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Admissions Director Q&A: Ann Richards of Cornell’s S. C. Johnson Graduate School of Management

ann richardsMoving right along in our Admissions Director Q&A Series, we’ll hear this week from Ann Richards, interim director of admission and financial aid at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Richards began her career at Johnson back in 1988 as the college registrar. In 1991, she became director of financial aid, and in 1999 she became associate director of admission.

After 14 years in that role, and with more than 20 years at Johnson in all, she was named senior associate director of admission last year. Since then, Christine Sneva – Johnson’s former director of admission and financial aid – has been named director of enrollment management and student services at Cornell Tech, Johnson’s one-year MBA program in New York City. Amid Sneva’s departure for Cornell Tech, Richards has ably stepped in to lead the charge at Johnson’s Ithaca campus, with oversight for the school’s one-year and two-year MBA programs there.

In the interview that follows, Richards shares details about Johnson’s new targeted leadership development program, which debuts this year. She also highlights the school’s innovative Immersion Program, which helps prepare MBA student for success in their summer internships. Finally, she provides some valuable insight into the admissions process, including specific advice to applicants on how they can best position themselves for success.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at Johnson this coming year?

Ann Richards: The Class of 2016, which entered the two-year MBA program in Ithaca, New York, will be the first to experience Johnson’s new targeted leadership development program, which spans the two years of MBA studies. Throughout the program, students receive feedback from professors and peers on their leadership strengths and weaknesses, which are addressed with specific program offerings.

Leadership development kicks off for incoming students during the pre-term, with the weeklong “Leading Teams” course. In the second half of their first semester at Johnson, students take the new Critical and Strategic Thinking course, which helps prepare them for interviews for the summer internship. Students continue their development as leaders when they return to Johnson for the second year, with the Principled Leadership course.

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

AR: The Immersion Program at Johnson is truly unique among business schools, and our surveys of corporate recruiters confirm that it prepares MBA students for consistent and notable success in their summer internships.

The immersion program is an intense, hands-on semester of integrated course and field work in a specific industry or career interest. Students choose from seven immersion programs, based on their career paths, and take their immersion during the spring semester of their first year.

Immersions give MBA students the opportunity to network with corporations, faculty, and practitioners, and to develop solutions to real-world corporate problems, through sponsored projects. Johnson’s offers immersions in:

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).

AR: Once a prospective student submits his or her application, the Admissions Office reviews the file to make sure that all required documents are complete, such as transcripts, essays, GMAT/ GRE scores, TOEFL/Pearson/IELTS scores if applicable and at least two recommendations. If all required documents are submitted, the application is marked as “Under Review” and moves on to the admissions readers.

We have a two-step review and notification process. In the first step, the readers review and summarize the key attributes of the application and present the application to the Admissions Committee.

The Committee has the three options for each application, upon completion of review – invite the candidate to interview, add the candidate to the admission waitlist without an interview or deny admission to the candidate. The candidate is notified of the Committee’s decision on the “initial notification date” posted for that round. On that day, all applicants who have applied in that round may log into their online application to view the decisions on their applications.

If an applicant is invited to interview, he or she will be contacted by an interview scheduler. We conduct the majority of our interviews on the Ithaca campus with a staff member or a second-year student, who is trained to interview as part of the Johnson Admissions Group (JAG). We also have an Admissions Committee member in the United Kingdom, who conducts interviews in London.  For students who can’t make it to campus (or London), we can arrange to host a Skype video interview.

Once the interview and interview report are complete, the application again moves forward to the Admissions Committee. The committee reviews each applicant, and a decision is published on the final decision day for that round. Those who receive an offer of admission are called by a member of the Admissions Committee within two days of the date the admission decision is finalized.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?

AR: This year we have included two required essays and one optional. The first essay is the “goals” essay. When you sit down to write this essay, think about your post-MBA goals—not just in terms of what you see yourself doing in your career, but also the path that you have taken to this decision. It is important that you are knowledgeable about your industry and job of choice.

The second required essay is the “life story” essay. Have fun with this one! We want to get to know you as a person, and we also hope that you enjoy writing this essay. It is a chance for you to show some creativity, if you choose. The third and optional essay is for you to address any part of your application that you feel needs to be brought to the attention of admissions staff. This is a great place to explain gaps in employment, academic problems or inconsistencies, or your choice of recommender.

When reviewing the essays, the admissions team will look to see that you have answered the questions asked, and we will also review your essays to assess attention to detail. Most important is that you answer the question that is asked and that you are authentic.

Don’t tell us what you think we want to hear. Proofread your essays and have someone you know read them as well. When you have a family member or friend read your essays, ask them two questions: what do you think the question was that I am answering; and does this sound like me?