What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Cornell is Looking for in Your Essays

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


What’s Covered:



The Importance of Essays at Cornell 


Essays are a key aspect of any college applications process, however one could argue that Cornell University views their school specific essays as more important than other similar universities do. In fact, 25 to 35% of the admissions decision is based on a student’s supplemental essay. 


When applying to a school like Cornell, it’s important to remember that while your essays can account for over a third of the admission decision, they’re often the last third of the decision. Essays function as a tie breaker to differentiate between applicants, as Cornell will often have four or five academically qualified applicants for every slot in its class. 


What Makes a Successful Supplemental Essay


An increasing number of students are applying to Cornell University each year, and with an acceptance rate of about 7%, essays are crucial to setting your application apart from other students of a similar profile. Your test scores, academics, extracurriculars and recommendations all speak to your qualifications as an applicant; they demonstrate your ability to handle the rigor of a Cornell University education.


That said, your essays go beyond demonstrating your qualifications to helping the admissions team decide what you might bring to the campus community. Consequently, your job with those essays is to make Cornell’s admissions officers actively choose you over other applicants. 


Cornell’s supplemental essays are intended to uncover four pieces of information about an applicant:


  • Will you be a positive addition to the campus community?
  • What personal qualities and characteristics will you bring as an individual?
  • What are your authentic reasons for wanting to enroll at Cornell?
  • Why are you hoping to pursue your chosen field of study?


Effectively addressing these key questions can help you craft a strong personal narrative and effectively deliver against the supplemental prompts.


Understanding the Human Factor


It’s important to keep in mind that there is a very human element to how the admissions decision is being made as it’s not just a computer reading and assessing your application. An admissions officer is human, and so, as with any reader, their personal circumstances are going to affect how they read your essay. Different admissions officers will have different levels of context and experiences based on things like their religion, their politics, their alignment with Cornell’s missions and culture, and even the stories of other applicants. 


Because of this human factor in the admissions process, there’s always an element of luck involved. Though not ideal, something like your reader’s state of mind or their emotions at the moment that they’re reading your essay can impact how they read your response. Consequently, demonstrating that personal connection and value alignment to both Cornell and the specific undergraduate college or school that you’re applying to is really important in grounding your response. 


Tailoring Your Essays to Your Program at Cornell


As with any program specific prompt, it’s important to tailor your essays to Cornell and your prospective school or major. This is especially true for Cornell, as applicants aren’t necessarily being compared to other students across all of the schools and majors. Instead, a specific set of admissions officers will be assessing your application within the context of the school that you’re applying to. So essentially a student applying to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations will be compared to fellow applicants applying to that school.


While this narrows down the pool of students that your readers are reviewing, keep in mind that they’re still getting thousands of applications to review within their specific school. So it’s important to show not only that you’re interested in Cornell, but also why you’re interested in that specific school and what you’d bring to the program as a prospective student. 


Lastly, you want to think about how the Cornell essays will fit into your overall profile. When you’re writing your common app essay about your major responding to the different prompts you want to make sure that everything fits together as a story, avoiding redundancy across the pieces while also conveying a cohesive personal narrative. 


Looking for more insights on how to write your supplements for Cornell? Check out this post for a breakdown of each essay prompt and things to keep in mind as you craft your response!