The front page of your resume has given us a sense of your professional experience and accomplishments as well as your academic summary and extracurricular involvement. If the back page reflects “the rest of your story,” please help us get to know you better by sharing the experiences that will give us insight into your character, values, and interests.
This essay is an opportunity to present yourself as an individual. We encourage you to think about your proudest accomplishments, interests and passions, and personal highlights that will help us to get to know you as a person and potential community member. We value creativity and authenticity and encourage you to approach this essay with your unique style. Alternative submission formats may include a slide presentation, links to pre-existing media (personal website, digital portfolio, YouTube, etc.), as well as visually enhanced written submissions. Maximum file size is 5 MB. If you choose to submit a written essay, please limit your submission to 500 words or fewer. Multimedia submissions should be under 5 minutes.
Johnson USED to have a pretty famous “table of contents” essay question. No more. RIP, that question. You did a great job.
So, let’s see what this Cornell Johnson essay question is really asking. First of all, let’s get one thing straight: this “back page of the resume” will never (and should never) COMPENSATE for a weak front page. You may be the coolest cat in town, but if your “front page” is a “B-” then none of it matters. The front page must kick considerable ass. Here’s the thing though… for every ONE seat available at Cornell, there are SEVERAL folks out there with killer “front pages.” And so, one way to think about it is that maybe those killer front pages all cancel each other out. Your task is to introduce a few NEW layers here that will PROPEL you ahead of the guys and gals next to you, who have the same level of “front page.”
What kinds of things will do it?
Well for starters, it can’t be boring. If it seems like you didn’t fully embrace the open-endedness of this, and instead, went for yet another “front page” bullet that you could flesh out, it is likely to work AGAINST you. In fact, one of our favorite “tricks” is to imagine a few other candidates who have MATCHING resumes. This shouldn’t be that hard to picture because there’s a very good chance it’s ACTUALLY TRUE, ha! Picture someone with the exact same GMAT, same GPA, same work experiences (and even if not the same work experiences, the same SKILLS SETS from two different paths), same achievements, same level… everything. Absolutely everything. Clones. If there’s a task that needs doing, EITHER of you could do it. In fact, there are probably more like FIVE OF YOU. If the admissions dean has some kind of BUSINESS challenge they need to solve, whether it’s a leader they need, a problem solver, a visionary, a whatever, there’s a very good chance at least five people in the applicant pool could do it, and do it well.
Great, so the admissions deans could have his problem solved by any of you five… but why would he WANT to have YOU solve it? What is it about you that makes you more APPEALING than the next guy? Why are you more interesting? Why are you cooler? Why are you preferable? This is the challenge, to make us SMILE after learning something about you. Or be WOWED after learning something about your past, your experiences, your influences, your interests, your whatever. Or be surprised. Anything that elicits a reaction of: hunh, all things being equal, I WANT this guy on campus.
Another way to think about it: imagine five guys with the exact same resume, skills, all that stuff, same as before. Now tell us something about you (that we weren’t able to glean from the front page) that all of a sudden makes YOUR version a bit more interesting. So, let’s say you achieved a score of “10” and another guy achieved a score of “10.” But let’s say he grew up a rich kid with access to everything imaginable, and let’s say YOU grew up poor, lost your arm in a horrible farming accident, found a way to support your family after your parents died unexpectedly at a premature age, and still managed to get that same “10.” Not so “same” all of a sudden! If your story here ALTERS the very nature of your “front page,” that’s another way to propel you ahead of the competition.
These approaches may lead to two different kinds of stories, and either can work. There are of course other ways to skin it, but at the very least, these two should get you thinking in the right direction. It’s open-ended enough that the proper execution of a version that’s not mentioned here can absolutely work. The trick of it all is that it has to make sense that you’re telling it to us, whatever it is. It has to move the needle somehow. Whatever we learn about you MUST elevate your candidacy ON ACCOUNT OF THIS STORY. If not, it’s probably not a good enough idea. Keep hacking away until you find something that your application would be weak… WITHOUT.
Read more and explore each step of the Cornell Johnson application process here.
You can also read through our team’s analysis of the rest of Johnson’s application essays.