What Is Cornell’s Acceptance Rate & Admissions Requirements?

The largest member of the Ivy League, Cornell University is composed of 14,000 undergraduates from 50 states and 120 countries, 41% of whom have multicultural backgrounds. It is located in picturesque Ithaca, New York, in a region known for its gorges. While the school of Hotel Administration in the College of Business is arguably its most-renowned program, Cornell is composed of seven undergraduate schools:

 

  • 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)

 

Is Cornell your top-choice college? Here’s what you should know to get into this Ivy League university, from admissions logistics to tips on optimizing your profile.

 

Applying to Cornell: A Quick Review

 

Cornell accepts the Common Application and Universal College Application. You will be required to apply directly to one of the seven undergraduate colleges and may not change your decision after submitting. If you decide to transfer colleges after matriculation, you will be required to undergo a formal transfer process.

 

Additionally, you must submit your:

 

  • School report
  • Counselor recommendation
  • Two teacher evaluations
  • Midyear report
  • Official transcript
  • Supplemental Essays
  • SAT or ACT (writing not required; Cornell superscores the SAT but not the ACT)

 

SAT Subject Tests are only required for the Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences. For Arts and Sciences, you may submit two subjects of your choice. It’s best, however, to take tests that correlate to your interests and desired area of study. For Engineering, you must submit a mathematics test (you should submit Math II to demonstrate that you excel in the more challenging test) and a science.

 

Individual schools have additional requirements, such as a portfolio or interview.

 

Criteria for different schools

 

Since you’ll apply directly to a college within the larger university, there is no university-wide set of criteria for all applicants. Instead, you’ll be evaluated against the standards of the program to which you apply.

 

For example, if you apply to the school of Hotel Administration in the College of Business, you’ll want to demonstrate that your hospitality experience and passion for the industry. On the other hand, if you apply to the College of Engineering to study computer science, you’ll want to have programming-related extracurriculars on your resume.

 

Cornell’s Acceptance Rate is 10.3%

 

With an acceptance rate of 10.3%, admission to Cornell is extremely competitive. For the the class of 2022, 51,324 students applied and 5,448 were accepted. 3,295 students matriculated as first-time freshmen in Fall 2018.

 

Other admissions statistics include:

 

Standardized test scores (middle 50% range):
SAT Reading: 680-750
SAT Math: 710-790
SAT Total: 1410-1530
ACT Composite: 32-34

 

Of the 23.6% of enrolling students reporting their class rank, 82.8% were in the top 10% of their graduating high school class, 96.6% were in the top quarter, and 99.5% were in the top half.

 

So, How Do You Get Into Cornell?

 

The Cornell Admission website states:

 

“Our admission process is highly individualized, and we spend lots of time evaluating whether you’ll be a good fit for the culture and philosophy of our university.”

 

As with many highly selective schools, Cornell’s applicants tend to excel academically and are involved in leadership roles in many extracurricular activities. The ones who stand out show exceptional achievement and showcase their strengths accordingly. Consider what your hook is, and make sure you present it in a meaningful way. Perhaps you’re the first member of your family to attend college and faced unique challenges growing up. Maybe you’re a star oboe player and have participated in extracurriculars such as All-State Orchestra.

 

It’s important to tell a cohesive story and give your application a theme that is obvious to the admissions committee. For example, if you’re interested in pursuing engineering, you’ll want to demonstrate academic rigor in areas like math and science by excelling in AP-level courses, as well as participating in extracurriculars such as programming competitions. Remember to quantify your accomplishments by showing evidence and being specific, as well as ranking them in the order in which they are most meaningful to you. For instance, if you tutored a student in math, you might state the percentage the student gained on her tests.

 

Also, remember to demonstrate interest in Cornell by visiting the campus, asking questions, exploring any admissions materials you receive, and ensuring that you are a good fit. 

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How to Make Your Application Stand Out

 

  • Apply to the right school.

 

In many of the school-specific supplemental essays, you’ll need to explain your reasons for applying to that school. You should be able to clearly define your goals for your program of study and choose one that correlates to your passions and strengths.

 

It’s not a good idea to apply to a school that has a higher acceptance rate than your desired school with the hopes of transferring internally later. Cornell has a formal internal transfer process with different requirements by school, and some programs don’t accept transfers at all. Instead of going through this process, it’s best to apply to your desired program upfront.

 

  • Demonstrate intellectual rigor and curiosity.

 

All Ivy League colleges seek intellectual prowess in the classroom and beyond, and it’s not enough to simply have a strong academic background. While you should excel in a range of high-level courses to demonstrate your passion for learning, you must also be a multi-dimensional person with demonstrated passions and goals.

 

  • Show involvement in your community.

 

Cornell seeks students who are involved in unique experiences—in their extracurriculars, work, community service, and beyond. Emphasize your role in different communities to which you belong, such as your school, religious institution, neighborhood, and elsewhere.

 

What if You Get Rejected?

 

Before you apply, make sure your final list is well-balanced among safety, target, and reach colleges. This will increase your chances of being admitted to a good-fit school.

 

Being denied admission is disappointing, but it’s a tough reality in college admissions. It’s important to take a step back and regroup. If you get rejected from Cornell, here’s what you can do:

 

  • Keep it in perspective.

 

Even if Cornell was your top choice, chances are, you’ll find a way to make a college that did accept you work. College really is what you make of it, and if you put effort into adjusting to another school by joining clubs, working hard in your classes, and cultivating a social life, you’ll likely find that you can make a fulfilling college experience for yourself, even if you end up at a college that wasn’t your top choice.

 

  • Take a gap year.

 

If you had your heart set on Cornell or received bad news from the other colleges on your list, one option is to take a gap year and reapply next admissions cycle. Keep in mind that this is risky, and it’s often better to accept a spot at another college and take a gap year there. You can also consider transferring after you’ve matriculated elsewhere, although the acceptance rate for transfers is low. For the 2017-2018 school year, Cornell accepted 17.89% of transfer candidates (852 out of 4,762 students).

 

If you do decide to take a gap year, make sure you have a productive plan for the year. You might undertake a research project, volunteer, study to improve your SAT scores, or take classes non-matriculated at a local college.

 

To learn more about Cornell, read:

 

The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Cornell

How to Write the Cornell University Supplemental Essays 2018-2019

 

For more personalized expertise on getting into Cornell, consider CollegeVines’s College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with an admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal application specialist will help you with branding, essays, and interviews, and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the application process. 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.