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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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How to Write the Cornell University Application Essays 2016-17

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As one of the eight Ivy League schools, Cornell University attracts thousands of applicants to its sprawling campus each year. Cornell was founded by two New York State senators — Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White — in 1865. Together, the two co-founders merged their different educational dreams into one institution that embodied freedom and responsibility.


Among Cornell University’s famous specialties are its campus dining, architecture school, and hotel school, all of which have been ranked number one in the nation on at least one occasion. Many famed alumni hail from Cornell, including Bill Nye, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Clearly, Cornell University brings its students the education and pathways to reach success. It’s no wonder that the school boasts a low acceptance rate of just 14%, enough to provide even the most motivated and talented students with a challenge.


With such stiff competition, a standout application is necessary for those hoping to call Cornell home next fall. One of the most important parts of crafting a strong application is the essay, which provides a unique opportunity to communicate who you are as a person and a student. We here at CollegeVine are here to walk you through this year’s essay prompts and help you craft an essay for your Cornell application that will ensure you stand out from the crowd. This year’s prompts are listed below.


Want to learn what Cornell University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Cornell University needs to know.


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


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 Science (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals? 


For this prompt, you are going to want to talk about your background in agriculture and life sciences. Perhaps you are deeply in tune with the importance of landscape agriculture as a result of your relationship with your aunt when you were younger. Maybe you are extremely passionate about organic farming initiatives, and you’ve been thinking about sustainable farming ever since that one summer you went WOOFing on your best friend’s farm.


Or maybe you are just interested in the cross-sectional studies of agriculture, biology, and sociology because you went to a summer camp in ninth grade that opened your mind. Either way, just make sure that whatever you talk about, you convey your experience and passion for Agriculture and Life Sciences.


College of Architecture, Art, and Planning


Describe two or three of your intellectual interests and why you are excited to pursue them within your chosen major in AAP. What personal experiences, background, or future goals will you bring to your scholarly and artistic pursuits at Cornell?


This prompt is best suited for those who are passionate about art and architecture. Perhaps your favorite class in high school was Architectural Design, and your notebooks can always be found with little doodles in the margins — this essay would be the place to use an anecdote to explain that. But besides talking about your background in the field, it’s also wise to do a bit of research on how Cornell’s AAP program specifically is best for you.


As such, you should spend some time on the Cornell AAP website and attempt to weave some unique details about the school into your own narrative. This strategy will allow you to have a more Cornell-focused response as to why you are so passionate about architecture and art.


College of Arts and Sciences


Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests? (CA and UCA)


If you know what you would potentially like to study within the realm of the College of Arts and Sciences, this essay is the place to expand on that. Unless you have a dramatic passion for three different topics, it might be better to talk about two interests in great detail rather than three different topics sparsely (keep in mind that whenever you introduce one of your interests, you will be spending valuable words on the exposition of that interest).


Be sure to answer the prompt in full (“why they are exciting to you”), and you will get more mileage out of your essay if you can cite specific programs, classes, or professors to back up your claim that CAS is truly the best and only school for you. Do research on the Cornell website to help you in this cause.


College of Engineering


Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem solving that helps people, communities… the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in.


Top applicants to Cornell Engineering will recognize that there are three parts to this essay, and all three should be addressed properly. First, when speaking about your “ideas and aspirations” as they relate to engineering, the ultimate goal is to demonstrate your palpable passion for the discipline. You can do this by recounting your early experiences in engineering — how you first started playing with Lego, and then eventually joined your school’s Science Olympiad team — or by writing in great detail about a specific concept in engineering that interests you.


You should then transition into what it is about Cornell’s Engineering program specifically that entices you — is it a certain professor’s groundbreaking research? Or maybe a particular facility that is unique to Cornell?


At the end of the essay, you should include what you think will happen after you graduate from Cornell Engineering — what specifically do you hope to achieve one day? Be more specific and ambitious than writing simply “I hope to get a good job.”


What problem do you want to solve? Making planes faster? Developing rockets? How will Cornell’s specific resources, as you discussed earlier in your essays, enable you to improve the world? In a way, the admissions officers are making a bet on you by choosing to accept you to the program, so you want to give them an idea of what you’ll be working towards.


School of Hotel Administration


The global hospitality industry includes hotel and food service management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, technology, and law. Describe what has influenced your decision to study business through the lens of hospitality. What personal qualities make you a good fit for SHA?


With this prompt, the admissions officers at the School of Hotel Administration hope to weed out the students who are not genuinely interested in the SHA. Feel free to talk in great detail about your background in “hotel and food service management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, technology, and law,” using clear examples from your extracurricular profile to support your narrative.


If you feel you do not have extensive experiences in these areas specifically, consider describing how the skills and experiences you developed elsewhere in high school will allow you to succeed in these arenas. When discussing personal qualities, consider carefully which of your qualities best befit an individual in the hospitality field — for example, attention to detail, leadership skills, and diligence. Then, explain how your personality traits will allow you to fit into and contribute to the SHA community. 


College of Human Ecology


How have your experiences influenced you to consider the College of Human Ecology, and how will your choice of major(s) impact your goals and plans for the future?


For starters, take a look at your academic transcript and activities and ask yourself which items are related to your interests in human ecology. Did you take a human ecology elective your freshman year of high school? Or maybe you had an influential professor at a summer camp who encouraged you to observe the relationship between humans and their environment on a regular basis?


Or perhaps your interests in human ecology stem from something not on your resume at all — maybe your aunt influenced you from a very young age. Either way, it’s important to somehow establish credibility and show that you are truly qualified and interested in the College of Human Ecology.


Next, be sure to talk about the specific majors that interest you, and feel free to mention your past experiences in studying human ecology (maybe you founded a club in high school, or did research at a local university) to support these interests. Finally, close your response out by discussing how your future goals tie everything together.


School of Industrial and Labor Relations


Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests.


Similar to many of the other prompts, this essay question asks you to explain why you are interested in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The best essays will include specific examples of when you were immersed in an experience related to Industrial and Labor Relations.


Maybe you were working with your father during freshmen year when you realized something about the nature of labor, and you began to nurture that interest throughout the rest of your high school career. Explicating that situation and what you learned from it while simultaneously linking it to the ILR curriculum will lead to an extremely powerful essay.


That wasn’t too bad, was it? Now that you have an idea of how to tackle this year’s Cornell University prompts, it’s time to conduct some research and write. Don’t procrastinate! Every word and idea counts, and we hope that our Cornell University guide will help you compose an essay that will help your application shine. In the meantime, consider visiting Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca to explore the school and get some inspiration. Good luck in all your writing endeavors!


For more help on applying to Cornell, feel free to check out these posts:



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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.