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3 Top Tips for a Stand-Out Cornell Essay

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For the 2022–2023 admission cycle, Cornell admitted less than 8% of their total applicant pool. To be one of the students who gets accepted, you need to write amazing essays as part of your Cornell University application.

In this article, we'll outline the different types of essays you need to write for your Cornell University application and teach you how to write a Cornell supplemental essay that will help you stand out from the thousands of other applicants.

 

What Are the Cornell Essay Prompts?

Most students applying to Cornell only need to answer one Cornell supplemental essay prompt as part of their application (engineering students are the exception).

Don't get too excited though, because this one essay carries a lot of weight. The word limit is on the longer side (usually around 650 words), and the topic depends on which school within the university that you're applying to.

Cornell University consists of many smaller colleges, each with their own required Cornell writing supplement.

Your Cornell essay prompt will correspond to the school that you plan to study at, so give your future as a Cornell student some thought before you start writing. Be sure to write about the subject or area of study that you are currently interested in, even if that may change when you get to college. As with all college admissions essays, authenticity is key. You may have myriad scholastic interests, but for this essay, stick with what you know best and are most passionate about. Your potential topic must correspond with the areas of study at the college too.

The Cornell essay prompts give ample space for you to express yourself and reveal a more complete portrait of who you are as a student and human simply because of the word limit. You can say a lot in 650 words, so take advantage of it!

 


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2023–2024 Cornell Supplement Essay Questions

Here are the essays and instructions as shown on the Cornell University admissions website:

 

College Interest Essays

The primary focus of your college interest essay should be what you intend to study at Cornell. 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. Note that the College of Engineering is the only college that requires multiple shorter essays, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences lists one required and two optional essays.

Here are this year's prompts: 

  • 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.

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Applicants must answer one required essay, but you can also choose to answer one or both of the two optional essays.
    • Required: 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?
    • Optional: At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good. Please elaborate on an experience where you had a meaningful mpact on people, a community, and/or an environment of importance to you (200-word limit).
    • Optional: Cornell CALS is dedicated to purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An "agricultural entity" for the purpose of this question is defined as cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.). Select all that apply:
       
      • A primary source of income for my parent/guardian(s) comes from ownership of or employment by an agricultural entity.
      • My extended family owns or operates an agricultural entity.
      • I have experience working in an agricultural entity.
      • I have interest in pursuing a career in an agricultural entity.

Please feel free to share additional details (optional) (100-word limit).

  • College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: 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 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.
  • College of Arts and Sciences: 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..
  • 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 (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).
  • College of Engineering: 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.
    • Essay 1 (Required response): 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.
    • Essay 2 (Required response; choose either Question A or B):
      • 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?
  • 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. (Refer to our essay application tips before you begin.)
  • 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.

 

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Cornell Supplement Essays Analyzed

In this section, we'll take a look at each Cornell supplemental essay prompt in depth.

Remember, you may only answer one prompt for your application.

We'll also give tips for how to best approach answering the individual essay questions. Some tips will apply to all of the questions, but we will highlight the important differences for each program.

 

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.

To apply to the Brooks School of Public Policy, you'll need to select a specific major. Be specific about what you want to study and why, and make sure that you clearly state why the Brooks School in particular is the best option for you.

Don't panic if you don't have a lot of experience with your chosen major yet! Instead, think about why you're interested in this field and what experiences led you to it. Maybe you're inspired by something you personally experienced, by research you conducted, or by a documentary or article you read.

You should also research the history of the Brooks School and its different programs. Choose the one that best aligns with your goals, and look to see whether any notable faculty or alumni might further inspire you.

 

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Applicants must answer one required essay, but also have the option to answer two optional essays. We'll break down your options below.

Required: 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?


The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences asks you to have an idea of your major as you apply. In your essay, you should commit to one major and be specific about why it's important to you. Choose a topic of genuine interest to you and that you have a personal connection with, even if that personal connection consists solely of articles you've read and documentaries you've seen.

Do your research about the topic and the school. Dedicate some time to reading about CALS—its history, its current faculty, and its notable alumni. Is there anyone from your research who you can relate to or who you think of as inspiring? Are there professors whom you are looking forward to working with?

Lean into the school's reputation, and choose something specific to write about that has a personal connection to you. For example, instead of writing about homesteading trends across the country, write about a local farm in your area that you visited as a child or how you got interested in food science.

You could also write about your personal connection to a specific project of a professor who teaches in the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Optional: At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good. Please elaborate on an experience where you had a meaningful impact on people, a community, and/or an environment of importance to you. (200-word limit)

 

This is a great opportunity for you to show how you want to use your passion for the greater good. Because the prompt tells you to define your impact "on people, a community" broadly, you have a lot of leeway here. Think about your local neighborhood, your family and friends, any trips you may have taken through school or service organizations—anything that shows your commitment to serving others.

Optional: Cornell CALS is dedicated to purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An "agricultural entity" for the purpose of this question is defined as cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.).

Select all that apply:

A primary source of income for my parent/guardian(s) comes from ownership of or employment by an agricultural entity.
My extended family owns or operates an agricultural entity.
I have experience working in an agricultural entity.
I have interest in pursuing a career in an agricultural entity.

Please feel free to share additional details (optional). (100-word limit)

 

This isn't an essay prompt so much as a way for you to self-identify. If any of these options apply to you, make sure to check them!

 

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

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.

The College of Architecture, Art, and Planning wants to know how you connect your creative passions with your scholastic interests here. Think about what you learn about or engage with of your own volition, not just because you're required to. In other words, when you fall down an Internet rabbit hole, what are you often researching?

For example, what design trends fascinate you? Which artists, photographers, or architects do you gravitate toward? What sort of urban planning projects would you be inspired to pursue? What transportation, housing, or infrastructure issues in your community or region do you want to work toward solving? Keep in mind that you'll want to not just describe who or what motivates you but also why.

Note also that the question asks you to describe either a "passion" or a "creative project," so if you've already had the opportunity to work on an art installation or design project that has inspired you to pursue your degree at Cornell, then describe that project and explain why it motivates you. Remember, the prompt asks about passions, as well as quirks. Don't feel embarrassed! Share something personal about yourself. Maybe you love watching old cinema or make your own pop-up cards for your family. Maybe you watch hundreds of hours of videos from YouTube photographers. Maybe you visit the City Hall of whatever new town you visit.

Whatever you choose, make sure you elaborate on why you're interested in it and how it's affected your life.

 

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College of Arts and Sciences

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.

The College of Arts and Sciences is the most generalized school of study at Cornell University, and the admissions essay reflects that. If you know that you love to learn but aren't sure what your career will look like after college, it's likely you'll be applying here.

Don't be fooled! Just because the question is broad, you don't have to write a broad essay in response. Don't feel like you have to demonstrate an interest in both Russian literature and molecular biology. Rather, describe your real intellectual pursuits with honesty and sincerity.

You don't have to have huge aspirations or a fancy reason for your intellectual pursuits. Stay true to yourself. If you're interested in Tudor history because of some historical fiction novels you read as a child, that's fine! You can say that. Just be sure to always tie it back to how Cornell's academics will let you study your passion.

If you have multiple areas of study that you are passionate about, you may write about them—but don't write about more than two or three at the most. Otherwise, your essay will feel more like a list rather than an in-depth exploration of your actual interests.

If you do choose to write about multiple interests, be sure to connect them back to you and your individual experience as a Cornell student and community member.

 

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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 (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).

 

For the Johnson College of Business, the first part of the essay question asks you to think about the business-related topics or issues you are interested in; how they're connected with your life, academic, volunteer, or work experiences; and why. The next part of the prompt invites you to discuss your interests in terms of what's on offer at the business school.

Your best approach, then, is to research the programs so that you know exactly what their approach to business, management, economics, and hospitality is. What topics do they offer classes on? What specific research areas do their professors study? Then, think about what you most often find yourself thinking, reading, or talking about that relates to two or three of these topics. Those connections should be the core of your essay.

For example, did a history class inspire you to research the evolution of print advertising to digital marketing? Did moving from abroad get you interested in international development? Did you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs and want to further explore how to build your own business?

As you build your response, keep in mind that your essay should also indicate why you want to attend Cornell's College of Business rather than any other and how you'll take advantage of the resources it offers. So do some research on what makes the college stand out from others. You can list specific classes you'd like to take or professors you'd like to study with. Doing so will show that you're interested in Cornell, not just any old business school.

If you're specifically interested in the School of Hotel Adminitration and you're having trouble coming up with a topic, use the list of global hospitality industry topics as a jumping-off point. Which are you interested in? How did you become interested in them? Why do you care so much about these topics? What type of career do you want in this industry?

When writing about the experiences that define you and your passions as a future business major, don't generalize. Instead, use stories, anecdotes, and details  that actually happened and that show your personality traits and motivations. Follow that old grade-school writing rule: show; don't tell.

 

College of Engineering

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.

Essay 1 (Required): 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.

Essay 2 (Required):

  • 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?


And now for something a little different. Instead of writing one long essay, College of Engineering applicants have to write two shorter essays, and they get to choose from three prompts.

Each of the prompts seeks to understand why you want to study engineering and why you believe you'd excel at engineering. For all prompts, be sure to go beyond the surface level with your answers. Don't just say that you want a steady job after graduation. Cornell's College of Engineering wants to see that you have both ambition and interesting ideas.

The first prompt is required and is the most similar to the prompts for the other colleges. It's a basic "why us?" prompt, in which you explain to Cornell what it is about their College of Engineering that made you want to apply. Again, the more specific you can be here, the better. Mention things such as specific professors, classes, or internship opportunities to strengthen your essay.

The second prompt is a chance for you to put your thinking cap on! This is a great place for you to shine. Your job here is to choose a problem that is important to you—and say a little about why before diving into the prompt itself. If you know what type of engineering you want to study, make sure the problem you're addressing can be solved through that subfield. If you're not decided, you have a little more leeway.

For the third prompt, you're focusing on diversity and how you'll add to it. This doesn't just need to be racial diversity; think about what your unique life experiences can bring to Cornell's College of Engineering and how that would contribute to its diversity.

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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. (Refer to our essay application tips before you begin.)


This essay prompt gives you lots of room for creativity. That being said, heed this caveat: don't get carried away in stating your grandiose mission for solving the world's problems. As with the other essay prompts, specificity is key.

For the first question, choose an example from your life to illustrate your answer. Pick something that has truly been formative in your educational and professional goals, dive in deep, and write from the heart.

For example, if you're interested in studying policy analysis and management, you could talk about how your experience with social welfare programs has affected your life. Or if you're looking to be part of the fiber science and apparel design program, you could talk about why clothing has played such an important part in your life and your passion for fashion design.

Be sure to include your future goals in your answer. The College of Human Ecology has a very specific focus—you'll want to reflect that as you discuss your career and life aspirations.

 

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.

This essay is a great opportunity to show off your academic side. You get to write about your topics of study and describe how you will continue to make it a part of your life in your college career and beyond.

You don't have to limit your answer to school experiences. Academic pursuits can grow from hobbies, travels, or personal experiences. Do you take on leadership roles in your religious community? Have you had a particularly influential summer job? As long as you relate the experience back to academics, you are golden.

You should also specify why ILR is the right college at Cornell for you to pursue these interests. What can you study at ILR that you can't study in Cornell's other colleges, such as the College of Arts and Sciences? It can be helpful to list specific courses or tracks of study at ILR that reflect your intellectual interests. Remember, the prompt specifically asks why ILR is your Cornell college of choice.

 

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How to Write a Great Cornell Essay

Regardless of which Cornell essay prompt you're responding to, you should keep in mind the following tips for how to write a great Cornell essay.

 

#1: Use Your Own Voice

The point of a college essay is to give the admissions committee a chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors.

Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed-out person.

You should, then, make sure that the person you're presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don't try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you're not.

If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Cornell wants you to be.

 

#2: Avoid Clichés and Overused Phrases

When writing your Cornell essay, try to avoid using clichés or overused quotes or phrases.

These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are overused in daily life. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays from students who have grand plans to change the world. Only talk about changing the world if you have legitimate interests to back it up.

Strive for originality and avoid using clichés, which take away from the strength and sincerity of your work.

 

#3: Check Your Work

It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your Cornell essay is the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your Cornell application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.

Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.

It's a good idea to have someone else read your Cornell essay too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check to make sure you haven't missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.

 

Recap: Writing a Stellar Cornell Essay

The Cornell essay prompts give you a chance to really show the admissions committee who you are. Regardless of the question you're answering, remember to follow these basic dos and don'ts as you're writing:

 

DO

  • Be authentic and honest.
  • Be specific when citing people, places, and things.
  • Strive for brevity and clarity; less is more!
  • Be yourself, and do your research—both will shine through in your essays!

 

DON'T

  • Base your essays on what you think the Cornell application committee wants to hear.
  • Use clichés or broad sweeping statements.
  • Try too hard to be funny and original. Be genuine and your positive attributes will be visible to the committee.

 

What's Next?

Are you working on the Common App essay as part of your application? Read our breakdown of the Common App prompts and our guide to picking the best prompt for you.

If you're planning to take the SAT or ACT as part of your application, try out some of our famous test prep guides, like "How to Get a Perfect Score on the SAT" and "15 Key ACT Test Day Tips."

 


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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.



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