How to get into Columbia Business School

BY Kara DriscollApril 13, 2022, 1:02 PM
A Columbia Lions flag waves in the wind during a women’s college lacrosse game between the Princeton Tigers and Brown Bears, as seen in April 2022 in Providence, RI. (Photo by Erica Denhoff—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

MBA candidates who are looking to become leaders, effect change in their organizations, and make a difference in the world will be drawn to any of the top-ranked business schools in the country. Columbia Business School’s MBA program may stand out because it promises to develop leaders who transform the world and disseminate “pathbreaking knowledge.” Getting into this highly-competitive program, however, isn’t easy.  

Last year, the acceptance rate for Columbia Business School’s full-time program, which Fortune ranked No. 6 in the country, was about 16%. There are currently more than 1,500 full-time MBA students enrolled in the business school, and an additional 500-plus students enrolled in Columbia’s executive MBA program. And Columbia alumni fare well in the job market, with employers paying as much as $200,000 for recent grads. 

Because these programs attract a diverse cohort of students, it’s important to “be yourself when applying,” recommends Amanda B. Carlson, assistant dean of admissions at Columbia Business School. 

“There are no molds to fit or quotas to fill at Columbia Business School,” she adds. “We are looking for talented candidates from every walk of life, with diverse experiences to bring to the table, and who will succeed academically and professionally, while also contributing positively to the Columbia Business School community.”

How can you increase your chances of being accepted into Columbia Business School so you can eventually join a network of 44,000 business professionals after you graduate? Admissions experts say the following four steps will help.

1. Know why you want to get your MBA at Columbia

Before you even begin the application process, you should reflect on the reasons why Columbia Business School is your top choice. Is it all about location for you, and having access to all that New York offers? Do you want to learn from Columbia’s world-renowned faculty, adjunct professors and Executives in Residence

Whatever your reasoning, you should be able to clearly define why Columbia is your top choice for graduate school so that you can clearly articulate that throughout the application, essay, and interview processes.

2. Make sure your test scores and GPA show you’re a top-notch student

Columbia Business School looks for intellectually driven people from diverse educational, economic, social, cultural, and geographic backgrounds. Students show a record of achievement, strong leadership, and the ability to work in teams, according to its website. 

You’ll need to be prepared to demonstrate that you’re a top-notch student. Columbia requires a GMAT, GRE, or Executive Assessment score for admission to its full-time MBA program, with incoming students reporting an average GMAT score of 726. Last year, incoming students had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.6. Columbia doesn’t require a TOEFL score for international students, but all applicants must submit one letter of recommendation. 

Recommendations that provide concrete examples are most beneficial for the admissions committee,” Carlson says. “Tangible examples offer insights into the qualities and characteristics of the applicant. It is helpful when letters include details to support generalizations about a candidate (e.g., leadership, teamwork). Simply saying, ‘Bob is an amazing team player’ doesn’t provide as much insight as a letter that then supports Bob being an amazing team player with a specific example.”

3. Explain how you plan to make a difference with your MBA

Applicants who are accepted into Columbia Business School all have a vision for their life—and how they’re going to effect change. It’s important to explain this vision in your application, according to Devi Vallabhaneni, managing director of the consulting firm MbaMission and a Harvard Business School interviewer in residence. 

Applicants that Vallabhaneni has worked with have gained admission to Columbia Business School by demonstrating their commitment to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues, she tells Fortune. As the world changes, both investors and businesses are weighing these non-financial factors to identify material risks and growth opportunities, according to the CFA Institute.

Vallabhaneni says Columbia is positioning itself as an MBA program that is committed to weaving ESG factors into its mission, and so the admissions team is particularly interested in candidates who can show they plan to do something actionable with their degree.

“It’s not just, ‘I want this job,’” she says. “Columbia wants to know, ‘What do you want your life to stand for?’ That then dictates what your career stands for. So, I see that as a big commonality of people who are successful at Columbia. They’re thinking about issues much bigger than themselves.”

No matter your passion, it’s important to demonstrate it during the application process. “Successful students have a vision to impact something, some issue,” Vallabhaneni adds. “It could be about sustainability; it could be about politics. It could be about women in the workforce, a man advocating for women in the workforce.”

4. Effectively communicate your unique, authentic story

Every student who applies to Columbia will have an outstanding GPA and test scores—but successful applicants will effectively communicate their unique story through their essay and interview process, says Mary Banks, a senior admission consultant for MBA admission consultancy firm Inspira Futures. She previously served as the associate director of admissions for MBA programs at Columbia, among other roles, in the 1990s.

“Be authentic. These admissions folks can read between the lines,” Banks says. “Columbia prides itself on accepting smart individuals who are aware of the importance of giving back. And it’s an important factor, to be able to really prove that you are interested in the world, and how things are changing and how you can contribute.”

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.