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Johnson Admissions Director Weighs in on Recently Released Application Essays

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Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management recently posted essay topics for the 2017-18 MBA application season, revealing some new twists as well as some old favorites. We caught up with Judi Byers, executive director of admissions and financial aid, to learn more.

New this year is a novel fill-in-the-blank goals statement designed to help applicants convey their short- and long-term career goals. “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,” reads the prompt, which then provides a simple sentence with blank spaces for applicants to indicate their target role, company, and industry both immediately upon graduation and five to 10 years out.Johnson application essays“It’s very innovative in terms of its fill-in-the-blank capture mechanism,” says Byers. Indeed, this MadLibs approach to a goals statement is one we haven’t seen from other schools. And in case the format doesn’t clarify any ambiguity applicants might have in terms of how to answer, a sample response is also provided to make things crystal clear:Johnson application essays“What’s interesting about Johnson’s novel approach to the goals essay is that it’s essentially guiding applicants to do exactly what many an admissions officer (and admissions consultants) have been saying for years—which is to give highly specific short- and long-term goals (to name companies and posts you want),” says Clear Admit Co-Founder Graham Richmond. “The question also doesn’t really leave room for ambiguity—or if the candidate answers ambiguously they’ve clearly missed the gist of the assignment,” he adds.

In terms of how best to answer, Richmond provides the same advice Clear Admit has always offered to applicants approaching this type of question. “Your goals should be 1) clear (readily understood by anyone who might encounter your file), 2) feasible (is this the sort of thing that MBAs go on to do, or is it at least within reason?), and 3) logical (do the goals dovetail with your past experiences, outside interests, or activities?),” he says.

Impact Essay Contributes to Increased Yield

Johnson application essays
Judi Byers, Johnson executive director of admissions and financial aid

Making an appearance for the second time this year was what Johnson calls its “Impact Essay,” which calls on applicants to clearly demonstrate ways in which they have engaged with members of the Johnson community to learn more about opportunities the school offers its students to create impact.

Byers credits the Impact Essay with helping to increase the school’s yield—the percentage of admitted applicants who ultimately chose to enroll at Johnson—in a year in which application volume was slightly softer than the year before. “Even though we didn’t have quite the application volume, we had much stronger yield from candidates and very consistent interest in wanting to come off the waitlist,” she says. “Through our application essay focused around the notion of impact, we encouraged candidates to really get to know members of the community to learn about how they’ve had impact and added value through their time in the program,” she notes. “I think it really helped to showcase the strengths of the Johnson MBA experience.”

Fluctuations in international volume—most notably in India and China—contributed to the overall modest decline in applications, Byers shares, but yield was stronger in all markets than the year before.

Table of Contents Essay Remains
Johnson’s second essay prompt this year is the tried-and-true “Table of Contents Essay.” This unique option invites each applicant, as the author of his or her “Life Story,” to provide a table of contents showcasing what that story might include.

“We value creativity and authenticity and encourage you to approach this essay with your unique style,” reads the prompt, adding that in lieu of a simple written table of contents, applicants can also choose to submit a slide show or links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube, etc.).

Johnson began offering applicants greater latitude in terms of the media format they use to respond to this prompt for first time last year, part of a trend among many leading business schools to keep pace with the social media–savvy millennials who comprise their applicant base. NYU Stern School of Business this year debuted a “Pick Six” prompt that invites applicants to submit images with captions a la Instagram, UT McCombs School of Business two years ago began allowing applicants to use recommendations from their LinkedIn profiles in lieu of traditional letters submitted by recommenders directly to the school, and several schools have incorporated video essays as part of their process, most recently MIT Sloan School of Management.

For Byers, a millennial herself, adapting the admissions process to meet the modes of expression favored by the current applicant pool presents opportunities, not challenges. “I think it presents a chance to innovate and evolve how we identify, evaluate, and select candidates for admissions,” she says. Broadening the scope of responses accepted for the Table of Contents prompt ultimately results in greater opportunity for creative expression, she adds. “We have seen that the creativity applicants use in their approach really illustrates the personality and unique characteristics they would bring to the MBA community.”

2017 Is a Pretty Big Year
Bigger changes are in store at Johnson beyond these shifts in the admissions process. “2017 is a pretty big year for us,” Byers says. Most notably, Cornell will be moving forward with the opening of its Roosevelt Island campus in New York City—this September. Though the impact of this opening will be greatest for students in the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA—a one-year tech-intensive MBA program currently housed in Google’s Chelsea office—it will also benefit those in the two-year, Ithaca-based MBA program. Johnson will have dedicated space on the new two-million-square-foot campus, providing Ithaca-based students with the opportunity to take electives and spend part of their time studying in New York City. “From an admissions standpoint, we will also have the ability to host events once the campus opens,” she adds.

Stay tuned for more on the opening of the Roosevelt Island campus as well as in-depth essay topic analysis from Clear Admit’s admission experts.