How to answer the Fall 2016 short essay

Last week, I shared some tips on what NOT to do when responding to the personal statement (aka long essay). Today, I’m tackling the short essay.

Like the personal statement, the short essay question has changed this year (as it does every year), so it’s understandable why applicants might be stumped.

Short Essay (Essay 2): What one policy (national or local) would you create or change and why? (200 words maximum)

In general, be specific with your response. Briefly explain to the Admissions Committee  what the policy is, how it affects the community and why you would want to change it. While the prompt doesn’t ask you how you would change it, it can show us your resourcefulness if you’re able to succinctly address the policy from every angle.  Keep in mind you have a limited amount of space, so be strategic in what you write. If you’re telling us how you would change a policy, you should also be somewhat detailed in what your recommendations would be.

For example,

Five percent of college students have homesickness so severe that it causes symptoms of anxiety and depression. To combat this issue at my alma mater, I would like to create a policy at Columbia University that allows the Center for Student Wellness on the Morningside Heights campus to regularly host human-animal interactions (aka interactions with therapy dogs). Why pet therapy to help students cope with homesickness? The Journal of Creativity in Mental Health reports that spending time with a therapy animal resulted in decreases in self-reported anxiety and loneliness in college students, according to the Columbia University Medical Center. While the International Journal of Stress Management reports that simply petting a dog during study breaks reduces student anxiety and sadness. Thus, by creating a safe space for students to connect with one another, while interacting with trained service animals, they’ll be healthier individuals who are able to dispel their frustrations without hurting someone else or negatively impacting their academic performance. To achieve this, I would establish relationships with therapy organizations, coordinate with Columbia’s health services staff to schedule the sessions and ensure liability coverage, and connect with student affairs and press departments to promote the sessions on a routine basis.

(Can you tell I have a thing for animals?)

While this isn’t a fool-proof formula for writing your essay question, I wanted to show you how I personally answered it in a limited time frame. (1.) I started by describing the problem, (2.) I stated a potential solution, (3.) I explained why the solution is valid, (4.) I described how I would implement the policy. Keep in mind, this is just a first draft (based on 30 minutes of research and writing time). When it comes to writing the next draft, I would definitely focus more on how I would want to implement the policy, or how I would go about creating the change.

Your essay format is going to vary wildly from mine, and that’s more than fine. (In fact, if someone else on the Admissions Committee were to write this blog post, theirs would vary as well.) Experiment with how the short essay flows, add a statistics or omit them altogether. I’ve also read essays that shuffle this order around, so do what works best for what you’re trying to write. And yes, as my sample suggests your policy doesn’t have to change the world as we know it. Your policy can be as big or small as you can dream up. Have fun with it, shoot for the stars, be impactful, and share with us a policy you’d really want to create or change in your community, city, or country. And keep in mind it’s part of your admission application, so it should be reflective of your application as a whole.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any additional questions about the essay requirements, feel free to email us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu.