Cornell University Supplemental Essay Prompts and Tips
The 8.7% acceptance rate for Cornell’s Class of 2025 was the lowest in school history; as late as 2003, the school still had as high as a 31% acceptance rate. Clearly, getting into Cornell in 2022 is vastly different enterprise than becoming a member of Big Red earlier in the millennium. Even if you earned a 1450+ on the SAT and maintained straight A’s throughout a high school career littered with AP and honors courses, you still need to find a way to distinguish yourself from other high school superstars. Fortunately, Cornell’s supplemental essay presents applicants with just opportunity they need to showcase their unique personality, writing ability, passions, and talents.
(Want to learn more about How to Get Into Cornell University? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Cornell: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)
At Cornell, each college within the larger university has their own essay requirement. The following are Cornell’s discipline-specific essay prompts for the 2021-22 admissions cycle with accompanying advice about how to tackle each one. Each possesses a 650-word limit.
Cornell Essays 2021-22
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. Specifically, how will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals?
There are 22 undergraduate majors and more than 40 minors within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Obviously, the content of this essay is going to be quite different for a prospective American Indian Indigenous Studies major versus someone looking to study Biomedical Engineering. Either way, applicants need to lay out their academic and career goals, providing explicit evidence of why CALS is the ideal place to help you achieve them. This may involve researching the professors, courses, study abroad programs, undergraduate research opportunities, and student-run organizations relevant to your major of choice.
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours?
Your answer may or may not involve art or architecture. It may directly related to your academic interests, tangentially related, or not-at-all related. Any of these three options can be valid depending on the execution. Really think about what makes you tick. What keeps you up at night? What subject makes you read books and online content until your vision blurs? If you are answering at least one of these questions, you are on the right track with this essay.
College of Arts and Sciences
Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College.
In this essay, Cornell want to see evidence of your drive, passion, and intellectual ambition as well as you specific plans for continuing to be academically engaged while in college. Great things to highlight here include:
- Specific courses offered in your discipline of interest at Cornell.
- Undergraduate research opportunities in the summer or during the school year as well as independent research you would like to conduct under faculty supervision.
- Cornell professors whose work/research/writings you find fascinating and how you might want to connect with them as an undergraduate.
- Academically-focused student organizations at Cornell.
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school(s) to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and/or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).
To stand out as an applicant to Dyson or the School of Hotel Administration, applicants need to show that they have availed themselves of every opportunity to dive into the business world during their high school years. Of course, not everyone has parents who can hand them money to invest in the stock market or hook them up with an internship at Goldman Sachs in 9th grade. Relevant experiences can include high school investing clubs, participation in activities like FBLA, summer programs/courses in business/finance/economics, running your own local small business or e-business (Etsy, landscaping, etc.), or just a regular old retail job. The important thing to highlight is what you learned from your experience(s) and how you will bring that newly acquired knowledge to the classroom at Cornell.
College of Engineering
Instructions: Applicants must write responses to two of the three essay options. They may choose which two prompts they write about—their choice. Each response is limited to a maximum of 200 words.
- Engineering is inherently collaborative. What does collaboration mean to you? What strengths do you bring to the collaborative process?
- For you, what makes Cornell Engineering special? Why do you want to attend Cornell Engineering?
- Diversity in all definitional forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Indeed, devising the best engineered solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from broadly different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?
The third essay choice may be challenging to answer in a deeply meaningful way if you are not a member of an underrepresented group with respect to ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual identity. If this one doesn’t “sing” to you, it’s best to stick with choices one and two.
With the collaboration essay, try to go beyond mere platitudes that you are “hard-working” and a “team player”. Some of the best essays we seen in this category show an applicant’s collaborative abilities through revealing anecdotes. It doesn’t have to be an instance where you were the superhero saving the day from a committee of pure dysfunction; even better is a nuanced account of how you learned from others in this regard.
For the “Why Cornell Engineering?” prompt, refer to our recommendation above for the College of Arts & Sciences essay. Do your homework and tell Cornell about the courses, professors, facilities, research opportunities, and unique programs that make their College of Engineering your clear-cut top choice.
College of Human Ecology
How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?
The direction of your essay will, of course, be guided by your choice of major within the College of Human Ecology. The end result will look substantively different for a Fashion Design and Management major versus a Nutritional Sciences applicant. Regardless of your area of study, the prompt seeks to get the heart of why you interested in your particular field and where you see your education/career moving forward. Speak honestly about your goals for the future and how your major will help you achieve them.
School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School.
Labor relations is not exactly the most common topic for a 17-year-old to fall in love with. As such, there is probably a pretty interesting story behind your desire to pursue the ILR path. Given that this major is an intersection of areas like business, economics, government, history, law, public policy, among others—your interest in Cornell’s ILR program may have been sparked by traditional classroom learning or, on the other hand, by the experiences of a friend or relative, or perhaps something you have been following in the news (e.g. Starbucks workers trying to unionize). Whatever the case may be, let your passion and commitment for this field shine through in your composition.
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A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.