EMBA Admissions Q&A: Columbia Business School | TopMBA.com

EMBA Admissions Q&A: Columbia Business School

By Karen Turtle

Updated March 4, 2021 Updated March 4, 2021

Columbia Business School is one of the world’s most renowned and influential schools. In this year's QS Global EMBA Rankings 2019, Columbia's executive MBA program is ranked 14th globally, while it's also the eighth best in North America, one spot ahead of its New York rival, the NYU Stern School of Business.


Columbia scored very highly for employer reputation, thought leadership and diversity indicators (see how the EMBA rankings methodology is worked out here). 


On average, EMBA students have nine years' work experience with four years' work experience being in a mangerial position. 2019s cohort proved to be towards the larger end of the spectrum with 137 students, of which 28 percent of students are international, and 35 percent of students are female. 


In this instalment of our EMBA Admissions Q&A series, Susan Sullivan, senior associate director of admissions, and Sabrina Lazarus, associate director of admissions discuss the enrolment process, including preparation dos and don'ts, time management, and having your sights on being superhuman.   

How long does the EMBA admissions process at Columbia Business School typically take – from receipt of an application to an offer of admission?

We aim to give EMBA candidates an initial decision within six weeks. This initial decision lets them know whether they have been invited to interview or that we unfortunately will not be moving forward with their application. After the interview, EMBA candidates receive a final decision within two weeks. We recommend that candidates apply early in the cycle and be as flexible as possible for interview scheduling.

Is a GMAT (or related admissions test) score required for admission to your EMBA program?

We require a test score from all EMBA applicants, and we accept scores from three different exams: the GMAT, the GRE, or the new 90-minute Executive Assessment, which is exclusively for Executive MBA candidates. The EMBA Admissions Committee uses test scores to understand a candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses, which is helpful when we put together our learning teams (the group of people each EMBA student will complete most deliverables with during their first few terms). We also use the scores to ensure they will be able to thrive in a rigorous curriculum. Professional experience – not the test score –  is the aspect of the application we look at most closely.

What is a common mistake you see EMBA applicants make?

One of the key questions we ask EMBA applicants to address is why they wish to pursue an MBA at this time. A common mistake we’ve seen among EMBA applicants is not giving enough thought to why this particular program will best aid them in achieving their career goals. Given the rigor of the program and the intensity of the schedule, an EMBA is most appropriate for those ready and excited to dive in head-first and take advantage of the wide array of resources Columbia makes available. The most successful students are the ones who have carefully considered their motivation for the degree and its relevance to their career goals. Be prepared to be specific about why an MBA at this stage of your career makes sense.

What would you like to see EMBA applicants do more often?

One reason our applicants need to carefully consider why they are pursuing an EMBA is that it is quite time-consuming - our executive MBA students spend the same number of hours in the classroom as those pursuing a full-time MBA. We always say that our executive MBA students are superhuman, balancing managerial roles, personal commitments and family with a rigorous academic program. Our EMBA students all find a way to make it work, and we are constantly in awe of how much they are able to accomplish. Preparation is key for a smooth transition to the program, so applicants should carefully consider how they will manage their time, preparing not only their bosses and colleagues, but also their family and friends for their new schedules.

We also encourage EMBA applicants to spend some time with us on campus since there is no better way to get a sense of the Columbia Business School community and the pace of day-to-day life as an executive MBA participant than by visiting a class and interacting with our wonderful students. The more you know about the program, the more prepared you will feel and the more specific you will be able to be in your essays and your interview.

Can you give an example of a candidate that did exceptionally well in interview, or in their written application. What was it that made them stand out?

We hesitate to tell a specific story because people then tend to think that this is the one 'right way' of responding in an interview or essay. Instead, the key to standing out is to be your authentic self. For essays, write the first draft for you alone by removing, 'What are they looking for?' from your mind. Just answer the question clearly and honestly for yourself. Everyone is different. People aiming for the exact same career goal have different backgrounds, different motivations, and will take different paths to get there. If you’ve taken the time to research our program and really reflect on your personal goals and reasons for wanting an MBA, your completed essay will be unique to you.

Similarly, the best interviews are the ones in which candidates have clearly given a lot of thought to; what they want their next career steps to be, how an MBA will help them take those steps, and what specific aspects of our program appeal to them. If you’re confident that you know the answers to these questions you’ll be able to have a genuine conversation with the interviewer – no prepared script, no sales pitch – just a thoughtful, relaxed conversation about yourself and your goals.

We should add that we do care a lot about fostering a sense of community here at Columbia Business School, so we have a strong bias toward nice people. And on that topic we will offer one example of a stand-out interview this past year: When asked what he would contribute to a learning team, one candidate said (in addition to having strong quant skills and a diverse and interesting background) that, when the team was working together at 4am to put together a deliverable, he wouldn’t be the jerk; he’d be the supportive one, filling in wherever needed in order to get things done. This person was admitted.


This article was originally published in August 2017 and was updated in April 2019 to contain up-to-date rankings information.

This article was originally published in April 2019 . It was last updated in March 2021

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

Written by

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​