Cornell University Johnson Essay Analysis, 2017–2018

Cornell University Johnson

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2017-2018 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season. 

The Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University’s well-known Table of Contents essay prompt is in force for another year and likely still giving candidates pause whenever they consider applying to the program. The “impact” essay question added last season is back again as well, asking applicants to envision how they will contribute to the MBA experience as a student. The newcomer to this lineup is a blunt approach to the standard goals statement—one more in line with a job application (or even a Mad Libs!) than a mini essay or short answer. Together, the suite of prompts covers where candidates want to go and what they want to do after they leave Cornell Johnson, their anticipated student experience, and what they feel are the most important facets of their lives to date, thereby allowing applicants to create a nicely rounded impression of themselves for the admissions committee to evaluate. We present our tips and suggestions for responding to these prompts in our analysis, which follows…

Goals Statement: A statement of your goals will begin a conversation that will last throughout admissions process and guide your steps during the MBA program and experience. To the best of your understanding today, please share your short and long term goals by completing the following sentences:

Immediately post-MBA, my goal is to work as a(n) ____[Role]____ at ___[Company]___within___[Industry]___.

Targeted Job Role:

Target Job Company:


In 5–10 years post-MBA, my goal is to work as a(n) ____[Role]____ at ___[Company]___within___[Industry]___.

Targeted Job Role:

Target Job Company:


With this incredibly precise approach to gathering information about candidates’ professional goals, Cornell Johnson is clearly conveying a desire for information only. The school states in the Application Requirements section of its Web site, “If invited to interview, you will have the opportunity to elaborate further,” signaling to us that the admissions committee really wants just the facts. So, respect both the format and the school and be as direct and clear as possible, saving any embellishment or further explanation for another time.

Essay 1: At Cornell, we value students who create impact. Please indicate the opportunities for impact that you’ve identified through engagement with our community and describe how what you have learned has influenced your decision to apply to Johnson. Please limit your submission to 500 words or fewer.

Note that with this essay prompt, the school is not asking about an impact you made at some point in the past but rather about your expected impact within the Cornell Johnson community. The phrase “you’ve identified through engagement with our community” conveys a very clear assumption on the school’s part that you have already been actively reaching out to and communicating with individuals at or associated with Cornell Johnson to learn more about it—so if you have not been doing so, now (immediately) is the time to start. Moreover, the school’s reference to “what you have learned” (a change from last year’s “these interactions”) also implies that the admissions committee expects that your efforts have yielded some useful insight, so saying that you have merely made contact with a few people will not suffice. You will have to show that the insider information you subsequently received has further solidified your choice to pursue an MBA at Cornell Johnson by discussing the ways and areas in which you now feel you can contribute to it in a meaningful way.

The best way to accomplish this is to first research the school to educate yourself on what it offers that directly pertains to you, your academic and professional needs, and your personal interests. Then, engage with students, alumni, and/or other representatives of the school who you feel could offer additional insight into these relevant resources and use your conversations to inform your ideas as to how you might enrich these aspects of the Cornell Johnson experience. Note that the prompt clearly requests examples of “opportunities”—plural—so be sure to identify more than just one area or endeavor. You want to convey that you are a multidimensional individual who can add value to the school’s community in multiple ways.

Essay 2: You are the author of your Life Story. 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. Maximum file size is 5 MB. If you choose to submit a written Table of Contents, please limit your submission to 500 words or fewer. Multimedia submissions should be under 5 minutes.

Let us start by saying that a table of contents can be approached, organized, and presented in a wide variety of ways. You can be especially imaginative and start your story back in the days of the dinosaurs or perhaps leap into the future and tell a story about yourself that has yet to be written. The key is identifying the approach that will best help you tell your personal story, so do not automatically restrict yourself and think too narrowly. Your table of contents can even be thematic rather than linear! Heed the school’s words: “We value creativity.”

Take care, however, to 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 grab some paper and make an old-fashioned list of your key stories. 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 more so when you are working with excellent content.

Cornell Johnson’s prompt states that you may use an alternate (multimedia) format for this submission. We offer no recommendation with respect to whether a written essay, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, or any other approach is “best” in this case. Opportunities are certainly available in both traditional and creative approaches, depending on where your strengths lie.

Perhaps expecting that some applicants might get a little carried away with a non-essay option, the admissions committee has specified that such submissions be no longer than five minutes and/or no larger than 5 MB, so be sure to adhere to these limitations if you go this route. You might consider searching YouTube for “Cornell Johnson Table of Contents” to find some examples of how others have approached this option. (If you do, you may notice that many of the posted videos are longer than five minutes, but be aware that this is the first year that the school has stipulated a maximum length/size! So, these previous applicants were not restricted in this way, and the addition of this constraint tells us that the admissions committee wants to keep things manageable this year.) Do not feel that you must use some form of multimedia, however. Again, start by brainstorming to determine what you want to say as an applicant—what you feel the admissions committee really needs to learn about you—and then decide which format most appropriately matches your personality and message. Your ultimate goal here is to effectively convey information that showcases your personality and important highlights from your life, not to win an Oscar.

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 Johnson.

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 fewer.

If you are a Cornell Johnson reapplicant, this essay should be pretty straightforward. Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. The school wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a Cornell Johnson MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.

If you are not a reapplicant, this is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, or a gap in your work experience. We encourage you to download a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on deciding whether to take advantage of the optional essay and how best to do so, along with multiple illustrative examples. Be mindful and respectful of the admissions committee’s time and remember that each additional file you submit requires more resources on behalf of the admissions office, so whatever you write must be truly worthwhile and clearly reveal that you made good use of this opportunity to provide further insight into your candidacy.

For a thorough exploration of Columbia’s academic offerings, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, community/environment, and other key facets of the program, please download your free copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management.

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