5 Insider Tips For The Cornell Johnson MBA Application

Tips for the Cornell Johnson MBA application

Johnson at Cornell has deployed a number of sweeping initiatives over the past few years, including a re-vamp of its management curriculum and the launch of a new NYC campus. It also merged the business school with its schools of Applied Economics and Hotel Administration, enabling Johnson to pool resources, increase student choice and open new channels for collaboration. It’s #10 ranking in by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2018 signals that these changes and investments are paying off for students.

As Johnson’s former Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions, I’m thrilled to witness the school’s tremendous growth. And as a Fortuna Admissions coach, I’m dually gratified to see that Johnson continues to nurture a close-knit community, keeping a premium on intense collaboration, small class size, and engaged professors. Incoming MBA students get the best of both worlds – the small-town vibe of Cornell’s Ithaca, New York campus – nested in the academic universe of Cornell University, the largest Ivy League in the US – along with the ability to decamp the cloistered college town for a semester in NYC.

If Johnson is at the top of your list, know this: Cornell is not just building a class, it’s building a community. Class discussion, interaction, and teamwork are central to the program experience, so if any of these three things make you squeamish, think twice about applying. And if you do, know what you bring to the table and be prepared to discuss what you can add to the Cornell community.

HERE ARE FIVE TOP TIPS FOR POSITIONING A STANDOUT APPLICATION TO CORNELL JOHNSON:

1. Visit and know the Johnson School, its people, and its culture.

Ithaca, in the bucolic Finger Lakes region of New York state, is a unique place where you’ll spend many months, so make sure the location, culture, and community resonate with you. The best way to gauge this is to visit the campus, sit in on a class and speak with Johnson Ambassadors and faculty. When you do, be sure to speak with a few of the students in the Atrium and ask them hard questions – politely of course – what they like and don’t like, why they chose Cornell, what would they change if they could. By the end of the day, you’ll have a feeling in your gut about whether Johnson is a fit for you, or not. Trust that feeling and act accordingly. Cornell knows it isn’t for everyone and they’re ok with that (and you should be, too).

2. Be authentic, be authentic, be authentic.

Write the application in your own voice, not someone else’s. Tell the admissions committee about you and your life, career, passions and why you are interested in Johnson. Do not tell them what you think they want to hear. Be honest, forthright and professional – Johnson is looking for those people. Accept advice from others who look at your application, but don’t let them edit your work until it has lost your voice or style.

3. Be creative on the “back of the resume” essay.

This is an opportunity to be you without any boundaries. Given the leeway you have with the format of sharing – you can submit your song, video, digital portfolio, etc. – how you choose to present is as important as what you choose to convey. Be unique, tell a story, draw/take a picture, make a video, stand-out with something funny, scary, honest, vulnerable, extraordinary. For example, one applicant’s video made the difference by displaying a dazzling unique differentiator: While his application was solid, his experience was typical, but when his training as a classical pianist was revealed in a video performance, he surprised everyone on the team (no one would have guessed it). Not only did he get in, I remember the video more than a decade later. Another memorable essay was submitted by a soldier stationed in a war zone, who provided the chapter headings for a book of his life. It was written to his two daughters as if he was not returning from war. It was vulnerable, profound and creative, bringing everyone who read it on the adcom to tears, which left us eager to meet him in person. Johnson is giving you the opportunity to make this part of the application anything you want it to be. (For more tips on the essay, view my article, Writing Cornell Johnson’s “Back Of The Resume” Essay.)

4. Have a plan for your short-term and long-term goals.

Quality in and quality out is important to all business schools. At Johnson, the Admissions Office and Career Services Office want to make sure that you know where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Everyone knows that ambitions can evolve, but make sure you can draw reasonable lines from what you are doing now through where you will be once you earn your MBA. For example, it’s tough to take an IT person and make them an Investment Banker, but the MBA can take the IT person and make them a consultant working in the tech space. Be prepared to discuss this transition in the interview process and have a Plan B if Plan A does not work out.

5. Let your application age and hit submit.

When you are finished with the application, don’t think about it for a few days. Let it age – get away from it and clear your mind. Go back to it when you are well-rested and review it with a critical eye. Make the necessary changes and let it rest again. You will know when it’s the best effort you can provide to convey who you are, who you want to be, and how Cornell is going to influence the rest of your career and life. Ask one or two friends to give it a look and then submit. Relax and wait for the Johnson School interview email to arrive!


Fortuna-AdmissionsRandall Sawyer is an Expert Coach for MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions and former Assistant Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid and Inclusion at the Johnson School at Cornell University. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.