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.

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