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Cornell MBA Essay Questions & Analysis

cornell mba essay questions

The following essay topic analysis examines Cornell / Johnson’s MBA admissions essays for the two-year residential program. The Cornell MBA essays questions are for the 2020-2021 admissions season. You can also review essay topic analyses for other leading MBA programs as well as general Essay Tips to further aid you in developing your admissions essays.

Cornell MBA Essay Questions & Analysis 2020-2021

Let’s take a closer look at the Cornell MBA essay questions.

Short Answer

Use this short answer question to succinctly share your short and long term goals. If invited to interview, you will have the opportunity to elaborate further and should be prepared to connect your prior experience with your future aspirations.

A statement of your goals will begin a conversation that will last throughout the admissions process and guide your steps during the MBA program and experience. To the best of your understanding today, please share your short and long term goals by completing the following sentences and answering the enclosed short answer question (350 words maximum):

Immediately post-MBA, my goal is to work as a(n) ____[Role]____ at ___[Company]___within___[Industry]___.
Targeted Job Role:
Target Job Company:

In 5 – 10 years post-MBA, my goal is to work as a(n) ____[Role]____ at ___[Company]___within___[Industry]___.
Targeted Job Role:
Target Job Company:

How has your experience prepared and encouraged you to pursue these goals?
Applicants would be wise to simply fill in the blanks for the first section of the prompt.  Past examples for the short answers have included:

  • Short Term Goal: Immediately post-MBA my goal is to work as a(n) Consultant at Accenture within Media and Technology.
  • Long Term Goal: In 5-10 years post-MBA my goal is to work as a(n) Founder and President within Nonprofit.

Like last year, candidates are expected to elaborate a bit on how their past has informed their planned future in this Cornell MBA essay question.  This invites applicants to share their career history and how factors, such as industry exposure, client projects and more have influenced their decisions.  This is an opportunity to establish one’s skills and set up the need for an MBA.  You do not necessarily need to touch on each role you’ve held since graduation, but rather the most influential ones in preparing you for your future.  If you are a career changer, you may touch on transferable skills or delve deeper into what really sparked your interest in and passion for your new direction.  The key for the short answer is to make clear and concise connections to your vision and motivation.

Cornell MBA Essay Question 1: Impact Essay

This essay is designed to explore the intersection of engagement and community culture. Whether during the program or following graduation, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. To help you explore your potential for impact, we encourage you to engage with our students, alumni, faculty, and professional staff. You may choose to connect with them via email or phone or in person during one of our on campus or off campus events. As you seek their input and insight, please be respectful of their time and prepare a few discussion points or questions in advance.

At Cornell, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. How do you intend to make an impact during the next several years of your education and/or career? (350 words maximum)
Given the adcom’s encouragement to engage the school community, applicants are likely expected to incorporate how they’ve had contact with Johnson alumni, faculty, staff or current students, and, in turn, how this informs their potential to positively impact the Johnson community. Based on these interactions, applicants may want to begin by thinking about an element or two of the Johnson community with which they find the greatest resonance, and should also consider which are already evident in their activities and accomplishments to date. In fact, one to two examples (100-150 words total) that illustrate their skills and potential to make a positive impact should be woven in to selected means of contributing. Consider this in light of the idea that past behavior supports future success.

Of course, the majority of the response to this Cornell MBA essay question should center on the applicant’s planned activities and impact as a Johnson MBA student. It would be wise to discuss their behavior outside of the classroom and identifying specific student organizations in which they might take a leadership role. Candidates should note that speaking convincingly about their ability to make a positive difference will likely require some informed sense of the areas of opportunity and need on campus. Conversations with students and alumni will be very important in producing the most effective essay possible. Finally, suggest how you would continue to make an impact beyond the Johnson MBA, likely through one’s career goals. The sense of community through Johnson does not end on graduation day, and the adcom—given its longstanding history of asking about career goals—may wish to understand the long-term impact a candidate envisions.

Cornell MBA Essay Question 2: Back of Your Résumé Essay

This essay is an opportunity to present yourself as an individual. We encourage you to think about your proudest accomplishments, interests and passions, and personal highlights that will help us to get to know you as a person and potential community member. We value creativity and authenticity and encourage you to approach this essay with your unique style. Alternative submission formats may include a slide presentation, links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube, etc.), as well as visually enhanced written submissions. Maximum file size is 5 MB. If you choose to submit a written essay, please limit your submission to 350 words or fewer. Multimedia submissions should be under 3 minutes.

The front page of your résumé 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 ONE example of a life experience, achievement, or passion that will give us a sense of who you are as a potential community member.
Per Clear Admit’s conversation with Judi Byers, Johnson’s Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, applicants should feel free to get creative in revealing more about themselves on a personal level.  “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.”  You may begin by reflecting on how you spend your time outside of the office—what do you do in your community? Have you had a longstanding hobby?  What drives you in your spare time?  What impact do you seek to have/have you had outside of the office?  Thinking about your actions could then lead to some defined values and interests.  In terms of format, we hesitate to steer you in a single direction.  Once you have some content in mind, consider your strengths in the suggested formats and run with the one that feels right.

Optional Essay (Required for Reapplicants)

You may use this essay to call attention to items needing clarification and to add additional details to any aspects of your application that do not accurately reflect your potential for success at Johnson (350 words maximum). 

If you are reapplying for admission, please use this essay to indicate how you have strengthened your application and candidacy since the last time you applied for admission. Please also review our Application Guide for additional information about reapplying (350 words maximum).
Given the breadth of Johnson’s essays, it seems unlikely that you would miss an opportunity to demonstrate your positive potential for success. For first-time applicants, this Cornell MBA essay question should therefore likely be reserved for addressing potential liabilities in one’s application. Such discussions should be direct and to the point, providing an explanation and pointing to mitigating factors without being defensive or making excuses.

Meanwhile, reapplicants should comment on how they have spent the past year, taking particular care to highlight improved quantitative records, new professional skills and responsibilities, progress toward their ultimate career goals, and/or increased community involvement.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Johnson MBA essay topics! As you work on your Cornell MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Cornell / Johnson offerings:

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