How to Write the Cornell University Supplemental Essays 2018-2019
Cornell University, the “Ivy League university with a Big 10 heart,” is an elite private institution with a very public land-grant mission. Founded by two New York State Senators in 1865, Cornell has become the largest member of the Ivy League, and is home to seven undergraduate colleges encompassing 80 majors.
The unique positioning of Cornell led to a record-breaking number of applicants this past year: 51,324 students applied for entry into the class of 2022, with an acceptance rate of only 10.6%, the lowest in the university’s history. The increasingly difficult nature of the admissions scene necessitates increasingly stronger writing supplements—a strong essay is one of the best ways to stand out among tens of thousands of other applications.
Applicants to Cornell are required to select one of seven undergraduate colleges when applying through the Common Application. Each college requires a different supplemental essay (maximum of 650 words), in addition to your personal statement. Below, we’ll dive deeper into each of the prompts and provide tips to help you write an essay that’s sure to make your application shine!
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 Supplemental Essay
The New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is one of the three contract, or public, colleges at Cornell. Founded initially to educate rural farmers on the best practices to improve agricultural productivity, CALS has evolved into the second largest college at Cornell, with a host of majors ranging from environmental engineering, animal science, and viticulture to atmospheric science, developmental sociology, and food science.
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?
A strong essay for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences should answer all three questions posed by the prompt:
- Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected?
- How did your interests and related experiences influence your choice in major?
- How will an education from CALS and Cornell help you achieve your academic goals?
In the first two questions, Cornell wants to see that you can connect your major with your experiences throughout high school (and ideally the rest of your life). If you want to major in animal science, you can write about your summer on a horse farm, where you became an expert at foal delivery. Maybe you’re applying as an information science major; write about the artificial intelligence project you worked on as a member of the computer club. Whatever your chosen subject is, make sure that your passion for it is evident in the essay—CALS wants to see demonstrated interest in the field you’ve selected.
In responding to the third question posed by the prompt, try to explain how the opportunities and resources at CALS will enable you to pursue your passion (the major which you just finished writing about). This is the time to fire up a web browser and jump onto Cornell’s website. Look for a course, club, or minor that you can link back to your major. Don’t just mention what you’ve found—work on crafting a piece of the essay on how you plan to directly interact with the opportunity if you’re accepted.
For example, instead of simply saying that you’d like to join the food science club, mention how you think it would be really cool to involve nutritional science majors in the club and open a dialogue about the health effects of processed food. By tying in aspects of CALS that are not limited to your major, and explaining how you’d interact with them, it will clear that you’ve put in the time to learn more about the available opportunities on-campus, and truly plan to take advantage of them.
Check out this excerpt from an incoming developmental sociology major at CALS, and notice how she not only mentions the courses she’s interested in, but also elaborates on why they are important to her.
“Studying Developmental Sociology would allow me to finally acquire a deeper understanding of the world around me. Courses such as International Development and Social Inequality would enhance my understanding of the twenty-first century world from a global perspective, and enable me to become a more active citizen in shaping its development in the future. Classes like Immigration and Public Policy and Latinos in the United States would allow me to grasp a more complete understanding of immigration, one of our nation’s most pressing issues. This would prepare me to play a more meaningful role in finding its solution. I hope that I have the chance to experience these courses, along with all of the other tremendous opportunities this major has to offer.”
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning Supplemental Essay
The College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) is the smallest college at Cornell, and encompasses only three majors: Architecture, Art, and Urban & Regional Studies. The AAP essay prompt is new this year: instead of serving as a run-of-the-mill “why school?” essay as in years past, it’s asking for something more.
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?
When applying to AAP on the Common App, you’ll be asked to select your anticipated major from the three available. Whichever major you select, be sure that your essay is focused on that area of interest! For example, if you’re applying as an Art major, your “thing” is art. There are many possible routes to take this essay, but we’ll go over two in particular.
One way to frame this essay is to tell a story about a time doing your “thing” that was especially meaningful, enjoyable, or inspirational. For an Architecture major, you could write about the first time you walked into your neighborhood studio, and felt at home among the materials and machines. Or, maybe you can elaborate on the transformative experience you had designing your first scale model, and the realizations that came with it. Basically, pick a single point in time, and use that to explain why your chosen field is so important to you.
Another option for crafting this essay is to write about your development in your area over time. Instead of selecting one anecdote, and basing the entire essay on it, try to find two to four smaller examples of your growth in the field, and string them together to provide a comprehensive narrative that shows talent development. If you’re applying as an Art major, you can start your essay at your pre-K arts and crafts class and gradually move forward, ending at a prestigious high school photography competition, chronicling the steps you took to get from point A to point B.
College of Arts and Sciences Supplemental Essay
The College of Arts and Sciences (AS) is the largest of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges, and also encompasses the widest range of majors, from Anthropology to Biology and Society to Economics to English.
Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into their academic interests, discover new realms of intellectual inquiry, and chart their own path through the College. Tell us why the depth, breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum are ideally suited to exploring the areas of study that excite you.
Unlike the other colleges at Cornell, there’s no common thread running through AS. For that reason, it’s especially important that your supplement be as detailed and specific as possible to the field of study you wish to pursue. Bring in examples of how your experiences throughout high school led you to your desired major.
For example, if you want to major in government, try writing the essay about the experiences you’ve had volunteering at the office of your local state representative or assemblyperson. Or, maybe you’ve been trying to increase voter registration at your high school. Pull in whatever you can about your prior experiences that would apply to your desired major. If you haven’t yet decided on a major, that’s okay too! Students are allowed to enter Arts and Science undecided, so take the opportunity to write about the various fields you’re considering through your “academic interests.”
While it’s important for the focus of your essay to be on your selected major, be sure to also address how other aspects of Arts and Sciences will enable you to better “explore” the fields that interest you. This would be a great time to mention a minor that you might want to pursue (check out the Arts and Sciences website for a full list of available majors and minors). In addressing the minor, try to tie it back to your major. For example, if you want to major in American Studies, you can write about how pursuing a minor in English would provide you with a literary lens through which to analyze the development of American culture.
As you work to include additional aspects of the Arts and Sciences offerings, remember that your goal is still to tell a story—the story of why you belong at Cornell, studying the field(s) that you’re interested in. So while including many references to different opportunities can be good, those references are lost if not integrated into a comprehensive story of your experiences and passion for your interests.
Here, a biology and society major in Arts and Sciences writes about how she became enamored with the study of biology. Notice how she brings in aspects of Arts and Sciences without letting it take away from her narrative.
“In middle school, at the suggestion of my science teacher, I started reading Scientific American. My favorite articles, I soon discovered, were the ones pertaining to the molecular subunits of life. I became infatuated with the secret world of the very small, with the elegance of telomeres and tetrodotoxin, prions and polyomaviruses, with the layers of ordered chaos that comprise all living things. I would stay up late reading Scientific American beside my dad’s old computer, looking up unfamiliar words as I went, and when I finally went to bed, I would imagine my name enclosed between citation parentheses. Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences is the ideal environment for me to advance my understanding of biology and determine which facet of biology to pursue as a career. I would relish the opportunity to learn from a biology department that contributes so tremendously to scientific advancement. I would strive to participate in research all four years, and I would aim to become a part of the Biology Honors Program and the Biology Scholars Program.”
Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business – Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management Supplemental Essay
The Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (Dyson/AEM) is a member of both the S.C. Johnson College of Business and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This is the second year that Dyson has its own essay prompt—previously, it existed entirely within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The acceptance rate for Dyson is much lower than that of Cornell as a whole: in 2018, 122 students were accepted from a pool of 4,164 applicants, resulting in a 2.9% acceptance rate. With such a low acceptance rate, it’s essential that you follow the prompt to the letter.
Affiliated with both the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management is unique by design. Explain how our approach to business education is the right fit for you, and how your interests, experiences or goals will contribute to the unique composition of the entering class.
You’re asked to do two things with this essay. First, provide justification for why you like Dyson, and why it’s the right place for you. Second, provide justification for why Dyson should like you, and why you’re the right person for the school.
In responding to the first half of the prompt, you’ll need to do some initial research on the offerings at Dyson. Check out the courses, research opportunities, academic requirements, and anything else that you think could help you make a compelling case. For example, you could write about how you are particularly drawn to the entrepreneurial spirit at Dyson, evidenced by the numerous available business plan competitions and the eHub work space. You would then tie in your own entrepreneurial ventures, and explain how the resources at Dyson would help you to further develop your skills.
The second part of the prompt is where the essay could become difficult for some applicants. If you come from a particularly unique background, or have especially remarkable experiences, you’ll have an easier time here. Write about yourself; your journey to where you are now. Make it clear to the admissions committee that you’re not just any old applicant—you’re someone that they don’t see everyday. This is about selling yourself and your personal brand, and as long as you’re able to successfully convey your uniqueness, you’ll be in great shape.
If you’re concerned that your story isn’t exciting enough, don’t worry! This part of the essay can be about more than just your background and experiences. Elaborate on your most impressive business-related extracurricular, or a community service activity where you acted as a leader. Pick something from your life that demonstrates your prior interest in business and management. The most important thing is to write a strong essay that emphasizes your passion for the field and how you’ll use that passion to make Dyson a better place.
Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business – School of Hotel Administration Supplemental Essay
The School of Hotel Administration (SHA) is widely considered to be the best hospitality management program in the country. Typically, more than 80% of enrolling freshmen in the Hotel School have work experience in the hospitality industry prior to applying. For those that do, this essay should be a breeze.
The global hospitality industry includes hotel and foodservice 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?
Provided that you’ve had some professional exposure to the hospitality industry (be it through a paid job, internships, or shadowing), the focus of your essay should be on what you learned about the industry through your exposure. Make sure to explain not only why you are passionate about hospitality, but also about business in general.
For those that don’t have any professional exposure to the service industry, try to pull as much as possible from your high school extracurriculars, thinking outside the box. Even if something may not seem like it connects to hospitality, find a way of connecting it in your essay. Working at a local clothing store may seem to have little to do with a massive field that connects hotels, restaurants, and transportation, but sales associates are very much a customer service-focused (and, by extension, hospitality-focused) bunch—by being creative, you’ll be able to find more than enough to write about.
In addition to the work experience, many applicants to SHA have a passion for hospitality that has been a core component of their life for many years. This passion typically manifests itself through well-developed leadership skills, ever-present compassion and empathy, and a desire to travel the world. Find a way of showing your passion in your essay (personal anecdotes are usually the best way to go). Since the Hotel School has such a specific program, it’s incredibly important that your supplement provide the admissions committee with a full understanding of why you belong in the field of hospitality.
Here, one of our consultants writes about his experiences in the hospitality industry. This is a great example of how to integrate your work experiences into your essay and make it clear to SHA that service is one of your key driving forces.
“During my sophomore year of high school, I finally had the opportunity to learn about the hospitality industry in a more formal manner. I enrolled in a Cornell MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] through edX, Introduction to Global Hospitality Management. This was the first time that I was exposed to hospitality in a learning environment, and I found the course both engaging and informative. Then, in my junior year, I interned at a nearby hotel. Although I had enjoyed learning about the industry online, working in an actual hotel was more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. I experienced firsthand the good, the bad, and even the ugly aspects of hotel management. I rotated through the different departments: laundry, housekeeping, rooms, F&B, engineering, and sales. My favorite position was unquestionably guest services. I enjoyed the face to face interactions with the hotel guests and felt great satisfaction as I helped them with their individual concerns. I also relished the organized chaos of the front desk, when there were guests on line, ringing phones, and packages coming and going. On the days that I worked at the front desk, I would often stay and help for hours after my shift ended – there was no other place I would have rather been.”
College of Engineering Supplemental Essay
The prompt for the College of Engineering (EN) provides you with a wide range of acceptable topics, provided that they’re in some way related to engineering. The first step in crafting this essay would be to find out what exactly you want to study. This prompt is fairly atypical—instead of explaining your past, through extracurriculars and life experiences, it asks you to look towards your future. Even if you’ve had minimal experience with engineering throughout high school, you can still craft an excellent response to the prompt.
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.
The best way to tackle this essay, once you’ve decided what you wish to study at Cornell, is by finding a problem in the world. The problem could be anything that interests you and relates to engineering. Brainstorm a list of problems that you would be interested in solving, and reformat all of them into questions, like this:
- How can we provide clean drinking water to everyone that needs it?
- What’s the best way to develop a national infrastructure for the next century?
- How can we use chemical engineering to design eco-friendly, durable building materials?
From your list, decide which problem fits best into your selected major. Now, you’ll just need to explain how being a student in the College of Engineering will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to go out and fix your problem. Look into what previous graduates have accomplished, the courses that are offered, and the opportunities for research. You should try to come up with a plan of action to solve your problem (which cites the research you’ve done about the school). Demonstrating what you would actually do to problem solve can be impressive to readers.
For example, in order to develop an iPhone app to encourage students to eat out at local restaurants, it would be crucial to describe the steps you would take to: design app interfaces, research the restaurants around campus, recruit a team of beta testers, set up a database, and consult computer science professors about the functionality of the app. By displaying this high level of analytical thinking about how you would solve a real problem, the admissions team will better recognize your interest in and fit for the College of Engineering.
Here, one of our consultants discusses project teams, a mainstay at the College of Engineering. Notice how she elaborates on how the project teams can enrich her experience at Cornell, and will help her to achieve her goals in the future.
“Cornell Engineering has exactly what I need to pursue my aspirations. Undergraduate research opportunities are widely available in the topics I am interested in, such as Systems Biology and Biomedical Engineering. The Project Teams are the most exciting aspect of Cornell Engineering to me. The opportunity to apply classroom instruction to real life engineering problems, to work with and learn from my peers, and to create something that I am passionate about is not something every school has. Most of the life changing projects we hear about today in engineering or in medicine are rarely created by one person alone. Project Teams are a fun and effective way of incorporating that teamwork into an undergraduate education.”
College of Human Ecology Supplemental Essay
How have your experiences influenced you to apply to the College of Human Ecology? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?
The prompt for the College of Human Ecology (Humec/HE) has two distinct components: the past and the future. It first asks you to explain what in your past led you to apply to Humec, and then asks you to elaborate on what your career goals are after you graduate from Humec. In tackling the first half of the essay, you’ll first need to decide which of the eight HE majors you are applying for.
If you’re interested in Human Development, you should write about your experiences volunteering at a preschool, not about your interest in fashion design. Likewise, if you plan on majoring in Policy Analysis and Management, you could explain how you worked with your town council to improve access to healthcare for underprivileged children. This isn’t necessarily the time or place to write about your research on Alzheimer’s—even though that’s really interesting, it’s far more suited to an essay for the Human Biology, Health & Society major. Make sure to be as specific as possible to your desired major, and let your excitement about the subject shine through to the admissions committee.
The second part of the prompt shouldn’t be too difficult, provided that you’re able to link in your future goals and aspirations to your previous experiences (that you wrote about in the first part of the essay). Once again, make sure that your passion for your selected major is evident, and don’t just write in the general sense. If you’re hoping to go to Medical School after college, definitely mention that—explain how what you study at Humec will influence your life in the medical world and guide you through your career.
Here’s an essay excerpt from a sophomore Human Biology, Health, and Society major in Human Ecology. Notice how he directly explains why the particular major he selected will allow him to achieve his career goals:
“The College’s Human Biology, Health, and Society major epitomizes this integrated philosophy and will best prepare me for a fulfilling career in medicine and research. Being able to analyze health in the context of the environment gives physicians and researchers the tools to address matters of health on both individual and global scales. As a future doctor, I aim to create change not only for my patients, but for people everywhere. The Human Biology, Health, and Society major goes beyond a traditional pre-medicine program to prepare students to observe the overarching non-medical causes and implications of ill-health. This, along with the policy experience that the major emphasizes, will let me prevent illness by working with policymakers to shape the environment and thus the health of people around the world. The Human Biology, Health, and Society major will let me explore this relationship and give me the practical tools to effect real global change.”
School of Industrial and Labor Relations Supplemental Essay
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.
The School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) is all about people. Your essay, similarly, should be all about people. Students in ILR learn about the relationships between employees and employers in the workplace—including the history of labor, labor law, organizational behavior and leadership, and economics. An interest in these fields can typically be shown through strong public speaking and communication skills, a passion for debate, and an ability to settle almost any dispute amicably. In your essay, you could explain how you’ve mastered those personality traits throughout your life, citing experiences that emphasize your strengths.
Just as much as this prompt is asking about you, it’s also asking “why ILR?” Make sure to insert some information about the school, be it courses you find interesting, a minor/concentration you wish to pursue, or research being done by professors. Find a way of linking your past experiences to the new ones you hope to have at Cornell.
Hopefully the analysis of each supplemental essay prompt has helped you to fine-tune your plans for your Cornell supplement! Best of luck with your application, and GO BIG RED!
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.