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Who Makes a Good Applicant to Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management?

eddie_asbieWith the Round 3 deadline for applications to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University just a few days away, are you busy putting the finishing touches on your application? Maybe you are just beginning to consider applying in the year ahead. In either case, if Johnson at Cornell is on your radar, read on to learn more about just what the school is looking for in its applicants.

We recently spoke with Eddie Asbie, Associate Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, who joined Johnson in 2013 to help develop the Two-year MBA in Ithaca class. In our interview, Asbie took time to share some of what makes a good applicant in the eyes of the Johnson Admissions Committee, beyond the obvious solid entrance exam scores and strong academics that are par for the course with a top-tier Ivy League school.


Topping Asbie’s must-have-list for Johnson candidates includes those that can truly embrace working in groups and thrive on collaboration. “Good applicants are those who can show evidence of their ability to collaborate throughout their work experiences, through leadership roles they’ve pursued, and even through roles they’ve served in their community,” he says.

“Ultimately we are thinking about a candidate who is going to be a part of Johnson’s community for a year or two and bring unique value to their team. We also have a very diverse, vibrant community at Cornell, and we seek candidates that are ready, willing and able to collaborate with students, classmates, faculty and recruiters from a broad spectrum of different backgrounds.” Of constant consideration is the possibility of placing candidates in front of the school’s top recruiters. “Employers seek collaborators,” Asbie says.

In terms of how best to communicate your collaborative abilities as part of your application, Asbie recommends highlighting teambuilding experiences on your resume, including times when you’ve supervised or worked as part of a group or led a project, for example. Demonstrating involvement in your community is also important. “A recommender is a perfect person to attest to your ability to work in partnership with others or in teams,” he says.


Asbie is always on the lookout for candidates who are self-aware with clear short- and long-term goals and cognizant of both their strengths and weaknesses. “If you are considering a career switch and tap into an industry that you have no background in, we want to know what kind of networking you are conducting. Illustrate that you understand this is new territory and that you are taking the necessary steps to understand what the job function entails and what it takes to be successful.”

Also vitally important is the ability to be self-aware in regard to your academic background, he says. If you are from a non-quantitative background, if your standardized test scores are below average or if your current job isn’t quant-focused, show an awareness of that fact and the steps you are taking to address it. “Are you retaking the standardized test, asking for additional quant-focused assignments within the workplace, or completing an online course from an accredited institution? If so, share that with us,” Asbie encourages. “If there are any red flags or something that may become a red flag in the future, address it,” he says. “These actions illustrate your ability to be self-aware and implement steps to address deficiencies.”

True Knowledge of Johnson

“Johnson pursues candidates who are ready to roll up their sleeves and learn by being immersed in our program and culture,” Asbie notes. Due diligence is invaluable when it comes to understanding the culture, the education you will receive and the community. Don’t be “that” applicant who sounds like he/she is reading straight from the school website when talking about the program, he warns.

A campus visit is one of the most effective means to get to know Johnson. If you can visit, be sure to connect with students, especially those within the specific function or industry that interests you. If not, or in addition, network with Johnson alumni and the admissions team as part of countless events held around the world or via social media events like webinars for prospective applicants. “When contemplating two years of your life and the financial investment associated with enrolling in business school, you need to conduct significant research to explore your future community, painting an accurate picture of what Johnson is and where you fit in that portrait.”

Willingness to Be Challenged

“We want individuals who are not afraid of their perspectives being challenged and who are seeking new opportunities,” he said. Business school is an amazing opportunity to work with students from diverse backgrounds and industries, as well as an incredibly talented faculty. “There will be times when you are provided with constructive criticism,” Asbie warns. “These conversations can be challenging. We want candidates who are open to these opportunities to improve and develop plans for implementation.”

Beyond these four key points, Asbie adds that academics are equally important to Johnson. His team wants evidence that a candidate has full confidence that he/she can and will do well at Johnson. Letters of recommendations are extremely important and provide a venue for those who know you well to speak about work ethic, motivation and drive. “All information a candidate places on an application provides a snapshot of the person you are,” he says. Make information relevant to the application process, he notes. “Including high school information and corresponding achievements is not relevant to business school admission, yet we see it every application cycle.”

There you have it. Straight from Johnson’s Associate Director of Admissions and Financial Aid – what Cornell looks for in its candidates. Good luck on those applications!

Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Business is an advertiser on the Clear Admit site. This piece appears as part of the school’s sponsorship package. For more information about sponsorship opportunities with Clear Admit, contact us here.