How to Get Into Cornell: Admissions Stats + Tips

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What’s Covered:

 

Cornell University is a private, land-grant university located in Ithaca, New York. The university is known for its very unique selection of majors and courses, many of which are very well-known, such as its College of Engineering and School of Hotel Administration. However, Cornell has seven undergraduate schools in total:

 

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • College of Architecture, Art and Planning
  • College of Arts and Science
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Human Ecology
  • School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR)

 

As an Ivy League that offers exceptional academics, as well as a beautiful location surrounded by nature and gorges, Cornell receives tens of thousands of qualified candidates. So, what does it take to get in? Keep reading to find out!

 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Cornell?

 

In Fall 2020, 67,380 students applied for first year admission. Only 5,582 were admitted for an acceptance rate of 8.7%. Cornell offers an Early Decision option. During Fall 2020 Early Decision, Cornell received 9,017 applications and offered admission to 1,930 applicants at a rate of 21.4%, which is significantly higher than the Regular Decision acceptance rate.

 

Since applicants have to apply to a specific school, each school has its own acceptance rate. It’s good to keep this in mind when you are applying since not every school within Cornell has the same acceptance rate of 8.7%.

 

Although Cornell’s acceptance rate is very low, your individual chance at admission may be higher or lower depending on a variety of personal and academic factors. If you want to calculate and understand your personal chance at admission, check out our free chancing calculator! To use this tool, simply input your GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, and the tool will automatically calculate your chances of admission.

 

Average Academic Profile of Accepted Cornell Students

 

GPA

 

The average high school GPA of Cornell students is 4.07.

 

SAT/ACT

 

For the Class of 2025, the middle 50% SAT scores were 1450–1540 and the middle 50% ACT scores were 33–35.


Class Rank 

 

83% of students who applied to Cornell reported being in the top 10% of their high school classes, and 97% in the top 25%. However, only 22% of students self-reported their rankings, so these may not be fully representative of the freshman student body.

 

What is Cornell Looking For?

 

As an Ivy League institution, Cornell is looking for students who excel academically and show a drive and passion for learning. However, Cornell also values the unique personalities of each student who help to create a diverse class. The famous motto of Cornell is “any person, any study”, meaning they highly value students who show initiative in pursuing their passions and interdisciplinary studies. 

 

Cornell also places a lot of value on a student’s extracurriculars, and how they align to the school they have chosen to apply to. For example, the College of Industrial and Labor Relations would prefer students with specialized interests within the school’s domain like Mock Trial, debate club, or volunteering as a law clerk. Because of the specialization of Cornell’s individual schools, they aren’t looking for the most well-rounded students—they are looking for students who display a high level of interest and passion for the specialized domain of the school or program they are applying to. 

 

How Cornell Evaluates Applications 

 

Cornell evaluates applicants on a variety of factors. According to their Common Data set, Cornell ranks these factors “very important”

 

  • Rigor of high school coursework
  • GPA
  • Test scores
  • Recommendation letters
  • Essays
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Talent/abilities
  • Personal characteristics

 

The factors below are ranked as being “important”:

 

  • Class rank

 

These are “considered”

 

  • Interview
  • First generation
  • Legacy student
  • Geographical residence
  • State residency
  • Religious/ethnic status
  • Volunteer work
  • Work experience

 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

 

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Cornell

 

1. Achieve at least a 4.07 GPA while taking the most rigorous courses available. 

 

In order to be a competitive applicant, you should aim to achieve a 4.07 GPA while taking the most difficult courses available. This not only shows that you are able to excel in regular classes, but requires that you also take AP and honors courses. Most applicants to Ivies tend to have 8-12 AP classes, so you should aim to reach that number as well to be considered competitive. Additionally, 83% of admitted students at Cornell are ranked in the top 10% of their graduating classes. You’ll want to aim for the highest GPA you can achieve in your classes.

 

In order to determine what course load makes you a competitive applicant, selective colleges use the Academic Index. The Academic Index is a score developed by admissions officers that is based on the classes you take, your grades, and test scores. The score gives admissions officers a quantitative value to determine course rigor. If you don’t meet a school’s cutoff for the Academic Index, admissions officers might not read your application.

 

If your GPA is lower and you are a freshman or sophomore in high school, you’ll want to check out our tips for improving your GPA. If you are a junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA, which is why you’ll want to spend time increasing your test scores as much as possible.

 

2. Aim for a 1540 SAT and 35 ACT. 

 

You’ll want to aim for high test scores to be considered for admission at Cornell. A score at or at or above a 1540 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT (the 75th percentiles of admitted students) will make you a competitive candidate for admission. 

 

We generally recommend submitting test scores, even when schools are test-optional, as it significantly increases your chances of acceptance. However, due to Covid-19, we only recommend taking the SAT or ACT if you can do so safely. If your test scores are above the 25th percentile range, we recommend submitting them. 

 

Do you want to know if you should submit your scores? Check out our free chancing calculator, a tool that can help determine your chances of admission. 

 

It is also important to note that Cornell superscores, so you have the opportunity to take your best scores from the SAT or ACT. You should plan to take these tests 2-3 times to maximize the chances at a high score.

 

Do you want to improve your SAT/ACT score? Check out these free CollegeVine resources. 

 

 

3. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”).

 

If your academics are as equally strong as many other applicants, extracurriculars are where you have a chance to stand out and help admissions officers form a better idea of who you are and what you might bring to their campus. 

 

In addition, Cornell places especially high emphasis on extracurriculars because they give admissions officers a sense of how you will fit in and contribute to its unique colleges and programs.

 

In general, any activity that you do regularly outside the classroom counts as an extracurricular, as long as you can demonstrate that the activity has contributed to your growth as an individual. However, not all extracurriculars are created equal. Extracurricular activities can generally be divided into four “tiers.” To increase your chances at Cornell, you should have one to two “Tier 1” or “Tier 2” extracurriculars. 

 

  • Tier 1 activities demonstrate exceptional talent, achievement, leadership, or merit. Activities and roles on the national level or which garner field-wide recognition count as Tier 1 activities. This may include winning a national award, qualifying for international competition and therefore gaining prestigious recognition, or starting a nonprofit that gains national traction. Having a Tier 1 activity marks you as a distinguished youth in the field of your activity, so having Tier 1 activities is rare. 

 

  • Tier 2 activities are more common than Tier 1, but still show high levels of achievement and potential. Holding school-wide leadership positions like student government president, winning regional competitions or awards, and local recognition as a student athlete or musician are all considered Tier 2. 

 

  • Tier 3 activities demonstrate sustained participation rather than exceptional achievement, and are frequently seen in applications, both across the board as well as in any given individual student’s application, as some students may have more than one Tier 3 activity. These activities can include holding minor positions in school clubs or being on a Varsity team.

 

  • Tier 4 activities are the most common and have the lowest entry bar; they demonstrate interest without particular dedication. However, they are still important to include, especially if you have higher tier activities, because they can help show the diversity of your interests. Tier 4 activities can include regular volunteering, general membership in clubs or organizations, or taking any kind of music or art lesson over several years. 

 

While Cornell will be happy to see any kind of interest you’ve taken, you’re going to be a much more competitive candidate if you have a few Tier 1 or 2 activities that show dedication and excellence (a spike) rather than many scattered Tier 4 activities. 

 

3. Write engaging essays.

 

Admissions officers don’t want students to use the same trite essay topics over and over. You should write essays that tell your own personal story in your own voice. In your essay, you want to show how and why you would be a good candidate for the school.

 

Each college at Cornell has their own essay question for applicants to answer. A lot of emphasis is placed on the essay, and applicants should take advantage of this space to not only show their voice and personality, but connect their interests to the school and major they have chosen. 

 

For more guidance on Cornell essays, check out our advice on how to write the 2021-2022 Cornell essays! 

 

4. Apply Early Decision.

 

Cornell offers an Early Decision (ED) deadline, and students who apply under this plan are at a significant advantage, considering the school accepted 21.4% of ED applicants last year. If you are 100% certain that Cornell is the right fit for you, you should consider applying ED rather than waiting for regular decision. However, there are still limitations of applying ED, like the inability to compare other schools and financial aid packages. You should seriously weigh the costs and benefits, and not just apply ED to get the process over with quicker.

 

5. Request great letters of recommendation.

 

Cornell admissions officers look at letters of recommendation to determine your character and whether you would be a good fit at the university. When you pick teachers to write your letters, pick ones who truly know you and can write about your personality in and outside of the classroom. Also, don’t limit yourself just to teachers in classes you excelled in—if you struggled in a class but learned a lot and developed a strong relationship with your teacher, they may be able to write a powerful letter. Check out our 9 tips for requesting letters of recommendation from teachers for more advice.

 

How to Apply to Cornell 

 

Deadlines

 

Application Timeline

Deadline

Early Decision

November 1

Regular Decision

January 2

 

While these are the main deadlines, be sure to check the website for school-specific and/or portfolio deadlines depending on the college you are applying to within Cornell.

 

Application Requirements

 

  • Common Application
  • School Report
  • Counselor Recommendation 
  • Teacher Letter of Recommendation (2)
  • Midyear Report
  • High School transcript
  • $80 application fee
  • Cornell University Supplement
  • Other items required by specific Cornell colleges such as interviews or portfolios. 
  • Optional: Standardized test scores

 

Learn more about Cornell

 

Want to learn more about Cornell? Check out some of our resources below!

 

 


Short Bio
Juliette is a senior at Cornell University studying Industrial & Labor Relations. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, running, drinking coffee, and exploring different hiking trails in Ithaca.

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