In 2019, Cornell admitted just 10.6% of their total applicant pool. In order to be one of the students who gets accepted, you need to write amazing Cornell 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 supplement essay that will help you stand out from the thousands of other applicants.
What Are the Cornell Essay Prompts?
You only have to answer one Cornell supplement essay prompt as part of your application. Yay!
Don’t get too excited though, because this one essay carries a lot of weight. The word limit is on the longer side (650 words) and the topic depends on which school you’re applying to.
Cornell University consists of many smaller colleges, each with their own required Cornell supplement essay example.
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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2019-20 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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 the Cornell College of Agriculture—its history, its current faculty and its notable alumni. Is there anyone from your research who you can relate to? 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 School of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
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?
The essay from the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning offers a fun essay topic... so have fun with it!
You don't have to feel limited to purely 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?
Feel free to pull examples from pop culture, history, science, math... anything! 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 its affected your life.
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.
The College of Arts and Sciences is the least specific school of study at Cornell University, and the admissions essay reflects that. If you know 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 Elizabethan history because of some historical fiction novels you read as a child, that’s fine! You can totally say that. Just be sure to always tie it back to how Cornell’s academics let you study your passion.
If you feel 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.
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?
This prompt is a gift: they are telling you exactly what to write. Do not guess here. Research the program so that you know exactly what their approach to business education is and how it differs from other programs and be able to give at a possible future career and life path for yourself.
The question provides you with a thesis: explain why the program is the right fit for you and how you're going to use what you learned there in the future. Follow it! Your essay should indicate why you want to attend Cornell’s school of business, rather than any other, and how you'll take advantage of the resources it offers.
Do some research on what makes Cornell’s business 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.
For the "where do you plan to go from here" part of the question, don't get too stressed out trying to develop a detailed life plan for yourself. Broad plans for your future are fine, and you can even keep things shorter term by discussing how you'll use the knowledge you learn to get prestigious internships or take courses in a specific subject to better prepare you for a future career.
Cornell School of Hotel Administration (SHA)
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?
The Johnson College of Business prompt may also seem broad and easy to answer in a general way—do not be fooled! As with all good college essays, it is crucial that you answer this prompt with as much specificity as you can muster.
If 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? 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 your personal qualities that make you a good fit for the program, don’t describe yourself using only adjectives and generalizations. Instead, use stories, anecdotes and experiences from your life that actually happened and that show your personality traits. Follow that old grade school writing rule: show, don’t tell. Demonstrate your personal qualities through examples, rather than just stating them.
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.
This essay seeks to understand why you want to study engineering. 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.
Consider how engineers solve challenges. What challenges do you care about in your community? In the world? How could your work as an engineer help solve these problems?
It’s important to write about issues that you’re passionate about. If you don’t care about climate change, don’t write about how you want to create clean energy solutions. Focus on issues that you’re truly interested in.
Before you start writing, consider the prompt. That is not to say that you should garble your essay with too many topics to have a specific direction. Instead, pick a direction, a thesis, and use the various topics listed in the question as an outline for how to write your essay with appropriate supporting topics.
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?
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.
Choose an example from your life to illustrate your answer to the question.
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 & 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 in what you write about.
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.
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 what 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.
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 for the admissions committee to have the 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 Cliches and Overused Phrases
When writing your Cornell essay, try to avoid using cliches 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 cliches, 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 and 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:
- 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!
- Base your essays on what you think the Cornell application committee wants to hear.
- Use cliches or broad sweeping statements.
- Try too hard to be funny and original. Be genuine and your positive attributes will be visible to the committee.
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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.