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The Inside Scoop on Cornell Johnson’s New “Back of the Resume” Essay

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If you’re considering Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Business or have already begun thinking about crafting your application, you may already know that the school has swapped out one of its long-standing essay prompts in favor of something new. The 2018-19 Johnson MBA application is slated to go live on August 1st.

For years, applicants to Johnson have been invited to imagine themselves as the author of their Life Story and submit a corresponding Table of Contents. “The ToC was a beloved essay prompt that predates my time joining the team back in 2015,” Johnson Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Judi Byers told Clear Admit. “We have had it for close to a decade.”

But even the most beloved essays sometime require a refresh. The suggestion for a “Back of the Resume” prompt to replace it came from a Cornell alumnus, Hernan Saenz (MBA/MIIR ’98), who now is a managing partner at Bain overseeing its Dallas and Mexico offices. Talking about things he wanted to see current graduates taking away from their time at business school, he highlighted the value of students’ envisioning the back of their resume.

“We began to consider using that as a way to learn more about candidates’ individual and interpersonal areas, which is what we liked most about the ToC,” Byers said. “We hope this will give candidates a creative way to share some of those unique, individual elements of who they are.”

New Johnson Back of the Resume Essay Prompt: The front page of your resume has given us a sense of your professional experience and accomplishments as well as your academic summary and extracurricular involvement. If the back page reflects “the rest of your story,” please help us get to know you better by sharing the experiences that will give us insight into your character, values, and interests.

Johnson back of the resume essay
Judi Byers, Johnson executive director of admissions and financial aid

There are no wrong answers here, Byers says. “Candidates should use their best judgment and highlight the things they think help tell their story,” she said. “We want it be something that showcases their authenticity,” she said. This could mean using a second page—a literal backside of the resume—to outline different ways you are engaged with a local community organization or submitting a YouTube video elaborating on your advocacy for marginalized communities.

“We wanted to keep the creative elements of ToC,” explained Byers. Applicants were invited to respond to the ToC in alternative submission formats including a slide presentation, links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube etc.), as well as visually enhanced written submissions—and the same goes for the Back of the Resume prompt.

“With this new prompt, we want to give candidates a chance to showcase a broader range of interests that don’t necessarily fit into their professional experience,” Byers said. “The focus is really on getting to know candidates on an individual level who are exploring passions and interests outside of the workplace.”

In our conversation earlier this month, Byers also shared that she and her team are examining ways to add greater transparency to its overall admissions process. This after the school came under fire in the most recent application cycle, with some applicants expressing frustration via LiveWire about long wait times for decisions and inadequate communication from the school.

“We are not a school that is going to be able to reduce the number of deadlines,” Byers said. “But we do want to make sure we are clearly communicating how our deadlines align with our scholarship deadlines.”

In terms of the overall incoming class, Byers said she’s feeling pretty good. “We did have to make some additional offers in light of how things are happening internationally,” she shared, adding that competition for under-represented minorities (URMs) and women was also quite competitive.

Like several other schools Clear Admit has talked to, Johnson also saw an uptick in admitted students looking to negotiate in terms of aid in this most recent cycle. In response to this, Johnson actually implemented a formal appeals process for merit funding for the first time. “This gives admitted students an opportunity to share things that have been added to their candidacy since applying—promotions, additional training they have completed, etc.,” Byers said.