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How to Write the Cornell University Essays 2022-2023

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Cornell University does not require applicants to submit any writing supplement. Instead, Cornell provides different prompts for each of its individual schools and special programs. Regardless of the school within the university you are applying to, the prompt you answer will ideally reveal something about yourself that can’t be gleaned from any other part of your application.


Cornell receives tens of thousands of applications from strong students each year, so developing a unique, authentic supplemental essay that showcases your personality will give admissions officers a chance to get to know you as an individual. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can write a stellar response to the prompts below.


Read this Cornell essay example to inspire your own writing.


Cornell University Supplemental Essay Prompts


Before you apply to Cornell, you should determine which specific college is right for you. Each of Cornell’s colleges has its own majors and specific graduation requirements, though there are some majors that exist within multiple colleges. Understanding the differences between the colleges is essential when applying, since you will need to highlight the specific resources offered by each of them in your essays.


Below are the supplemental essay prompts for Cornell’s colleges:


Jump to the Different College Prompts



Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 words)

This is a fairly straightforward “Why This Major?” prompt. A prompt like this seeks to understand your motives and interest in your intended major, how your background aligns with this interest, and what you intend to do with the major after college. Check out CollegeVine’s guide to writing a solid “Why This Major?” essay for some in-depth tips and examples!


Before you begin writing, you should do some self-reflection. Ponder these questions for a bit and jot down some notes:


1) What are your genuine reasons for deciding on your major/this particular school?


You should ideally have picked a subject that you have a passion for, or at least a moderate interest in. If your reasons include parental pressures, money, or prestige, you’re already off to a bad start. You aren’t bound to any major until after you declare well into your college career, so if your reasons are any of the above, consider picking a different major to write about.


2) What are specific examples of things you enjoy in your field of study?


Instead of thinking “math” or “reading,” think “the paired samples t-test in statistics” or “novels that explore existentialist themes.” Specificity is essential to a good “Why This Major?” essay.


3) How will this major help you achieve your life and/or career goals?


Again, avoid writing about things like money or status. Universities want to see individuals with depth, people who strive to live fulfilling lives, realize their potential, and contribute to the betterment of the world, even in some small way. Saying that you want to make a lot of money is one-dimensional and self-serving, and will definitely not lead to a successful essay.


4) What was the best part of your experience, both within and outside the classroom?


5) Do you move into a certain emotional state of mind every time you explore this field of study? What do you find appealing about this state of mind?


Questions 4 and 5 are the ones you will probably be able to probe for personal anecdotes about the field of study. Remember, anecdotes are going to be your biggest asset when answering this prompt.


It’s okay if you’re undecided and picked this major because it appealed to you a bit more than others. Just be sure you can back up your decision with stories and experiences. If you can’t corroborate your interest at all, you may want to consider writing about a different major.


There is a writing trope you may have heard before that applies here: “Show, don’t tell.” Sure, you can explain that you have an interest in public policy then explain things you’ve done that are related to your intended major, but a better way to go about structuring your response is to let your background illustrate your passion for public policy. Allow your experiences and their outcomes to show your interest so that you don’t have to waste a chunk of your word count talking about your interest explicitly.


For example, consider two hypothetical responses from a student who wants to study Spanish in college:


  • Example 1: I have always liked the Spanish language for a few reasons. I am of Mexican descent and grew up in California, where I learned to speak Spanish at 14 years old. My predominantly Mexican neighborhood has greatly influenced my worldview, making me want to major in Spanish. The language is part of my identity and is becoming more and more essential in the modern United States, so I feel like studying it will help me further people’s understanding of it.


  • Example 2: I am a Mexican-American who grew up in California. Every day of my childhood, the musical sounds of the Spanish language fluttered by my ears, but I didn’t understand them until I began learning the language at 14 years of age. When I finally knew enough to get by in conversation, it was as if a new world had spawned right before my eyes. I would greet street vendors as I walked by, help lost travelers find their way around my town, anything to fully immerse myself in this culture that had been in my blood since before I understood it. As I fell in love with the language, I began to read about its origins and the linguistic principles that made it what it is today. Spanish is more than a language to me; it’s a work of art. Taking vacations and traveling throughout the United States only furthered my fascination with the language. Everywhere I went, I could find a predominantly Spanish-speaking community. That’s when I realized how important Spanish has become in the modern world. Studying the language in college will deepen my understanding of it, and allow me to gain the knowledge I need to teach and be a translator for this increasingly important language that resonates with me so much.


The first example sounds rather generic and uses many declarative statements that lack feeling, so it doesn’t strongly convey the students interest in Spanish or motives for taking on the major. The second example, on the other hand, paints a vivid picture of the student’s formative experiences that inspired such a deep passion for the field of study. It thoroughly explores the student’s motivations through anecdotes, and even discusses future career plans.


The next part of the prompt moves away from your interest in the major, and toward your interest in the Brooks School. As before, you should strive for specificity here. Brooks offers two undergraduate majors: Policy Analysis and Management, and Health Care Policy. Browse your desired major’s website to get a feel for how this major at Brooks is different from equivalent majors elsewhere. One place to look for unique features is in the course offerings (here are PAM courses and here are HCP courses).


You’re trying to express a strong interest in Brooks, so you don’t want to say something common to most schools. Saying that you appreciate Brooks’s interdisciplinary approach to health care policy is inadequate because almost every college offering a Health Care Policy (or similar) major has a multidisciplinary approach. It simply isn’t possible to study this field without tackling multiple fields of study such as economics, political science, and health.


Instead of being general in your response, find something particular to focus on that piques your interest. For example, let’s say an Asian student is applying to Brooks to major in Health Care Policy, and her racial and gender identity serve as career motivations (which, incidentally, can be a strong personal angle to use when writing why she is interested in this major). She might notice that of all the HCP programs she’s looked at, only Brooks has a focus on the effects of demography on health care policy. Since she wants to pursue a career in helping to ensure that Asian women get proper representation in healthcare policy making, Brooks’s concentration on demographics is a unique feature that will contribute to her professional goals.


Remember to be well-intentioned in your motivations, honest and specific about your interests, and sincere in your entire response, and you will have a strongly crafted essay that is sure to catch Cornell’s attention.


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Prompt 1

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 Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals? (650 words)

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is the second-largest school at Cornell with majors ranging from communication to entomology. Even if you decide to apply as an undeclared major, you need to have potential areas of interest in mind to fully address the essay prompt.


The first half of this prompt follows the “Why This Major?” format that will become familiar as you apply to more colleges. You should use your current experiences to explain why you want to study the major you selected. A longitudinal approach lends itself well to this portion of the essay. Take a look at CollegeVine’s guide to writing the “Why This Major?” essay for some in-depth tips and examples!


Think about the following questions we went over before to help you direct your response:


1) What are your sincere reasons for choosing this major and/or this particular school?


2) What are specific examples of things you enjoy in this field?


3) How will completing a degree in this major help you achieve your life and/or career goals?


4) What was the best part of your experience in this field, both academically and in your free time?


5) Do you experience a certain emotional state or frame of mind every time you explore this field of study? What about this state is appealing to you?


Questions 4 and 5 are the ones you will probably be able to probe for personal anecdotes about the field of study. Remember, anecdotes are going to be your biggest asset when answering this prompt.


For example, if you want to study animal science, you could begin by explaining how you always loved going to the zoo growing up. You can then transition into describing how this love of animals led you to volunteer at the local animal hospital, and conclude your essay by explaining that your time at the animal hospital inspired your desire to become a veterinarian. 


The second half of this prompt asks you to explain why you want to study your intended major through CALS and Cornell. You need to provide college-specific examples that directly relate to your prospective major. Find courses (course offerings can be found after clicking on your desired major), clubs, research opportunities, or opportunities for outreach that would be difficult to find at another university. Be very careful not to mention something generic that could apply to many schools, such as location, as this indicates that you have not done sufficient research and aren’t as interested in CALS as you claim to be.


Specificity is key. For example, a prospective Viticulture and Enology major could discuss the Stocking Hall teaching winery, which allows students to gain hands-on vineyard harvesting experience. A prospective Global Development major could talk about the course called “Just Food,” which offers a comprehensive review of food system paradigms in just one course. Don’t be afraid to discuss relevant programs in colleges outside of CALS as well, as CALS is interdisciplinary.


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Prompt 2 (optional)

At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good.  Please elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you. We encourage you to think about community broadly – this could include family, school, or local and global communities. (300 words)

This is a perfect example of the Community Service essay. Schools that employ this kind of prompt want to know how you engage with the people and environment around you. Your engagement with the world is especially important to a college that focuses on agriculture and life sciences. Therefore, if you have had a positive impact on any community you’re a part of, we strongly encourage you to respond to this prompt.


Bear in mind that the word “community” is fairly ambiguous and can encompass many things; it doesn’t have to just be the area you live in. Community can include your hometown, income class, ethnic/racial background, gender identity, country of origin, language, illness, or even common interests. Before you begin writing, consider the following questions to guide the direction of your essay:


Do you have a deep involvement with any community service based club or organization, or an activism project? If not, is there a particular event during which you showed genuine altruism, generosity, or selflessness? 


When thinking through these questions, we recommend avoiding short-term projects like a one-week mission trip because you want to show a more sincere long-term commitment.


You should also try not to write about a very small event like helping an old woman carry her groceries for a few blocks. Instead, think of events that exhibit the same values that are at least a day long, such as spending the entire day at a nursing home keeping an old woman company.


If you don’t have any deep involvement with an organization or have an event that showcases such community values, are there any activities you participate in that may have a positive social impact, even if the impact isn’t directly related to the activity? For example, you might do data entry for a medical care center, which undoubtedly has a positive social impact.


You are being asked to elaborate on one event to show how your values are reflected in your actions, so don’t just make a laundry list of community service activities you’ve done.


Once you’ve chosen your experience, think about what happened, how you felt and what you thought when it happened, how you think back on the event now, and which values of yours motivated you to partake in this event. Also be able to describe what your impact ultimately was.


Now that you have your event and motivations in mind, it’s time to think about structure. When writing about a single experience, consider a narrative approach. An essay that simply lists facts lacks the emotion that can truly elevate a response. Show your event through your eyes. Include vivid imagery and a personal perspective. In other words: show, don’t tell. Allow your response to feel like a movie scene rather than a news report.


For example, a bilingual student who volunteered as a translator at a weekend-long food drive might write something like this:


“Чи є у вас харчова алергія?” I asked the first woman in my line. This hadn’t been my first food drive, but it was the first I had seen that had this strong a focus on serving the Ukrainian community in the area. There were some familiar faces, but most of the volunteers there were new now that the organizer had decided to take on more bilingual volunteers than ever before. Relief was painted on so many faces in the room, as this portion of our community now had greater access to resources than it previously had. Before this particular drive, the lines moved painfully slowly. A constant pause to the flow of foot traffic because of the need to keep manually translating everything on phones made previous drives sluggish. But now that the organizers had coordinated their resources better, we could maintain a steady flow and help more people over the three-day drive.


Our task of asking basic questions to these people wasn’t the hardest job of the weekend, but it was one of the most fulfilling to me. The other bilingual volunteers and I took great pride in our ability to use our heritage as a force for public service, and the people’s faces lit up with joy when they reached the front of the line and their voices were heard without a disorganized din of confusion around them.


Over that weekend, I had personally assisted seventy-six people, which was only a fraction of the total served at that food drive. Not only had I gotten the opportunity to help a previously underserved segment of my community, but I also developed as a person. I gained many hard organizational skills, sharpened my grasp of Ukrainian, and deepened my understanding and appreciation of my own ethnic background.


This example does several things well. It paints a vivid image of the service experience through its descriptive narrative, gives personal depth to the author and his motivations, and details the intangible impact of the service (the people’s emotional response) while implying the tangible impact (the usual impact of a food drive).


When writing your essay, be sincere about your motivations, honest about your impact, and specific in your description. Be careful not to glean a cliché lesson from the experience and not to paint yourself as some kind of savior to the community you served.


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Prompt 3 (optional)

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is dedicated to the exploration of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background in agriculture or are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. (300 words)

Select all that apply:

  • My family owns or operates a farm.

  • I have experience working in agriculture.

  • I have an interest in pursuing a career in agriculture.

Bear in mind that immediately after the prompt there is a section where you are asked to select all that apply. This is not a writing portion, but rather a quick survey for the admissions committee to know about your background.


The prompt itself is optional, but if you have a substantial agricultural background or a keen interest in pursuing a career in agriculture, we encourage you to respond to it. The prompt is rather straightforward, so if you are able and willing to answer it, it should not be a stressful undertaking.


For this kind of prompt, you may wish to consider a collection essay structure. If you have an agricultural background, you won’t be able to thoroughly describe your responsibilities and experiences with just one anecdote. The best structure to respond to this prompt is a small collection of personal anecdotes that showcase your background as well as your sincere interest in an agricultural career.


Despite our recommendation of a collection structure, you may find it helpful to connect each of your anecdotes with some kind of thread. A narrative that links each of your anecdotes together may provide the admissions committee with a clearer picture of where you came from, where you’re going, and why.


For example, consider a hypothetical student who grew up on a farm and developed a deep passion for the agricultural sciences. He might have started helping his family do farm work from a very young age, waking up at the break of dawn to feed the chickens and milk the cows. He might write about how these formative experiences forged his entire identity and how he’ll always be a farm boy at heart. 


He could then move into a discussion of how some of his tasks became his full responsibilities when he got old enough, and how he now does more and more of the essential work as his dad is getting older. He could wrap up his response with a sincere examination of his future goals, whether they be to come home and improve his family’s own farm through his education or to move into agricultural research to improve farming methods for everyone.


Be genuine about your experiences and passions — let them both shine through in your word choice and anecdotes.


College of Arts and Sciences

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)

At first glance, this looks a bit like a standard “Why This Major?” essay, but it’s more nuanced than that. The prompt focuses on the idea of being interdisciplinary, encouraging you to discuss your “multifaceted academic interests.” Arts and Sciences (A&S) is by far the most interdisciplinary college at Cornell. Students can study topics ranging from information science to Africana studies, and the College houses multiple programs that allow students to design their own major. A&S looks for students with clear and diverse passions and goals who can find their place within a broad community.


Try to connect any diverse interests into a singular goal. Cornell’s motto “any person, any study” fully reiterates the university’s desire to provide students with a platform to explore novel connections between seemingly unrelated subjects. For example, if your interests are math and Asian studies, you could discuss how you plan to use statistics or other mathematical models to gain social insight into the Asian-American experience.


Establish your interests by linking them to your present experiences. If you are a government major, write about your time in Model UN. If you are a biology major, write about your success in the Science League. Use your present experiences to illustrate the depth and range of your personal interests.


You also need to explain how A&S specifically would provide you learning opportunities. Cornell has an open course catalog for all of the A&S departments, so you can do some research on courses that pique your interest from varying fields. Don’t select really common courses such as General Chemistry. Instead, focus on classes that are unique to the university. For example, Cornell offers a class called the Death Penalty in America that is taught by top capital punishment scholars. This connection point would enrich the essay of a government or policy analysis major.


Consider a hypothetical student who has always been particularly fond of music, so much so that she wants to become a psychologist to research and practice music therapies. She might write about wanting to double major in Psychology and Music. To elaborate, she might talk about subfields like cognitive behavioral therapy and music theory. 


Besides playing existing music and encouraging singing, many music therapists actively create music with their patients, something that this student can describe. In order to add specificity to her essay, the student can write about some unique Cornell course offerings such as “Music on the Brain,” “Thinking with Music,” and “Psychology of Music.”


College of Engineering Short Answer Questions

Note: Upon selecting this college on the Common App, you will be asked to provide the 3 words that best describe you and the three words that you would use to describe Cornell Engineering. This is essentially a major-specific short response section.


It’s challenging to distill your personality down to three words, so to begin, come up with a long list of words that you think characterize you, and then narrow them down to the ones that are most important to you. They don’t need to be directly related to engineering, but you want to choose words that at least describe qualities of yourself that could translate to the field of engineering broadly. If you need help, you can ask your friends and family for ideas.


You don’t have to write the most exotic words, but you should avoid very simple descriptors like “fun, nice, smart.” These choices can come across as cliché, and don’t tell the admissions committee anything about you. Try more interesting words like “determined, upbeat, daring,” or even nouns like “brother, athlete, artist.”


If words are your strong suit, you can try to be more creative with your choices. You might even want to pick a word from another language if that language or its culture is an important part of your identity. Maybe you’re a hard worker, a lighthearted person, and you help your father fix cars in your predominantly Hispanic community; you may choose to write “indefatigable, whimsical, mecánico.” Note that you should strive to only choose words you know/use regularly. Don’t just use a thesaurus to try to find big words, because you may accidentally use a word with a nuanced meaning that isn’t what you’re looking for. Additionally, if you use flowery language in this section but not in your writing supplement, this will come off as contradictory and insincere.


The same idea applies to the three words you choose to describe Cornell Engineering. You should do plenty of research on Cornell Engineering before even attempting to choose three words. Determine what is important to their program, reach out to friends you may know in the program, or look through their website and social media to figure out what their program is all about.


You should not attempt to randomly select words about engineering in general. In fact, you could write an inspiring answer by picking some that seemingly have nothing to do with engineering! Avoid picking generic, simple words as well as words of empty praise, such as “unique,” “competitive,” “prestigious,” and “innovative.” Anyone can tell Cornell that it’s a good university — doing so here would sound hollow and plain. Try to think of more nuanced and descriptive words that wouldn’t apply broadly to every engineering college.


For example, you might choose “eclectic,” “defiant,” and “virtuous.” These are creative choices, but more importantly, they are words you could defend in an interview. If asked about “eclectic,” you can mention the diversity of the fields which Cornell has facilities for — the university has centers in subjects ranging from data science to nanomedical technology to waste management. You can defend “defiant” by discussing how a certain lab you researched never settles for the status quo, but instead seeks to always go beyond what is deemed possible. Finally, you might defend “virtuous” by mentioning Cornell Engineering’s mission to “advance the quality of life on our planet.


College of Engineering, Prompt 1 

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about. (250 words)

This prompt is sort of a mix of two traditional kinds of prompts: “Why This College?” and “Why This Major?” It’s primarily a “Why This College?” prompt, as it asks twice how your personal interests connect with Cornell Engineering, but if you do have a specific intended major, you will have to back up your choice as well.


Before you begin writing, you should thoroughly consider what you want to get out of college. Think about your academic and career goals beyond getting a degree or making a lot of money. Colleges don’t want to hear superficial or self-serving goals; they are seeking students with passion and drive who want to contribute to the world in some way.


After you have some idea of your goals, do ample research. You need to establish at least a tangible connection with the college in a way that shows how it will help you achieve your goals. A tangible connection involves specific reasons for choosing the college that are unique to that college. This is where research will really be useful. Browse the departments and courses, faculty, and research groups to find some unique features of the college.


For example, a student might be particularly interested in computer-aided diagnosis because it was used to help diagnose his grandmother’s lung cancer and save her life. He might write about the Biomedical Imaging and Instrumentation concentration within the Biomedical Engineering major. Courses like “Computer Vision” and “Computer Analysis of Biomed Images” would be essential to mention in his essay. 


Additionally, he might want to write about the Vision and Image Analysis Lab. He could also discuss how the head of the lab, Dr. Anthony Reeves, does research on “computer methods for analyzing digital images especially with regards to accurate image measurements and with a primary focus on biomedical applications,” which is exactly what this hypothetical student wants to study.


The hypothetical student above very effectively establishes a tangible connection to the college through specific courses, a lab, and a particular faculty member whose research expertise resonates with him. You should strive to link your personal interests and goals with particular parts of the college in this way.


If you don’t have an intended major in mind, you should still emphasize your general engineering interests. Provide anecdotes that demonstrate the experiences that got you interested in engineering in the first place, then try to connect those experiences with some aspect of the college.


Additionally, if you can, you should try to establish an intangible connection with the college. This involves looking into Cornell Engineering’s values to see how much they align with yours. For example, Cornell’s Diversity Programs in Engineering (DPE) focuses on “enhancing equity for [their] community in terms of: ethnicity, race, sex, gender, orientation, identity, first generation status, socioeconomic class, and veteran status.” Perhaps your racial or gender identity is particularly important to your conception of who you are. You could write about the DPE initiatives to establish this sort of intangible connection in value systems.


There are several things you should avoid when writing your response:

  • Empty flattery: Don’t simply write about how good Cornell Engineering is or how cool a specific major is without elaborating in a very specific manner. Talking about the university with such vague flattery suggests you have nothing more substantive or specific to say.
  • Name-dropping: You should do research on the college, but don’t name classes or faculty members just to have them in your essay. A list of names doesn’t speak to your goals or interests. Instead, explain why those courses, activities, or professors are interesting to you. The college wants to hear about what resonates with you, but also about why it resonates with you.
  • Being generic: Don’t write about resources common to all colleges such as location, class size, a strong program in X, etc. This would suggest that you don’t have anything specific to say or that you copied the response you wrote for another school.


College Engineering, Prompt 2, Option A

Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem. (250 words)

This prompt is designed to elicit several things: your ability to locate and describe problems that can be solved through engineering, the kinds of problems that personally motivate you, and your critical thinking skills. In many ways, the prompt is like a future-tense version of the common community service essay, but rather than writing about previous service experiences, you’re tasked with writing about how you would serve a community to which you belong.


Before you begin writing, think back to when you were younger (or even to as recently as last week). What physical features of your natural and created environments have bothered you in your hometown, school, or other community to which you belong? Perhaps there are too many unfilled potholes or maybe your local playground is becoming rundown and overgrown. The problem doesn’t have to be profound and widespread; it just has to be important to you and amenable to engineering solutions.


In addition to things that have bothered you, try to think of deep-rooted issues and problems that might only apply to particular neighborhoods or groups of people. Use all of these thoughts to create a preliminary list of problems. Once you have a list, narrow it down to the one problem that you most connect with and can think of viable solutions to. This prompt is attempting to gauge your critical thinking skills as well as to understand your passion for engineering.


Once you determine your problem, brainstorm some of the possible solutions to it. These solutions can take shape in a number of ways. You can try to approach the problem through different subfields of engineering to see how alternative areas of expertise can contribute to the same issue in unique ways.


For example, a student might come from a city with a rather dated transit system. Perhaps her home neighborhood is served by an above ground train network that is lacking in accessibility. She might have noticed this problem upon seeing a man in a wheelchair unable to get up to the elevated platform. When writing about this issue, she can propose several solutions involving different kinds of engineering. For example, she might think of three potential solutions:


  1. “As a mechanical engineer, I can design an elevator car and cable system to provide greater accessibility within our transportation network.” (She can also adapt her response to the kind of engineering she wishes to study – e.g., “As a structural engineer, I can design the foundations of an elevator shaft that could be affixed to the existing elevated train structures.”)
  2. “As a civil engineer, I can design a workable ramp system that can be attached to each of the train stations in the transportation network. Each station will have its own needs and regulations, which I can use my training as an engineer to adapt to.”
  3. “As a civil engineer, I could contribute to a total overhaul of the transportation network by designing a trolley system at ground level or perhaps even an underground subway network in which it would be easier to provide wheelchair accessibility.”


Bear in mind that this essay has a limit of 250 words, which will be taken up quickly if you present a problem and provide multiple solutions to it. Be mindful of your word count and avoid overly flowery language and unnecessarily complicated words/sentences. Let your critical and creative thinking be seen in your choice of problem and your proposed solutions. 


And remember, you aren’t an engineer yet; you haven’t even started college! Don’t feel like you have to have all the right answers. You shouldn’t overdo it with your proposed solution, but also avoid being too minimal in your descriptions. Think through what information is necessary to include as part of a solution and use that to guide your essay.


College of Engineering, Prompt 2, Option B

Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Engineering the best solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and/or the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community? (250 words)

The goal of this type of essay is to find out how your values and background influence your personal views and goals. Admissions committees look to build diverse classes, so you’ll want your response for this to be individualized and authentic. To learn more about this kind of prompt, check out our tips for writing a diversity essay.


What to Consider Before You Write


Coming up with a good topic for a diversity essay can be tricky. This is what you’ll want to keep in mind as you think of how to approach the question:


  • Think about your various identities and what makes you unique. This could be your community, racial identity, religion, hobbies, disability status, gender, language, hometown, country of origin, etc. You may want to make a list and write about the one you are most familiar with and feel most comfortable talking about.
  • Consider how you relate to this identity and how you feel about being a part of this group. Have you developed any personality traits through this background? If so, how have they changed over time?
  • Have any major formative events occurred in your life because of this background? What were they and how did they shape you into the person you are today?
  • Have you learned any skills through one of these identities? What are they?
  • How can you connect this with Cornell Engineering?


It is important to consider how your emotions tie in with one of your identities and what personal stories demonstrate this emotional connection. This way, you can write an essay that shows an aspect of your background and how it has shaped you.


You’ll want about 25% of the essay to summarize the part of your background that you are describing* and the remaining 75% to talk about how you have been impacted by it. As you wrap up your response, write about how your background will make you a good addition to the Cornell Engineering community.


Mistakes To Avoid


Don’t list all your identities: This essay isn’t the time to talk about all your personal identities. Instead, focus on one of them and dive deeper into what it is and why it’s important to you.


Don’t focus solely on negative experiences: It’s fine to mention negative experiences related to your identity, and you should absolutely make sure that the experiences you write about are authentic to you. However, admissions committees often look for stories with positive or optimistic endings. Not everything has a happy ending, but it’s harder to write a successful and compelling negative essay.


Don’t pick a cliché topic: There are topics such as immigration stories that have been used time and time again in supplementary essays. Think about an identity you have that may be unique or more nuanced.


Here’s how a response might begin:


One community that I’ve been part of for many years is the jazz piano community. Although jazz is often seen as being “outdated” or “pretentious” by the outside world, true jazz lovers know that it is actually one of the only music genres that stays current with new beats and rhythms. Jazz is always adapting, but jazz pianists must adapt as well. They improvise while also keeping a fast tempo and staying moving between keys. My years playing piano taught me to go with the flow and to accept alternative, unusual, or unique outcomes–usually, the best jazz pieces are created in the spur of the moment. Sometimes engineers get mired in the details or the singular desired outcome, which closes them off to potential accidental breakthroughs. As a student within the College of Engineering at Cornell, I would use the adaptive out-of-the-box thinking that I’ve learned through improvisation and apply it to my engineering projects.


This example starts by describing how jazz, an important part of the student’s background, is perceived, then connects the skills and lessons that the student learned through improvisation to a skill that can be applied to engineering. The student describes how the job of a jazz pianist is not just limited to piano, and that those lessons can be applied to other aspects of life. The student also connects his response to the College of Engineering, thus connecting his identity to Cornell.


Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

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)

The SC Johnson College of Business is made up of two schools: The Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and the School of Hotel Administration. Our breakdown will focus on these two schools separately, but keep in mind that you can write about both in your essay, especially if your interests and goals are best served by both schools.



Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management


The Dyson School is known as one of the most competitive at Cornell. In order to stand out among the tough competition, you will need to clearly explain why your goals and interests align with Dyson’s unique program.


Your choice to apply to Dyson should extend beyond a basic interest in economics or management. Dyson’s program is interdisciplinary in nature, and the school encourages its students to study various disciplines outside of AEM. Having a distinct interdisciplinary focus such as agro-economics is a great way to stand out in your supplemental essay.


Your reasons for applying to Dyson should be supported by your present interests and activities. For example, a student discussing agricultural economics could discuss leadership roles in a local 4H club, or efforts to learn more about agricultural economics through recent journals and news pieces.


Aim to be as detailed as possible when discussing your future goals and clearly connect them to Dyson’s offerings. The agricultural economics student could talk about how Dyson’s flexible curriculum would also allow them to take agriculture classes.


Be sure to include your post-college goals and how the College of Business would help you achieve them. For example, our hypothetical agro-economics student might be interested in starting an organization to eliminate food deserts, by diverting food that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. They could mention the course “HADM 4315: Hunger, Health and Nonprofit Social Enterprise” in the School of Hotel Administration (remember that you can talk about both schools in the College of Business!). This would allow the student to learn “management best practices for leading nonprofit food service organizations.”



School of Hotel Administration


SHA consistently ranks as the best hotel school in the United States, and applicants should have a clear, demonstrated interest in hospitality-related careers. In addition to relevant experience, SHA looks for the interpersonal skills required to be successful in the hospitality industry.


Your hospitality experiences should directly show why you chose to apply to SHA and why you are interested in hospitality management. For example, instead of simply listing your duties as a bellhop at a local hotel, describe how the integration of many fast-paced movements at a hotel invigorates you.


Connect these experiences to your long-term plans and aspirations, and explain how the Hotel School will provide you with the tools you need to achieve these goals. If you want to manage a hotel one day, explain how SHA will provide the hands-on experiences and practical skills you will need to run an establishment.


SHA is the only college at Cornell that requires an admissions interview, which focuses on the applicant’s interpersonal skills. While describing your experiences within hospitality, make sure to highlight personal attributes such as your empathy or adaptability, especially through anecdotes. Perhaps a hotel client once lost his dog, and you went above and beyond to help him make missing dog signs, even putting them up across the city. Maybe the hotel’s fitness center yoga instructor once called in sick at the last minute, and you stepped in with your knowledge of yoga, leading the class in her stead. These details allow an admissions counselor to see that you would thrive at SHA.


College of Human Ecology

How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? (650 words)

This prompt is sort of a blend between the “Why This College?” and “Why This Major?” prompts. The College of Human Ecology (CHE) wants to find the applicants who have the most sincere interest in the school and their anticipated major, so this essay is your chance to let your background and passion shine through.


Before you begin writing, think about the reasons for your decision. What life experiences led you to want to study at the College of Human Ecology? If you’ve decided on a major, why do you want to pursue that major? Think about your academic and career goals, but don’t just write about wanting a prestigious education or trying to make a large salary. Colleges don’t like selfish and shallow goals; they want students with deeper aspirations and a genuine interest in their respective fields.


CHE focuses on the exploration of human connection and the human experience. Human Ecology is interdisciplinary by nature and has strong roots in research and public engagement. Your supplemental essay should reflect these themes while also explaining your interest in your intended major.


Use your high school classes, extracurriculars, and personal projects to explain why you applied to CHE. If you want to study nutritional sciences, you could discuss your role in the Health Club at your high school. Make sure to explain why your intended career path interests you. Maybe you’re a runner and you’re fascinated by how diet impacts physical performance. Connecting your unique personal experiences to a broader desire to improve the human experience — and potentially adding interdisciplinary elements — will help deepen your connection to the College of Human Ecology.


The next part of this prompt asks how your specific major will contribute to your plans for the future. Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of broadly stating that studying fashion design and management will help prepare you for the fashion industry, discuss how the studio-based classes will provide you with both a strong physical skill set and a portfolio of work for job applications. Or if you want to start your own sustainable fashion brand, mention how the courses in Fiber Science will allow you to learn about innovative ways to create eco-friendly fibers and dyes.


After you have some idea of your motivations and goals, do your research. You need to demonstrate how CHE and your desired major will help you achieve your goals. Look over the departments and courses, faculty, and research to find some unique features of the college that you can benefit from during and after your college career.


If you don’t have a specific major in mind, you should still show interest in CHE by mentioning two or three majors you’re considering and why. Include personal stories that can corroborate your interest in Human Ecology, then try to connect those stories with a couple of CHE majors.


As we discussed before, there are several things you should avoid when writing your response:

  • Empty flattery: Don’t simply write about how good the College of Human Ecology is or how cool a specific major is without elaborating in a very specific manner. Talking about the university with such vague flattery suggests you have nothing more substantive or specific to say.
  • Name-dropping: You should do research on the college, but don’t name classes or faculty members just to have them in your essay. A list of names doesn’t speak to your goals or interests. Instead, explain why those courses, activities, or professors are interesting to you. The college wants to hear about what resonates with you, but also about why it resonates with you.
  • Being generic: Don’t write about resources common to all colleges such as location, class size, a strong program in X, etc. This would suggest that you don’t have anything specific to say or that you copied the response you wrote for another school.


School of Industrial and Labor Relations

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 show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 words)

The School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) studies the world of work, and the intellectual interests you write about should also involve labor and human capital. The ILR community has a strong drive for public service, so making social service the focus of your essay will help explain your choice in ILR. This isn’t exactly a community service prompt, but you might want to mention any service experience you have, how you feel about that experience, and how that experience has motivated your interest in ILR.


Given the specificity of the prompt, it’s imperative that you provide concrete examples of how your experiences relate to your intellectual interests. For example, you can discuss how studying disability rights in your American History class made you want to become an advocate, or how volunteering in a local lawyer’s office helped you discover a deep interest in labor law.


Your essay should also explain why you are interested in your chosen subject matter to fully address what makes it exciting to you. Does the ability to advocate for others inspire your passion for disability rights in the workplace? 


Your reasons can be more personal too. Maybe you have a friend or relative with a disability and have witnessed how many workers with disabilities are underpaid and exploited. Or, perhaps you’re interested in labor law because you want to defend workers in minority groups from discrimination.


Once you’ve established your experiences and motivations, you need to draw connections to ILR. This is where research will be extremely helpful. Look into ILR’s departments and courses, faculty, areas of expertise, and research opportunities to inspire your writing. Keep in mind that all undergraduate students at ILR have the same major — Industrial and Labor Relations. Nevertheless, there are opportunities to focus your study on one of the related disciplines, so be sure to write to your strengths and interests.


Choose ILR-specific programs to explain why the school is the right fit for you. For example, a future law student could mention ILR’s intensive legal writing seminars. The prospective student could also discuss the Labor & Employment Law Program in NYC, which focuses on managing repositories for documents related to acts of workplace discrimination.


College of Art, Architecture and Planning

Note: Upon selecting this college on the Common App, you will be asked to provide the 3 words that best describe you. This is essentially a major-specific short response section.

What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours? (650 words)

Before you scroll down to the writing supplement prompt, you’ll be asked for three words that best describe you. It’s tough to distill your personality down to three words, so to start, come up with a long list of words that you think characterize you, and then narrow them down to the ones that are most important to you. If you need help, you can poll your friends and family.


You don’t need the most exotic words, but you should avoid very simple descriptors like “fun, nice, smart.” These choices are too safe and plain, and don’t tell the admissions committee anything about you. Try more interesting words like “determined, upbeat, daring,” or even nouns like “brother, athlete, artist.”


If words are your thing or you consider yourself a writer, you can try to be more ambitious with your choices. You might even want to pick a word from another language if that language is an important part of your identity. Maybe you’re a hard worker, a lighthearted person, and a singer of Latin music; you may choose to write “indefatigable, whimsical, cantante.” Note that you should strive to only choose words you know and use regularly. Don’t just use a thesaurus to try to find big words, because you may accidentally use a word with a nuanced meaning that isn’t what you’re looking for. Additionally, if you use flowery language in this section but not in your writing supplement, this will come off as contradictory and insincere.


Now let’s look at the essay prompt. Art, Architecture, and Planning (AAP) is the smallest college at Cornell. Most AAP classes are studio-intensive and involve hands-on projects. As a result, your essay should demonstrate that you are secure in your major decision and ready to engage with a nontraditional learning experience.


The “thing” you suggest can relate to your intended major, but doesn’t necessarily have to. You should consider choosing a particular sub-discipline of your intended major, as this will help to show your familiarity and passion for the subject matter. For example, if you are applying to the art school, your “thing” should not be microbiology unless you have a particularly compelling way to integrate the two subjects. However, writing your essay about your love of fifties pop art would demonstrate your knowledge and love of art.


There are two ways to structure this essay: a longitudinal method or a moment-in-time method. To organize the information in a longitudinal way, describe how your passion unfolded over time. For example, discuss the first time you encountered photography and how you grew more passionate about it. You could discuss crucial memories like getting your first high-quality camera, or your first interaction with your favorite photographer. Establishing a chronological story of your discovery of the interest and the development of your passion, knowledge, and/or skill is an excellent way to paint a picture of your individuality as well as your readiness to take on your intended major.


Alternatively, you can emphasize one key moment. This can be any key moment, but consider writing about the moment you fell in love with your “thing” or realized that it’s what you wanted to devote so much of your time to. You could discuss your first time walking through a gallery of your favorite artist’s works or the moment you took your favorite photograph. Use this key point to fully illustrate what you love about your “thing.”


Make sure to elaborate on how your “thing” inspires what you do currently, and how it might impact your future goals. Maybe your “thing” is living a zero-waste lifestyle, and you’re a prospective Architecture major. Your love for sustainability might inspire you to study and develop eco-friendly buildings that interact with nature and the surrounding ecosystems, such as apartment buildings with green roofs.


Where to Get Your Cornell University Essay Edited


Do you want feedback on your Cornell essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


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