We posed questions to admissions officials at the Cornell University S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants, and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:
1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?
Each applicant has something unique about them. It can be a personal story, a fun or unique fact, or just something simply innate to their personality. It is common to assume the GMAT or where you attended undergraduate school sets someone apart; and while that is very important, it doesn't necessarily tell us much about you. Additionally, an applicant who is genuine about why they want to be at our school certainly helps them stand out. However, do not be disingenuous about this.
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2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
Overall, the essays provide a way to ask questions not found anywhere else within the application. It is the vehicle for someone to be more creative and provide more detail into their life and experience rather than simply checking a box. Each school may appear to have similar questions or use different questions that will help a candidate understand what is important to the school. For example, we ask: "You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. Please write the table of contents for the book." We encourage applicants to approach this essay with their unique style. We value creativity and authenticity. We get a lot of information about an applicant's personal story as well as what has brought them to this point in their life.
3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
The applicant's GMAT is important. It is the common denominator among most applications and helps us determine if someone can handle our first semester core curriculum. Undergraduate GPA is also very important since it is the only academic record we see from a candidate. If one is high, the other low, it does not necessarily cancel a bad score or a poor GPA. Nothing can really replace good work experience, so it doesn't compare when you are evaluating the GMAT and GPA.
4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?
On average, M.B.A. students have three to five years of work experience. Prior work experience is important on several fronts. It is what you bring to your educational experience in and out of the classroom, and it is what employers refer to when evaluating you among other M.B.A.'s they are considering to hire. It is always good to remember that you are only as good as your last offer.
5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?
A huge differentiator for us is the immersion programs. Johnson was the first school to start a practical application that not only had students interacting with industry leaders, but working on real-time projects before entering an internship. The immersion learning experience plunges students into electives, site visits, and live cases aimed at getting them up to speed in their area of interest, all in their first year.
6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?
This is a really important question because candidates can take for granted that their recommendation letters are positive. I caution applicants to be sure to choose the right recommenders. This must be someone that knows you well and can speak to specific examples of your work ethic, integrity, and motivation for b-school.