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

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We continue with our updates to Admissions Director Q&As with a trip to Ithaca, NY.  Judi Byers is the Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Aid for the residential MBA programs at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. She leads a team of 14 admissions professionals and directs the strategic recruitment and admissions activities for the Two-Year and One-Year MBA programs in Ithaca.

Read on to hear from Byers about Cornell’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts, its NYC curriculum, the Cornell Application Guide, LEAD events to get to know candidates, and more!

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

Judi Byers, Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Aid for the residential MBA programs at Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management

Judi Byers: This year we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our Office of Diversity & Inclusion, one of the first of its kind within a leading business school and a reflection of the importance and value we place not only in enrolling students from diverse backgrounds and paths of life, but also developing our MBA graduates to be aware and informed leaders who are confident in their ability to navigate difficult conversations and situations while also contributing to the creation of more inclusive teams and work environments.

Our commitment to D&I is ongoing and very much begins in the admissions process where there are specific events and initiatives designed to help candidates explore and understand our resources, support system, and training opportunities:

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

JB: Our NYC curriculum, which gives students in our Two-Year and One-Year Ithaca residential MBA programs the opportunity to take classes at Cornell Tech on our Roosevelt Island campus. We offer fall and spring semester experiences to include:

The NYC curriculum is one of several exciting academic experiences that our students can integrate into their MBA experience. There are also opportunities to study abroad with one of our 30+ international exchange partners or explore elective interests at other Cornell schools and colleges.

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.)?

JB: Our Application Guide is an excellent resource to help you plan for and navigate our admissions process. Every candidate who applies to Johnson is assigned an Application Coordinator who serves as your main point of contact and is available to answer questions that you have; they are also the person you will want to communicate with should you have updates to share during the process – new test scores, updated resume, etc.

Your Application Coordinator will ensure that your materials are received and your file is prepared for preliminary review by a member of our Admissions Committee as well as our Admissions Officers. A preliminary review is a thorough assessment of your application materials, and I will tell you, we read everything that we ask you to submit. The preliminary review provides us with a comprehensive look at your candidacy – preparedness, readiness, and fit for the program – and informs our decision to advance you to the next step in the process, which is the Admissions Interview.

Judi Byers with students and alumni

The Admissions Interview is described in further detail below but is the next step in the process for candidates ultimately offered admission. Following the Admissions Interview, some candidates may be invited to join our waitlist which means that we see potential for success and fit within our community though have identified one or more aspects to an applicant’s overall candidacy that might benefit from further improvement.

We have a robust set of resources available to candidates invited to join our waitlist and find that they provide great insights to those who remain committed to attending Cornell. Our Admissions Committee meets to review and evaluate all candidates who have completed an Admissions Interview and together we render a final decision.

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? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

JB: Our essay prompts are designed to give us a holistic understanding of who you are – professionally, academically, and as a potential member of our community. Through our essays, you will get a sense of what we value as a community, and in reading your responses, we expect to gain a sense of how you hope to grow and contribute. If you’re looking for insight into how best to approach our goals statement and essay prompts, I hope you’ll have a look at the articles that I’ve written so far this admissions season!

CA: How many essays would you wager you’ve read in your tenure at Cornell? Thinking about the essays that have been the most memorable, is there something they have in common?

JB: Enough to know which candidates I hope to see in Ithaca next year, and ultimately, a part of our Big Red family! The most memorable essays are written by candidates who are:

  • Self-reflective – you will get to know yourself even better during business school starting with the admissions process. Candidates often find the admissions process to be a highly reflective experience and those who lean into the process use their insights to tell us their unique story, which is what we want to learn from the essays.
  • Authentic – you can and should be who you are and consistent in what you say and how you interact with us during the admissions process. Your essays communicate who is likely to show up for the admissions interview and that’s important to us because we are also using this process to better understand you and see how you will fit and contribute to our student and alumni communities.
  • …and have Conviction – building on Johnson’s 4C’s Leadership framework, which includes a focus on competence, character, compassion, and courage, I often look for what I call my 5th C, and that is conviction. Do you have the belief in yourself as well as the self-efficacy to fully invest in this experience and your future? I want to know you want this, as much if not more, than I want it for you.

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process?  Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (blind, non-blind)?

JB: Interviews at Cornell are by invitation only and following a preliminary review of your application materials. They are conducted primarily by professional staff in Admissions (or from our MBA Programs team) or by second year MBA students who are members of our Johnson Admissions Group (JAG) – here’s a look at a Clear Admit Interview done with Cornell MBA ’19 students and JAG members, Lauren Keithan and Corey Minerva.

Interviews may be conducted in person in Ithaca or remotely via Skype. While not required, interviewing on campus gives you the opportunity to see and experience our community and culture through the various visit opportunities we offer – information sessions, class visits, coffee & convos, and Sage Socials. Additional information about our interview and notification process can be found in our application guide.

Each admissions season, we also host a series of Johnson Leadership Exploration and Assessment Day (LEAD) events in collaboration with our Leadership Programs team. The LEAD events are evaluative and designed to give us the opportunity to get to know some of our highest achieving candidates who are also being considered for several of our most prestigious merit scholarships, including the Park Fellowship, which requires the completion of an additional essay and participation at a LEAD event to be considered for the Park Fellowship.

Judi Byers with Touchdown, the Cornell mascot

Candidates invited to attend a LEAD event will be notified following the preliminary review of their application materials and can expect to complete their admissions interview during the LEAD event. Please note – attending a LEAD event is one but not the only way we assess and award candidates merit scholarship; it is a requirement for those being considered for the Park Fellowship.

CA: Anything else you would like to add?

JB: Yes – Ithaca is gorges and you will live your best life! In all seriousness, I want candidates to know and understand that Ithaca is a very special place with real advantages to its location.

Beyond its natural beauty, which offers a healthy backdrop to the intensity of an MBA student schedule, the focus on community provides meaningful opportunities to develop genuine and lasting relationships, which is important and at times underestimated as you progress on this journey filled with short years and long days and nights.

Access to recruiting opportunities isn’t an issue – we have wonderful alumni and corporate partners who return to campus each year in search of Cornell MBA student talent and we also offer a number of professional treks that bring students directly to the companies, firms, and organizations they are most excited to join following graduation. And, with our Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island – you’ll have access to a truly dual campus experience and enjoy two of the most incredible learning environments and communities in the world, both of which we are proud to call home to the Big Red!

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.