Cornell Johnson MBA Essay Tips

by on September 13th, 2012

According to the Cornell MBA admissions blog, Cornell “changed the direction of our questions this year to better understand your career choices and of course, who you are.”

Cornell MBA’s relatively short essay set is a strong opportunity to focus your application strategy and demonstrate your personal qualities, goals and fit with the Johnson School. These three essays allow you to show many aspects of your background and personality.

Part I: Career Choice Essay (300 word maximum)
How would you characterize your career since college?

Part II: Career Goal Essay (400 word maximum)
Tell us about your short and long term career goals.

As directed, you should avoid communicating everything about your career progress thus far, and instead focus on the key inflection points rather than an entire resume review. When considering what aspects of your past career to focus on, think about the situations that led you to realize what you really want to do, that built skills that will be important to your goals, or introduced you to people who were crucial to your development.

For the second part of your question you will want to describe your goals – ideally you can describe how you view your career unfolding from graduation to achievement of your ultimate goal as a logical trajectory.

Make sure to spend enough time on how the Cornell MBA will help you achieve your short- and long-term MBA goals to demonstrate why Cornell is the right place to spend the next two years of your life. Academics are going to be a crucial part of your career goals, yet classmates and activities will also be important as you develop your career network.

Part III: Character Essay (400 word maximum for chosen question), please choose one of the following to write about:

a. You are the author for the book of Your Life Story. Please write the table of contents for the book. Note: Approach this essay with your unique style. We value creativity and authenticity.

This essay is an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are on a personal level. Think about highlighting areas you may not have been able to touch in the first essay, which was focused on your professional life. You can use this opportunity to demonstrate your unique personal attributes or community involvement. If you have a consistent theme of involvement in a charity or activity this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate why you became involved and what you have done over the years.

When structuring the story, think of this essay as a way to communicate a narrative theme of your life to the admissions committee. What are the key moments that are meaningful to you? Were there key stories involving your friends, family, hobbies or interests that impacted the person you are now?

Though the essay specifically asks for the Table of Contents, you can certainly illuminate each chapter through brief descriptions. Describe the major milestones and be sure to share your essay with friends and family to make sure you are communicating effectively though the creative exercise.

b. Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed and tell us what you learned.

Leadership can be effectively formed through difficulty and failures. In this essay you will want to demonstrate how you have effectively navigated disappointment, reacted when challenged or learned how to improve from a failure.

As you think about a failure you may want to describe, consider those examples that changed your direction or approach either professionally or personally. Cornell wants to understand more about you as a person and how you think. After you describe the failure and set up the situation, make sure you describe what change and growth resulted. This essay is your opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities.

c. What does diversity mean to you and how will you contribute to the diversity of our community at Johnson?

This essay requires you to research Johnson thoroughly to demonstrate that you understand what diversity at Cornell means and how you will contribute. You should be aware of the major academic, extracurricular and social components of the MBA program and think seriously about how you will add to the mix. Perhaps you want to start a club or a conference based on unique industry knowledge. Maybe you aspire to help a professor with her research because of a special interest you have. Or you plan return to the school to be a panelist or mentor once you develop your individual professional pursuits.

Research on your own is a great first step, but the personal approach may pay more dividends in this essay. Think about networking with current students or alumni, visiting campus, and attending information sessions to understand what you will bring to the table that is different. If you are able to talk to a current student or alum about your essay topic you might gain valuable feedback on the direction you can take in this essay.


If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, Stacy Blackman Consulting can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more. 

1 comment

  • I have a question about the Cornell Johnson essays.  For essay number 3, letter b, would it be a mistake to describe a very recent failure? One that mixes personal and professional failure which has in turn kind of led me to apply to business school at this very moment? I failed to secure full-time employment for sometime, it really got me down and then my girlfriend ended up leaving.  It has really led to who I am today and inspired me a lot.  Is this wrong to write about?


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