2015-2016 Cornell Johnson Essay Analysis
Following up on the release of the Cornell University Johnson MBA essays for 2015-2016, we wanted to offer some pointers to applicants who are targeting the Cornell MBA Class of 2018.
At a high level, Johnson’s two required essay prompts remain fairly similar to those posed to applicants last admissions season. The program has retained its creative Table of Contents essay, as well as its straightforward prompt about the candidate’s post-MBA plans. Of note, the school has expanded the length of both of these prompts, up to 500 words each as compared to 2,000 characters (250-300 words) last season (and 300 words in 2013-2014). This suggest that the adcom may have found the length limits of recent years to be a bit too restrictive for applicants in expressing themselves and communicating their goals.
Another notable change is that Johnson has embraced the “mixed media” movement that we’ve seen unfolding at an increasing number of schools over the past few admissions seasons. In addition to a written TOC for the applicant’s life story, Cornell now invites applicants to link to elements of their web presence and/or to incorporate photos and graphics into their responses to this item. This change gives applicants a considerable amount of latitude in how they express themselves to the adcom.
Let’s take a closer look at each of this year’s Johnson MBA essays:
You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. In 500 words or less, please create the table of contents for the book in the space provided or upload it as an attachment. We value creativity and authenticity and encourage you to approach this essay with your unique style. Alternative submission formats may include a slide presentation, links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube etc.), as well as visually enhanced written submissions. (5MB maximum file size)
This unusual prompt calls for a high-level and non-narrative overview of an applicant’s life to date. Internalizing the hint about what the adcom values, applicants should understand that while the structure for this essay is somewhat set, there’s still a good deal of room for strategy and creativity: candidates are free to decide which eras or events to highlight, how to title each chapter, and so on. Though relying on a list format might be a viable approach, candidates will likely get more mileage out of this essay by structuring information in sentences or a series of sub-sections under broad chapter headings, offering a description of that “chapter” in your life and drawing out the important themes of the story. Regardless of the format you choose, make sure that it allows you to provide an authentic representation of yourself, introducing humor, personality, and even vulnerability where appropriate.
As for the content of this response, the admissions committee is likely looking for a sense of each candidate’s background, as well as his or her trajectory and growth over time. Touch on those events and accomplishments that are most meaningful and important to you, highlighting the ones that have shaped your personal development. Keeping in mind that this is a b-school application, you will want to share information that is relevant to your current work and your future objectives (without too much repetition of points raised in your other essay). While applicants have a bit of room to discuss their work history in the second of the school’s prompts, candidates will likely want to touch on their professional trajectories here to provide some context for their comments in Essay 2.
That said, dedicating the entirety of the table of contents to professional pursuits may not be advantageous or allow candidates to provide well-rounded pictures of who they are. Because the adcom asks candidates to take a lifespan view as they complete this task, comments about the lasting impact of one’s upbringing and early formative experiences are appropriate here. It would also make sense to include important community involvements, the development of important hobbies, and illuminating travel experiences. Overall, you want to make sure to highlight the unique aspects of your personality and candidacy, as doing so will allow you to stand out from others in the applicant pool.
The format change for this essay opens up a host of new possibilities for applicants this season. While some applicants with a robust (and admissions-appropriate) online presence might choose to link to an external site in the course of their responses, it’s impossible to know how much time the adcom will actually devote to perusing a blog or YouTube channel. Candidates should therefore submit a fully formed essay in addition to linking to this additional content.
Meanwhile, the “visually-enhanced written submission” option provides an excellent opportunity to develop a memorable response that shows the adcom more about one’s background and interests than would be possible with a strictly text-based response. We therefore strongly recommend that applicants include photos, graphics, or other design elements in their responses to really put their unique stamp on this essay. Applicants might consider including an image with each chapter or section heading, and might even use font choice and color to develop an overall look and feel for the document that is consistent with their personal brands and main themes of their b-school application. Taking the time to develop an aesthetically pleasing presentation for this Table of Contents will also underscore your interest in Johnson’s program by demonstrating a willingness to put time and effort into your application.
What are your short and long term goals and how do you see the Cornell MBA enabling you to achieve both? (500 words)
Whereas last year’s Johnson essay focused exclusively on the applicant’s immediate post-MBA plans, this year the program has broadened the prompt to a more standard career goals essay that touches on both the short- and long-term, as well as one’s interest in the Cornell MBA. The most direct structure for this response will be to address each of these items in the order in which it appears in the prompt. Applicants might therefore begin by identifying a function or job title they plan to pursue after business school, as well as their target industry and perhaps one or two target organizations. This position should be a logical first step toward a longer-term role that the applicant hopes to hold 10 or so years after their MBA. Candidates should comment on the reasons for their interest in this long-term position, both in terms of the role itself and the larger impact it would enable them to make on an organization, sector, or region.
It would also make sense to include a brief (2-3 sentence) comment about how the applicant’s work experience to date has influenced (and prepared them for) these future roles, as well as the skills and knowledge that one still needs to gain in order to move successfully along this path. With this “why MBA” piece established, candidates will then want to offer a detailed treatment of the ways specific elements of the Johnson MBA program would help them to bridge the gap between their current skill set and their future plans. We recommend that candidates aim to devote at least 200 words to this section of the essay, if not a full half of their response.
To get as much mileage as possible out of this essay, you should aim to develop a very detailed response that explains how lessons from key classes and participation in certain student organizations will position you to accomplish your professional objectives. The adcom will also be interested in hearing about how you see yourself contributing to the community and enhancing the experience of other students, so naming some events that you would like to help organize or a club you would hope to lead will also bolster your case. Covering all of this ground within a 500-word essay is no easy task, so zeroing in on the aspects of the Cornell MBA program that are most closely aligned with your goals will be important to developing an effective response; an in-depth review of the program website, conversations with current students and alumni, visits to campus, and Clear Admit’s School Guide to the Johnson Graduate School of Management are all viable sources of the information you’ll need here.
Complete this essay if you would like to add additional details regarding your candidacy. For instance, if you believe one or more aspects of your application (e.g., undergraduate record or test scores) do not accurately reflect your potential for success at the Johnson School.
If you are reapplying for admission, please use this essay to indicate how you have strengthened your application since the last time you applied. (500 words)
Given the breadth of Johnson’s Table of Contents essay, it seems unlikely that there’s a high point of one’s candidacy that wouldn’t fit into that response. For first-time applicants, this optional essay should therefore likely be reserved for addressing potential liabilities in one’s application. Such discussions should be direct and to the point, providing an explanation and pointing to mitigating factors without being defensive or making excuses. While there are 500 words allotted for this response, applicants using this essay to address an issue in their application will likely use only a fraction of this space.
Meanwhile, reapplicants would probably be wise to use the full 500 words provided to detail the steps they have taken to become a stronger applicant and learn more about the Cornell MBA program since their last application. Candidates in this situation should comment on how they have spent the past year, taking particular care to highlight improved quantitative records, new professional skills and responsibilities, progress toward their ultimate career goals, and/or increased community involvement.