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!

Jahmo_Benoit: How can consortium applicants [those applying to the program through the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which awards merit-based, full-tuition fellowships to minority and female MBA candidates] make it clear that the Johnson school is their first choice for its full-time MBA program? Will my extensive dialogue with the admissions committee and current students be considered, too?

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.

Karthika: Does work experience from a large organization have more weight over a smaller company when applying to the MBA program?

RandallAtCornell: Working at large or small companies doesn't really carry weight. It is what you do at them that has an influence.

Jahmo_Benoit: Since the essays are the most important part of the application, before the interview, should consortium applicants submit Cornell's application essays in addition to the consortium essays and application?

RandallAtCornell: Yes, submit all via the consortium and Johnson School essays will be included in your consortium application process.

johnsondreamz: Is there a final day by which you plan on finalizing decisions for international waitlisted candidates?

RandallAtCornell: We do not have a set date on finalizing decisions about international waitlisted candidates. However, we will try and clear all of them by early- to mid-July based on visa processing delays.

kndz: What is the Johnson School's definition of underrepresented minorities? Many schools seem to differ greatly on this definition.

RandallAtCornell: Our definition of underrepresented minorities is African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and Native American. For government reporting issues only, we include Asian Americans as minorities.

fliguo82: How does the admission team see short-term (for example, six-month) contract work experiences? Will the manager for the contract be a good option as a referrer?

RandallAtCornell: Short-term contracts are fine. Yes, managers for the contract are fine as recommenders.

bskool11: What are the biggest drawbacks to studying abroad as a part of Johnson's MBA program?

RandallAtCornell: Interesting question as there are very few drawbacks to studying abroad. The only one I can think of would be being away from the rest of the class for one of your four semesters.

Jahmo_Benoit: Does extracurricular management, such as nonprofit management, or board membership count as management experience?

RandallAtCornell: We define work experience as full-time work that commences after you earn your bachelor's degree. Volunteer work for a not-for-profit or board membership counts if it is full-time, 40-plus hours per week.

wannabemba2012: What was the average GMAT score for the Class of 2012?

RandallAtCornell: The class is not closed yet, but I would put the average around 687/688. We won't be sure until Aug. 8.

kndz: How has summer and permanent job placement changed since 2009?

RandallAtCornell: Yes, they have changed. We are up from 2009 in permanent placement and way up in internship placement.

TheDarkLord: It so happens that in some professions, such as IT, the career progression is not that stellar in many cases, especially when someone works for a huge organization. In this situation, how important does a fancy title play in the application process?

RandallAtCornell: I understand that IT career progression of title can be slow, while just responsibilities grow. Title means less to us than responsibilities, so be sure to spend time telling us all that you do.

fliguo82_2: I have a GMAT score of 720, and a GPA of about 3.0/4. Will my enrollment in CFA (passed level three) fully compensate for the low GPA?

RandallAtCornell: Good GMAT, but the GPA is a bit low and level three CFA—congratulations. Yes, CFA compensates. No worries!

MFaulkner: Is the quant score of a candidate's GMAT score as heavily weighed for an applicant wanting to pursue finance as it is for a candidate wanting to pursue other programs (for example, consulting, entrepreneurship, etc.)?

RandallAtCornell: Quant is looked at across all programs but should be higher for consulting and finance due to rigors of employment.

MFaulkner: Is calculus a prerequisite for admission at Johnson?

RandallAtCornell: No.

FrancescaBW: This question comes from someone who could not attend today's event. For medical doctors interested in transitioning to non-clinical medicine/healthcare business/finance, what kind of experiences would stand out, given the fact that admissions committees would look for managerial skills that are not easily picked up when working as clinicians?

RandallAtCornell: We understand that internship/residency/TA stuff is all work experience. They'll have no problem. Our doctors do quite well with our one-year program.

bskool11: How much do your admissions decisions correlate with you projections of an individual succeeding in his stated end goal? That said, could solid career progression offset a weak GMAT?

RandallAtCornell: Admission to business school is like Willie Wonka's golden ticket. Once you are in, you can choose any path you like. We like to think that what you put on your application for career goal will not change, but it does for many people. While we do think ahead to whether the candidate will be successful in his chosen goal, it is only one part of many we discuss about your file. Solid progression can offset weak GMAT, but be prepared to address the GMAT in the interview.

kndz: What are the top industries and companies where Johnson tends to place graduates?

RandallAtCornell: We are strong in finance, consulting, brand [management], and entrepreneurship. JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), Bain, McKinsey & Company, Deloitte, Accenture (ACN), Procter & Gamble (PG), American Express (AXP), SC Johnson, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and many others [hire our graduates].

Jahmo_Benoit: How well-balanced should verbal and quant scores be? A quant 49 is 87th percentile, while a verbal 46 is 99th percentile. Does percentile trump scaled score?

RandallAtCornell: Yes, but you are fine with those scores. We like to see quant at about 70 percent or better as a rule. Your verbal rocks by the way, and so does your quant frankly.

Dele54: If you are a consortium applicant, and Cornell happens to be one of your schools, although it isn't required, are you still allowed to write the school essays as well as the consortium essays?

RandallAtCornell: Yes, you are allowed and please do.

kndz: How large do you project your incoming class to be and what are your future plans for increasing or decreasing class size?

RandallAtCornell: Class size for the one-year program is between 45 and 55, while the two-year program will stay at 275 for the foreseeable future.

ALB_713: For those who did not have significant quantitative undergraduate experiences, what extra classes or experiences do you recommend to supplement the application?

RandallAtCornell: Take a finance or statistics class at a local school, and show us that you can learn and apply it in the classroom. Do not take online courses. Get to a classroom.

fliguo82_2: What is the recruitment trend you see in 2010 for the MBA graduates? What do you foresee in two years?

RandallAtCornell: It is certainly on the upswing for us. I can't tell you about other schools. But I believe that the trend will continue should the market stay somewhat stable.

MFaulkner: Can strong undergraduate quantitative performance offset a slightly below 70th percentile GMAT quant score?

RandallAtCornell: Yes, but we'll ask you why there is a disconnect from undergraduate to your GMAT exam.

FrancescaBW: What makes the Johnson MBA unique?

RandallAtCornell: We are a different place. We are building a community here, where each person plays a role in who we are. If you like to go to class and study alone at home, then we are not for you. If you like big classes where you only know a few people in your study cohort, then we are not for you. If you want to know everyone in your class, and use our 250,000-plus network for a lifetime, then we might be right for you. When a student wants to be here and we want him here, it is a great combination. That is what we are looking for. We are very selective, about 22 percent [in 2010], and our yield is about 62 percent.