How to Get Into Cornell: Acceptance Rate and Strategies

June 1, 2023

Successful applicants to Cornell University universally possess an ‘A’ average in a rigorous high school curriculum, stellar SAT/ACT scores (with some pandemic-driven exceptions), as well as a record of accomplishment outside of the classroom in (typically) two or more extracurricular activities. However, these attributes are necessary but often not sufficient, as Cornell rejects 93% of the homogeneous horde of high-achieving candidates who apply each year. In addition to the latest Cornell University acceptance rate, we will explore the following:

The intent of this article is to give those considering applying to Cornell University a full understanding of the following topics:

  • Cornell University acceptance rate
  • Cornell ED acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Cornell applicants
  • Admissions trends
  • How Cornell’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • The demographics of current Cornell undergraduates
  • The percentage of accepted students that attend the university
  • Tips for applying to Cornell
  • How to approach the Cornell supplemental essays

Many students applying to Cornell may also find the following blogs to be of interest:

How to Get Into:

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

Cornell University Acceptance Rate 

Cornell has not released their official admissions stats for the Class of 2027. However, we do know that there were approximately 68,000 applications submitted for a place in the 2023-24 freshman class and they accepted just 4,994. This means that the Cornell acceptance rate was 7% in 2023.

Historical Cornell University acceptance rates are as follows:

  • Class of 2026: 7%
  • 2025: 9%
  • 2024: 11%

Cornell Early Decision Acceptance Rate 

Cornell has not yet released their ED acceptance data from the 2022-23 admissions cycle. We do know that they accepted 1,670 ED applicants, but the total number of ED applicants is not known.

There were 9,555 early decision applicants to the Class of 2026; 1,831 were accepted. This works out to a 19% acceptance rate. This was a lower rate of success than the 21% figure encountered by the Class of 2025.

Cornell Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank

According to the most recent statistics available (Class of 2026), the mid-50% SAT range for enrolled freshmen was 1470-1550; on the ACT the range was 33-35.  Shifting to class rank, 82% had earned a place in the top 10% of their graduating high school class and 96% landed in the top 25%.

Admissions Trends & Notes 

  • Roughly 15% of incoming students are legacies.
  • 61% of the 2022-23 freshman cohort attended public schools.
  • 20% are first-generation college students.
  • The Class of 2026 hailed from all 50 states and 85 countries.
  • Lastly, 58% of those admitted into the Class of 2026 identify as students of color.
  • Only 49% of the Class of 2026 submitted SAT/ACT scores.

How Cornell Rates Applicants

Unlike many other ultra-selective institutions, undergraduate applications to Cornell are not reviewed from a central admissions office; rather, they are funneled to the specific college within the university that a particular student has applied to. From there, applications undergo a “first review” which looks at whether or not the applicant possesses the minimum academic credentials for serious consideration. Typically, around 80% of applicants make it through the “first review.”

In the next round of review, admissions officers look to the rigor of an applicant’s high school coursework and carefully read their supplemental essay about their interest in studying a given discipline at Cornell (more on this later). They also want to see evidence of a desire to become passionately committed to the Cornell student community. This can best be demonstrated through extracurricular activities, essays, and recommendation letters.

Cornell University Acceptance Rate (Continued)

Cornell is looking for genuine excellence in one or more activities. For example, you won a prestigious national physics competition, you are one of the top violinists in the United States, you published original scientific research, or were the president of a service organization that made a monumental impact. It definitely helps if you are recruited as an athlete to join one of Big Red’s 36 Division I sports teams. Between 6-7% of undergraduates are recruited athletes.

In sum, there are eight factors that Cornell ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, GPA, standardized test scores, the essay, recommendations, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, and character/personal qualities. Standing out in all of these areas definitely increases your chances of gaining acceptance to this Ivy League institution.

Who Actually Gets Into Cornell?

Geographically, the Class of 2025 includes:

  • International: 11%
  • Mid-Atlantic States: 18%
  • Southeastern States: 6%
  • Western States: 12%
  • Midwestern States: 6%
  • New England States: 9%
  • Southwestern States: 5%
  • New York: 33%

Competition is stiffest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast, including New York, & the West Coast). However, if you hail from a less populated state like Nebraska, South Dakota, or Alaska, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances.

Cornell University Acceptance Rate (Continued)

Next, let’s look at the ethnic identity of the Class of 2026.

  • White: 30%
  • Asian American: 23%
  • Hispanic: 15%
  • African American: 8%
  • International: 10%

A further look reveals that 27% of the Cornell Class of 2026 identifies as an under-represented minority. Overall, 50% identify as a student of color.

The Class of 2026 has the following gender split:

  • Male: 45%
  • Female: 55%

Cornell’s Yield Rate 

Cornell’s overall Class of 2026 yield rate was 68%. This number is significantly lower than Harvard, but higher than many other selective universities. For comparison, elite schools such as Caltech, UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis, UVA, and USC all have yield rates around or under 50%.

Tips for Applying to Cornell

If you plan on joining the 70,000ish Big Red hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • Once again, Cornell has again suspended their SAT/ACT test requirements for 2024 first-year applicants.
  • Cornell only schedules formal, evaluative interviews for applicants to the Architecture or Hotel Administration programs. Local Cornell alumni meet with 21,000 additional applicants each year for informational interviews. For advice on what types of questions you should be prepared to answer/ask, visit our blog—College Interview Tips.
  • Cornell does not consider “demonstrated interest” so you will not be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit, contacted an admissions officer, etc.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay required by Cornell. In the 2022-23 cycle, they were as follows:

College Interest Essays

In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words) that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.

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?

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?

Cornell University Acceptance Rate (Continued)

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.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business offers two distinct business programs, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. Please describe how your interests and ambitions can be met through one or both of the Schools within the College.

College of Engineering

Tell us about what excites you most about Cornell Engineering and/or studying engineering at Cornell University. How do you see yourself becoming a part of the Cornell Engineering community?

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?

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.

For a detailed look at how to tackle these essays, visit our blog entitled: Cornell University Supplemental Essay Prompts and Tips.

Cornell University Acceptance Rate – Final Thoughts 

To sum up, if you bring strong academic and extracurricular credentials to the table, there is no harm in filling out a Cornell application, but—as with all highly-competitive colleges in 2022-23—even the best and brightest teens need to have an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools.