2020-21 Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompts are Here!

UPDATE: I’m writing this on July 19, 2021. It appears that Columbia’s supplemental essays for 2021-22 may be the same BUT the final word is not yet out. The College website was last updated in 2020. The Common Application goes live on August 1st 2021 — and that will have the definitive prompts for the coming year. It’s a safe bet that they won’t look too different from these, but there could be some minor changes. STAY TUNED!

How to approach these unusual supplements? First, supplemental essays are a kind of dialogue between the student and the university, particularly with colleges whose essays are demanding in certain ways.

Columbia and the University of Chicago are two such schools. If the supplemental essays don’t speak to you – don’t seem interesting to you – take that as information about whether this college is the right fit for you. If the answer is no, it’s fine — it’s good! — to move on and find a college that fits better.

I have worked with many students who apply to Columbia University’s undergraduate College — AKA Columbia College. I attended Barnard, the women’s college of Columbia, before Columbia College was co-ed, and I have taught creative writing at Columbia and Barnard. And I live a few subway stops from the campus and spend time on both campuses, at events of all kinds – lectures, films, and conferences.

Columbia is known for many things, among them the “Core Curriculum,” a required series (required even of engineering students) of five year-long, interdisciplinary courses that explore Western civilization from every angle – history, philosophy, literature and the arts. The classes are seminar style, and the reading lists are extensive. You can read about each course and see PDFs of the reading lists going from course to course. For example, this is literature course description and this is the reading list for that course.

Columbia’s supplemental essay prompts are designed to find students who are interested in this kind of education. The questions ask you to list books you’ve read for required reading in the last year and books you’ve read for pleasure. They ask for a list of the cultural events you’ve attended or participated in: museums, concerts, films, and other entertainments.

These prompts are designed to learn whether students might thrive in these courses and in this atmosphere. If these courses and this kind of reading are of interest to you, Columbia might be a good fit. If these areas are not to your taste, you might want to look for another college.

In this year of huge upsets and uncertainty, I’m grateful that Columbia has given us the supplemental essay prompts early — and that they appear to be unchanged from last year’s. Take a look and see what you think.

Columbia University

In 150 words or fewer, please list a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.

Please list the following (150 words or fewer for each question) — NOTE: LIST, no commentary is necessary:

  • the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year;
  • the titles of books read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year;
  • the titles of print or electronic publications you read regularly;
  • and the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.

Please answer the following short answer questions (300 words or fewer for each question):

  • Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.
  • If you are applying to Columbia College, 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 at this time.
  • If you are applying to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, 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’re interested in applying to Columbia, or Barnard – which has a separate application and different essay prompts, please shoot me an email or give me a call – East Coast time zone. Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com PHONE: 1-855-99-ESSAY.

And, most important, stay safe and sane.

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