much this school means to you. Explain why Columbia matters more than any other university. Talk about your dreams and how Columbia would help you achieve them. Passion can help you stand out.  Make them understand why they should pick you over another student.

Tip #5: Explain What You Have to Offer

Don’t just talk about what Columbia has to offer. Talk about how you plan to leave a mark on Columbia during your time there. Whether it’s an entrepreneurial pursuit, or the desire to create a club that Columbia doesn’t offer, the admissions team is interested in what you can do to improve the university. 

How would your acceptance help make the school better?

Tip #6: Proofread

This is not an essay you want to type in a flurry of keystrokes and send off without a second glance. Take your time and ensure you haven’t misspelled any words or made grammar mistakes. The admissions team will be less than impressed with your work if it’s riddled with errors. 

Tip #7: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Someone Else to Read It

It always helps to have a second pair of eyes look over anything you write. To you, it will seem easy to understand because you know exactly what you’re trying to say. But to an outsider, it could seem confusing. Someone else’s opinion can determine whether your essay is truly cohesive. 

Seeking an admissions consultant’s help can improve your essay. These experts know what top universities are looking for in their students and have read numerous “Why Columbia” essays that worked. 

Columbia Essay Example

IIt can help to look at successful “Why Columbia” essay examples. They provide a peek into what the admissions team expects of you and can help you improve your own essay to stand out.

There are plenty of websites devoted to sharing essay examples, and you can find successful Columbia essay examples here. In this “Why Columbia” essay example, the student wrote a succinct and persuasive essay about his passion for the school. 

“Computer science is at the core of my academic passions and my life ambitions. What I value in life is being around brilliant technologists. At Columbia, I have worked with and befriended the most driven and gifted programmers I’ve ever met. In January, I formed a team with three Columbia freshmen for MIT’s annual strategy-game-playing artificial intelligence competition. Ben, Ryan, Koh and I spent the month reviewing matches, debating approaches and tweaking our models. More than once we coded through the night. Their caliber was clear in the subtle insights that their multi-disciplinary backgrounds gave them and they gave me something to aspire to.
I have many interests that lie outside of my intended major but that I want to continue to pursue, and Columbia provides an environment for those diverse passions. Recently, while at a Columbia math club meeting with Ben, I ran into a political science major, Mathieu. He was elated to point out the insights that a love of math granted him in his courses and his conviction encouraged me to explore the peculiar intersection of the two fields.
I love teachers who love to teach. At Columbia, I’ve seen faculty who have a love for what they do and who care about students. While touring, I sat in on a quantum mechanics lecture. Professor Norman Christ strode into the room at eight on-the-dot and jumped into a discussion of WKB complex value approximation. For three straight hours, he guided us through the intricate world of QM without any notes. His enthusiasm brightened that drizzling Monday morning. That I could follow the lecture at all is a testament to his lucid explanations and extraordinary knowledge. When I came to him with questions afterward, he helped me truly understand a topic that initially felt years out of reach.”

Why this “Why Columbia” essay worked: The student starts by listing their desired major and how Columbia provides the perfect education. But the student doesn’t stop there; they go on to add how they’ve made an impact and how they could provide for Columbia as well. Notice how the student lists their topic within the first sentence of each paragraph and then immediately follows up with how Columbia connects to those topics. 

This “Why Columbia” essay sample refers to a professor and what the writer enjoyed about their lecture. This shows the admissions team that this student truly enjoys being there and cares about the university’s educational opportunities. Keep this example in mind as you construct your own essay. Remember to find ways to connect everything back to Columbia so you can effectively show why Columbia is important to you. 

“Why Columbia” Essay FAQs

If you still have questions about how to navigate the “Why Columbia University” essay, read on to learn more!

1. When Should I Start Writing the “Why Columbia” Essay?

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to write a worthy essay. Start as soon as possible. Do your research and gather your thoughts. Making an outline before you begin writing can help you figure out what you want to say in a cohesive way.

2. What Is the Columbia Essay Word Limit?

The admissions team wants you to write your answer in 200 words or less. As you can see from the essay example, this doesn’t provide much wiggle room. Keep your writing as concise as possible. 

3. How personal should my essay be?

This is your chance to show the admissions team who you are, what matters to you, and how Columbia fits in. Be direct, but don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. You’re competing with thousands of students so you want to stand out from the rest. Let the admissions team see your passion through your essay.

4. How Many Essays Do You Have to Write for Columbia? 

You must respond to three list questions and write three supplemental essays to apply to Columbia University. 

5. How Do I Write a Good “Why Columbia” Essay? 

A good Columbia admissions essay answers these questions: why are you interested in attending Columbia University? What makes Columbia stand apart from other schools? How do you hope to contribute to the campus? Remember to reference particular details about the school. 

6. Can I Write This Essay If I Haven’t Chosen a Major?

It’s always best to know what major you want to pursue before applying to college, but Columbia offers so many interesting degrees that it can be difficult to pick just one. If you’re unsure of your major, you can always talk about your goals and how Columbia can help you achieve them. 

If you’re stuck between two majors, talk about why you’re interested in the two and see if there’s a way you can combine them. Talk about professors or clubs you’re interested in. Discuss what you can do for Columbia as well. 

7. How Do I Know When My Columbia Essay Is Done?

The best way to determine if your essay is ready for submission is to allow other people to read it first, such as an admissions consultant. It is always best to have a second pair of eyes to look over the essay. There’s always a chance that you could have missed something crucial.

Nail the “Why Columbia” Essay, Unlock Your Future

The “Why Columbia” essay stands as a determining factor for aspiring students. It helps the admissions team to get to know you and see how you’ll fit in at Columbia. 

Determining why you chose this school can be difficult, but we hope this guide makes the writing process a little easier. Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm. Columbia wants to accept students who truly care about their education and who want to make a difference in the world as well as within Columbia itself. 

Remember to talk about what Columbia can do for you and what you can do to contribute. Incorporate your passions and goals into your response for a stellar essay!

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