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This application season, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University has opted to keep its quirky “life story” essay question, which can be quite applicant friendly, because it gives candidates the opportunity to present all sides of their experience—personal, professional, and community. In addition, the admissions committee is requesting a classic personal statement essay, in which applicants can explain their goals and their need for a Johnson MBA specifically. What else would a candidate need to cover? Well, maybe not that much if these two essays are executed well, which is likely why Johnson’s admissions committee is posing only those two essay prompts (though if you have any unusual circumstances in your candidacy that require explaining, you can submit an optional essay as well).
Johnson Essay 1: 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.
In the past, Johnson has stipulated a character count limit for its essays, rather than a word count, leading thousands of confounded applicants to wonder whether or not that count included spaces. Mercifully, the school has switched to a more straightforward limit of 500 words (or less) for this essay this year.
As for the content, this essay is a bit of an oddball, because it begs for creativity but also hems you in through its structure as a table of contents. Unlike with Chicago Booth’s blank pages or NYU Stern’s creative expression essay, Johnson clearly delineates the vehicle it wants you to use, essentially giving you “limited creative expression.” That said, a table of contents can be approached, organized, and presented in a wide variety of ways. You can get creative and stretch back to the dinosaurs, if doing so helps you tell your personal story. You can leap into the future instead and tell a story of yourself or your family that has yet to be written. And your table of contents might be thematic, rather than linear! Heed the school’s words: “We value creativity.”
What is important is that you not get too gimmicky. You must allow the admissions committee to get to know you through your table of contents. Section, chapter, subchapter (depending on your structure)—each one must contribute to your narrative and provide a fuller picture of you. This is an opportunity to tell your whole story, albeit in a brief way, so make sure you tell it! We suggest that before you start writing, you get your key stories down on paper. Begin by making an old-fashioned list! Then, make sure that your table of contents includes as many of the items on that list as possible. If you accomplish that, you should be most of the way to an excellent essay. The rest will involve fine-tuning the language, which is not necessarily easy but becomes much simpler when you are working with excellent content.
Johnson Essay 2: What are your short and long term goals and how do you see the Cornell MBA enabling you to achieve both? Please limit your response to 500 words or less.
Because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.
Optional/Reapplicant Essay: 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.
Please limit your response to 500 words or less.
However tempted you might be, this is not the place to use a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to incorporate into any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, or a gap in your work experience. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.