August 17, 2019

Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management MBA Impact Essay

Cornell Johnson

Cornell Johnson MBA Impact Essay

At Cornell, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. How do you intend to make an impact during the next several years of your education and/or career? (350 words maximum)

This essay is designed to explore the intersection of engagement and community culture. Whether during the program or following graduation, our students and alumni share a desire to positively impact the organizations and communities they serve. To help you explore your potential for impact, we encourage you to engage with our students, alumni, faculty, and professional staff. You may choose to connect with them via email or phone or in person during one of our on campus or off campus events. As you seek their input and insight, please be respectful of their time and prepare a few discussion points or questions in advance.


Johnson is looking to kick a little bit of ass. Maybe they’re niggled by being ranked lower than they believe they deserve. Maybe it’s simply a mission to RISE UP for its own sake. Regardless, it’s clear that the way they wanna do that is by screening for your SPIRIT DRAGON score with respect to Johnson specifically. The thinking being… the more you’re utterly DEVOTED to Johnson, and only Johnson, the more likely you’ll dig your heels in, and energize the guy next to you, and the gal across the way, and through cohort cohesion, and passion, the likelihood for future success, and stronger “word of mouth” for top talent to “also that for themselves” … goes up.

Your mission here, like it or not, is to demonstrate (not argue)… demonstrate that you’ve come to the CONCLUSION that the best version of your future self passes through the Johnson MBA, and you’ve come to that conclusion over the course of some serious research which includes some level of contact with folks who are at Johnson presently, or alums in some capacity. We prove that conviction by showing that your values align with Cornell’s stated values—i.e., that you have a clear plan for how to make an impact at Cornell and beyond.

To be clear, this isn’t a test on whose “case for impact” is most compelling. This is a test for whose “case for impact is compelling enough that we know this kid is going to kick ass?” See the difference? You’re not going to win points by selling them on a CAUSE or IDEA, and proving that “compelling impact with respect to that cause” is a good thing. No. You’re going to win points by the way you talk about your plan, by proving just how thoughtful you are ABOUT impact, and how SMART you are about your plan for impact, and how DEDICATED YOU ARE TO SEEING IT THROUGH. The plan isn’t nearly as important as the thought process you reveal while discussing it.

Keep in mind: no one is going to follow up on whether you deliver on this plan. They don’t give a rat’s ass if you stick to the goals you lay out here—if they did, they would lock you into a certain major/concentration and track your progress. It’s not about your plan, or the societal problem you hope to solve (though both of those thing should be rock solid, of course)—the real magic is when the adcom realizes “this kid, based on the way he talks about impact, clearly GETS it, GETS what it takes to get it done, and is going to succeed.”

Why does it matter to understand it this way rather than the other way? ‘Cuz now you’ll focus less on selling them on the importance of the “idea” or “concept” or “problem” and focus instead on YOUR dedication to getting it done, and on the logic behind your solution.

Here’s an example structure:

  • Establish where it is you wanna make an impact and why. Cool trick: imagine two kinds of success: (a) “good enough success, major win, great job” and then (b) “all of that, plus……. IMPACT that goes above and beyond, elevates an organization, provides a mechanism for LASTING/CONTINUED success, etc.” What’s the difference? That’s where we need to focus. Give us a sense of BOTH of those (possible in two paragraphs) and why you’re so committed to the latter. Where and why did you decide that THAT was your bar for success?
  • Then, briefly, tell us how you’re gonna do it, and why those things will have the intended outcome. Get specific. Finally, close with a line that captures your passion and reminds the adcom of how you think about impact.
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