Cornell, Virginia Buck Down Trend In Apps

Cornell's Johnson School of Management is ranked 15th among the best U.S. business schools by Poets&Quants.

With MBA applications down at most top business schools, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University is reporting a nearly 15% rise in applications to 2,100 this year from 1,791.

The jump follows an 8% drop in applications to Johnson a year earlier, but is unusual among a large number of prominent schools that are reporting declines. Only a four-hour drive away from Johnson’s campus in Ithaca, N.Y., for example, Columbia Business School suffered a 19% plunge in MBA applications—the difference of 34 percentage points.

Caulk up the difference to a more aggressive admissions recruitment strategy by Johnson. The school was able to buck the down trend by holding more recruiting efforts for potential applicants, including more than a dozen admissions events in far flung locations around the world, from Asia to Latin America, and opening the door to a larger number of MBA candidates in its applicant pool. Johnson sent acceptances to 519 applicants, about 75 more than last year.

“We decided to give out more offers this year because it was more important to us that we have a one in five chance of getting someone,” Christine Sneva, the director of admissions and financial aid, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “We were willing to take a chance on that because, with such a small class, if you get one of those five people, it can make a huge difference.”

Cornell was among just a handful of top schools reporting an increase. The University of Virginia’s Darden School also bucked the down trend. Applications for Darden’s two-year MBA program rose by 9%, a rise attributed to higher rankings and a new marketing plan. And Stanford’s Graduate School of Business managed to eke out a small increase to 6,716 applications, up from 6,616 a year earlier–much better than the 8.9% drop Stanford experienced for the Class of 2013.

Otherwise, Cornell and Darden were able to do what few top business schools could in the past year: attract a healthy and substantial increase in applicants. Besides Columbia, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business experienced a 17% drop in applications to 2,436, with MIT’s Sloan School saw a decline of almost 8% to 4,133.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported today (Sept. 7) that at least a dozen of its top 30 business schools saw their full-time MBA applications decline year-over-year. So far the most dramatic declines have surfaced at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where applications plummeted 21%, Columbia (19%), and Michigan State’s Broad School (18%).

In an interview with BusinessWeek, Timothy Smith, the senior associate director of admissions and financial aid at the Kelley School, attributed the decline in applications to increased competition from rival business schools and rival programs. “The pool has been fragmented most aggressively this year with part-time, online, and other options,” Smith told the magazine. “There is no doubt about it, the number of students hasn’t increased, and there are more players at the table. At the same time, [employer] sponsorship for full-time MBA programs is almost nonexistent, and doing an MBA part-time or online can be an attractive offer for some students, especially when there is funding available.”

At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, full-time MBA applications were down 7% to 5,071 from 5,459 a year earlier–but Kellogg’s one-year MBA program saw a 6% increase in applications and increased the class size by 15%, demonstrating that the caliber of applications was strong.

The double-digit declines at Columbia and NYU have been attributed to massive layoffs on Wall Street and in the financial sector.


  • theKomodo

    Thanks for the reply, John. Your explanation makes sense. Keep up the good work with the site!

  • JohnAByrne

    Sometimes, it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why this would be so. But Darden has done a lot of things right and readers of PoetsandQuants would know this well: We named Darden’s Bob Bruner the dean of the year in 2011, we published long-term research that proved the school had the best teaching faculty of any business school in the world, and we noted Darden’s ambitious leap into MOOC courses. I think all of this highly favorable publicity helped.

  • theKomodo

    Thanks for the article John. Do you have more information on why Darden was able to buck the trend other than “higher rankings and the new marketing plan”? The article covered the specifics with Cornell, but I feel that it didn’t give enough space to explain Darden’s effort in growing its market.

  • Wahoo

    I started at Darden this year – what a program! I get that a hedge fund that wants to have a slave work 60-80 weeks and can do spread sheets wants a robot coming out of HBS/Wharton, but in any other company, I definitely would take a Darden graduate. Same proficiency in finance, but true general management leadership and capabilities.

  • Guest

    Johnson has been part of the Consortium since 2009 and the announcement of the new Dean didn’t happen until January 2012 when almost all three application rounds had passed.

  • Guest

    I am a Johnson 2013 MBA student, and I can attest that there are Consortium members in both the 2012 and 2013 class, so this is not new.

  • Guest

    John, have you been able to dig into Johnson’s application numbers at all? I believe the class of 2014 was the first class for which Johnson accepted the Consortium application. I think this might be what drove up their total application numbers for the year; if you control for the consortium applications, I bet that Johnson’s relative numbers would be on par with many of the other business schools mentioned in the article. Johnson is a good school, with a lot of unique aspects to its program, but I don’t think the headline is capturing the reality of the situation.

  • Orang1

    Everyone of the schools in the Top 10-16 is “on the way up” because of a new building or dean, not just Cornell. Cornell/Michigan/Darden/NYU/UCLA/Fuqua/Yale are all underrated because they are not Tuck or Wharton or Columbia or Booth. Personally, I like the fact that it is in Ithaca vs. a large city. Kind of a two-year vacation from the urban rat race.

  • dodoaspire

    extremely underrated ivy league business school with focus on community, responsible leadership, and great teaching, should be on the way up with NYC tech campus and new dean from INSEAD.

  • Guest

    Cornell Johnson is an excellent school that’s clearly on the rise. This program tends to get overlooked at times due to its location up in Ithaca, but with a new dean and future connections with Cornell’s newly awarded tech campus in NYC, look for Johnson to continue its rise in prominence. 15% increase in apps in this climate is nothing to sneeze at.