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How to Get Into Cornell: 4 Expert Tips


Located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell University is a member of the Ivy League and one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Every year, Cornell accepts several thousand new students as members of its incoming freshmen class. If you're hoping to be one of them, you'll need to make sure that your application is up to snuff. In this article, we'll teach you exactly how to get into Cornell and talk about Cornell admission statistics so you know how you measure up against other applicants.


How Hard Is It to Get Into Cornell?

If you're trying to get into Cornell, you might be wondering, "How hard is it to get into Cornell? Do I have a shot at admission?"

In short: it's very hard to get into Cornell. Cornell is one of the most competitive schools in the world to get into, boasting an admissions rate of 11%. If you want to be one of those students, you'll need to make sure that every part of your application (academics, extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations) is as strong as possible.

You'll also need to make sure that you match up to what Cornell is looking for in its students.


What Is Cornell Looking for in Its Students?

Each year, tens of thousands of students apply to Cornell. Learning what stands out about the accepted applicants will help you learn how to get into Cornell.

Simply put, those students possess the specific qualities Cornell looks for in its applicants: they have intellectual ability, character, involvement in their schools and communities, and a passion for Cornell itself.

Your Cornell University application is a chance to demonstrate all of those qualities. Through your grades and test scores, you'll show your academic ability. You'll get a chance to highlight your involvement in your community and your passion for Cornell on different parts of your application, but most importantly, in your Cornell essays.


Can You Apply to Cornell Early?

Cornell University offers an early decision option to applicants. Early decision is binding—if you're accepted to Cornell, you need to withdraw your applications to any other colleges or universities you might've applied to.

By submitting your early decision application, you're making a commitment to attend Cornell if you're accepted. Don't make this choice lightly—only apply early decision to Cornell if you really, really want to go to Cornell.

If you do want to go to Cornell, applying early has its benefits. Cornell admissions statistics indicate that around a third of its freshman class during early decision. In 2021, Cornell admitted 1,930 out of 9,017 early decision applicants, for an early decision acceptance rate of 21.4%.




Cornell Application Deadlines and Requirements

Cornell is made up of seven different colleges. Each college has its own admissions requirements. However, there are some standard application requirements for all seven schools:

  • The Common Application (CA) or Universal College Application (UCA)
  • The School Report
  • Counselor Recommendation
  • Two Teacher Evaluations
  • The Midyear Report, when your mid-year grades are available
  • $80 application fee or fee waiver
  • Required standardized test scores (Cornell has suspended the test requirement through 2024.)
  • Official secondary/high school transcript
  • Cornell University Questions and Writing Supplement (CA) 


Interview Requirements

Formal admission interviews are required for applicants to the architecture program in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Formal admission interviews are recommended for applicants to the Department of Art or Urban and Regional Studies.


Portfolio/Design Submission Requirements

Some of the Cornell programs require portfolio or design assignments. Here's a look at what those are.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Landscape architecture program: portfolio required

Architecture, Art, and Planning

  • Architecture program: file portfolio required
  • Art program: portfolio required

Human Ecology

  • Design and environmental analysis program: design challenge required
  • Fashion design and management program: design case study required
  • Fashion design: portfolio required


How to Get Into Cornell: GPA Requirements

It's very difficult to get into Cornell. You need to have a high GPA and demonstrate a history of undertaking challenging coursework to be competitive.

As of 2021, the average unweighted GPA of admitted applicants to Cornell is 3.8. You'll need to have mostly A's on your report card to meet or exceed this average. That doesn't mean, however, that you should stack your schedule with easy courses to get good grades. Cornell wants to see that you're capable of challenging yourself academically. When possible, you should take honors, AP, or IB classes to show that you can handle tough academic coursework.


How to Get Into Cornell: Test Score Requirements

Your GPA is just one part of your academic record. Cornell also requires standardized tests to measure your academic preparedness for college. (Again, these test scores are optional if you're applying in Fall 2022.)


What SAT Scores Do I Need to Get Into Cornell?

The average admitted applicant to Cornell scores a 1510 on the SAT. The average composite score of applicants in the 25th percentile is 1450; in the 75th percentile, it's 1540.

You'll need to score a 1510 or above to be competitive with the other applicants vying for admission to Cornell. If your SAT scores aren't where you want them to be, you should invest your time and energy into building and sticking to a solid training plan.


What ACT Scores Do I Need to Get Into Cornell?

The average admitted applicant to Cornell University scores a 34 on the ACT. The average score of students in the 25th percentile score 33; for students in the 75th percentile, it's 35.

Basically, this data means that you'll need a 34 or above on your ACT in order to be seriously competitive with the test scores of your fellow applicants.




How to Get Into Cornell: Cornell Essays

Cornell requires that you answer one essay prompt only. The prompt you'll answer depends on which college within Cornell you're applying to.

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.

Here are the 2022-23 Cornell University essay prompts:

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 that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.

  • 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: Required: 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?
    • Optional (1): 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 activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you. We encourage you to think about community broadly - this could include family, school, or local and global communities. (300-word limit)
    • Optional (2): The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is dedicated to the exploration 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 in agriculture or are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. (300-word limit)
    • Select all that apply: My family owns or operates a farm; I have experience working in agriculture; I have interest in pursuing a career in agriculture 

  • 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: 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 (the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).
  • College of Engineering:  Instructions: 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: 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, 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.
    • Essay 2, 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 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.

If you're looking for tips on how to ace your Cornell essays, check out our dedicated blog post on this very topic.




How to Get Into Cornell: General Tips

It's challenging to be one of the roughly 9% of students accepted to Cornell each year, but if you work hard and polish your application, you can be one of them!

Here are some tips for making sure your application is Cornell ready:


#1: Pick the Right College

Cornell is somewhat unique among the Ivy League in that it requires you to apply to one of the seven specific schools on campus. Make sure you pick the right one!

If you're interested in art, don't apply to the College of Engineering just because you think engineering sounds impressive. Your choice of college should reflect the classes and activities you've been involved with to show that you're prepared and actually intrigued by your potential course of study.


#2: Demonstrate Your Love for Cornell

Cornell wants you to want to go to Cornell—they say so right on their admissions page! You should use your Cornell essay to not only talk about the college you want to attend within Cornell, but why you want to attend the university as a whole.

Speak honestly about what attracts you to Cornell. And don't just say its stellar academic reputation—pick real, concrete reasons that affect you as an individual. If the academic reputation is important to you (and it likely is), tie it back to how that'll affect you personally. What will attending one of the best schools on the planet help you achieve?

The more authentic excitement you can demonstrate, the better!


#3: Be Honest

The admissions committee at Cornell has to read through tens of thousands of applications every year. Applications that are trite, boring, and cliché will be shuffled straight to the "REJECTED" pile.

Your application should be true to you—not who you think the admissions committee wants you to be.


#4: Show Off Your Spike

A spike is something that makes you stand out. Something that no (or very few) other applicants have.

Your application won't stand out if you're second string on the football team and a non-office-holding member of student council. It will stand out if you single-handedly organize a huge fundraiser to benefit an issue close to your heart or perform at Lincoln Center with your wind ensemble.

When your focus is on one thing, you'll be better at it than if you have to split your time and attention. It will also be more impressive on your resume.


What's Next?

Want to rock your Cornell admissions essays? Learn all about the Cornell required essays here.

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.


Want to build the best possible college application?

We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League.

We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools.

Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in.

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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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