Johnson Cornell MBA Admissions team’s Interview
GyanOne interviewed Christine E. Sneva, Executive Director, Johnson Cornell MBA admissions, to help Indian applicants from the consulting and IT backgrounds understand the Johnson Cornell MBA application process better.
GyanOne: The Cornell MBA has fast been gaining a reputation as the program of choice for applicants looking at careers in Consulting. The Consulting Program at Johnson is the only offering of its kind among top schools, after all. Yet, many applicants who wish to get into consulting come from backgrounds in manufacturing, IT, operations, and marketing. How can applicants best prepare themselves in their applications when showcasing a career switch to consulting?
Christine: I am glad to hear about your enthusiasm for our approach to preparing our students for consulting careers. The consulting focus at Johnson is a comprehensive, structured program that we refer to as the “Consulting Passport.” Our students gain a better understanding of careers in consulting, extensive case interview preparation and we are dedicated to helping our students develop the skills and knowledge necessary for a successful transition or continuation in consulting. For those that wish to be successful at such a career switch and therefore in the admissions process, we hope you are able to exhibit the same qualities that employers in this industry are looking to see from the training in our MBA program. *Characteristics include: ability to work on a team, track record of success and initiative, and good business acumen.
GyanOne: Some Asian applicants have careers in technology, and feel that they are automatically at a disadvantage because of the over-represented pool that they belong to. How can applicants from IT and technology backgrounds differentiate themselves in the application process to the Cornell MBA, given that their achievement are more technology-centric rather than business-centric?
Christine: This is a really important question and one that I know applicants from homogenous backgrounds may find it difficult to do. My advice is always to be yourself. You know yourself the best especially the strengths that you should really highlight. We work very hard to be available and accommodating to meet prospective MBA candidates whether it is on the road in home country or here in Ithaca! We host office hours each day so our visitors get access to members of the admissions team and not only feel welcomed but hopefully have the ability to interact with us and our community. Another way to do this is to join us on a Thursday evening for our Sage Socials. Interpersonal skills are very important in business and thus b-school, so to differentiate, you should show this side of you.
GyanOne: Cornell MBA admissions are based not just on a parametric evaluation of professional parameters and test scores, but also equally on understanding applicants, their motivations, and their passions. The unique TOC essay as part of the Cornell MBA admissions essay process is an effort in this direction. What is Cornell looking for through this essay – creativity, evidence of future success, or just the various life experiences that applicants bring? What role does this essay play in overall applicant evaluation?
Christine: For the first question (‘what is Cornell looking for through this essay’), we hope applicants enjoy taking this moment to reflect on moments in their life that have shaped who they are and certainly, who they might become. Think about what we can and cannot assess based on your application – we don’t know your history, key influences or personal stories, triumphs, low points that really provides a wider lense of your life not just a list of your goals. For the next question (‘what role does this essay play in overall applicant evaluation’?) – Our admissions committee is structured so that we have a lot of dialogue about a candidate’s professional history, their academic record and their life accomplishments up to this point. The TOC essay helps us fill in any gaps to this and allows us to connect all the dots.
GyanOne: Most top MBA programs have admissions essays that require applicants to demonstrate an explicit fit with the school. Yet, Cornell does not require its applicants to do this. How does the Cornell MBA program evaluate fit, especially for international applicants?
Christine: This is a fantastic question. We use our “Cornellian “ rubric. There are certain characteristics that reflect the Johnson brand that also reflects how as a b-school, we fit within the University. The characteristics are the ability to work with others, flexibility, professional maturity and poise, and ability to analyze, break down problems and formulate good, innovative solutions. We have to consider a rubric because not everyone gets an opportunity to interview, so the candidates that are able to really stand out are the ones that can showcase this within their application.
GyanOne: The Cornell MBA admissions process has an optional essay does not explicitly ask applicants to use the space only for explaining extenuating circumstances. Given that the other application essays too are quite short (150 words each), some applicants are tempted to use this optional essay to highlight academics, work achievements, or fit with the program. Is this something that may go against applicants?
Christine: Using the optional essay will never count against an applicant. It is there for anyone to use in whatever way they feel completes their application.
GyanOne: How important a factor is international experience when applying to the Cornell MBA program? Are applicants with outstanding professional achievements in their respective spheres, but geographical exposure limited to their own nations, at any disadvantage when applying? Can they compensate for lack of international experience by instead showcasing high global awareness (for example, through working in global teams)?
Christine: International experience for any of our candidates is an advantage because there are few experiences that can truly compare to living and working in a completely different culture and approach to doing business. Outstanding professional achievements are in itself its own bucket so we see both or either one depending on the candidate’s career trajectory.
GyanOne: Cornell offers a number of other programs at the Master’s level in areas such as Human Resources Management and Real Estate Management. How can Cornell MBA students leverage the resources available at other schools and in other programs at Cornell?
Christine: One of our strengths is the autonomy for our students to take courses (up to 35%) outside of Johnson and they are highly encouraged to do so. Cornell is a premier Ivy League institution as well as the largest Ivy, so b-school students should leverage every opportunity in real estate, hotel, industrial relations, engineering, and agriculture.
In her closing line, Christine advises applicants to acknowledge within themselves their true potential. She mentions that it is not about being a “perfect” applicant, it’s about who you are, so be confident and authentic with enthusiasm, during this exciting time in life while you are considering an opportunity like a b-school.