Note: This final question differs slightly between applicants to Columbia College or to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. For applicants to SEAS, there is no option to apply as undecided, so the second sentence is omitted from this prompt.
The admissions committee is interested in knowing what you find fascinating about your field and what you have done to broaden that interest. They are trying to weed out people who are applying for a given major just because it sounds fancy. But, more than that, they also want to see what makes you tick, how your passion for learning carries you beyond your high school classes, and what keeps you up at night in a fever pitch of wonder and excitement. You want to find the best, and most concise, way to showcase your passion. 300 words are a lot fewer than you would think!
At CollegeVine, we have broken down the “Why Major?” essay into two main questions:
- Why do you want to study this subject?
- Why are you qualified to study this subject?
Your essay should seek to address both of these questions with as high a degree of specificity as possible. Because this essay is so short, it is difficult to address a general field. You cannot fully explain your love of a subject with a mere 300 words. “I love astronomy” is not sufficient. Instead, you could write more specifically about your interest in exoplanets and astrobiology. Include a personal story about stargazing as a child that sparked your love of the field and mention scientific research completed in high school that further cultivated your interest in the stars.
It’s also possible that you are still figuring out what you want to study. No intellectually curious seventeen-year-old is ever certain about the topics and disciplines that will drive their future studies.
One way to communicate your interest and your desire to continue exploring a given topic is to talk about a recent conversation you had with someone who is already immersed in a field that you are curious about. An essay might begin: “Ever since my high school teacher combined potassium permanganate and glycerol and set his lab coat on fire, I’ve been fascinated with the chemical property of flammability. In order to learn more, I reached out to John McJohnson, a graduate student studying autoignition temperatures at the University of California, Davis. What most excited me about our conversation was…”
Of course, in order to write this essay, you need to actually have a conversation with someone who is working in that field. If you live in a town that has a research university, and if you are considering majoring in chemistry, you can actually go to the chemistry department’s university website, find a professor or graduate student whose work looks interesting to you, and send them an email asking to meet for coffee.
This may seem intimidating, but we can assure you that there are lots of researchers who might be willing to take 30 minutes out of their day to talk with a young person about their work. You might not get a response (most of these people are very busy), but the sooner you get used to reaching out to potential future colleagues and making connections, the better off you’ll be.
No matter what approach you take to this question, you’ll want to be sure to avoid cramming in too much jargon in an effort to communicate your technical mastery. You only have 300 words, and the point of this essay is not to dazzle your reader but rather to show what practical steps you’ve taken to explore and develop your intellectual interests.
However, you choose to write your essays, dare to be a little creative. Don’t just describe the university that the Columbia admissions officers already know. Ideally, they will see their campus a little bit differently after having read what you imagine it might be to you. As Columbia’s website says, they are looking for students who “will take greatest advantage of the unique Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful in return to the community.”
Considering applying to Columbia University? Columbia has one of the most unique core curriculum that brings over 30,000 applicants every year.
Columbia’s application requires 4 short answer questions and 2 supplemental essays on why you want to attend. Here’s the prompt:
Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.
Charades is a game that demands a common repertoire of experience with the other people playing. If players have not seen the same movies, heard the same news stories, or read the same books, they cannot communicate effectively.
TASP, like Columbia, brings together people from vastly different backgrounds. Most of us had never been exposed to the ideas and philosophers we studied. We debated Plato’s view on the value of art late into the night, and discussed the merits of communism in the bathroom in the morning. Keep reading.
Searching for invisible matter in the universe. Studying the genetics and evolution of social communication using the South African clawed frog. Using deep-sea sediments to study the climate history of the last ice age. These are all the research projects I thought were out of my reach, but Columbia gives me the opportunity to hone my intellect and create new knowledge as it gave so many of its students. View full profile.
When I visited Columbia’s campus last summer, I had the best chocolate pastry of my life at a nearby restaurant. But that is not the only reason I want to go to Columbia.
The Columbia students I met were extremely enthusiastic about the Core Curriculum, and I can certainly see why. Not only do the Core classes provide every student with the opportunity to study classic works of literature and art, they also bring the students together and enable them to discuss their shared intellectual experiences. As a top-ranked national circuit debater, I would definitely welcome such a forum for academic discourse and debate. Continue reading.
Growing up in New York City for my entire life, I realize in what a rich and engaging city Columbia is located. While I want to remain in an urban environment, I also want to attend a college that is small and will allow me to take advantage of individual and intimate attention placed on its students, supportive faculty, and a large array of academic opportunities. Columbia offers this ambiance for me, and I believe that its mission to refine its students’ analytic and imaginative thinking is inspiring and will be beneficial to my education. Read full essay.
My parents have sacrificed continuously to put me through a very academically competitive private high school to shape me as well-rounded as possible. Unfortunately, though, 21st century students are more plagued with fanaticism of getting an “A” than with what school is truly meant for, learning. Columbia offers a true education, not only scholastically from its esteemed faculty, but also culturally from the international powerhouse that is New York City. Usually faring fewer than twenty students each, Columbia’s intimate classes allow deeply intellectual group discussion among the familiarity of young adults equally astute as myself. Further, the quaint Morningside Heights campus inevitably ensures running into professors and being able to carry a conversation over coffee and build more personal relationships with them. Keep reading.
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.