Chat Transcript: Cornell Admissions

Cornell University's Johnson School (Johnson Full-Time MBA Profile) is unique for its close-knit community, where teamwork reigns and graduates leave with a large network, writes Randall Sawyer (screen name: RandallAtCornell), assistant dean of admissions, financial aid, and inclusion at the Johnson School, during a recent chat event. He fielded questions from the audience and Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (screen name: FrancescaBW) about everything from the recruiting outlook to the chances for international applicants now cooling their heels on the waiting list. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Ansho: What are the key points for applicants to consider when applying to the Johnson School?

RandallAtCornell: We are looking for students who are academically inquisitive, well-rounded, and understand why they want to earn their MBA. We are a very collaborative community and understand the value of teamwork.

Ansho: I have a 650 [GMAT score] and a degree in engineering from India plus five years of work experience in business development. What are my chances of getting an interview invite?

RandallAtCornell: We like your five years work experience, but your GMAT is a bit lower than what we would like to see. Our median this year will be 700, and our average is in the 690 space. However, there are more than 20 different things we look at in your file, and while the numbers are good benchmarks, we really look at you as a person and professional.

lakshya: What is the average GMAT score required for the Johnson School?

RandallAtCornell: There is no minimum GMAT score required for Cornell. Most of our students score in the 640 to 750 range, and last year more than half the class scored 710 or better.

MFaulkner: Please explain the emphasis that is placed on an applicant's GMAT score when the admissions committee is evaluating an individual's application. Furthermore, how close to the school's published GMAT score mean would you recommend an applicant approach to feel confident with that aspect of his application? (For example, 10, 20, or 30 points below or above the mean?)

RandallAtCornell: The GMAT score is important, with the quant end of it being most important because we have seen a correlation between quant scores and success in our core courses. I would urge students to score in the 680 and up range.

MFaulkner: What is the most critical aspect of an applicant's application?

RandallAtCornell: The most critical aspect of the application is the essay. We have [applicants write] three, and we read them closely. They tell us a lot about you. However, should you get an interview, then the interview becomes even more important than the essays because of personal interaction.

ss1: I'm applying this year. I would like to know how much weight is given to work experience because I will be completing two years on the job when I apply.

RandallAtCornell: Work experience is important, and students in our class in 2010 averaged five years. However, we accept applicants with no work experience—usually from Cornell—and some students with nine-plus years' work experience, so we are very diverse in this area.

johnsondreamz: I am an international waitlisted candidate still waiting for a decision. At this stage, do I still have a chance to get off the waitlist? How many seats are still left and how many students are still on the waitlist?

RandallAtCornell: We are in the process of thinning the waitlist. While I cannot tell you what your chances are, I can tell you that we have thinned the list by nearly 70 percent in the last couple of weeks, so congratulations on making it this far. We'll do more on Monday of next week, but no one knows what will happen at this time. We are nearly full for the class, so there are still seats available and it changes on a daily basis. Good luck to you!
RandallAtCornell: Consortium applicants can simply tell us that we are their first choice. We had a very good year [in 2010] with underrepresented minorities—nearly 16 percent of the incoming class represents an underrepresented minority. Be sure you mean it when you tell us that we are your top choice because we'll expect you to attend should we make you an offer.

TheDarkLord: I am a prospective student from India. I [earned] 75 percent in my undergraduate program, which is considered first class with distinction. What would this score be equivalent to on the American 4.0 scale?

RandallAtCornell: Congratulations on your first class with distinction. We would want to know what school you attended and would value your score accordingly. We have a group of people on my team, who will translate your score for the selection committee. I am not sure if your 75 percent would be a 4.0.

JE3: What are some characteristics of Johnson School students?

RandallAtCornell: Intellectually curious, driven, motivated, team players, and leaders. Our students know when to be a participant, type A, outgoing, or competitive.

Chaituy: I am on the waitlist from round three, and I am an international employee living in the United States. Given the time it takes to get a U.S. visa these days, do you give any priority on clearing the waitlist of international students?

RandallAtCornell: We understand your situation and raise it at every waitlist review meeting. We do usually clear international students first from the waitlist because of the visa issues.

johnsondreamz: How do you decide on taking students off the waitlist? Do international students still on the waitlist stand a chance of getting admitted?

RandallAtCornell: We review nearly all the fields still on the waitlist at each meeting and choose accordingly. Yes, international students still do stand a chance of getting admitted.

ALB_713: How important is "global experience" to the application process, and how important is the global business perspective in the Johnson MBA program?

RandallAtCornell: Global experience is noted and adds a unique dimension to your application, but as I noted before it is one of more than 20 variables we assess in the process. Our program is getting more and more global by choice as the world gets smaller.

JE3: What are you looking for in the essays—personality, confidence, education, etc.?

RandallAtCornell: Our three questions are simple. What is your greatest business accomplishment? Why an MBA and the Johnson School? And if your life were a book, what would the chapter headings be? (I love this one.) So, we are looking to know what you think is your greatest accomplishment, why you are applying to our school, and where you want to go with your MBA. The third question allows you to be creative.

TheDarkLord: I have a GMAT score of 700 (49/35). Will the average verbal score affect my candidacy? Would you consider other things that might offset my verbal score to some extent, such as the TOEFL score?

RandallAtCornell: Verbal might affect your candidacy. But if you are a strong candidate, we'll assess your verbal [abilities] during the interview. Yes, a strong TOEFL would offset GMAT verbal.

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