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2011 Cornell Johnson Waitlist Q&A with Randall Sawyer

Audio for Q&A (Click to listen now, or right click and choose “Save As” to download and listen later.)

Linda Abraham: Hello. My name is Linda Abraham. I am the founder of Accepted.com and the moderator of today’s chat. First I want to welcome all applicants to the Q&A today, and I want to congratulate you both for making it to the waitlist, and for taking the time to be here today to learn more about Cornell Johnson’s waitlist processes, and what you should be doing on the waitlist.

I also want to give a special welcome to Randall Sawyer, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Cornell Johnson. Thanks to everyone for joining.

We’ll go straight to the questions. Devashish asks, “My question is regarding the extra letter of recommendation that is needed. I have already submitted one from my current supervisor and another from a past client. Can I submit the new one from my teammate? And is there a questionnaire that I need to get answered from my teammate? How can he submit the questionnaire?”

Randall Sawyer: That is great, if it can bring an additional approach to your ability to do business or to work on teams, and so forth. I think that is a great opportunity for us to get more data from your recommenders. So that would be great.

Linda Abraham: Edmond asks, “Would I be able to have an opportunity for an interview if I visit the campus this spring? I would like to show my passion for the Johnson MBA program.” And I got emailed to me a related question from Tim, who visited the campus in September, and he asked, “Can I get another chance to visit the campus in the following months so that I can talk to someone? Could it be Randall so that he may get to know me better? Also I’d like to bring another recommendation letter from the chief investment officer of my company.”

Randall Sawyer: For the students who have already been interviewed, we are invitation-only interviews for the first run-through. And everyone is welcome to visit campus a second time or a first time, regardless of their status. They can certainly come. Whether or not my team and I will be available is a question mark, but we can certainly try to get in a few minutes with you. I do want to say however, that a few minutes with us can be a double-edged sword. Because a few years ago, I had a student who came from NYC and wanted to talk specifically with me, and I had spoken with him earlier, and I had said that the biggest problem was his GMAT. When he arrived on campus to talk with me, he said that he was not interested in taking his GMAT again, so I couldn’t direct him to retake his GMAT. But if that was the only way that we saw for him to strengthen his application, by him telling me that he did not want to retake the GMAT, he was not open to any kind of options to improve his application. So he drove four hours for about a three and a half minute meeting. At the end he said, “This is all I get? I thought I get 15 minutes?!” I said that I’m a director of admissions telling you to retake your GMAT to improve your file, and you’re telling me you won’t, so I really don’t know what else there is to talk about.

It is a great opportunity for us to meet students, even more. We love that. As you know, we are very selective in trying to pick the right students to attend Johnson. So if you do come, we are happy to say hello. I can’t guarantee that it will be more than 15 minutes. And if none of us are here, or we’re on the road, or we’re out, you’ll meet some of my staff to say hello, but I can’t guarantee timing.

Linda Abraham: Do you recommend they make an appointment ahead of time?

Randall Sawyer: I think they should try to make an appointment. But some applicants say they want to meet me, and for example, I know that I have four different conferences that I’m speaking at this summer, starting May 1st. So they might get Ann Richards or Laurie Shunney or Christine. But if they’re looking for me, they’ll have a very limited calendar to pick from. But again, I’m happy to talk to students.

Linda Abraham: Can you give, perhaps, one or two guidelines for sending in updates, letters of recommendation, attempting to visit? Is there some guideline you can give waitlisted applicants to Cornell Johnson?

Randall Sawyer: Applicants that are on the waitlist, those who call us every day, or every fifth day, or every week, that is a little much. We can get those [types of] students. That is really the quickest way to come off the waitlist with a “deny” because I have a very dedicated team here at the Johnson School, and many of the students that are on this call have interacted with them. They work very hard to bring in a great class, but taking a phone call every week or needing to call that person back is very taxing because we have 200 people on the waitlist right now. So imagine us getting 200 calls every week to just talk about the waitlist.

The best advice that I can give is to return the waitlist sheet that you have; sign it and return it so that you will stay on the waitlist. And then when something new happens in your life associated with applying to business school, send us an update by email. You can send that to your file manager. Say, “Hey, I just got promoted at work,” or “I was employer of the month,” or “I’ve just completed my finance class”; something like that – something new and noteworthy. Send that, and the file manager will add it to the file, and then when we review the waitlist, we will take a look at that.

Linda Abraham: I’m going to add something here. Every interaction that an applicant has with a school demonstrates their judgment and their character. And applicants, if you are showing a lack of judgment in terms of your interaction by wasting the school’s time, as Randall said, it is going to lead to a “deny”. What you are submitting has to be adding value and perspective and insight into your qualifications and your fit with the Cornell Johnson School.

Randall Sawyer: If I could just add to that to reaffirm your statement, in every phone call, every email, every conversation with students, we are judging you and evaluating you. So if you come across unprofessional or professional, or if you come in or call in, and are rude to my staff, we will take note of that. So understand that there are a lot of eyes on you every time that you contact the office. I don’t want that to make people afraid; I want them to use that to empower themselves to be professional, and to understand that Marcie, the receptionist out front, she and I talk every day about students that come in. And the same goes for the file managers. If someone calls up and has a fit with them, I hear that as well, so be careful.

Linda Abraham: It should be an empowering thought.

Randall Sawyer: Absolutely.

Linda Abraham: Brian asks, “I sent in a personal letter and an update with an accounting class I took in which I received an “A”. What else should I be doing?”

Randall Sawyer: I think that is great. You’ve already done proactively what is important to you. I don’t know your file off the top of my head, but I think an “A” is great in the accounting class.

Linda Abraham: That is an example of the kind of information that you would find valuable.

Randall Sawyer: Absolutely. That is perfect because it shows that you’ve taken a class. I don’t know if it was in person or over the internet. My hope is that it was in person so that you can apply what you’ve learned to real time exams and so forth. But kudos to you Brian! You should be very proud of an “A”, and so congratulations for being proactive. That is a perfect example of what to do. Thanks for going that extra mile. That is going to help you when you are here, if you get an offer from us, and it puts you on the waitlist a notch above others because you are doing what is going to help you be successful should you get here, so kudos to you.

Linda Abraham: Jia asks, “Can you tell me a little bit more about the scholarship for people on the waitlist. Are they eligible?”

Randall Sawyer: They are eligible, but it’s a probably not. At every round we get done, we tally our scholarships, and based on past yields and so forth, we take a look at what our anticipated costs are for scholarships. Scholarship is not this imaginary number that we don’t have to actually pay, because we end up spending $50,000 per person here on campus. So if you only have to pay $40,000 that year for tuition, we have to come up with $10,000 cash to make everything work out in our revenue space. So about a third of the students come to the Johnson School with some kind of scholarship, and that can range from $5,000 or $2,500 a semester all the way up to maybe $20,000 a semester. There are only a few of those in the latter.

But coming off the waitlist, it would be interesting to offer you a scholarship because most likely, you would have to have a competitive offer from another school, but really want to be here. You would say something to the effect of, “Randall, I am in X school which is your competitor, and they gave me $5,000 a semester. I really want to go to Cornell, could you match it?” That’s a conversation we would have.

Linda Abraham: Madhusudhan asks, “I was placed on the waitlist on the date of the admission decisions for the second round. I have since sent the required updates. When can I expect any information on the decision? Is that something that happens mostly at the end of rounds, at the very end of all applications, or throughout the process?”

Randall Sawyer: Great question. We do take a look at the waitlist as we make our way through the third and fourth round. So for example, we just gave round 3 decisions yesterday, so we’ll be visiting the waitlist probably over the next week or two. It will not be a thorough visit of the waitlist in the sense that every file goes before the committee. But I think in the past couple of rounds, we’ve had an ear to the students who we were concerned about their GMAT so they wanted to retake it, or they may have taken an accounting class. But if someone has actually done something we’ve asked them to do to improve their standing, those are the ones we look at. Quite frankly, for those individuals who haven’t done anything and haven’t gotten in touch with us, we probably will gloss over them quickly. But we will get a look at most of the files on the waitlist.

Linda Abraham: A couple of people are asking if it’s possible for people on the waitlist to get feedback to know which areas are weak.

Randall Sawyer: What we’ve done for rounds 1 and 2, and I think it will go out for round 3, if it hasn’t already, is if you are on the waitlist, we’ve sent you a grid or chart that shows about what our class is going to look like this year. You can use that grid or chart to compare it to yourself; it is something to work from to respond to us. So if we say our average GMAT this year deposits at about 704-705, if you have a 660 for example, you may want to say, “I see I am 40-50 points lower than your average, I plan to retake the GMAT on March 31st.” Or “I know that you are looking for a couple of extra years of work experience. I don’t have that, but I do these other extracurricular things; I volunteer in my community, etc., etc.” So compare yourself to that chart, and let us know what you are working on to improve, and so forth. And if you match up to the chart, you should probably send us a note saying, “I’m not sure where I’m lacking. Can we talk about it?” One thing that we will look at when we look at the files for waitlist is how you were in touch with us, and what you are working on to improve. And quite frankly, we’re beholding you to make sure you are interested in us.

Linda Abraham: A couple of people are also asking how many people are on the waitlist, and what percentage historically have been taken from the waitlist and have been accepted to the class? And I’m going to add a question to that. If you give that number, should anybody on this waitlist care?

Randall Sawyer: Just to go back to the other waitlist question just before this one. We don’t give waitlisted feedback. Basically, we’ll review the files, and if we’re interested in giving waitlist feedback, we will send you an email to set up an appointment. What’s happened in past years when we were just giving waitlisted feedback to a number of students, we found in many cases that students got into other schools as a result of us giving them that waitlisted feedback. So we’re not interested in spending all our manpower to make that happen. But we will send out invitations to give waitlisted feedback. For the most part, they will start after May 1st, and so up until May 1st, you have this proactive time when you can send us updates to your application, and we’ll give them a look when we assess the feedback invitations.

Right now there are about 200 people on the waitlist. How does that compare to past years? It’s down a little bit from past years. We’ve had years when no one has come off. I think three years ago, we had no one come off. But I think most years, we go probably to about 10% of our yield. We’re willing to go to 15-20 again this year. But if we go back to the waitlist next week and find 15-20 very good students, we might make those offers and sit for a few weeks because our next deposit is April 13th. I’ve got about 180 outstanding offers from round 3, and so if I clear 150 of those, then the waitlist is going to be waiting probably until early May, because we don’t want to be oversubscribed.

Linda Abraham: Is it possible to do everything right on the waitlist and not get accepted? And does waitlist status this year imply anything for reapplication next year?

Randall Sawyer: Just in response to the last question you asked regarding whether anyone on this call should care, again, we look at each file. So you should care about your file and you should care about staying in touch with us because in some cases, commitment to us and excitement about us will actually propel you ahead in the waitlist situation. Because let’s say I had two files and one seat left, if someone has been in touch with us, they’ve tried to retake the GMAT, they might not have done as well as they thought they were going to, but they know ten students here and they are really excited about coming to the Johnson School, and then if I have another student who has been fairly apathetic about being proactive, I’ll probably take the first one because we want people here who are passionate about being here, and that certainly shows in the waitlisted file.

Linda Abraham: Passionate but not obsessive compulsive.

Randall Sawyer: Yeah! That’s right!

Linda Abraham: So do you want to go back to the question I just posed about whether it is possible to be on the waitlist and “do everything right”, and not get accepted? And then does that imply anything for reapplication effort?

Randall Sawyer: It certainly does. You can do everything right, and I might not have seats in the class. It depends on what our yield is from round 3 and round 4. Students can do everything right and not come off the waitlist if we are oversubscribed. I barely have 275 seats in the two-year class. So if I have 290 deposits on April 13th, that is going to be a difficult situation. So that would mean we would have to wait through the summer to see what other schools are doing to take some of our people off of their waitlist. As of right now, I am projecting to have a few seats to be able to come off the waitlist. So I would urge everyone to be optimistic, not pessimistic, about coming off the waitlist. But time will tell how that works out.

And for re-applicants, our selectivity for anyone applying to the school is about 1 in 4, 1 in 5. Our selectivity is 23% today. Of the re-applicants, we probably offer to 1 in 2 or 1 in 3. Because if you are a re-applicant, and you’ve done all the things we’ve talked to you about, you’ve evaluated the chart and decided you are going to improve yourself here and you’ll improve yourself there, and you talk about that in the next application cycle in the optional essay, we look at the files and we see that you are committed to us. You’ve improved this way and that way, and so we think those applicants deserve an opportunity to be rewarded for all their hard work. So we are going to make them an offer for the class. Of the class of 275, I would guess that 20-25 of them are re-applicants from the year before. So it’s about 8%-10%. That tells us a lot about the applicant.

Linda Abraham: John asks, “Does the Admissions Committee give preference to international applicants working and living in the US? I am a Canadian living and working in the US.”

Randall Sawyer: There is not a real blanket answer to that question because we look at the holistic attitude and the holistic file. Working in the US is great. But you could be working in the US and not be a strong candidate in the GMAT space or in your GPA scores. And so I would say the answer is no; we don’t show favoritism to that candidate. We certainly like to see it because it shows that they are international, yet have experience. In his case, working in Canada as well as in the United States is just like someone from India or China who has studied abroad or worked in the United States for a short period of time. So I don’t think I can answer yes to the question, but it certainly adds to the attractiveness of the candidate because they’ve worked in a couple of different economies and lived in a couple of different cultures. So it’s not so much working in the US, but it’s probably more working in other countries.

Linda Abraham: Carlos asks, “I am in a situation that I have been accepted at other MBA programs, but Cornell is my top priority and first option. Is it possible to obtain a decision sooner, taking into account that I have to commit to another school by a set deadline?”

Randall Sawyer: The answer is yes. If you will send me an email saying that you want to hear sooner on your decision, we will add that to your file and we will try to accommodate you. That being said, the answer may not be the one you want. And I’ll tell you an example from two years ago. I had a student who called my assistant and said that he needs to know today whether he’s coming to the Johnson School, because he has to make plans, and so on and so forth. I don’t react well, and neither does my team, to demands like that. It would have been different if he had written some note and said that he’d like to know in the next two weeks because this is happening and that’s happening. And so I reviewed his file and said he was denied, and we called him to tell him that he was denied. And he said, “You know what? I want to stay on the waitlist because I don’t really have to tell them today.” So then you certainly are a “deny”, and there is no reason to apply next year because that is not the type of individual we want in our community.

So certainly we want to be sensitive to your desires to go to business school and to your acceptance at other schools. One thing we will ask is for you to please tell us about the other schools that you’ve been admitted to. So if we are going to make a special decision based on your file, and I’m going to bring the committee together maybe outside the ordinary boundaries of when we meet, I’d like to know what your competition is and where else you’ve been accepted, so we’re sure that is happening. It’s very much like scholarships. Many students come and say that they have a scholarship at a competitor school, and I’ll say, “That’s great. Congratulations. I want to see the letter.” It shows me that maybe we made a mistake by not offering you admissions or offering you scholarship. But if you really want to be here, I want to try and make that happen if you are a great candidate for us.

Linda Abraham: Just to follow up on that story, you had actually told me that story a couple of years ago and I actually remembered it very well because it is a classic example of how an applicant can shoot himself in the foot, but also display a certain arrogance. And I think the way to respectfully pull off that kind of request is to say, listen, I have this and this deadline, be it ten days or two weeks in advance. I really appreciate your consideration of my file. I’d love to go to the Johnson School, but I have to make a decision by this and this date, and if you could let me know earlier, I would tremendously appreciate the special consideration. Genuine appreciation greases a lot of wheels.

Randall Sawyer: Yes, indeed. I couldn’t agree more with you Linda. And it shows us how you may treat recruiters in the future.

Linda Abraham: Recruiters, employees, staff, teammates, classmates, all kinds of people. The habit of appreciation will take you very far in life. That’s not just waitlist advice there!

Nikki asks, “During my interview, my interviewer said that application reviewers were worried about my quant ability because my GMAT quant was low. Working in finance and having a finance undergrad degree, how can I show that I am capable of handling the rigor of the MBA program? With a GMAT retake? An additional rec letter? What would you recommend?”

Randall Sawyer: I would recommend retaking the GMAT or consideration to take MBA Math online or sitting in a finance class, and then retaking the GMAT. Strategically, with 275 students in the class, we look very closely at the GMAT. As you know, averages and means are posted. And the quant percentage of the GMAT many times is indicative of your abilities to survive our core course in finance which is very difficult.

And we have found that those students who appear in front of our Academic Standards Committee have struggled in the quant portion of the GMAT. It’s not a universal rule, but it is a trend. So that is why we do tell students that we are concerned about their quant ability, because we want students to be successful here and survive our core. So if it came up in your interview, then the best way to react is to tell us that you took this class in undergrad classes. And if you didn’t do that well, then it’s a great opportunity to say that you’re taking a finance course at night at X school, and you are going to retake the GMAT on March 31st, and you’ll send you the scores to prove to the committee that in fact you’re not concerned about your quant and neither should be.

Linda Abraham: Angad asks, “As I am from India, there will be issues about visas, etc. if I am selected. Keeping this in mind, is there a certain deadline you keep to, to inform international students?”

Randall Sawyer: I have a woman on staff, Christine Sneva, who manages a lot of our international applicants’ files, and she keeps a close eye on how long it would take for candidates from each country to get accepted and to get their visa, and so on and so forth. And that is a dynamic that we do track. She will come in on certain days and say, for applicants from the country of India, we’ve got only probably another week to decide their file. So we’ll take a look at India. And so we definitely try to accommodate those. We know the visa concerns from many different countries, and how long it takes to get in there and make it work, so we keep that in mind as we make our way through.

Linda Abraham: A lot of people are asking if there is any way to get individual feedback other than asking Accepted.com for it. Is there any way to get individual feedback from Cornell Johnson? I think you basically said ‘no’ before, but the question keeps coming up, so maybe you can address it again.

Randall Sawyer: In the past, we have given some feedback. But what has happened is that we found that the students have taken the feedback and have gone and gotten into other schools. So at this time, after May 1st, we will be sending out invitations for feedback eligible students. And it’s going to be our decision on the selection committee’s side to take a look at those people on the waitlist and decide who the students are that are viable to possibly get an offer this year or next. We’ll get in touch with them and put aside 15-20 minutes on the phone to have a feedback session with them.

Linda Abraham: So it’s your initiative; it’s not the applicant’s initiative.

Randall Sawyer: That is exactly right. And I know that disappoints a lot of applicants, and I’m sorry for that. We just don’t have the manpower. With 200 students on the waitlist right now, that is 200 half-hour conversations. We’d be running into the end of our summer by the time we get through those. It’s just very difficult for us to accommodate those requests. So we are going to do it from our end, and we will give waitlisted feedback to some candidates over the summer.

Linda Abraham: Brian asks, “What happens if you do not have a file manager on your email? Is that just an omission?” Can they contact the Admissions Office and find out who will be handling their file?

Randall Sawyer: Yes, certainly. That is a surprise to me. If your last name starts with A-H, then Heidi Russell at my office is your contact. If you are I-O, Cheryl Kot is your contact, and if you are P-Z, then David Korbin is your contact.

Linda Abraham: This is a non-waitlist question. “I just applied for round 4, and I’m wondering how many international applicants get accepted in round 4 versus the third round?” I don’t think the statistics really are important. The point is, given visa considerations, is it possible?

Randall Sawyer: The answer is yes. Every year we accept students from round 4. Every year it’s a mix of domestic and international, but we don’t have a percentage; we don’t have quotas in that space.

Linda Abraham: Babafemi asks, “When is the deadline for hearing back for the waitlist, or when are the odds of acceptance minimal?” When is the last date they would hear? Does that date change based on the applicant’s location?

Randall Sawyer: That date does change based on your location because international students in some cases need six weeks based on the visa concerns. Last year on opening day, I took a student off the waitlist.

Linda Abraham: I hear about that occasionally. My sister-in-law was actually accepted to a graduate program after the program had already started. She was on the waitlist for months.

Randall Sawyer: My conversation was, “I need you to pack your things and be here by Monday morning,” and that was on a Friday or Saturday! So for us, domestic students will stay on the waitlist, just by nature of proximity and lack of need for a visa. They’ll stay right up until opening day, in case we have some no-shows. The last two years, all 275 students came, and then this year, 274 came.

Linda Abraham: Aritra asks, “Here are a few questions for you. Is there a particular timeframe to receive an updated GMAT score from international applicants on the waitlist? I plan to retake the GMAT towards the third week of May. Does this timeline work for you? And what is the ideal number of updates you would like to see while on the waitlist?”

Randall Sawyer: I think that the third week of May is fine. I think that is a good time because on June 1st, we have our second deposit date for those students who are matriculating. And I always have some students who don’t make that second deposit, so I walk in on the morning of June 2nd, and I immediately take a look at the waitlist and see how many seats I have to fill. And so it’s a great time to do it. At the end of the GMAT exam, you can print off the unofficial results and fax them to my office, and they’ll add it to your file.

The second part of the question was regarding the ideal number of updates while on the waitlist. That’s a really good question. The ideal amount I would say is probably when you have good news at work or in your personal life that you smile about and tell your family. So I would say maybe once every few weeks, or once a month; every three weeks maybe. I don’t know how great everyone else’s life is for promotions or being on your team at work or what have you. But when it’s important enough to share with your family and friends, that might be a good sign that it’s time to send us just a two-three line email saying, “I was made employee of the month,” or “I retook the GMAT, and I improved my score by 50 points,” or “I was just made the co-chair of the Cancer Society’s drive this year,” – something like that.

Linda Abraham: Or that you were just assigned to a team to work on a mega billion dollar IPO; anything like that. I’m guessing though, that your point here is that there is not an ideal number. The issue here again goes back to that whole judgment idea that you discussed initially. You want to use your judgment to let Cornell Johnson know when there is something worthwhile knowing, as often as that happens, and not one time more.

Randall Sawyer: And be authentic. It’s so important for students to be authentic. If you are really excited about getting a 10% bonus or a 10% raise, or the student that you’ve been mentoring just got an “A” in their class at the undergrad level or something, if that really makes you excited, then tell us. It doesn’t have to be about the money you made.

Linda Abraham: It may also be that a 10% bonus or a 10% raise, given that the guideline for people at your grade is 3%, really is something to be very proud of and to crow about, provided that you also give the context.

Randall Sawyer: I would agree.

Linda Abraham: Thomas asks, “Are acceptances and scholarships that have been offered from other programs, while Johnson still remains my #1 choice, relevant information to you in gauging our interest, quality of profile?”

Randall Sawyer: Absolutely. Let me know. That is an email you can send to me. I go by Randall. If you haven’t met me, take the opportunity to say “hello” in the email that you send me. Say – Hi, I’m so and so from X. I’ve been doing this, and this is why I want to be at the Johnson School. And this is what I’ve heard from others schools, but I really want to be at Cornell, so I want to just introduce myself and hope that I have the opportunity to attend.

I am an assistant dean and that’s a wonderful title, and I’m very fortunate to be in this space, but when you meet me on the road, I’m Randall. I appreciate sincerely the respect offered with “Dean” or “Mr.”, but once I correct you to say Randall, please call me Randall. And if you talk to any of the students around, you will hear the same thing about me. My door is open; I drink coffee every day from 9:30-10:00 with the students. I’m building a community with my team here that I am a part of, and my wife and my two children are a part of it. So I appreciate the formalities and respect that is offered, but I go by Randall, and I’d like you to remember that.

Linda Abraham: Just to finish up on the question about information about scholarship offers and acceptances at competitor schools. The best way for him to get that information to you is simply to send an email?

Randall Sawyer: Yes, just send an email, with the understanding that I get 200-250 emails a day so I will try to get back to you within 24 hours, or I might forward your email to one of the people on my team as well. We will get back to you, but it can be a little bit overwhelming sometimes. Right now I’m 80 behind from last week, so I’m trying my best, but do be patient with me.

Linda Abraham: Simarpal asks, “I am a round 3 waitlisted applicant. I have not received a separate email with a statistic chart of accepted students. Do I need to contact someone at the admissions committee?”

Randall Sawyer: You don’t need to, but thank you for being proactive. Laurie Shunney on my team is responsible for clicking the “Send” button on those, and so she probably is giving it 24-48 hours before she sends it out. I will check with her, and you should expect it in your inbox probably by the end of the week or early next week.

Linda Abraham: Edmond asks, “What is the best way to contact current students? I tried mailing a few students, but did not get a response. Is there a forum where I can contact them and ask them questions regarding the program I am interested in?”

Randall Sawyer: I am really surprised that you didn’t hear from our students. That is the first time I’ve ever heard that in six years. They are on spring break for the last ten days, so if you’ve contacted them recently, that is probably the delay. But I would ask that person or anyone else that is interested to email me, and I will forward it to a couple of students. Just for everyone’s knowledge, you can go onto our website and look under “Admissions Ambassadors”, and you’ll find a laundry list of students and their contact information to send them a note. I’m disappointed to hear that because frankly, I hear that our students are the most responsive of nearly any business school. That is what I hear when I am on the road. So I apologize, and I will try to remedy that as soon as I can, when that individual will forward me their information.

Linda Abraham: Madhusudhan asks, “Is there any advantage to applying in an earlier round when it comes to evaluating the waitlist?” I guess this is probably a question more to benefit next year’s applicants.

Randall Sawyer: I urge everyone to apply early to the schools that are your top choices. Just a couple of days ago when we were making decisions for round 3, we had a number of re-applicants who had applied in round 3 or 4 last year and applied in round 3 again this year, and I couldn’t really understand their reasoning for that. Because even if they applied in January, they had until October, which would be our first round, to improve their application and make changes, and so forth. So I do urge students that are re-applicants to apply to us in round 1 or 2. Show your passion for the school by applying early. Don’t wait till round 3. Make those changes necessary and keep going.

Linda Abraham: Angad asks, “Would meeting alumni from your school help in strengthening my application in any way?”

Randall Sawyer: This is also a double-edged sword. We love it that you are communicating with our alumni, but they too will be evaluating you from the moment they are communicating with you. And if I know them, and I know the last 8 years of alums, they will most likely provide me feedback if they are either very impressed with you, or not at all impressed with you. Because now you are talking to someone who is the brand, and so they will ask you questions that will be difficult to answer in many cases. They might make you uncomfortable because they want to know exactly why you want to be here, what you like the most about it, and why are you the person that we should take off the waitlist.

I think it’s great to talk to alumni of every school to find the right fit, and on the waitlist, it will certainly add to your understanding of what the Johnson School is. The problem may be at the end of your conversation, if you say to them, “I’d really love it if you’d send Randall an email about me.” They may hedge a little bit because they may want to know you better. I would just take the approach of – “I’m on the waitlist. I live in New York or I live in India, and I was hopeful I could get a cup of coffee with you to say hello and to hear about your experiences at the Johnson School, just to ensure that I am making the right choice. I am looking at the school.” Just be careful.

Linda Abraham: The other aspect I wanted to point out is that by meeting with alumni and meeting with current students, yes, it should be an empowering experience, but if you don’t behave in a professional way, it could be a damaging experience to your candidacy. But the other positive aspect is that if you learn more about the school and it increases the school’s attraction to you, then you can show some more of that passion and some more of that interest. And that information and knowledge that you are acquiring should help your waitlist effort, and if necessary, a reapplication effort next year. So that is the other side of that.

Jean asks, “If my GPA from college is not strong, I have nothing to do about it now. Is there anything I can do to ameliorate my weak GPA from college?”

Randall Sawyer: Hopefully, you used the optional essay in the application to talk to us about why you had a lower GPA at the undergrad level, but you are correct; there is very little you can do about it. But if it would help you prepare for business school, get back into the classroom and take that finance class or that accounting class or that statistics class, and then share with us the grade that you get because that will show us that you can make your way into the classroom and get an A or an A- and be successful. And that may make us say, “Well, she got a C or a C- in macro at undergrad. She wasn’t really focused in class. But look, she’s gone back and taken this more difficult class, and she has done very well.” So that will certainly make things better for you.

Linda Abraham: Devashish asks, “My question is concerning the GMAT. How many times is too many times to take the GMAT if an applicant is continuing to show significant and dramatic improvements each time, but hasn’t reached your targeted average for acceptance to Johnson currently? Should they continue to take the test or take classes that show positive results in areas that have been noted as weak?”

Randall Sawyer: The record number of GMAT test taking times that we’ve had apply to the Johnson School is 17!

Linda Abraham: Oh my goodness!

Randall Sawyer: Exactly! That is far, far too many times. For those students who take the GMAT once, and say that they are a bad test taker, one is not a sample size. Three is actually a sample size for me. So if you take the GMAT three times, and don’t show much improvement, I look and figure that maybe you are a bad test-taker. But I would say five at the max. If you are showing great improvement and there is 4-5 months in-between each exam, it shows us a couple of things. Either you are taking a prep course or you are self studying, but you are driving yourself to improve. We like both of those options. And so by improving each time, that shows us that you are actively learning and applying. That is a very positive sign. If you have taken it three or four times and you are just not going anywhere, it is probably time to get yourself into the classroom and show us that in a lecture type environment, you can be successful in the grade space.

Linda Abraham: Paula asks, “I have a couple of friends that studied at Cornell, at the PhD program and the Hospitality program, and they are asking me if they should send an email to Johnson with an informal recommendation, and if that would increase my chances to attend Johnson. Can they do that?”

Randall Sawyer: The answer is yes. I always like to hear from Cornell alumni, either at the Johnson School level or across campus. I don’t know if it will improve your chances to be accepted, but it will certainly give us a look at you probably from a personal level that might be different from your other recommenders. I would say that once you get to 3-4 recommendations, you’ve probably done enough. There are already two in the application space and another one or two. One is great; two is even pushing it a little bit. So choose wisely, and yes, we always like to hear about a different side of you if either of those two people can provide us with that perspective.

Linda Abraham: I want to thank all of you for coming today and for participating. Obviously we wouldn’t have had a Q&A without your questions. Special thanks to Randall Sawyer for participating and all his answers and insights. If you have additional questions for Randall, please email them to mba@johnson.cornell.edu

Randall Sawyer: Thanks for joining us today. This is a great meeting for us to get our message out, so Linda, thank you. And I want students to know that my team and I are rooting for you. So use the waitlist to empower yourself to improve your application. Business school is such an opportunity to confront shortcomings in your career, in your personality, but it’s a wonderful learning opportunity. So take the waitlist as an opportunity because we’ve already denied more than a thousand students, and you are of the few that are on the waitlist, so empower yourselves to improve your application. Good luck and we are rooting for you! And we hope to be in touch. You can send me an email directly to my address; I’ll be happy to hear from you. If I don’t get back to you, don’t be upset. If you are just writing to say, “Hey, thanks!” – I’ll just add that to your file, so don’t be upset. If you do have questions, my team and I will try to get back to you.

Linda Abraham: We look forward to seeing you at future events. Visit our event schedule page for our full list of upcoming events and details, or to register. You can also subscribe to our events list by clicking reminders on our event schedule page.

Good luck with your waitlist efforts!

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