July 17, 2018

Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management MBA Impact Essay

Cornell Johnson

Cornell Johnson MBA 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. (500 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, increase the likelihood for future success and build stronger “word of mouth” for top talent.

Your mission here, like it or not, is to demonstrate (not argue, not assert)… 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.

One way to be sure of someone’s commitment is to apply Admissionado’s famous “An Inconvenient Test.” Here’s some background in case this is the first time you’ve heard us reference this. It has to do with people behaving in unexpected and therefore compelling ways: Imagine asking a waiter which dish he recommends, the lobster (priced at $50) versus the pasta (priced at $25). If the waiter says, “Oh my god, you absolutely MUST get the lobster, it’s… amazing,” one of TWO things is possible:

  • Either he’s being genuine, and it is, in fact, the superior dish
  • Or, he stands to make more money for the restaurant, and possibly a bigger tip for himself, and in fact, the lobster may be considerably WORSE than the pasta

But what if he says “Stay away from the lobster, it’s fine, but this pasta dish is the way better choice.” Think about what that says. He just recommended the LESS expensive dish, which potentially earns him less money, and it also reveals a genuine knock against his own restaurant’s lobster dish. This is a recommendation made IN SPITE of those other factors, a recommendation that was “inconvenient.” Net result? You’re more likely to BELIEVE this guy.

Another example. Imagine a multimillionaire philanthropist who gives big money to charity because he’s such a wonderful person and a big believer in a particular cause. Awesome, thank god for that guy, the money goes a long way, everyone wins. Quick question, do you believe that this guy is GENUINELY interested in the cause of this charity? Perhaps. But also perhaps not. Maybe it’s a vanity thing. Maybe this rights some wrongs he committed in business. Or, maybe he’s genuine. The problem is, it’s hard to know.

Let’s keep going though. Something happens, and the rich guy’s income/money source is GUTTED, significantly. What normally happens here? The funds to the charity organization slow a bit, because he simply can’t make those donations anymore. This is “expected.” Whatever no big deal. Was he genuine? Or faking? Maybe he was genuine, but now he can no longer make those sizable donations, everyone would understand.

But… what if the donations DIDN’T stop? And we found out that the rich guy actually sold his yacht, and downsized his house, and sold his cars, in order to keep those donations going? Now things are tilting HEAVILY in favor of “this guy is FOR REAL.” Why? Because that behavior is unexpected, inconvenient. That kind of “surprising decision, response” by itself REVEALS something (or at least strongly suggests) true motivation.

A Democrat endorsing a Republican tenet. A Pepsi spokesperson recommending Coke to a dear friend. Inconvenient behavior is where it’s at, folks. Aight so let’s bring it back around to the Johnson essay question.

Your response here MAY benefit from revealing either SKEPTICISM at the outset, or simply LACK OF AWARENESS of the program. Either is a decent starting point. The key is to show how that person was MOVED OFF OF THAT POSITION (call it Position 1) to being surprised, more compelled, holy-shit-this-is-the-place-I-MUST-attend, etc. All the way to the “Final Position” (right now, as you’re applying) which is considerably DIFFERENT from how you were at Position 1. See how that works? It isn’t just a list of conversations you had that impressed you or taught you about XYZ that map to your goals somehow (weakly). It’s about research and conversations that MOVED you from being only slightly attracted to Johnson to being MORE attracted to it. We need to understand the forces behind that movement, and the movement itself.

Suppose you were actually SKEPTICAL about the program for whatever reason, and now you are 180 degrees turned around. We believe THAT guy’s supposed commitment to Johnson over the guy that claims that he has always believed Johnson was the greatest business school on Earth, even better than Harvard and Stanford! Gimme a break. That other guy though, boy, talk about “inconvenient” to admit to being skeptical about a school you’re applying to… to their face. But, if you do it artfully, man, that can end up VERY convincing.

A less drastic version is the one that starts out fairly eager, fairly curious, and ends up FULLY CONVINCED. If that sounds like you, what were the precise moments where those SHIFTS occurred, and can you explain why? Try to explain the MOVEMENT of “strength of conviction.” We’re not even gonna suggest a structure here because if you’re able to pull this off at a root level, you have won the game. The structure will reveal itself, piece o cake.


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.

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