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Cornell Johnson MBA Essays: Tips & Strategy

Cornell Johnson campus

Cornell’s Johnson school is known for its tight-knit community and culture of collaboration.

Learning to harness the power of a team to drive impact is a key component of the MBA experience at Johnson, and diversity among backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences is greatly valued.

To identify candidates who fit that culture, the Cornell MBA essays aim to uncover applicants who demonstrate emotional intelligence, self-awareness, a collaborative mindset and a track record of impact across the spaces they inhabit. Cornell asks that you respond to a Goals Statement and one required essay (a second essay is optional).

As a Fortuna Admissions coach, Cornell Johnson alum, and former Stanford GSB admissions reader, I’m seasoned in helping candidates position their candidacy to the MBA admissions committee. Your essays are an opportunity to connect the dots for Cornell between who you are, where you’re going, and what you hope to bring to the community.

The following are some tips to keep in mind as you approach each essay:

Cornell Johnson Goals Statement

How has your experience prepared and encouraged you to pursue these goals? (approx. 350 words)

Cornell prefaces this essay question with a series of short-answer, fill-in-the blank fields asking about your career goals and interests — your desired role, company and industry both immediately post-MBA and in the long term (five to ten years post-MBA). Then the application asks you to explain how your background positions you to achieve these goals. While there’s no word count given, in the past there was a hard cutoff of 350 words, which is a useful benchmark.

To make an impression, share the inspiration behind your goals by providing the context of how your passions, academic background, and professional experiences have solidified your desire to achieve these goals. Think about what you’ve learned throughout your career and how each role inspired you and prepared you to take the next step. This will help convey your motivation to make an impact and effect change. To demonstrate that your career vision is ambitious but still realistic, select two or three past experiences that highlight your existing skills and/or expertise that you will leverage, and then articulate how the offerings at the school will take you the rest of the way toward achieving your goals.

While the essay prompt focuses on your experience as it pertains to your goals, you can include a quick sentence or two about how Cornell’s Johnson School will bridge the gap to your short-term goals, and ultimately, your long-term goals.

(View this insightful article by Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis for more advice on how to create your short- and long-term MBA goals.)

Cornell Johnson Impact Essay

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, hard cut-off)

This question requires applicants to do their research. While reviewing the school’s website, student blogs, and YouTube videos might be good initial steps, it would be helpful to connect with current students, alumni, and other members of the Cornell Johnson community to gain a more in-depth understanding of the experience. Once you have a better idea of the Johnson ecosystem and offerings, think about how you’d like to leverage your unique background, skill sets, strengths, and interests to contribute to the community and consequently, enhance the experience of your classmates. Consider how you might share your sector expertise or industry connections with your peers, be it in a class discussion, during the recruiting cycle, or through a guest speaker series at Johnson. Find ways to continue your favorite extracurricular or community pursuits on campus, and if the avenue doesn’t exist, consider how you might create the opportunity and generate interest and engagement among your fellow students.

Through specific examples, demonstrate an understanding of the close-knit community feel and spirit of collaboration at Johnson and convey how much you’d like to contribute to it if given the opportunity. It’s also an invitation to get personal and speak to how you see yourself fitting into the culture at Cornell. As my Fortuna colleague Randall Sawyer, former Assistant Dean of Admissions at Cornell Johnson, says: “The challenge – and opportunity – is to unveil what you’re truly passionate about, something interesting about you and/or what you’re interested in. Get introspective about who you are as a person.”

Cornell Johnson Optional Essay

You may use the optional essay to explain gaps in your resume, call attention to items needing clarification, or provide additional details about any aspects of your application that do not accurately reflect your potential for success at Johnson. (350 words max; required for reapplicants)

For first-time applicants, this is a good place to cover any contextual information that’s relevant for the admissions team to know. This might include reasons for a gap in your employment history, issues that impacted academic performance, or a career trajectory that isn’t quite intuitive or linear. Try to be as concise as possible in discussing this information, and if applicable, articulate how you resolved the issue and suggest a more appropriate indicator of your potential for success at Johnson. For example, if your undergraduate grades were somewhat weak, you could explain the context behind your performance and inspire increased confidence in your abilities with a strong GMAT/GRE score or a commendable performance in MBA math courses or other graduate studies.

For reapplicants, this space is intended for covering what’s changed since you last applied.  Discuss the most significant ways in which you’ve strengthened your candidacy. This might include earning a promotion, a more competitive GMAT/GRE score, a higher-profile position at work, or increased community engagement. This would also be the space to mention any clarity you may have gained regarding your MBA career vision, including how the Johnson School fits into achieving your goals. Whichever aspects of your candidacy you’re covering, make it quite clear that you’ve elevated your profile and you’re well-prepared to join the Johnson community and thrive within it.

Want More Advice?

View related articles and video strategy sessions on Cornell Johnson from our Fortuna Admissions expert coaches.

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from top business schools, including Cornell Johnson. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to a top business school, request a free consultation.

Fortuna Admissions Expert Coach Silpa Sarma is a Cornell Johnson MBA alum and former Stanford GSB Admissions reader.

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