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Admissions Director Q&A: Judi Byers of Cornell University’s S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management

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When I look at the different components to the admissions process and the things that we ask candidates to submit for evaluation, the essays are one of the opportunities that candidates have to really come to life before they sit in front of us during an admissions interview. We love having a chance to learn more about who our applicants are, what makes them tick, what are they particularly passionate about. And our essay prompts are really designed to get at that in particular.

And so at Johnson we have three required essay prompts, the first of which is specific to your goals and really succinctly outlining what your short- and long-term goals are, as well as how the school is best able to help position you for success in regards to achieving both of those. That one is really in large part to help start the conversation that we hope to expand upon in the admissions interview connected to your short- and long-term professional goals.

The second is an essay prompt that is focused on impact. I introduced the impact essay early on in my tenure here with Johnson, in large part because I noticed that one of the qualities that I think really defines Johnson MBAs, both students and alumni and really our community at large, is a focus on having an impact. The essay gives our candidates a chance to identify opportunities that they see to have an impact while they are in the MBA program or as a function of doing their MBA specifically at Johnson and at Cornell University. The ways that they envision being able to have an impact on society and the world at large. I want that to be a theme that candidates really think about as they are looking at the MBA experience at Johnson. The students that I find to be most successful, that derive most value from the experience and the community, are those that really think about the ways that they can both create and give impact to their classmates or to others that they are working with.

The third essay is the new essay prompt that we have launched this season that we are calling the “back of your resume.” The concept came to us from one of our alums who was with us for an admitted student event this past April. He talked with our incoming class about this notion of the front page of your resume really calling attention to your professional accomplishments, your academic strengths, and some highlights connected to interests, but really the back side of your resume being able to outline or reflect the details of who you are as a person.

That message really resonated with me, it resonated with members of the committee, and with the students that are now here in the first year class. We thought what a nice opportunity to evolve the insights that we gleaned the “table of contents” essay and really focus the prompt around this notion of the back page of your resume. And like the “table of contents,” we are hoping that some of the insights will really help us to get to know candidates on a more individual level.

We are excited, too, to see the way that candidates will choose to approach how they answer the essay prompts. I can think of a number of essays that really have stood out to me during the course of my career. Every candidate really should focus on choosing the message and the focus of what they want to communicate in a way that is authentic to who they are. Some of the ways that they choose to convey their story, whether it’s through a YouTube video, a series of Instagram posts, can be really interesting.

We had one candidate, in this last class, who put together a rap remix, presenting herself in different parodies for musical vignettes. It is very interesting, to see how candidates choose to present themselves in regards to answering the essay prompts. But again, with the “back of the resume,” whether you want to really create the second page of your resume to call attention to the many professional, community organizations, and other types of things that candidates are involved with outside of the workplace, that certainly works. We are also very interested to see how candidates might delve into particular points of passion, for them.

Read on for more advice about the admissions interview at Johnson.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.