How to Write the Columbia University Supplement 2018-2019

Columbia University is located in uptown New York, NY. It is home to ~4,500 undergraduates who attend the college, and 1,500 students who attend their engineering school. As a major research university, students have access to Columbia’s vast number of resources, as well as internship and work opportunities that exist as a result of its prime location. Columbia's supplement is one of the more extensive ones, but the challenge here is to achieve both depth and brevity.

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

This is a challenging question. While you should be transparent about what you want from a college community, they are really just making sure that you understand how Columbia functions and that you would contribute positively to an environment that you are knowledgeable about. Research is key here in understanding Columbia’s “vibe,” but then again, you should really have a distinct understanding about why you want to go to Columbia if you’re applying. Of course, don’t copy what Columbia says about itself on its website verbatim, but your conception of an ideal college community should reflect the qualities that Columbia emphasizes. Think about it as an essay about the overlap on a venn diagram where one circle is “Me: personality and values” and “Columbia:  personality and values.”

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)

Everyone has a reference point that they go to for any sort of piece of culture, and that reference point says something about you. For example, if you’re really into Benjamin Clementine or if you’re all about Selena Gomez, both of those things say something about you. If your favorite book is The Giver, you are very different from someone whose favorite book is Atlas Shrugged. We aren’t saying that any one reference point is “better” than another, but we are encouraging you to see this question as Columbia asking you to point to something through which they will evaluate you. And as such, it shouldn’t be boring or predictable. You can be a bit subversive with your answer because is essentially asking: “who are you?” and you aren’t boring. Instead of asking that point blank, they’re asking you about a piece of art that you consumed and enjoyed, though you did not have a choice in the matter.

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

You have way more leeway with this question because they are asking for an insight into your private life: what art (books) you choose to consume say a lot about you. After all, we are what we consume. If we were applying, we would include:

  • We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Shrill by Lindy West
  • The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

...among others. You get a distinct idea about who we are from this list. That’s what yours should do as well. It should evoke a reaction and tell a story. For this reason, it’s necessary for you to understand that all books have connotations, and you should be familiar with them. It’s also important to keep the rest of your application in mind and to ensure that this section both fits within the context of your application but also reveals something new and unique. If your application is all about sports, for example, perhaps don’t list 10 books that all relate to sports. Include one, sure, but use this as an opportunity to highlight your other interests and passions.

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

Again, you need to make sure that you include another offshoot of your personality here. And, again, it can’t be predictable. While we do celebrate that you read the New York Times every day, it doesn’t tell them anything about you. But, if your Tuesday afternoons are so highly anticipated because you can’t wait to log on to the New York Times website, click “Food,” and pore over Pete Wells’ weekly restaurant review, that does tell them something about you. If you read Wired, The Economist, and Money Magazine, that also says something about you. 

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

All of the above advice stands here as well, and we’ll add this suggestion here: the quirkier your interests and activities, the better. While you may think that your niche interest in folk music and the fact that you try to hop on the F train to the bluegrass open mic at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn every Tuesday night when you’re not drowning in homework isn’t that relatable or “cool,” that’s EXACTLY what they want to know about you. Columbia is essentially asking: what makes you unique? But, that’s a really hard question to answer, so they’re asking for preferences in culture. What concert are you psyched to go to next month? Even if they’ve never heard of the band or the movie that you saw last week, this is about you. It’s not about listing something that they will definitely relate to.

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

This is sort of like a “Why Columbia?” prompt, but with a twist: they are specifically asking you to express and quantify your values and why they align with Columbia’s offerings. This is challenging and will have some overlap with question 1. So, you can’t really talk about how you “value Columbia’s core curriculum.” But rather, you would say that you have an interest in anthropology but know that because of Columbia’s core curriculum you will be forced to explore your other fascinations with biology and reading, which is an opportunity that you greatly value. And that you understand that if you went elsewhere, somewhere with a less structured curriculum, you wouldn't have the same opportunities to pursue interests outside your comfort zone. 


While Columbia is asking a lot of information about you, it’s important that you drive home some central interests and shed a lot of light on those interests and your values. Let us know if you need help--that’s why we’re here.