Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management Essay and Examples

Cornell University Johnson Essay Analysis

With its straightforward goals statement and single required essay, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University seems interested in getting right to the heart of the issues it considers most valuable in evaluating its applicants. The admissions committee wants to first know your professional aspirations and motivations for pursuing an MBA degree and then how you see yourself being a contributing member of the Johnson community. An optional essay is available, if needed, to address the usual topics of problematic candidacy issues or any outstanding qualifications that are not represented elsewhere in one’s application. Read on for our full analysis of Cornell Johnson’s application essay questions for 2023–2024. 

Cornell Johnson 2023–2024 Essay Tips

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 prompt, “If you’re 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. 

That said, the inclusion of the mini essay prompt indicates that the admissions committee wants to have some context for your stated aspirations, so do your best within the 350-word allowance to be thorough and 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) recognize 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) understand 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. Taking into consideration your background, how do you intend to make a meaningful impact on an elite MBA community? (350 words maximum) 

Note that with this essay prompt, the school is not asking you to discuss a time in the past when you have made an impact but rather about your expected impact going forward, and specifically as part of the Cornell Johnson community. We always encourage candidates to connect with students, alumni, and others in an MBA program’s greater community when preparing their application, but in this case, Cornell is essentially demanding that you do so with its rather forthright “encouragement” and direct link to the resources it offers to facilitate such connections. If you have not already been making these kinds of connections, now (immediately) is the time to get busy. The admissions committee undoubtedly expects your efforts to yield useful insights, so saying that you have merely contacted a few people will not suffice. You need 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. 

The school’s specification that you reflect on your past as you determine your best way of adding to the Johnson community means that you need to provide some context for your proposed idea(s) that proves that you are equipped to follow through on your plans. If nothing in the rest of your application indicates that you have experience doing what you say you will do at Johnson, or that you possess the necessary capabilities or qualities, the admissions committee will have difficulty believing that you are being authentic—and might even suspect that you are offering a response you think “sounds good” rather than one rooted in reality and actual possibility. So, we recommend first familiarizing yourself with the Johnson MBA experience well beyond what the school offers in its promotional materials (e.g., read press releases, news stories, and student blogs; check out the Cornell Johnson YouTube channel) and identify elements that resonate with you. Then use that information and inspiration to prepare for thoughtful, productive conversations with multiple members of the Johnson community. And finally, use this essay to reveal what you have learned, the ideas you have developed as a result, and the reasons and ways you are prepared to put those ideas into action at Johnson. 

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, Johnson’s optional essay prompt gives you the typical 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. Yet it is sufficiently broad to also allow you to emphasize or explain something that if omitted would render your application incomplete. We caution you against simply trying to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. And of course, however tempted you might be, this is not the place to reuse a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to include elsewhere in your application. Keep in mind that by submitting an optional essay, you are requiring the already overtaxed admissions readers to do additional work, so avoid being overly verbose or sharing more information than is truly necessary. You must ensure that the admissions committee’s extra time and effort are truly warranted, so write just a very brief piece to explain your troublesome issue or offer the essential (and otherwise uncommunicated) aspect of your profile. If you feel you might have a reason to submit this additional essay, we encourage you to download our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, along with multiple illustrative examples.

Park Leadership Fellows Program Essay Prompt: Describe a past formal or informal leadership experience and how it informs your goals for growth as a leader.  How would the Park Leadership Fellowship assist with these goals? (500-word limit)

This is a fairly straightforward essay prompt, and we recommend responding in an equally straightforward manner. Launch directly into the story of your leadership experience, and detail the specific actions you took in directing others in pursuit of a desired result. We recommend using a narrative approach to present your story, but be sure to also share the thought process and motivation(s) behind your actions. This way, the admissions committee will take away a clearer picture of the aspects of your character that inspired you and guided your actions and decisions. Note that Johnson recognizes that the leadership experience you share could have been a less formal one. Leadership does not need to have an official title attached to it, and it can be expressed in a community service or even family life setting just as much as in a workplace, so explore all the different areas of your life for possible stories. 

A particularly important element of this essay is showing that you recognize where your leadership skills can improve and why doing so is important for your long-term success. Although you are expected to discuss areas for development, take care not to deride your strengths. Rather than solely discussing the ways in which you are lacking as a leader, focus on the ways you could become a more complete and capable one. Equally important is tying your educational and experiential needs to the Park Leadership Fellows Program specifically, so of course, your first step (if you have not already done so) is to familiarize yourself thoroughly with what this program entails and provides. Then, in your response, you will need to draw clear connections between the areas you hope to strengthen and the offerings in this program that will enable you to do so. 

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.

The Next Step: Mastering Your Cornell Johnson Interview

Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. We therefore offer our free Interview Guides to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management Interview Guide today.

To learn more about the essays for other top business schools, visit our MBA Essay Tips and Examples Resources Page.

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