Cornell University Johnson Essay Analysis, 2020–2021

Cornell University Johnson Essay AnalysisAt a time when candidates probably appreciate some stability, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University has made no real changes to its MBA application essay prompts. The school tightened up the parameters within which its candidates can share their story with the admissions committee last year by cutting back the word allowances for its essays and shortening the video option from five minutes to three. We assume the approach worked well, given that no further adjustments have been made this time around. Cornell Johnson seems interested in getting right to the heart of the issues it considers most valuable in its evaluations. So if you are ready to deliver the information the program is seeking, read on for our full analysis. 

Goals Statement: A statement of your goals will begin a conversation that will last throughout [the] 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 and answering the enclosed short answer question (350 words maximum):

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:


How has your experience prepared and encouraged you to pursue these goals? 

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

The inclusion of the mini essay prompt indicates, however, that the admissions committee wants to have some context for your stated aspirations. And the expansion of the word count for this submission last year from 250 to 350 suggests that the school may not have been getting quite enough context from earlier applicants, so do your best to be thorough and to clearly connect the dots between where you have been and where you are striving to go. An effective response will provide evidence that you (1) have done your research as to what is required to attain your goals, (2) understand where you are on that trajectory (what skills and experience you already possess that are key to success in your desired roles and field), and, to some degree, (3) why/how attaining an MBA from Cornell Johnson will move you further in the right direction. 

Although this prompt is not a request for a full-length personal essay, we offer a number of tips and examples in our free mbaMission Personal Statement Guide that could be helpful in crafting your responses. We encourage you to download your complimentary copy today.

Essay 1 – Impact Essay: This essay is designed to explore the intersection of engagement and community culture. Our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. To help you explore your potential for impact, we encourage you to engage with our students, alumni, faculty, and professional staff before submitting your application. You may choose to connect with them via email or phone or in person during one of our on-campus or off-campus events. As you seek their input and insight, please be respectful of their time and prepare a few discussion points or questions in advance.

At Cornell, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. How do you intend to make an impact during the next several years of your education/career? (350 words maximum) 

Note that with this essay prompt, the school is not asking about times when you have made an impact in the past but rather about your expected impact going forward, which would theoretically include your time as part of the Cornell Johnson community. The rather less-than-subtle hint in the intro about “engag[ing] with our students, alumni, faculty, and professional staff” conveys that the admissions committee expects you to actively reach out to and communicate with individuals at or associated with Cornell Johnson to learn more about it before you begin writing this essay. If you have not already been making these kinds of connections, now (immediately) is the time to get busy. The suggestion also implies that the admissions committee expects your efforts to yield some useful insight, so saying that you have merely contacted 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 and how you expect the experience will position you to attain your professional goals after graduation. 

Although we believe this submission should undoubtedly be written with the expectation of ultimately becoming a Cornell Johnson MBA student (and later graduate), you may want to very briefly touch on what you would do to continue advancing and making an impact should you not be accepted to the program. Showing—succinctly!—that you have a Plan B in mind could demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have thoroughly considered all your options and are committed to following through on your path despite such a setback. Dedication and thoughtful ambition are characteristics often valued by MBA admissions committees.

Essay 2 – Back of Resume Essay: This essay gives you the opportunity to present yourself as an individual. We encourage you to think about your proudest accomplishments, interests and passions, and personal highlights that will help us to get to know you as a person and potential community member. 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 essay, please limit your submission to 350 words or fewer. Multimedia submissions should be under three minutes.

The front page of your resume has given us a sense of your professional experience and accomplishments as well as your academic summary and extracurricular involvement. If the back page reflects “the rest of your story,” please help us get to know you better by sharing ONE example of a life experience, achievement, or passion that will give us a sense of who you are as a potential community member. 

This essay prompt is merely a creative way of asking you to reveal who you are as an individual, apart from what all the basic elements of your application already convey about your job, your education, and your activities and interests outside of work. Identifying the approach that will best help you tell your personal story is an important first step, so do not automatically restrict yourself and think too narrowly. The intro to the prompt explicitly states, “We value creativity and authenticity,” so keep this in mind as you mine your background and current life for the most fitting content and then decide how to present it.

Take care to not get gimmicky. Your goal is not to seem “cute” or even more creative than the next applicant but really just to tell your personal story, albeit in a brief way, and thereby provide a more dynamic image of yourself. We suggest you start by grabbing some paper and making an old-fashioned list of your key “experiences, achievements, … [and] passions.” Then, consider what information the admissions committee already has about you from your other essay(s) and elements of your application, and strive to choose the item from your list that best complements that information to create a well-rounded picture of you. With an allowance of only 350 words or three minutes, you will need to be succinct, so be sure not to spend too much time or space on unnecessary buildup or repetition. You want your story to have life and sufficient context so the admissions committee can fully understand and appreciate it, but you also want to give yourself enough room to share details that will imbue your message with color and individuality.  

Cornell Johnson 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, so do not feel that you must use some form of multimedia. 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 an important moment in or aspect of your life, not to win an Oscar.

Optional Essay (required for reapplicants): You may use this essay to call attention to items needing clarification and to add additional details to any aspects of your application that do not accurately reflect your potential for success at Johnson (350 words maximum). 

If you are reapplying for admission, please use this essay to indicate how you have strengthened your application since the last time you applied for admission. Please also review our Application Guide for additional information about reapplying. (350 words maximum)

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 Johnson’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 Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management.

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2020–2021 MBA Essay Analysis

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