Cornell Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts and Advice
September 6, 2023
The 7.3% acceptance rate for Cornell’s Class of 2027 was just a touch higher than last year’s 6.9%; as late as 2003, the school still had as high as a 31% acceptance rate. Clearly, getting into Cornell in 2023-24 is a vastly different enterprise than 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 essays present applicants with just the 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.)
In addition to the required supplemental response for all applicants (new this year), each college within Cornell has its own essay requirement(s). Below, we examine the Cornell supplemental essays for the 2023-24 admissions cycle.
Cornell Supplemental Essays 2023-24
Required for all applicants:
In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “…any person…any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. (350 words)
Cornell is inviting you to share more about your background/identity/community through the lens of how that will impact your experience at the university. Take note of the wide-open nature of this prompt. You are essentially invited to talk about any of the following topics:
- A perspective you hold
- An experience/challenge you had
- A community you belong to
- Your cultural background
- Your religious background
- Your family background
- Your sexual orientation or gender identity
Although this prompt’s open floor plan may feel daunting, a good tactic is to first consider what has already been communicated within your Common App personal statement and activities list. What important aspect(s) of yourself have not been shared (or sufficiently discussed)? The admissions officer reading your essay is hoping to connect with you through your written words, so—within your essay’s reflection—be open, humble, thoughtful, inquisitive, emotionally honest, mature, and/or insightful about what you learned and how you grew.
You’ll then need to discuss how your background/identity/experiences will best allow you to contribute to Cornell’s “any person…any study” vision. Firstly, what does “any person…any study” mean to you? Defining that for yourself will enable you to more fully discuss how your background and life experiences will contribute to the University’s mission.
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. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals?(650 words)
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. Firstly, you’ll need to discuss your motivations and past experiences related to your major of choice—how have you engaged with the subject, formally and/or informally? What drives you to pursue this course of study in college? Moreover, you’ll need to clearly lay out your academic and career goals, providing explicit evidence of why CALS is the ideal place to help you achieve them. For instance, 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 three words best describe you? (30 characters each)
No tricks here—you truly only need to choose three words for this response. As such, make sure those three words are pulling their weight. For example, “interesting, hard-working, dedicated” could likely describe any number of Cornell applicants. Instead, try to think of descriptive or evocative words that capture what makes you unique or what you most value—perhaps it’s your wit, your bibliophile tendencies, or your generosity, to name a few.
Cornell Supplemental Essays (Continued)
How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B. Arch applicants, please provide an example of how a creative project or passion sparks your motivation to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students may want to emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues. (650 words)
There are five departments within the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: Architecture. Art, City and Regional Planning, Real Estate, and Design Tech. Firstly, you’ll need to discuss your motivations and past experiences related to your major of choice—how have you engaged with the subject, formally and/or informally? What drives you to pursue this course of study in college? Moreover, you’ll need to clearly lay out your academic and career goals, providing explicit evidence of why Cornell AAP is the ideal place to help you achieve them. For instance, this may involve researching the professors, courses, study abroad programs, undergraduate research opportunities, and student-run organizations relevant to your major of choice. Note that the prompt provides specific guidance on what exactly should be addressed in the response depending on prospective major, so be sure to integrate that guidance into your essay.
College of Arts and Sciences – Cornell Supplemental Essays
At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning is shaping your academic journey, and what areas of study or majors excite you and why. Your response should convey how your interests align with the College, and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 words)
With 78 different majors and minors, the College of Arts and Sciences offers myriad opportunities for any student. As such, Cornell wants to see evidence of your drive, passion, and intellectual ambition as well as your specific plans for continuing to be academically engaged while in college. What are your current interests? How have you explored them inside and outside the classroom? How do you hope to continue pursuing them as an undergraduate? Great things to highlight here include:
- Departmental offerings, curriculum attributes, and/or specific courses offered in your discipline(s) 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.
- Last, explore 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 to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 words)
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 hand them money to invest in the stock market or hook them up with a Goldman Sachs internship in ninth 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. From there, and as a result of your experiences, what topics or issues are you interested in? How do you plan to explore said issues or topics at Cornell? You might consider citing departmental/curricular attributes, specific courses, research opportunities, and/or experiential learning opportunities, among others.
College of Engineering – Cornell Supplemental Essays
Instructions: All applicants are required to write two supplemental essays. Each has a limit of 250 words. Essay 1 is required of all applicants. For Essay 2, you must choose between Question A and Question B.
Required for all engineering applicants
How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about. (250 words)
For the “Why Cornell Engineering?” prompt, refer to our recommendation above for the College of Arts & Sciences essay. Do your homework. Tell Cornell about the departments, courses, professors, facilities, research opportunities, and unique programs that make their College of Engineering your top choice. In addition, be sure to follow their advice and focus on one or two things that you are most excited about vs. trying to squeeze in a laundry list of offerings.
Cornell Supplemental Essays (Continued)
Choose either Question A or Question B. (250 word limit)
- Question A: Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem.
- Question B: Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Engineering the best solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and/or the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?
Question A is, in many ways, a quintessential engineering prompt. It is truly as simple as identifying a problem and proposing a solution. However, you’ll want to follow Cornell’s guidance and focus on a problem that manifests in your local community. For example, this could involve something in the realm of:
- Climate change
- Energy efficiency
- Pandemic management/data tracking
- Rethinking how cities and towns look and work
- Safeguarding personal data
Question B 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 Question A. If you do select Option B, you’ll also want to be sure that it does not overlap with the required essay for all Cornell applicants, which also has to do with your background and life experiences.
Engineering Short Answer Questions (Required)
What three words best describe you? (30 characters each)
See advice under the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.
What are three words you would use to describe Cornell Engineering?
Before attempting to answer this question, make sure to do your research. Read through the School’s mission statement as well as the departmental websites, diversity goals, research initiatives, and student life offerings. What stands out to you most about Cornell’s program as a whole? Then, do your best to capture that in three words.
College of Human Ecology
How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (650 words)
The direction of your essay will be guided by your choice of major within the College of Human Ecology. For example, the content 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’re interested in your particular field and where you see your education/career moving forward. In summary, speak honestly about your goals for the future and how your major will help you achieve them. Along the way, be sure to cite specific CHE offerings like courses, professors, research initiatives, student organizations, and/or special programs.
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. (650 words)
Labor relations is not exactly the most common topic for a 17-year-old to fall in love with. Therefore, 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, and public policy, among others—your interest in Cornell’s ILR program may have been sparked by traditional classroom learning. Or, on the other hand, perhaps the spark was the experience of a friend or relative. Perhaps it was even something you have been following in the news (e.g., Starbucks workers trying to unionize). Above all, let your passion and commitment for this field shine through in your composition, and be sure to cite ILR offerings that will allow you to pursue your interests even more deeply, such as the curriculum structure, research opportunities, internships, or student organizations, among others.
Cornell Supplemental Essays (Continued)
Brooks School of Public Policy
Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 words)
At Brooks, you can pursue one of two majors: Public Policy or Healthcare Policy. As such, in this essay, you’ll want to be sure to communicate why you’re interested in your major of choice. What related experiences have you had? How have you explored your interests and curiosities inside and outside the classroom? Most importantly, how do you hope to continue pursuing them as an undergraduate? Great things to highlight here include departmental offerings, specific courses, research opportunities, faculty members, student life, and/or experiential learning opportunities of interest.
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