The Gatekeeper to Cornell’s Johnson School of Management

Christine Sneva, director of admissions for Cornell’s Johnson School

A typical day in the life of a business school admissions director?

It starts with an early morning flight from New York across the country to San Francisco. After landing at 3:25 p.m., Christine Sneva raced to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley in a pair of jeans, black boots and a stylish red flannel riding jacket with gold buttons. She made the trip to lead a 6 p.m. panel discussion before some 50 alumni, applicants and potential MBA candidates. Then, Sneva dashed back on the 11 p.m. red eye to Washington’s Dulles Airport where she would board another flight to Ithaca, arriving just in time to greet her two young children at home.

“It’s only daunting when you are traveling with children,” says Sneva, who last August was officially named the director of admissions and financial aid at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. She got the job after serving as interim director for four and one-half months. Sneva joined Johnson’s admissions office in June of 2007 as an assistant director and had been promoted to associate director in January of 2011.

After a 17% jump in MBA applications last year when most schools reported declines, the Johnson School also had a great first round of applicants. “We almost hit record-breaking numbers in our first round,” says Sneva. “We are only a few apps shy of that.” Whether the upward trend holds is anyone’s guess, but Sneva concedes that she feels some pressure to keep the momentum going and she got a boost today from Bloomberg BusinessWeek which ranked Johnson seventh best in the U.S., up six places, from 13th in 2010.

Since taking over the top job, Sneva has done away with student reviews of MBA applications, and with telephone interviews of applicants, preferring in-person sessions. She’s changed the grading system for applicant interviews and required a written commentary from interviewers to impose more of a judgment call on applicants. And she has also recruited and hired a recruiter for the school based in London. One other thing: Sneva led the move to a paperless admissions system.

A first generation college graduate, Sneva is open and friendly, easy to laugh and overflowing with kinetic energy. She grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees in education at Buffalo, the State University of New York. “I saw this club table at the University of Buffalo and the girl standing behind the table had a hockey jersey on,” she says. “I took one look at her and said that is definitely for me.”

She joined the hockey team as a freshman, serving as captain and president of the university team for three years and managing not to lose any teeth through many hard fought games on the ice. “My mother always reminded me how much my braces cost. So I always kept my mouth guard on. I love hockey and have been playing it for 15 years.”

It was at Buffalo where she got her first taste of university admissions. In between classes and hockey, she was in a work study program where she helped to process admissions. Again gaining her bachelor’s degree, she took an admissions position at Buffalo for the school’s MBA, MS and Phd programs. When the Cornell job opened up in 2007, Sneva immediately applied and got the job.

Sneva’s recruiters include Associate Director Ann Richards, who covers Latin America and Asia, International Recruiting Manager Charli Taylor, who is based in London and handles Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, and Assistant Director Eddie Asbie, who covers North America.

In a wide-ranging interview, she discusses what Johnson looks for in the ideal MBA candidate, changes she has made to the MBA admissions process, her personal pet peeves and what she thinks of MBA admissions consultants. We sat down with Sneva in a conference room at Google headquarters just before her recent panel discussion.

  • Sajani

    I just realized you mentioned it earlier in your post. Sorry!

  • Sajani

    Cornell is already a top 10..Check out the latest BW rankings.

  • 1st round applicant

    Don’t forget the Immersions.

  • InterestedParty

    Wish you luck in the application process if you are in it – I think Cornell and Darden, and Duke are all in an upswing!
    As for Cornell though – I am very impressed with the noticiable momentum at Johnson @ Cornell within the business school world and it seems to have been captured in the newly released BW Rankings at #7. As I see it, here are some reasons why:
    First, and perhaps most key; a new campus in NYC is underway! Even though I personally have thought the complaints about Ithaca not being near a major city were over-done, especially when one looks at the fact that Tuck seems not to suffer from the same complaints about its Hanover,NH location? Nevertheless, Cornell is moving full steam ahead on its new campus in NYC on Roosevelt Island. I think this is very exciting for Cornell and helps it to firmly establish a major presence in a/the premier business center of the world. Google is a major sponsor/contributor/supporter of these efforts – which says a lot also. Also, I have read that Cornell beat out the likes of Stanford, who wanted to establisch a position in NYC – pretty interesting potential I think.
    Second, a new Dean (Dutta), who comes from INSEAD, with a very fresh perspective and a focus on developing the campus in NYC.
    Third, a great set of professors, who are achurning out top quality of research, relative to the size of the school. Great Intellectual capital marks in BW rankings.
    Fourth, a top Brand Name, that his been underutilized in the past. For better or for worse, Cornell, as a member of the Ivy League, has a terrific brand around the world, that has been woefully underutilized/underappreciated. Dean Dutta has said that this will be a key focus of his – to leverage the strength of the Cornell brand.
    Fifth, top students who are performing. The students appear to be winning or placing well in compeitions and in job placements – and their satisfaction has shown with top satisfaction marks in BW rankings. And applications are surging – a rarity in the Business School world today.
    My take is that Cornell will challenge convention and scrap hard over the coming years to stay a top 10 player instead of a top 15. A new NYC campus, their ivy leage brand, a new Dean, and a change in market perception from prospective applicants will make this a real probability…

  • Washington Sneva

    Congratulations Chrissy! Keep up the great work at Cornell.

  • Kip

    Very congenial picture Christine! Great story P&Q. Keep up the good work.

  • 1st round applicant

    I’ve spoken with Christine a couple of times. She rocks!