4 Keys to Writing the Cornell Johnson Essays

Updated for the 2019-2020 admissions season

Long-feared for the nebulous nature of the essay prompt and its required creativity, Cornell’s Table of Contents essay — where you were expected to boil down your life into chapter headings as for a book – has been replaced with a new essay prompt that is … nebulous and which requires extreme creativity.

The new essay wants you to use the “back page of your resume” to paint a broader picture of yourself “by sharing the experiences that will give us insight into your character, values, and interests.” Or in other words, who is the non-business you?

Some things to think about as you craft what just may be the hardest business school essay you write.

Stay in Balance:

Cornell is known as a culture that works, learns, and plays hard. Does this represent your life? If it does, share the details with Johnson. Investment banker and whiskey connoisseur, that’s what we are talking about. Being the social catalyst for your group counts at Cornell. After all, Ithaca winters are cold and dark.

Be creative … up to a point:

The essay prompt also encourages “alternative submission formats,” which can include videos, PowerPoint presentations, personal websites, digital portfolios, and even a written essay (less than 500 words). While this may play to the strengths of some candidates, it can also get you into a lot of trouble. Burning hours on something spectacular takes away from the making real connections to the school in terms of visits, going to events, and talking to current students, which are all things that are going to have a greater impact on your chances.

Be as interesting as Cornell is:

With the opening of its Cornell Tech campus in NYC last year, and the opportunity for MBAs to spend a weekend, quarter or semester there, Johnson has become one of the most cutting-edge, innovative MBA programs out there. Let Cornell know that you know and appreciate how innovative they are, and how you are going to take advantage of all of the unique opportunities they offer. Of course to do this, you really have to know what’s happening on both campuses, and that will take some time and conversations to figure out. This research will also help you with your impact essay.

Share your impact:

While the main essay has changed, the Cornell essay focused on what imprint you will leave on the Johnson community and your classmates remains, and for good reason – Johnson is an extremely supportive environment, a place where everyone chips in to create a dynamic culture of inclusion. How you will do this is the focus of the “Impact” essay.

At Cornell, we value students who create impact. Please indicate the opportunities for impact that you’ve identified through engagement with our community and describe how what you learned has influenced your decision to apply to Johnson.

To write a successful “Impact Essay,” you have to do your research; reach out to a few club officers of professional or shared interest groups at Cornell that are relevant to your background or goals. Identify ways you can get involved and feel free to name drop your contacts in the essay. Touch base with alumni. Determine the volunteering or mentorship opportunities of which you will take advantage. Participate in virtual or in-person information sessions. What are the strengths that you will bring to those groups and how will you use your strengths to support your peers, members of the broader Ithaca community, and future generations of Cornellians?