CollegeVine College Essay Team 12 min read Essay Breakdowns

Cornell Essay Example: Breakdown + Analysis

Cornell is one of the top schools in the nation, and a member of the esteemed Ivy League. With an acceptance rate of 10.6%, admissions is highly-selective, though keep in mind that acceptance rates vary by schools within the university.

 

Cornell requires a single supplement for all applicants, but the prompt will vary based on the college you’re applying to. In this post, we’ll be going over the prompt for the College of Arts and Sciences. We’ll outline what admissions officers are looking for, and we’ll analyze a sample essay written by a real applicant!

 

Cornell University Supplemental Essay Prompt

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. (650 words) 

This is Cornell’s spin on the classic “Why This Major?” and “Why This College?” prompts. These prompts werecreated to gauge applicants’ interest in their area of study, and how the school can support their professional goals. 

 

There are a couple key things you’ll want to do in response to this Cornell prompt:

 

  • Describe your background, interest, and goals in your area(s) of study
  • Cite specific Cornell resources that support your goals

 

An easy way to begin your essay is with an anecdote of what draws you to the subject. Maybe you want to study Economics; you could start your essay with the time you noticed your local grocery store’s prices rising, and how you realized that these rising prices were the product of many complex factors, such as inflation, corporate directives, demand, competition, etc. You noticed families being unable to afford basic necessities, and wanted to understand these complex interactions and how they impacted real people. It’s your goal to be able to write economic policy that helps these low-income communities.

 

Next, you’ll want to share your background in this subject. Continuing the previous example, maybe you took AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics. Maybe you also took part in the National Economics Challenge and interned with a local politician. What did you learn during these experiences, and how did that inform your desire to study your major of choice?

 

Finally, you’ll want to discuss your professional goals, and how Cornell can support them. You need to get extremely granular in this section; avoid citing general resources that could apply to any school, such as a “strong economics department.” Are there specific courses you want to take? What about internships, clubs, or study abroad programs? Is there a specific professor whose work ties into your interests? If you do mention a specific faculty member, make sure you’re not name-dropping, and make a clear connection between their research and your goals. 

 

With these tips, let’s get into the heart of this post!

 

Cornell Essay Example

 

Let’s look at an example of strong response to this prompt:

“Give me liberty or give me death!” When I first read this quote, I got shivers. As a fourth-grader, I remember thinking: “How could one love liberty so much that they would give up their own life?” To me, American revolutionaries were too passionate about paying taxes and I shrugged off their fervor for liberty. But five years later, I found myself asking the same question. 

 

During my freshman year of high school, I became completely engrossed in learning about the Atlantic Revolutions. From studying the Storming of the Bastille to Haitain independence, I noticed that people sacrificed everything for freedom. It was soon that I learned about Enlightenment philosophers and the role they played in spurring revolutions by inspiring others to challenge social and political norms. I was amazed that philosophy had the power to mobilize entire populations and positively reform nations. But as I reflected on the circumstances of social inequality and political corruption that led to these revolutions, I realized that philosophy is not just a powerful practice of the past; it is just as relevant today. 

 

The United States is a country of contradictions. We boast values of equality and justice, yet our prison, immigration, and education systems are rife with inequity and corruption. I seek a philosophy education to lend me an understanding of existing power structures and how to create a more equitable society. There is no better place to further my educational career than at the Sage School of Philosophy, the birthplace of the first philosophical review in our country. Cornell’s long-standing commitment to approaching philosophy in a holistic manner is evident in its wide range of courses offered. Specifically, I am drawn to the Discussion of Justice course that focuses on current political controversies such as immigration and racial inequality, both issues I care deeply about. After witnessing the cycle of poverty that plagues my community, I see that our society is facing a moral dilemma. This course will enable me to question the values held collectively by our society and recognize the impact such values have on minority groups. 

 

With a greater understanding of morality and social inequality, I hope to pursue a career in civil law rights, helping underrepresented groups in our country receive the justice they deserve. It would be a privilege to begin my career in law by learning the Philosophy of Law from Professor Julia Markovitz. Professor Markovitz’s expertise in moral reasoning will push me to consider the ethical problems that lawyers face and how to fairly represent those in need. I am energized by this course’s goal to not only learn the law, but also challenge it. Building a fairer future relies on changing current institutions based on the government’s moral obligation to its people. I am eager to study philosophy through a career-oriented lens that enables me to apply my learned knowledge to the field of law. 

 

Among the many political issues our country is facing, I am motivated to learn more about global migration. Just miles from my home in South Texas, the humanitarian crisis at the southern border has shown me the complexity of migration. This year, my experiences volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shelters and aids undocumented immigrants, have given me insight into the poverty and violence that many are trying to escape from. To those arriving from the southern border, migration is not a choice; it is a matter of survival. On a larger scale, with rising global temperatures creating climate change refugees and international wars rendering thousands of people homeless, I crave a more extensive understanding of the factors that prompt migration. I plan to pursue a minor in Migration Studies in order to learn how populations can be sustained and thrive in a constantly moving world. Taking classes at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies will allow me to interact with students and faculty from other colleges on campus. I believe there are a myriad of factors that drive international migration; thus, working with students from all disciplines will expose me to a diversity in research that can shape future immigration policies. As a daughter of immigrants, I am moved by Cornell’s dedication to supporting education on migration, namely through launching ‘Migrations’ as the theme for Cornell’s first Global Grand Challenge. By researching, teaching, and engaging with communities to tackle the challenges of migration, I am excited to be part of a generation of activists that assist and empower migrants. 

 

Today, the passion American revolutionaries had for change is no longer perplexing to me. I, too, am ready to enact change in our country and society. With Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences’ broad curriculum that encourages me to explore my many interests, I am confident that I will have the resources to improve our world in a truly revolutionary way. 

Analyzing This Cornell Sample Essay

 

This essay effectively lays out the background and nuances of the author’s passion for social justice. They are able to craft a compelling narrative that explains why they chose this field of study and how they plan to pursue it at Cornell. Let’s analyze this response more in depth to get a better sense of its strengths and weaknesses, starting with the introduction:

 

“Give me liberty or give me death!” When I first read this quote, I got shivers. As a fourth-grader, I remember thinking: “How could one love liberty so much that they would give up their own life?” To me, American revolutionaries were too passionate about paying taxes and I shrugged off their fervor for liberty. But five years later, I found myself asking the same question. 

 

This essay starts out with a quote that grabs the readers’ attention. We usually advise against quotations in lieu of your original content, but in this case, the quote is succinct enough that it doesn’t detract from the author’s voice. The author creates an immersive anecdote that explains how the seed of their academic interest sprouted. They implement a narrative-like quality that shows, rather than tells, readers what their first encounter with this subject was like. Starting in medias res, in the middle of the action, will captivate your readers and make them more invested in your story.

 

During my freshman year of high school, I became completely engrossed in learning about the Atlantic Revolutions. From studying the Storming of the Bastille to Haitain independence, I noticed that people sacrificed everything for freedom. It was soon that I learned about Enlightenment philosophers and the role they played in spurring revolutions by inspiring others to challenge social and political norms. I was amazed that philosophy had the power to mobilize entire populations and positively reform nations. But as I reflected on the circumstances of social inequality and political corruption that led to these revolutions, I realized that philosophy is not just a powerful practice of the past; it is just as relevant today. 

 

In this segment, the author details several historical events that they learned about which catalyzed their crusade for social justice. This goes beyond merely listing classes they took and shows that they actually learned valuable information that resonated with them. The author also introduces philosophy, their major, into the essay here. Their cross-disciplinary connections and analysis flow seamlessly and show the reader what they intend to study, rather than simply telling them. 

 

The United States is a country of contradictions. We boast values of equality and justice, yet our prison, immigration, and education systems are rife with inequity and corruption. I seek a philosophy education to lend me an understanding of existing power structures and how to create a more equitable society. There is no better place to further my educational career than at the Sage School of Philosophy, the birthplace of the first philosophical review in our country. Cornell’s long-standing commitment to approaching philosophy in a holistic manner is evident in its wide range of courses offered. Specifically, I am drawn to the Discussion of Justice course that focuses on current political controversies such as immigration and racial inequality, both issues I care deeply about. After witnessing the cycle of poverty that plagues my community, I see that our society is facing a moral dilemma. This course will enable me to question the values held collectively by our society and recognize the impact such values have on minority groups. 

 

Next, the author eloquently speaks on current events that matter to them and tie into their future studies. They explicitly mention their program of study at Cornell and mention a specific course, as well as what they hope to gain from it. This is a good tactic that addresses the part of the prompt asking “Why Cornell?”.

 

When writing this type of essay, it is important to explicitly include school-specific offerings to show admissions committees that you have done your research. Avoid mentioning the school’s prestige or accolades; this can come across as disingenuous. Rather, discuss courses you wish to take, and elaborate on what aspects of them appeal to you most. 

 

Bonus points if you can strike a personal connection – here, the author relays the Discussion of Justice course to their personal experience with poverty in their community. This inclusion adds a deeper dimension to your essay and underscores your commitment to the path of study. 

 

With a greater understanding of morality and social inequality, I hope to pursue a career in civil law rights, helping underrepresented groups in our country receive the justice they deserve. It would be a privilege to begin my career in law by learning the Philosophy of Law from Professor Julia Markovitz. Professor Markovitz’s expertise in moral reasoning will push me to consider the ethical problems that lawyers face and how to fairly represent those in need. I am energized by this course’s goal to not only learn the law, but also challenge it. Building a fairer future relies on changing current institutions based on the government’s moral obligation to its people. I am eager to study philosophy through a career-oriented lens that enables me to apply my learned knowledge to the field of law. 

 

In this portion of their essay, the applicant weaves their career aspirations into their pursuit of civil justice at Cornell. Signaling your future career plans through your essay is a good way to show admissions officers that you’ve thought about the potential applications of your degree. No dream is too small; feel free to include hypotheticals that show your ability to think futuristically. In this essay, the author wants to study law to tackle social justice. 

 

Think about your own goals – maybe you want to study computer science to design an algorithm to prevent profiling in job searches. Or, perhaps your work in literature analysis will help you craft your own book of poignant poems. Whatever your aspirations are, try to include them in a manner that aligns with Cornell’s offerings in order to help admissions officers see how you would use the school’s programs to become successful.

 

Furthermore, the author also mentions Professor Markovitz and their work. A common pitfall for students when writing these types of essays is name-dropping a professor in the hopes that it will add to their essay. However, this can come across as disingenuous and actually detract from your essay if you do not delve deep enough into the professor’s work. In this essay, the student demonstrates an understanding of Professor Markovitz’s work and effectively connects its implications to their academic interests. This establishes a strong connection that will illustrate to admissions officers that the student has researched Cornell and will engage with the faculty if they attend.

 

Among the many political issues our country is facing, I am motivated to learn more about global migration. Just miles from my home in South Texas, the humanitarian crisis at the southern border has shown me the complexity of migration. This year, my experiences volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shelters and aids undocumented immigrants, have given me insight into the poverty and violence that many are trying to escape from. To those arriving from the southern border, migration is not a choice; it is a matter of survival. On a larger scale, with rising global temperatures creating climate change refugees and international wars rendering thousands of people homeless, I crave a more extensive understanding of the factors that prompt migration. I plan to pursue a minor in Migration Studies in order to learn how populations can be sustained and thrive in a constantly moving world. Taking classes at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies will allow me to interact with students and faculty from other colleges on campus. I believe there are a myriad of factors that drive international migration; thus, working with students from all disciplines will expose me to a diversity in research that can shape future immigration policies. As a daughter of immigrants, I am moved by Cornell’s dedication to supporting education on migration, namely through launching ‘Migrations’ as the theme for Cornell’s first Global Grand Challenge. By researching, teaching, and engaging with communities to tackle the challenges of migration, I am excited to be part of a generation of activists that assist and empower migrants. 

 

This next paragraph discusses specific social justice issues that the author is passionate about. It is not enough for them to merely state that they want to study philosophy to pursue social justice; in order to fully convey their point, they elaborate on what particular issues they hope a Cornell education will help them tackle. Another good strategy the author employs is mentioning their personal experience with the topic. They mention their work with Loaves and Fishes, which underscores their desire to help the immigrant population. This essay could potentially be stronger if they briefly address what specific role they play in the organization or what their tasks are. This would give admissions officers an even better idea of the author’s active role in helping this cause.

 

The author also connects this passion to Cornell’s Migration Studies minor. Though they don’t mention a specific course, they do name the Mario Enaudi Center and explain how the environment will foment their ability to catalyze change on campus. This knowledge demonstrates a level of research executed by someone who is very interested in attending Cornell. In your essay, you should strive for a level of detail that illustrates how deeply you have thought about how you will spend your time on campus.

 

The author also briefly mentions that they are a daughter of immigrants. The manner in which they do this is noteworthy because writing about being the child of immigrants is a cliché topic that we typically suggest you avoid. Here, the author chose to mention their positionality as a child of immigrants but does not center their essay around it; rather, they let their current activism and future plans do the talking. This is an excellent approach you can take that provides background information without letting it consume your essay to the point where displaying your leadership skills takes a backseat.

 

The author ties this social justice issue to a potential endeavor at Cornell in which they would make migration a centerpiece at a campus event. This is a great example of how to integrate your passion with your interest in the school. Making one or two statements about how you plan to impact the campus community shows admissions officers that you’re not applying as a passive student but as an active campus leader.  This is the type of initiative they search for, as these applicants are likely to enrich the community.

 

One structural change the author could’ve made is to break up this paragraph into smaller ones. Visually, the long paragraph is hard to read, and there are a couple places where they could’ve begun a new paragraph. For long essays, it’s important to make your writing as easy to read as possible.

 

The author then concludes their essay with the following: 

 

Today, the passion American revolutionaries had for change is no longer perplexing to me. I, too, am ready to enact change in our country and society. With Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences’ broad curriculum that encourages me to explore my many interests, I am confident that I will have the resources to improve our world in a truly revolutionary way. 

 

These final statements reference the author’s introduction in a way that nicely wraps up the essay. The author connects their initial feelings to their current state of mind, while also incorporating Cornell into their journey. The future-facing final sentiment is a strong way to finish the response that shows admissions officers the student is ready to attend their university.

 

If you’re looking for more tips and examples to help you answer the Cornell prompts, check out this breakdown of how to write to each one

 

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for

your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can

also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing

other students’ essays.

Want more college admissions tips?

We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.


Short bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.