Successful applicants to Cornell University universally possess an ‘A’ average in a rigorous high school curriculum, stellar SAT scores, 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 almost 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 2024 ED acceptance rate
  • Cornell’s Class of 2023 acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted Cornell applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2023
  • 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 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: Early Decision Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024

Those applying Early Decision to the Cornell Class of 2024 were accepted at a 23.8% clip, 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 and 6,615 for the Class of 2024.

Cornell Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023

There were 49,118 applications submitted for a place in the 2019-20 freshman class; just 5,183 were accepted. This acceptance rate of 10.6% was actually friendlier than the previous year’s acceptance rate of 10.3%.

Cornell Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank

According to the most recent statistics available (Class of 2023), the mid-50% SAT range for admitted freshman was 1400-1560; on the ACT the range was 32-35. Almost one-quarter of 2019-20 freshman scored above a 750 on the reading section of the SAT; 59% earned better than a 750 on the math section. Eighty-three percent had earned a place in the top 10% of their graduating high school class and 96% landed in the top 25%.

Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 2023)

  • 63.1% of the Class of 2023 hailed from public high schools, up slightly from 62.3% the previous year.
  • 7.1% of 2019-20 freshman were recruited athletes compared to 6.2% last year.
  • The percentage of legacy admits—children/grandchildren of alumni—remained steady at 16.7%.
  • As at many American colleges, there was a small dip in the percent of international students applying to Cornell; 11.1% of Class of 2023 members were citizens of foreign countries compared to 11.5% the prior year.
  • More Cornell freshman possessed math SAT scores above a 700 last year vs. the Class of 2022; however, a greater percentage of Class of 2022 members scored above a 700 on the reading section.

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. Approximately 7% 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 2023.

Geographically, the Class of 2023 was comprised of students from:

  • International: 11.1%
  • Mid-Atlantic States: 16.7%
  • Southern States: 6.2%
  • Western States: 11%
  • Midwestern States: 7.1%
  • New England States: 9.5%
  • Southwest/Mountain States: 4.7%
  • New York: 33.7%

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:

  • White: 35.6%
  • Asian American: 20.1%
  • Hispanic: 15.8%
  • African American: 6.7%
  • Biracial: 5.6%
  • Other/Not Reported: 16%

A further look reveals that 25.6% of the Cornell Class of 2023 identifies as an under-represented minority. Overall, 48.5% identify as a student of color.

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

  • Male: 45%
  • Female: 55%

Most People Who Get Accepted Choose to Attend

Cornell’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted is 60.5%%. 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 50,000 Big Red hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

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 2019-20 cycle, they are 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: Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management: The Dyson School is unique by design. What motivates you to apply to Dyson and where do you plan to go from here?

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: School of Hotel Administration (SHA): How have your interests and experiences influenced your decision to apply to the School of Hotel Administration? How does this decision relate to your future plans and aspirations?

College of Engineering: Tell us about your interest in engineering or what you hope to achieve with a degree in engineering. Describe what appeals to you about Cornell Engineering and how it specifically relates to your engineering interest or aspirations.

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: Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests.

The key to tackling this 650 word beast is to do your homework on the college within Cornell University to which you are applying. Learn how to write a killer “Why This College” essay in our previous blog post on the subject.

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 2020—even the best and brightest teens need to have an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools.