Note: this blog post has been updated for the 2015-2016 application cycle. To view the most recent version, click here.

Located in Ithaca, New York, this Ivy League university has produced over 25 Rhodes scholars and over 40 Nobel laureates. Students who travel to upstate NY to study here are enrolled in one of seven different undergraduate colleges, which focus on topics ranging from human ecology to hotel administration. If you can brace yourself for frigid winters, then Cornell University will reward you with a beautiful campus, a diverse community of over 14,000 undergraduates, and a degree from one the top colleges in the nation.

Each of the seven colleges at Cornell functions essentially as a separate school. As such, when filling out the application you must indicate a specific primary and alternate college (2 total). You must then write an essay ranging from 250 to 650 words responding to the prompt associated with the first-choice program you have chosen.

Before tackling each individual essay, one broad piece of advice applies—only apply to a particular program if you are actually interested in it. If you find yourself unable to talk about why your past experiences in “Architecture, Art, and Planning” because you have no applicable background in it, you will want to reevaluate whether your next four years are best spent at one of the most rigorous Architecture programs in the nation.

That being said, here are some tips to get you started on each essay. It is recommended that you read the tips for every essay (even if you already know which specific school you want to apply to), because many of the insights will carry over from prompt to prompt. 

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: How have your interests and related experiences influenced the major you have selected in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

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 9th grade. Either way, just make sure that whatever you talk about, you convey your true passion for CALS.

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: Why are you excited to pursue your chosen major in AAP? What specifically about AAP and Cornell University will help you fulfill your academic and creative interests and long-term goals?

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 the explain that. But besides talking about your background in the field, it’s also wise to do a little bit of research on how Cornell’s AAP program specifically is best for you. As such, you should spend a bit of time on the Cornell AAP website and attempt to weave some unique details about the school into your own narrative regarding 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?

 If you know what you potentially want 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 than three different topics sparsely (keep in mind that whenever you introduce one of your interests, you will have to spend 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.

College of Engineering: Tell us about an engineering idea you have, or about your interest in engineering. Describe how your ideas and interests may be realized by—and linked to—specific resources within the College of Engineering. Finally, explain what a Cornell Engineering education will enable you to accomplish.

Top applicants to Cornell Engineering will recognize that there are three parts to this essay, and all three should be addressed properly. First, regardless of whether you decide to talk about an “engineering idea” or more generally your “interest in engineering,” the ultimate goal is still to show you are passionate about engineering. You can do this by recounting your early experiences in engineering—how you first started playing with Legos, 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. Either way, you should transition into what it is about Cornell’s Engineering program that really entices you—doing some research may be necessary so that you can get specific. 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 in the field of Engineering? 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? In the end, the admissions officers should know what it is you are working towards.

School of Hotel Administration: Hospitality is the largest industry in the world and includes sectors such as hotel operations, food and beverage management, real estate, finance, marketing, and law. Considering the breadth of our industry, please describe what work and non-work experiences, academic interests, and career goals influenced your decision to study hospitality management? How will these contribute to your success at the School of Hotel Administration?

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 operations, food and beverage management, real estate, finance, marketing, and law” using clear examples to support your narrative. Admittedly, this prompt isn’t for everyone, but then again, neither is the School of Hotel Administration.

College of Human Ecology: What do you value about the College of Human Ecology’s perspective, and the majors that interest you, as you consider your academic goals and plans for the future?

 Do some research to fully understand what you believe the College of Human Ecology’s perspective is by visiting their website. There is no right or wrong answer (within reason), and it is important for you to do your own research because you will be better able to explain why you “value” the school’s perspective. Be sure to talk about the specific majors that you came across that interest you, and feel free to mention your past experiences in studying human ecology (maybe you founded a club in high school) as well as your future goals.

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 these interests may be realized and linked to the ILR curriculum.

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 when you were working with your father in freshmen year you realized something about the nature of labor, and you began to nurture that compassion for 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.

Again, even if you already know which specific school you are interested in applying to at Cornell, you should still take a look at the tips for each essay prompt above—since many of the prompts are similar, the advice will carry over. Best of luck!

Zack Perkins

Zack Perkins

Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.
Zack Perkins