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How to Write Cornell’s Essays for The Agriculture College

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Mariana Goldlust in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


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Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) requires applicants to write one essay. In addition, there are two optional prompts. This article will explain effective ways to write all three essays.


Prompt 1 – Academic Goals


The first CALS prompt asks you to explain why you are interested in your major of choice. Here is the prompt in exact words:


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? (650 words)


One thing to notice is that the prompt is less focused on a career interest and is mainly asking you about your academic interests. The reason for that is because lots of applicants to CALS write about their interests in pre-med and becoming a doctor, but their responses do not talk enough about the specific resources that CALS offers. This means that your response should express how you plan on using CALS to become a more academic person and to learn about science more broadly.


Additionally, you will want to focus on any activities that you have done outside of your classes that inspired your major choice. If you’ve conducted research or participated in any scientific extracurriculars, highlight these experiences in your essay. Then, talk about how you will be able to leverage them to get the most out of CALS major programs. Tie in specific CALS resources that you would like to take advantage of as well.


Prompt 2 – Community and Public Good


The second CALS essay is the following:


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 words)


Though this prompt is optional, responding is highly recommended so that you can demonstrate your interest in the College. The prompt is similar to a typical community service essay, though it is more specific to CALS and Cornell’s culture of doing good.


Your essay should explain how you want to use your major of interest to make a positive impact in the world. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to discuss curing cancer to answer this question — you just have to talk about how you’ve used your interest, your background, or your specialty to make a difference in your local or global community. Make sure that you discuss a long-term commitment, as opposed to focusing on things like a week-long project. Show how you have made a continued impact so that Cornell could see the type of service activities you would do on campus.


Prompt 3 – Agriculture Interest


The last CALS prompt is truly more of an optional one that does not apply to every applicant. The prompt is reproduced below:


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 words)


Select all that apply:

  • My family owns or operates a farm.
  • I have experience working in agriculture.
  • I have an interest in pursuing a career in agriculture.


If you have an effective answer to this prompt, it will give you a leg up in the admissions process. CALS prioritizes applicants who are interested in agricultural majors, since the school was founded to create future generations of farmers and leaders in the agricultural science field. 


Agriculture is a fairly unique interest, so there are not a lot of colleges that are on par with Cornell in terms of academics or ranking that have top agricultural programs. If you can write a response to this prompt that is very genuine, either because of your reasons for wanting to pursue a career in agriculture or the background that you have in it, you will show that you are a good fit for CALS.


An effective approach to crafting your essay is to tie a collection of personal anecdotes together with an overarching narrative structure. Then, you can pull out individual moments where you’ve either directly engaged with agriculture, or maybe indirectly, you went to the grocery store and it gave you an appreciation for the work that agriculturalists do.


The most important thing to keep in mind is that your essay needs to have authenticity and that needs to shine through in your essay. Your writing should show a genuine affection for agriculture, because if you try to write in a very haphazard kind of way, that will shine through in your essay. A response that is not written well will count against you, so this essay is truly optional.