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The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Cornell

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The largest school in the Ivy League, Cornell University is situated in scenic Ithaca, New York, home of 150 waterfalls that flow through its famous gorges.  The university was founded in 1865 as egalitarian school where “any person can find instruction in any study.”

Cornell has seven undergraduate colleges, each with a unique and diverse identity and student body: College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, School of Hotel Administration, College of Architecture, Art and Planning, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Human Ecology, and School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Although the College of Arts and Sciences is its largest school, hosting popular majors like biology and biological sciences, it is also famous for its world-renowned School of Hotel Administration and College of Engineering.


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.


Statistics and Deadlines

Cornell is highly selective, with an acceptance rate of 14.1% for the class of 2020. Last year, 4,571 candidates were offered a place on the waitlist, and 61 students were offered admission from the waitlist.

All application materials are due on November 1st for Early Decision. Application materials are due January 2nd for Regular Decision. Early Decision applicants will be notified of admissions decisions in mid-December, and Regular Decision applicants will be notified in early April. However, the School of Hotel Administration and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations will begin decision notification as early as the beginning of March. Admitted students must respond to offers of admission by May 1st.  The Early Decision program is binding, meaning applicants who are accepted through this plan are required to matriculate at Cornell; however, if your admissions decision is deferred, meaning you will be considered with the pool of Regular Decision candidates, you are not required to attend if accepted. There is an $80 application fee.

Tuition and student activities costs $50,953 per year, with a total cost, including housing, dining, books and supplies, and personal expenses, of $67,613 per year. For New York state residents enrolled in Land-Grant Colleges, which include the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology, and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the cost of tuition is $34,209 per year, with a total cost of $50,869 per year. Non-New York state residents have the same cost to attend these schools as the enrollees at the endowed colleges, the four colleges not identified as Land-Grant. Like the other Ivies, Cornell does not offer merit-based scholarships to admitted students, but does offer need-based financial aid. Financial aid application materials are due November 15th for Early Decision applicants and February 15th for Regular Decision applicants.


Applying to Cornell

Students apply directly to one of the seven schools listed above, so make sure you research the colleges and majors offered at each one carefully to determine which is best for you. If you wish to transfer between colleges once you are enrolled, you must apply to transfer internally.


The Application

Cornell accepts the Common Application and the Universal College Application (submit one or the other). You are also required to complete the Cornell supplement.

The Cornell supplement has an Application section and a Writing Supplement. The Application has five sections: General, Academics, Activities, Contacts, and Family.


COrnell general

Here, you will be asked to list your preferred start term. You must list Fall here. Note that only applicants to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, and College of Human Ecology may be considered for January admission, and will have the opportunity to decide whether or not they would like to be considered for it in the Academics sections. You will also record your preferred admission plan (regular or early decision), whether or not you would like to participate in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and whether or not you would like to apply for the Higher Educational Opportunity Program (HEOP).


Cornell Academics

In this section, you will record the school to which you are applying within Cornell and your anticipated major within that school. Your school choice is binding if you are admitted, but you will not need to declare a major until you are a student. (Exact deadlines vary by school and major.) You will also have the option of being considered for Spring admission in addition to Fall here if you are applying to one of the schools that accepts this plan.


Cornell activities



While you will describe your activities in greater detail in the Activities section of the application, you may upload your resume, if you wish to include more activities or longer descriptions than the allotted space allows.


COrnell contacts

This section asks whether or not you previously applied to Cornell. You also have the opportunity to input your cell phone number for phone calls or text alerts.


Cornell Family

Here, you are asked if you have any siblings applying for undergraduate admission to Cornell this year and if you have any relatives who attended Cornell. If you answer yes, you will be prompted to list their name(s) and relationship(s) to you, as well as the number of degrees awarded if they graduated. You are also asked if any relative ever worked for Cornell.

Writing Supplement

Cornell essay

There is one question in this section, and it is specific to the school to which you are applying within Cornell. Because Cornell’s structure is a little different from some other universities in that you apply directly to one of seven schools, each with an individual identity, the admissions committee wants to see what you will bring to your chosen school and vice versa. The prompts essentially concern why you have chosen the specific school and how your background and interests are suited to it. All the essays have a word limit of 650 words.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. Specifically, how will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Science (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals? 

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

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?

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

School of Hotel Administration: 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?

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

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

Whichever essay you write, be sure to include plenty of examples and anecdotes. This is an opportunity to show how passionate you are about learning. Many of the schools are specialized, but even if you don’t know what your major will be yet, you should be able to present an idea of how you will cultivate certain talents. Check out our guide for more information on how to tackle the Cornell essay supplement.


Other Requirements

Students applying to the architecture program are required to participate in an interview, while Department of Art applicants are strongly encouraged to do so. Applicants should submit requests for on-campus and alumni interviews well in advance of the application deadline, which is November 1st for Early Decision candidates and January 2nd for Regular Decision candidates.  The School of Hotel Administration offers optional on-campus interviews with student Ambassadors and off-campus alumni volunteers, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Students may begin requesting interviews at the end of August.  The other colleges at Cornell do not offer interviews to any applicants. However, the admissions committee will forward your name to the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN) in your area, if one exists. This is not an admissions interview, but is rather an opportunity for you to learn more about Cornell.

Applicants must submit scores from either the SAT or ACT. Additionally, Arts and Sciences applicants are required to submit two SAT subject tests of their choice, and Engineering applicants must submit two SAT subjects consisting of one mathematics at any level and one science. ACT scores may not be used to fulfill the subject test requirements.

In addition to the school report and transcript, your counselor or school official must also submit a Mid Year Report as soon as possible after the Regular Decision deadline. Applicants are also required to submit one counselor recommendation and two teacher recommendations.


Portfolio and Supplementary Materials

Some of the individual colleges require portfolios for specific majors:

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: portfolio required for Landscape Architecture

Architecture, Art, and Planning: portfolio required for Architecture and Art

Human Ecology: design supplements required for Design and Environmental Analysis and Fashion Design and Management

Students may also submit music supplements to be evaluated by Cornell’s music department.

Visit the Cornell Undergraduate Admissions website for more information on how to submit these materials.

The application process may seem daunting, but with these tips you should be off to a great start!


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.