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 over 90% of the homogeneous horde of high-achieving candidates who apply each year.

The intent of this article is to give those considering applying to Cornell University:

1) An understanding of what you are up against.

2) More data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.

3) Advice for how to get your Cornell application to stand out, even against other top-of-the-class students.

To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:

  • Cornell’s Class of 2025 acceptance rate
  • Cornell’s Class of 2024 ED acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Cornell applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2025
  • How Cornell’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • The demographics of current Cornell undergraduates
  • The percent of accepted students that attend the university
  • Tips for applying to Cornell
  • How to approach the Cornell supplemental essays
  • How to assess whether applying to Cornell is even worth the $80 application fee (for you)

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

Cornell Acceptance Rate – Class of 2025

There were 51,500 applications submitted for a place in the 2020-21 freshman class; just 5,514 were accepted. This acceptance rate of 9.9% was the first time Cornell inched into the single-digits. The Class of 2025 saw the admit rate decline to roughly 9%, although precise numbers have yet to be released. We do know that there were 5,836 students admitted out of more than 67,000 applicants.

Cornell: Early Decision Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024

Cornell has not yet released their ED acceptance data from the 2020-21 admissions cycle. For the entering Class of 2024, there were 6,630 early decision applicants, 1,594 of whom were accepted. This works out to a 24% acceptance rate. This was a higher rate of success than the 22.6% figure encountered by the Class of 2023. There were 6,159 ED applicants for the Class of 2023.

Cornell Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank

According to the most recent statistics available (Class of 2024), the mid-50% SAT range for enrolled freshman was 1410-1530; on the ACT the range was 32-35.  Eighty-four percent had earned a place in the top 10% of their graduating high school class and 98% landed in the top 25%.

Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 20024 & 2025)

  • 14.8% of the Class of 2024 are legacy students.
  • 64.2% of the Class of 2024 attended public schools.
  • The proportion of admitted Class of 2025 members who self-identify as underrepresented minorities increased to 34.2% from 33.7% last year, and 59.3% self-identify as students of color.
  • Admitted members of the Class of 2025 come from 49 U.S. states (only Wyoming is not represented) plus Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, as well as 87 countries outside the United States.
  • 1,163 will be first-generation college students, an increase over last year’s 844.
  • The number of applicants increased from 51,500 to 67,000+ this past cycle.
  • The approximately 9% acceptance rate in the 2020-21 admissions year is the lowest in school history.

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 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 is not going to be impressed that you filled the ten spaces on the Common App Activity List; they are 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. In the Class of 2024, 6.5% of incoming students are designated as “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 at gaining acceptance to this Ivy League institution.

Who Actually Gets Into Cornell?

Let’s look at the demographics of the Class of 2024.

Geographically, the Class of 2024 was comprised of students from:

  • International: 10.2%
  • Mid-Atlantic States: 17.6%
  • Southeastern States: 6.4%
  • Western States: 11.6%
  • Midwestern States: 6.4%
  • New England States: 9.7%
  • Southwestern States: 4.8%
  • New York: 33.6%

Competition is stiffest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast, including New York, & the West Coast). 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.

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown was as follows (note: these do not add up to 100% as students could list multiple ethnicities):

  • White: 51.9%
  • Asian American: 29.2%
  • Hispanic: 17.8%
  • African American: 12%
  • American Indian: 2%

A further look reveals that 26.9% of the Cornell Class of 2024 identifies as an under-represented minority. Overall, 51.7% identify as a student of color.

The breakdown by gender is notably split in favor of women:

  • Male: 46%
  • Female: 54%

Cornell’s Yield Rate 

Cornell’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 59% for the Class of 2024. This number is over 20 points 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 under 50%.

Tips for Applying to Cornell

If you plan on joining the almost 67,000 Big Red hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • Cornell has again suspended their SAT/ACT test requirements for 2022 first-year applicants.
  • Cornell only schedules formal, evaluative interviews for applicants to the Architecture or Hotel Administration programs. Informational interviews can be arranged with local Cornell alumni who meet with 21,000 additional applicants each year. 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 2020-21 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?

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.

The key to tackling this 650 word beast is to do your homework on the college within Cornell University to which you are applying.

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

Should I Apply to Cornell?

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 2021—even the best and brightest teens need to have an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools.