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How to Write Cornell’s Essay for The College of Business

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


What’s Covered:



If you are applying to Cornell, you first need to determine which specific college fits your interests best. If you decide to apply to the SC Johnson College of Business, the supplemental prompt asks:


What kind of 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). (650 words)


If you’re interested in studying business at Cornell, there are two schools within the SC Johnson College of Business. The Dyson School for Applied Economics and Management is the broader option within the College of Business, whereas the Nolan School focuses on Hotel Administration. It is important to understand the differences between the schools and the resources they offer, but you can choose to write about both in your response.


Understand What the Prompt is Asking


Cornell’s supplemental essay can seem deceptively broad at first. The first phrase of the prompt asks “What kind of business student are you?” The question is clever in that Cornell can easily spot and eliminate students with inauthentic interest in the school who are potentially applying simply for prestige or in hopes of making a lot of money. 


Of course, one of the great reasons to pursue business is because it’s a great way to position yourself for a successful long term career. However, that is not what Cornell wants to hear. This is one of those essays where the deeper you can dive into and speak about your interests, the more effective your essay is going to be. 


How to Approach the Prompt for the Dyson School for Applied Economics and Management


Writing an essay for business school can be tricky because a lot of students tend to focus on their career goals and the future they’re building toward rather than the value of the program and the college as a whole. Of course this could be said of any pre-professional program.


While it’s totally acceptable to discuss your future career goals as part of your application, many students do not spend enough time tying that end goal back to who they are and the interests they have today. Ultimately, you’re applying to enroll at Cornell today, not thirty years from now when you’re already on a successful career path. 


That said, it’s not enough to prove a genuine interest in economics or business management as a broad notion. As you write, highlight experiences and activities that support your interest in applying to business school as well as what you hope to accomplish during your time at Dyson. Focusing on how potential opportunities at Dyson will lead to personal growth, deepen your existing interests and help you to achieve future goals will help you stand out as an applicant with a demonstrated interest in the program. 


How to Approach the Prompt for the Nolan School of Hotel Administration 


Applicants to the Nolan School of Hotel Administration are actually required to answer the same prompt; however applicants typically approach the prompt from an entirely different perspective.


The Nolan School is a very unique program to Cornell as hotel administration programs don’t exist at very many schools in the United States. As a result, applicants to this program will need to demonstrate a very clear interest and experiences in hospitality in order to successfully respond to this prompt.


As with any essay, it’s important to highlight interpersonal qualities and traits. However, as an applicant to the Nolan school, showcasing qualities like attention to detail and critical thinking specifically in a customer service setting can help you effectively speak to this prompt. This is unique from other supplemental essays because as a career path, Hotel Administration calls for a particular set of skills and an attitude toward customer service that is unique to hospitality.


Consequently, the stories and the anecdotes you use to drive your narrative are crucial to your response. Think of a time where you really went above and beyond in a customer service or hospitality context and reflect on those experiences deeply to set yourself apart as you’re responding to the prompt. 


As an aside, you don’t necessarily have to dream of opening your own hotel one day to apply to the Nolan School. Many students and alumni of the program have applied their education in hospitality to other disciplines and industries. So if you’re interested in hospitality but not sure if Nolan is the right fit, look into the school further to see how you may be able to apply your skills in a field that interests you such as real estate or finance or business. 


Looking to learn more about undergraduate business programs across the states? Check out this post for a list of the top business programs in the country and their acceptance rates.