The Cornell University supplement asks you to answer one general essay question and then one essay that differs depending on the specific college you are applying to within the university. Below, please find AcceptU’s advice on answering the different prompts:

In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to both the Cornell University essay question and the essay prompt that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.

Cornell University Essay Question

In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “… any person … any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. (350 word limit)

Talk about your background. Where are you from? Or what is your family like? Or your community? How did that affect or shape who you are, how you think, what you believe? 

Cornell is deeply committed to all types of diversity – diversity of thought, religion, race, sexuality. Cornell also values people who are from different socioeconomic backgrounds, political persuasions, belief systems and cultures. 

What will you bring to the Cornell campus and community? What contributions will you make based on who you are?

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: 

(Required) Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals? (650-word limit) 

Be specific! Which major(s) and program(s) in CALS are right for you? Can you identify particular research projects, professors or classes that match your profile and excite you? Outside your intended major, are there other aspects of CALS – or related fields of study in other Cornell colleges – that interest you?

What are your short-term and long-term goals? How will CALS launch your future graduate studies and/or career?

(Optional): At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good. Please elaborate on an experience where you had a meaningful impact on people, a community, and/or an environment of importance to you. (200-word limit)

This is an optional question, but if you’ve had any experiences that speak to helping others, you should consider writing this essay. Have you helped others in your school, town or community? Perhaps you volunteered for a local food bank, reading program or park cleanup? Maybe you taught the English language to those who speak other languages. In short, your public service doesn’t have to be agricultural- or science-related. CALS wants to know more about you and your character and how you’ve contributed to helping others; it’s a good indication that you’ll continue to do good for others in college and beyond.

(Optional): Cornell CALS is dedicated to purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An “agricultural entity” for the purpose of this question is defined as cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.). 

Select all that apply:

  • A primary source of income for my parent/guardian(s) comes from ownership of or employment by an agricultural entity.
  • My extended family owns or operates an agricultural entity.
  • I have experience working in an agricultural entity.
  • I have interest in pursuing a career in an agricultural entity.                                           

Please feel free to share additional details (optional). (100-word limit)

You’ll only need to answer this question if you have a background in agriculture or hope to pursue a major, and then career, in agriculture. Did you grow up in an agrarian community, or on a farm? Do you hope someday to work in an agricultural-related field, including food production, land management and natural resources, a farm bureau association or founding and operating a winery? If so, let CALS know about your goals!

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: 

How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B. Arch applicants, please provide an example of how a creative project or passion sparks your motivation to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students may want to emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues. (650 word limit)

This is an incredibly important question for AAP. In essence, tell the college what you want to study and why, but you need to go into a lot of depth and detail. As the question notes, you will need to be clear and indicate your intended degree program.

The B.Arch. at Cornell is always the top-rated architecture program in the country – in addition to having an impressive portfolio, you’ll need to impress the admissions committee and professors with your passion for architecture. As the question asked, what – in particular – sparked this interest? 

The BFA applicants will also need a top portfolio along with an articulate statement about why they want to study art, but, more importantly, how they will study art at Cornell. There is a Fiber Science and Apparel Design major in the College of Human Ecology, along with a major called Design + Environmental Analysis. Might you take courses in these subjects to inform your work in the Art major? What about courses in the history of art? Or taking advantage of the famed art museum on campus? Maybe you’re interested in Asian art, and thus you’ll take courses in the Asian Studies major. As the question asks, be sure to do your research and determine how to integrate other areas at CU into your major.

Finally, the Urban and Regional Studies major is very interesting and very niche! If this is your chosen area of study, tell the admissions committee why. Are you interested in urban planning, or environmental considerations for cities’ growth? Maybe you are more invested in the built environment, or green spaces, or public transportation or the politics of planning communities? Discuss and describe, in detail, why this major is the right fit for you.

College of Arts and Sciences: 

At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning is shaping your academic journey, and what areas of study or majors excite you and why. Your response should convey how your interests align with the College, and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 word limit)

In short, what do you want to study and why? But don’t just tell Cornell your intended major; instead, describe what about that major excites you – perhaps you’ll want to identify certain professors, classes or research projects. Or maybe it’s the chance to double major. What other subjects interest you? What about various minors (concentrations) that A&S offers its students?

Don’t be afraid also to highlight other areas of study at the university that can round out an A&S student’s education.

Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 word limit)

The Brooks School at Cornell is new! The School offers two undergraduate majors: Policy Analysis and Management (PAM) and Health Care Policy (HCP). Study the curricular requirements for both majors. Which is right for you? Why? Be specific and explain how your background – courses you’ve taken that align as well as extracurricular or summer experiences that align with PAM or HCP – has prepared you for these areas of study. As always, be sure to answer the question: What are your goals after Cornell? How will a major in Brooks help you achieve those goals?

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: 

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 word limit)

The Cornell College of Business is incredibly highly selective. Thus, you need to demonstrate – in your application and essay – your interest in and passion for business. If you are specifically applying to the School of Hotel Administration, then you should have experience in the hospitality industry, including a grocery store, country club, travel agency, hotel or restaurant, to name several examples. If your interest is more generally in business and management, then you should have a business internship or experience with a business club at school, or perhaps you’ve begun a program or startup activity in your community.

These work and extracurricular activities will then allow you to better articulate what type of business student you are: social entrepreneur or future business leader or Wall Street quant, for example. The College of Business doesn’t know what type of academics and career path make sense for you – your job is thus to tell Cornell.

College of Engineering: 

Instructions: All applicants are required to write two supplemental essays. Each has a limit of 250 words. Essay 1 is required of all applicants. For Essay 2, you must choose between Question A and Question B.

Essay 1

Required response (250-word limit)

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about.

What exactly do you want to study within the College of Engineering? Can you name one or two majors that interest you? If so, talk about these particular fields of study and why they excite you. What in your background has led you to these areas of interest? Perhaps you can draw on research or internship experiences, if applicable, as well as courses that you’ve taken, or teachers who have inspired you.

What if you don’t know exactly which field within engineering to pursue? That’s okay too, as long as you can provide some insight into the major(s) that you’re leaning towards. As above, describe why engineering is the right discipline for you.

Cornell Engineering is one of the top engineering schools in the world – and CU already is aware of this! It’s best not to point this out, but instead be specific: Are there interesting courses or research projects or famous professors that drew you to Cornell Engineering? 

Essay 2

Choose either Question A and Question B. (250-word limit)

  • Question A: Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem.

This is an exciting new question for Cornell Engineering. It’s your chance to be creative and to show the admissions committee how you think. How do you analyze a problem? How do you go about finding a solution? What steps are needed? You don’t need to know everything (or even much) about engineering – instead, Cornell will teach you this. But you do need to demonstrate that you are not afraid to think boldly and creatively, that you have the potential to effect positive change with your new ideas. 

One word of advice: If you know what field of study you’d like to pursue, perhaps the problem can be related. For example, if you want to study civil and structural engineering, maybe there is a bridge issue in your city. If you want to study environmental engineering, perhaps there is a wastewater plant concern in your town. If you want to study bioengineering, maybe there is a health issue that you or a family member is facing. (It’s not required, but it could be another way to reinforce to Cornell Engineering admissions your chosen area of interest.)

  • Question B: Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Engineering the best solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and/or the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?

Cornell Engineering is asking this question precisely because it is seeking a diverse group of students! Thus, in this essay, you want to demonstrate how you will add to the diversity of the College of Engineering. Perhaps you are a member of a group that is underrepresented in engineering. Or maybe you come from a rural location in the US, or a country that sends very few students to study in college in the US. Maybe you are the first in your family to attend college, or you have a unique academic interest that will contribute meaningfully to your classroom discussions at Cornell.

Don’t just assume, though, that you’re automatically contributing to the diversity based on, say, your religion or sexuality or geographic origin. Be sure to answer the question: What is your voice that you will contribute to the engineering community? How will you contribute? Finally, be sure to include why you think it is important that you are part of this diverse college of scholars.

College of Human Ecology: 

How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (Refer to our essay application tips before you begin.) (650 word limit)

The College of Human Ecology is very unique! Thus, as an applicant, you should not only review and study the website and talk to student ambassadors from CHE, but you should visit the college in person to understand the mission of CHE and the majors within CHE.

What in your background makes you a great match for Human Ecology? What do you hope to learn at Cornell? What do you hope to do someday in the future? How would you leverage your degree from Human Ecology to work towards those goals?

School of Industrial and Labor Relations: 

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 word limit)

Like Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations is the only one of its kind in the Ivy League. (And, there are not very many ILR schools throughout the country.) You should not only review and study the website and talk to student ambassadors from ILR, but you should visit the school in person to understand the mission of ILR as well as the academic concentrations within the school.

What in your background makes you a great match for studying industrial and labor relations? Are you passionate about studying applied social sciences, in particular, work, employment and social issues and policy? What do you hope to do someday in the future and how would a degree from ILR allow you to work towards those goals?

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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