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How to Write the Cornell University Supplemental Essays

Cornell requires applicants to submit one supplemental essay in addition to their Common App personal essay. The supplemental essay’s prompt changes for each Cornell college, however, no matter which of the colleges you’re applying to, the word limit is 650 words, the same as the word limit for the Common App’s personal statement.

Each of these questions requires meticulous insight and a description of why you chose to apply to that school and major. You will need to think carefully about why you would be a good fit for the college you are applying to, and demonstrate your academic fit based on your academic interests, extracurricular activities, or work experiences. Your writing should speak to your intellectual potential and reflect values Cornell considers important: honesty, open-mindedness, initiative, and empathy.

When writing the essay for any of the colleges, be sure to be specific about how you will take advantage of Cornell’s learning opportunities and resources in order to take your aspirations to the next level. Create a narrative arc for yourself. How would each experience contribute to your current hook as an applicant? Will you be continuing your current high school activities? Some examples you can write about include academic programs, study abroad opportunities, campus organizations and facilities, and research opportunities with faculty. Lastly, highlight your best traits by being forward-looking and positive about the future Cornell holds for you.

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 Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals?

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 activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you. We encourage you to think about community broadly – this could include family, school, or local and global communities (300-word limit).

Optional: The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is dedicated to the exploration 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 in agriculture or are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.

Select all that apply:

  • My family owns or operates a farm
  • I have experience working in agriculture
  • I have interest in pursuing a career in agriculture

College of Human Ecology:

How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?

College of Arts and Sciences:

Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College.

These three colleges all ask the broader “why this school” question, which is an opportunity to showcase your creativity! In addition to writing about yourself, don’t forget to include pertinent details about the college. Avoid writing broad statements that can apply to Cornell University as a whole. Rather, research and write about the unique aspects of the college you are applying to that appeal to you. Describe how your current passions and past experiences will translate to your student life at Cornell within the classroom and amongst the campus community.

Key Tip: The school’s core values of “any person… any study” places special emphasis on interdisciplinary education. How will you take advantage of it?

For example, to combine your interests in marketing and social justice, you might be interested in joining the marketing team for Anabel’s Grocery, a student-run organization addressing food insecurity on campus. Or, you might be interested in participating in a paid research opportunity under the Nexus Scholars Program, available for any discipline within the College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition, please note that CALS offers two optional supplementary questions. Always take advantage of extra space to write more about yourself, your outlook, and your attitude towards community.

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning:

What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours?

Home to one of the top-ranked undergraduate architecture programs in the U.S., the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning asks you to write about your authentic passions. Demonstrating your interests, however niche, is crucial to writing a stellar essay. These interests can manifest in the form of favorite artists, architects, or artworks that influenced your art practice. Are there creative mechanisms you turn to for inspiration?

Key Tip: As with most supplemental essays, the key here is to be as specific as possible in writing about the “thing” you choose. The “thing” does not have to be strictly academic – for example, if you want to write about your love for designing three-dimensional spaces or perhaps your obsession with crochet, remember that a smooth transition is necessary between this activity and the way your passion applies to other interests. What are some past experiences that have allowed you to pursue your passions? What kind of qualities or characteristics does this activity demonstrate about who you are as an artist or creator? How do you plan to further explore this activity in college? Make sure that your “thing” shows a clear connection to what you plan to pursue at the AAP.

Next, pick and choose the elements from this college that excite you, including programs, professors, or extracurricular activities, and write about how they will complement your academic endeavors.

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(s) to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and/or the School of Hotel Administration).

Be as clear and as straightforward as possible when answering this question. Show how you fit the ideals of a business student that the Johnson College looks for (which can be found through their Mission & Values). The SC Johnson College has two branches of undergraduate study: Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. The School of Hotel Administration places emphasis on hospitality and management, while Dyson expands to applied economics and policy, finance, and strategy.

In consideration of the level of specialization this school offers, recall the past experiences that speak to your diligence, communication skills, interdisciplinary thinking, or entrepreneurial curiosity. What have you learned from your pursuits in business, finance, or any other kind of work? Are you good at working with others? Why are you applying to the Johnson College of Business, as opposed to the College of Arts and Sciences? How can studying at this college help you to achieve your future ambitions?

College of Engineering:

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.

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.
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?

For the College of Engineering, you should aim to highlight your collaboration and problem-solving skills– what specific occasion demonstrates your top-notch qualifications as an applicant? Show your enthusiasm for engineering by writing about what you specifically intend to study, the professors whose research interests align with your own and how your work at the College will help you succeed in your future career ambitions!

Key Tip: As an engineering student at Cornell, you will have the opportunity to participate in many team-building opportunities, so describe your strengths as a team player through past examples. Then, you will want to write a bit about how you intend to apply your skills to a Cornell Engineering opportunity. Start by exploring the programs and opportunities available outside of the classroom, such as multi-disciplinary programs that allow students to apply their classroom knowledge to the real world. These can include building water treatment plant technology or working with World Health to create a meaningful impact! Cornell is especially famous for its Engineering project teams, which represent 14 engineering majors and compete in national and international competitions.

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.

The courses offered by the ILR School are particularly unique, so if you’re thinking about pursuing law school or public policy, this college might just be the place for you! The school is well-known for studying human behavior from an economics perspective in order to understand how to improve societal efficiency. Therefore, when this prompt asks you to write about your past experiences, it means that the focus should be placed on the broader picture than on the literal experience. Discuss the best examples from your life that exemplify your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Once you discuss your experience and interests, you’ll want to relate them to your future course of study at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Read about ILR’s program and curriculum, and write about why you share the school’s goals to understand work, employment, and labor through a social science lens.

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.

A new school that opened just last year, the Brooks School of Public Policy seeks students interested in Policy Analysis and Management or Health Care Policy. As the Brooks School is another college with very specific requirements and programs of study, showing extensive research and expertise in their newly created opportunities would make your essay shine. Make sure to carefully study all their offerings including course selections, the Peer-Mentoring program, career paths, and research opportunities and to write about those that best suit your needs in an intentional manner!