My Cornell Admissions Experience ― A Real Student’s Story
This article is a first-person account from Moriah Adeghe, a Cornell student and CollegeVine livestreamer, mentor, and contributor. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Writing the Essays
I wrote my Common App essay about my background coming from a low-income home with a single mom, how that shaped my worldview, and why I wanted to go to college in general. I talked about why education was so important to me; I’m a first-generation college student, so I wanted to explain why going to any college at all felt like such an accomplishment.
I think there was an essay that specifically asked me why I wanted to major in human ecology. It was specific to applicants in human ecology as other majors didn’t have to do it. I wrote about why I thought that major was the best fit for me and how it would tie into premed.
As far as advice goes, I think doing a lot of research will help. Investigate why you want to go to the specific school you’re applying to. If you’re able to remove “Cornell University” from your essay and insert “Dartmouth College” or “Brown University” or another college, your essay probably isn’t strong enough. You want to write a piece that’s specific to Cornell.
Show that you have researched Cornell University and have clear reasons for wanting to attend. Learn about the programs you’re interested in, and look into classes and individual professors. Write about a certain class that looks interesting or the research a professor is doing and why you’d love to work with them. All of that will help make your essay uniquely tailored to Cornell.
Like any elite school, Cornell admits students with high GPAs. I think the median is between 3.7 and 3.9, so you’re going to need very strong grades to get in.
High school transcripts and standardized test scores are going to be important. Colleges create an academic index, which includes your GPA and standardized test scores and also ranks you, and gives you what’s called an “index score.” Then, they’ll decide what the cutoff is going to be for the index score, and they’ll only look at the students who meet or exceed it. There will be more cuts after this as students who have top grades and top test scores still won’t necessarily get in.
Other Factors in the Admissions Process
About 50% of students are offered alumni interviews. Because they aren’t that common, they probably won’t make or break your application. Cornell offers interviews depending on your region—alumni have to volunteer and, sometimes, there isn’t anyone in your region who could provide an interview.
Extracurriculars, essays, volunteer work, and your interview can all factor in the admissions process. Once you’ve hit the threshold for the school’s academic index, there are many different things that can make a final difference in your admissions decision.
Colleges also do view being a first-generation college student as something that enriches your application. Similar to your essays, it provides personality and gives some insight into who you are as a human being. I’m not sure exactly how much it helps, but first-generation students do provide some diversity and unique perspectives in a class. Colleges like to boast about the percentage of first-generation students they accept, so it’s something they take into consideration.
The full ride for low-income students covers everything: housing, meal plan, and tuition.
There’s no GPA requirement for financial aid. It’s not a scholarship, and Cornell doesn’t have any internal scholarships. A merit scholarship would have a GPA requirement because you get the scholarship based on your GPA, and they’ll want you to maintain that throughout college.
The full ride for low-income students is just financial aid. The calculation for financial aid is not subjective. It is based entirely on your family’s income. You have to submit all your family’s financial documents and tax documents from the last two years, and they do a financial calculation. If your family’s total income is below $60,000, you’ll get 100% full financial aid automatically.
This doesn’t mean that if your family’s total income is above $60,000, you’ll get nothing. If your family makes about $80,000 or $90,000, you’ll still probably get a lot covered. It won’t be 100%, but a lot of your cost of attendance will be met by financial aid. The Cornell financial aid website provides a couple of different income examples, so you should be able to find an estimate of how much assistance you’ll receive.