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Admissions Director Q&A: Eddie Asbie and Vishal Gaur of Cornell Johnson

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In this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series, we welcome two members of the Cornell University Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management leadership: Eddie Asbie, Executive Director of Admissions & Scholarship for the Two-Year MBA program, and Vishal Gaur, the newly appointed Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean and Emerson Professor of Manufacturing Management.

Asbie has spent the past 18 years of his professional career in higher education, primarily within admissions, and has called Ithaca and the Johnson School his home for the last 11 years. He graduated from the University at Buffalo as a communication major and earned his master’s in higher education through SUNY Buffalo State College. Asbie’s role has evolved over time, from recruiting underrepresented populations and hosting diversity events to promoting dual degrees. He leads a team of 12 in the admissions department. Members of the community know Asbie as a husband and father of three children—Ella, Carter, and Jordan. He is also “the No. 1 Buffalo Bills fan” (his words) and a Yankees fan. 

Vishal Gaur earned his PhD from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and BTech in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He served as an associate dean for MBA programs from 2014 to 2019, as a department editor for Management Science during 2014-2021, and as the program director for the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program offered through Cornell. His research focuses on data-driven analysis of problems in supply chains, retailing, e-commerce, and marketplace operations, and his work was recognized with the Wickham Skinner Early Career Research Accomplishments Award from the Production and Operations Management Society in 2006. He currently teaches graduate courses in operations management, digital business and retail operations, and data analysis.

Read on for our guests’ analysis of this year’s admissions season, highlights of the MBA program, and some tips on navigating the essays, interview, and application process.

Eddie Asbie, Executive Director of Admissions & Scholarship at the SC Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University

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

Eddie Asbie and Vishal Gaur: The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management offers a 1+1 option in our two-year MBA program in which students spend their first year in Ithaca taking core courses and our outstanding immersion courses, then move to our Cornell Tech campus in New York City for the second year, where they take elective courses and participate in the Studio curriculum with engineering and computer science graduate students. This 1+1 program is unique to Cornell and is designed for students interested in tech product management, tech entrepreneurship, and tech consulting. It leverages the best of both worlds from our Ithaca and Cornell Tech campuses and their interdisciplinary faculty. We also allow our Ithaca-based Two-Year MBA students to experience Cornell Tech by participating in fall weekend courses, or a half-semester intensive on that campus. These offerings bridge the gap between business and the digital economy and are creating a cohesive community across our two campuses.

We want our candidates to understand the strong entrepreneurial focus we have within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the larger Cornell University community. The Johnson School is one of three schools under the college of business. The other two schools are the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration and the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Vishal Gaur, Dean at the SC Johnson Graduate School of Management in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Our students have many opportunities to network and receive mentorship from faculty, entrepreneurs, and investors as they prepare to launch their own ventures. We have amazing resources and options through our startup suite services, among which are the Big Red Ventures Fund, a seed-stage venture capital fund focused on early-stage, high-growth, Cornell-connected businesses, and the the BioEntrepreneurship Fellowship, which allows Johnson students and life science researchers the opportunity to take on real-world startup projects. I would encourage those interested in this career path to consider these options when thinking about our program. To learn more about additional resources, please visit our site: Two-Year MBA Entrepreneurship.

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?

EA & VG: Learning more about a candidate’s qualifications and enthusiasm for our program is one of the best aspects of my job. Each applicant is assigned to an application coordinator who is responsible for processing the application and making sure all necessary documents are complete. Our coordinators are the main point of contact and are available to answer questions during the process. Once a candidate’s application is complete, a full and comprehensive review includes an assessment of academic readiness, professional preparedness, qualities, and fit. Members of our team spend time with each application to obtain a better understanding of the candidate’s qualifications. After a thorough review, the committee member recommends one of the following actions: interview, waitlist without an 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 applicant pool which will then allow for a final decision.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? 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 & VG: The essay is a great opportunity to describe what makes a candidate unique. This is usually revealed by highlighting career goals and contributions to one’s community. Our team hopes candidates take the opportunity to reflect on what makes them stand out and the opportunity to self-reflect on their accomplishments and achievements during their personal and professional journey.

This year, we have decided to keep our essays consistent with last year. We will continue to keep our goals statement, which allows for highlighting both short- and long-term goals and addressing the prompt, “How has your experience prepared and encouraged you to pursue these goals?” An additional essay is the impact essay, which addresses how a candidate sees themselves making an impact in the community. The prompt asks, “At Cornell, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. Taking into consideration your background, how do you intend to make a meaningful impact on an elite MBA community?” As applicants prepare their responses, we hope they are thoughtful about their responses and conduct research and do networking to help inform their responses.

Some of the common mistakes we come across in the essay portion are the lack of thoroughness and writing that is not clear and concise. In the world of generative AI, there is an even greater premium on essays that reflect a candidate’s specific experiences and aspirations. Another area is not properly answering the question. The last area of concern is when candidates use an incorrect school name. We are aware that candidates are applying to multiple schools, and it is time-consuming, but please take the time to answer our specific essay.

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 (resume-based, application-based, behavioral)? Will your admissions interviews be in person or virtual for the 2023-24 admissions season?

EA & VG: Interviews are a great way to tell a candidate’s story, highlight why they want to pursue an MBA, show respect for our program, and clarify any red flags for the admissions committee. Our interview process is designed to be conversational and allows us to get a better sense of each candidate’s goals and aspirations. Interviews are typically 30 minutes, conducted by a member of the admissions team or a trained second-year MBA student. When applicants receive their invitation to interview, they will have the option to select an on-campus interview or virtual option through Zoom. 

Interviews really give candidates the opportunity to shine while showcasing their level of interest in being a part of our community. Authenticity is a key attribute our admissions team is looking for throughout the entire process. It is expected that candidates will practice their answers in advance of the interview; however, we don’t want them to be scripted. We hope candidates can have fun and enjoy the process while also keeping it professional.

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?

EA & VG: Candidates can submit their GMAT or GRE scores or request a test waiver. For those interested in submitting for the test waiver option, this option is provided in the application. We request a short statement of up to 100 words that describes a candidate’s personal circumstance and a clear and compelling argument about what’s involved in order to flourish in our rigorous academic environment. Those who have clearly demonstrated analytical and/or quantitative abilities through academics and work experience are encouraged to request a waiver.

CA: Could you tell us about the waitlist? What can waitlist applicants do to maximize their chances of being accepted to your program? Does your office allow waitlisted applicants to submit additional materials (e.g., letters of support, job updates, new test scores, etc.)?

EA & VG: Even though the waitlist may not be ideal for candidates, it is an opportunity for applicants to go back and reevaluate their application and identify areas of improvement. Some of the ways applicants can maximize their chances of getting admitted are by providing updated information, adding letters of recommendation, and highlighting aspects of character and examples of strong work ethic. Candidates can also provide new test scores, update their resume with promotions, or just reiterate their interest in the program.

In terms of the waitlist, we focus on those candidates who take an active interest in their applications and provide updates. For those who are waitlisted in an earlier round, we continue to review their candidacy with the next round. One piece of advice for those on the waitlist: We encourage applicants to keep trying and not give up.

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.

EA & VG: It is hard to choose among the wealth of electives offered at the Johnson School, but two popular courses are Power and Politics in Organizations, taught by Professor Angus Hildreth, and Applied Principles of Business Strategy, taught by visiting senior lecturer Hernan Saenz. The first course teaches about power, politics, and influence in organizations, which is so relevant to MBAs, and the course is taught using fun exercises and case studies. In the second course, Professor Saenz, who is a Johnson alumnus and a leader in management consulting, teaches strategy through the lens of the consulting projects he has led and the solution frameworks he deploys with his clients.

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

EA & VG: Since the formation of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, this is one of the most exciting times to be at Johnson. Our students enjoy the flexibility to take courses in the Dyson School and the Nolan Hotel School, in the college, and in other parts of Cornell University. Cornell is known to have some of the most exciting programs in higher education, whether in technology, agribusiness, hospitality, sustainability, economics, engineering, law, or industrial and labor relations. Many of our students customize their educational experiences to their interests by taking advantage of these options. An example of such offerings is our BioEntrepreneurship Fellowship, which allows our Johnson students and life science researchers the opportunity to collaborate on real-world startup projects. In addition, we the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA in New York City.

Finally, if you have the opportunity to come and visit or you’re interested in meeting us at an upcoming event, please take a look at the various options on our events page. We are always happy to connect with you and to provide additional information regarding our program. 

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.