Another Ivy League MBA Weathers 2020’s Disruption: Apps Up At Cornell

Cornell Johnson released its 2020 class profiles for the full-time two-year, one-year, and Tech MBA programs, showing strong classes assembled during a disruptive year. Cornell photo

For the leading business schools in the United States, 2020 has been about weathering the storm, seating an MBA class (virtually of course), and looking ahead to a hoped-for “return to normalcy.” Perhaps best suited for storm weathering are the MBA programs at those bastions of strongly endowed tradition known as the Ivy League — yet even in those hallowed halls, 2020 has been an up-and-down year.

Harvard Business School reduced its MBA class size by hundreds in order to maintain its rigorous admissions standards. The Wharton School got a 21% lift in applications at the cost of average test scores on the Graduate Record Exam and the still-vitally important Graduate Management Admission Test. Columbia Business School’s apps also soared, but its average GMAT score dropped, as did its international population. Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business lost ground in GMAT, GRE, GPA and other areas but enrolled a larger class and a school-record 49% women, sure to be among the leaders of all U.S. schools this fall. And while Yale reversed its own app slide without sacrificing its volume of international students, it did so at the expense of women, which fell below the 40% threshold for the first time in many years.

Now we have the final piece of the Ivy League puzzle. Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business released not only its two-year MBA class profile but also the numbers for its one-year MBA and Tech MBA, and all showed strong numbers in key areas — but also drop-offs where the impact of a year changed by coronavirus is plain to see.

In Cornell Johnson’s two-year, full-time MBA, applications were up, and the result was a class that expanded by 10 students, a slight rise in minority numbers and bigger jump in under-represented minority numbers (the difference being the inclusion of students of Asian descent in the former category), and a rise in international students, despite the extra challenges faced by such students from travel in the coronavirus era and the U.S.’s political antipathy toward immigrants. Cornell Johnson also managed to maintain the status quo in GMAT median and 80% range.

In Cornell’s one-year MBA, the school reached 49% internationals and 21% URMs; while in the Tech MBA it achieved 40% women.

Source: Cornell Johnson


Most leading B-schools in the U.S. extended their third admissions rounds or added a fourth in the spring in response to the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic. The move didn’t rescue the year for everyone but it did the trick for Cornell Johnson’s two-year MBA, which added a fourth round that extended into the summer. The result: The Johnson School reversed a two-year slide in applications that had seen it lose more than 21% of its app volume between 2016-2017 and 2018-2019. Apps were up from 1,535 in the previous cycle to 1,872 this year, a 22% increase that all but wiped out the losses of the last three years.

Cornell admitted 792 compared to 588 last year, and grew its incoming class by 10, to 292. Its acceptance rate grew, to 42.3% from last year’s 38.3%, and its yield dropped from 48% in 2019 to 36.9%. Since the 2017 intake, Cornell’s yield has fallen nearly 20 percentage points, more than 34%; its acceptance rate in that time has climbed from 30%, a 41% increase.

More bad news: Women, which had been a growing source of pride for the Johnson School, is now a source of worry. The school lost 4 percentage points, dropping to 31%, after growing the number of women in the program steadily since 2015. That’s an 11% drop in one year. The school’s female enrollment stands in sharp contrast to its successes in enrolling URMs (up to 18%, a 28.6% rise), minorities (39%, up from 37%), and former members of the military (10%, up from 7%).

On the academic front, Cornell Johnson does not release GMAT averages but its 700 median remained the same from last year, while its 80% also was identical at 640-740. The undergraduate GPA median saw only a slight drop, from 3.40 to 3.34.


Cornell’s one-year Tech MBA was named Poets&QuantsProgram of the Year in 2017 and consistently ranks as one of the top one-year MBA programs in the U.S. This year’s intake of talent should do nothing to undo that reputation. The 48 enrollees, 40% of whom are women, are 35% international and hail from 11 countries. They notched a GMAT median of 700 and a full range of 630-760, as well as a GPA median of 3.44 — better than the school’s two-year MBA.

In the one-year MBA, the 55 enrollees are only about a quarter female (27%), but nearly half (49%) are international, hailing from 10 countries. Twenty-one percent are URMs, and 7% have military backgrounds. These students have a slightly lower GMAT median (695), but a higher GPA (3.52) and years of work experience (six, compared to five years for both the Tech and two-year cohorts). And they are slightly older on average: 30, compared to 29 in the Tech MBA and 28 in the two-year program.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.