CBS Essay Analysis – Practice + Theory

CBS’s trademark question: Master Classes are the epitome of bridging the gap between theory and practice at Columbia Business School. Please provide an example from your own life in which practical experience taught you more than theory alone. (Recommended 500 word limit)

To start with, this is not an either/or situation. One is not better than the other. Rather, it’s a peanut butter and chocolate thing. Each one on its own, yum. But together… holy orgasm, batman.

So the language they use in this question could mislead folks to make a case for why theory alone is insufficient or lacking and why practical experience is superior. Resist. Instead, find an example where theoretical education delivered a 10 out 10. But when put to practice, the scale ITSELF changed, and your education surged to 100 out of 100.

Now, in your example of the practical experience, focus on the things you touched, did, heard, saw, tasted. Remember, practical experience refers to all the stuff that exists outside the theoretical (academic, heady) sphere. That means… doing stuff. Talking to people, visiting factories, hopping on planes to foreign countries and talking to locals in the flesh, sweating through a negotiation rather than making an intellectual argument on do’s and don’ts…….. getting your hands dirty.

Okay, so once you’ve identified a good example of when you’ve received both a practical education on top of a theoretical one, now it’s time to figure out what to DO with that golden information. Here’s a simple trick to help get you thinking on the right path. Let’s identify these as two separate events:

(1) EVENT 1 – The theoretical education – a training seminar, classroom learning, some sort of simulation/mock situation, etc etc etc.

(2) EVENT 2 – The practical education – a real-life situation that put this theoretical stuff to the test, actual interactions with “the stuff”

At this point, you can start to think of a hypothetical THIRD EVENT. Some future, higher stakes situation that will arise – say three years into your career trajectory, that will test you once more in a more “real” way. Here’s what you should do.

First, imagine how you would play that future situation out if you ONLY had the theoretical education.

Then, imagine (separately) how you would play that future situation out if you ONLY had the practical education.

Think it through. Think about what would work, what would be lacking in each scenario. Then, put it all together and imagine how it’ll ACTUALLY go given that you’ve now had BOTH the practical AND theoretical education. What makes THIS scenario better than either practical or theoretical by itself?

A few sentences grappling with THIS idea will make for a killer concluding few sentences.

So to recap:

(1) Introduce “the situation” clearly.

(2) Describe the theoretical education.

(3) Describe in detail the practical education.

(4) Conclude how the collision of these two (keeping in mind the tips above) have positioned you far better than either one by itself. You may, if you can be convincing, allude to your passion, therefore, for Columbia’s emphasis on this, given your exposure to (and appreciation for) this concept first hand.