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

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Eddie Asbie, Interim Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, has spent the past 16 years of his professional career in higher education, primarily within the admissions field. He has called Ithaca and Johnson home over the last eight years and enjoys making an impact in the community. Eddie’s responsibilities have included helping develop the One-Year and Two-Year Residential MBA programs, along with recruiting the underrepresented population, U.S. Military and dual degree candidates.  Read on for his insights into the leading MBA program in this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series.

Clear Admit:  How might the applicant experience look different this year due to COVID-19? How would you advise candidates to get to know your MBA program and student community if they aren’t able to visit your campus?

Eddie Asbie, Interim Executive Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University

Eddie Asbie: Since the start of the pandemic, the admissions process at Johnson has been through a few changes. At the same time, our teams have made the applicant and student experience a priority with an emphasis on positive interaction and attention. One of the biggest changes in admission is the move to virtual for the applicant process. As for now, candidates are unable to visit campus, however that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to connect with our community in meaningful and impactful ways. Our Events Page provides various opportunities to have a firsthand experience with our admissions team through events such as our Ask Admissions series, one-on-one consultations and virtual class visits. The heart and soul of our community is our students, which is a great way to connect. We encourage candidates to reach out to students in our Clubs and Organizations and ask specific questions about their experiences. Members of our community enjoy interacting with candidates to help identify how Johnson can help them explore possibilities regarding their personal and professional careers.

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.)?

EA: Each applicant is assigned an application coordinator who is responsible for processing applications and making sure all necessary documents are complete. Our coordinators are the main point of contact and available to answer questions during the process. Once a candidate’s application is complete, a full and comprehensive review is conducted and includes an assessment of academic readiness, professional preparedness, and fit. Members of our team spend a significant amount of time on each individual application to get a better understanding of the candidate’s qualifications. After a complete and thorough review, the committee member recommends one of the following actions: interview, waitlist without interview, or deny.

For those who complete the interview, the interviewer provides a write up of the individual’s candidacy and preparedness for MBA studies. The admissions committee then meets to discuss the overall profile relative, as it relates to the applicant pool. This will then allow for a final decision. Learning more about a candidate’s qualification and enthusiasm for our program is one of the best aspects of my job.

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?

EA: There are certain portions of the application process which are in the candidate’s control and the essay portion is one of them. The essay allows a prospect the opportunity to reflect on their experience, goals, and ambitions. Our team approaches the essay portion with an open-mind and the chance to learn more about what makes each person unique. When preparing for the essay the first thing we advise is to have a clear understanding of what the question is asking. I believe this is one area where we sometimes see a lack of focus, probably due in part because there are so many things an applicant wants to share. In this instance, we advise that applicants first organize your thoughts and then build out a framework for clear and well-developed responses.

Johnson essays are unique, and we’re interested in candidates who are genuine and respond with authenticity. Our two creative essays are the Impact Essay and Back of Resume Essay. The impact essay focuses on how an applicant plans to influence our community. The Back of Resume Essay focuses on the individual and allows for more creativity. One key thing to keep in mind is to prepare a well written essay that relays an engaging and personal story. I encourage candidates to have fun with this process and reflect on life’s experience and journeys. There is no right or wrong answer and this written task allows for self-reflection and goal setting.

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?

EA: Our interview is an evaluative process to help get a clear picture of an applicant, along with their readiness for an MBA. Our interview is a 30-minute conversation during which we can connect with candidates and hear their stories. Candidates should use this opportunity to highlight their experience and what makes them unique. This aspect of the application is where a candidate has time to elaborate further on what was mentioned in the application and an opportunity to share why the MBA makes sense. We encourage candidates to review our materials online so that they are well versed with background about our program. Interviews are invite-only where the interview is conducted by a member of our admissions team or our Two-Year MBA students, who are members of the Johnson Admissions Group (JAG).

During the admissions season, we host various Johnson Leadership Exploration days (LEAD) led by our Leadership Programs team. These types of events provide the opportunity to meet candidates who are interested in being considered for some of Johnson’s most prestigious scholarships. The scholarships include the Park Fellowship and requires an additional essay. As the preliminary review is conducted, candidates who qualify may receive an invitation to attend one of our events. Candidates who are not invited to a LEAD event are still considered for competitive merit-based scholarships. Finally, candidates who apply and are invited to one of our virtual Fall Diversity Events are guaranteed an interview if they apply by our January round.

CA: Tell us briefly about two notable professors at your institution (ideally one student favorite, and one up-and-coming).

EA: Our notable professors include Maureen O’Hara and Will Cong.

CA: Anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or admissions process?

EA: Yes! Johnson gives you the flexibility to customize your MBA experience. One of many things to highlight is our two-campus model where we offer the best of both worlds, an incredible college town experience and big city life. Within our program options, we offer our Ithaca based student the opportunity to experience the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA curriculum at the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

Two options offered include weekend courses and one of two seven-week intensive experiences. The weekend courses are offered in the fall semester and require students to travel between Ithaca and NYC where elective courses are offered on Friday and Saturday. There are a variety of tech-focused topics such as design thinking, designing data products, and digital leadership that our students can take advantage of to help develop their knowledge in these areas. As for the seven-week intensives, we offer a fintech and digital marketing intensive. The fintech intensive exposes students to startup ideas, ventures, and technology applications in the financial services industry. The digital marketing intensive immerses students in the intersection of brand strategy, creativity, and big data analytics. By taking advantage of these options, it opens networking opportunities with our Cornell Tech students.

As for the admissions process, I hope that candidates enjoy their experience researching our program and navigating the Johnson application. We believe it’s an opportunity to find out what makes our programs and people special and differentiates us from other business schools. We have dedicated and passionate staff who enjoy the work they do and are here to help throughout the admissions journey. We encourage candidates to reach out to members of our team and community, as I know there are many people who are looking to pay if forward and help throughout the process.

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.