How to Write the Cornell Supplemental Essays

Cornell University asks you to complete one essay in addition to the Common Application Personal essay. This maximum word count for this essay is 650 words, which is as long as the main Common App essay. Because this essay is quite lengthy, it allows you to cover much ground. Cornell’s website specifically advises: “The primary focus of your college interest essay should be what you intend to study at Cornell.”

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Human Ecology, each ask a version of the traditional ‘why this school?’ question. The prompts for these schools are as follows:

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?

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.

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?

If you are applying to one of these three colleges, the essay you will write can be a bit more straightforward than one you might write for Stanford and Yale, whose supplements ask for more creative essays.. As stated in the advice Cornell issues, you’ll want to devote most of your essay to your intended academic course of study. You should write about this in both an abstract and a concrete manner, and focus on both the past, present and future.

In an abstract sense, you’ll want to explain why the school to which you are applying within Cornell is the place you want to complete your undergraduate education. Every school in the world has a different pedagogy, and although Cornell has a unifying pedagogy as a university, each college or school within Cornell has values of its own. You’ll want to research your school and find and write about its educational value that most speaks to you.

For example, the “About” page for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences clearly states;

“We are a community with an uncommon sense of a common goal: to leave the world better than we found it. Ambitious? Sure. But Cornell CALS has been changing the world for over a century and will be doing so for a century more.”

You could write about how you look forward to becoming educated in a community of like minded people – peers who want to improve the world in which they find themselves.

The College of Arts and Science provides one possible answer within the prompt when they write “any person…any study.. This speaks to the diversity of academic studies available to students, as well as to the diverse student body attending the college. This is a vastly different experience than you would have at a specialized school; so what attracts you about this diversity?

The same theory applies to the College of Human Ecology. Read through the About page and pinpoint one or two aspects of the college that interests you, the interdisciplinary nature of the program for example, and write about why you see value in this pedagogy. You’ll want to tie your discussion of the school values into a discussion of your own interests and goals for college.

That leads us to the more concrete reasons as to why you are applying to your school. What are your specific academic interests? Which classes will help you to explore your interests within your intended major? Is there a specific professor you look forward to doing research with?

Outside of the classroom, which extracurricular activities will help you to explore your academic interests? Is there a professor whose lab you can see yourself joining as a research assistant? Is there a club that explores your academic interest in a professional setting? You’ll also want to speak to your past community involvements in your own community, and how you can see that translating to your life at Cornell. No matter which college you are applying to, your essay should demonstrate that you would be a good academic and cultural fit as a Cornell student.

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?

Creativity and passion are the keys to answering this prompt well. You’ll want to be as authentic as possible in choosing which “thing” or “things” to write about. DOn’t avoid a topic because it is niche. If you’re obsessed with an architect or artist, this is your chance to gush about this person! Whether you want to study art, architecture or planning, you’ll need to demonstrate your interest in the subject matter. Then, you should dive into past experiences that have allowed you to explore your “thing” and solidified your interest in continuing to study it at the college level. Did a piece at a museum lead you to take an online course or influence your art practice? What do you look forward to studying if you attend this college? Write about specific classes or professors you want to study under, and extracurricular activities you look forward to joining in order to complement your academic pursuits.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: What kind of a business student are you? The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business offers two distinct business programs, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. Please describe how your interests and ambitions can be met through one or both of the Schools within the College.

You’ll want to directly answer the first question the prompt poses: what kind of business student are you? Ideally, the kind of business student you are and the kind of business student the Johnson College look for have a lot in common.

First, you’ll want to read through the college’s Mission and Values. Choose the value that most speaks to who you are among the ones described. Perhaps you are extremely diligent and take pride in your maintaining integrity and high standards in your work, so you write about excellence, described as “insist(ing) on the highest quality of execution”. Or, as a curious and interdisciplinary thinker, you choose to write about inclusion, described as “embrac(ing) diversity in all its forms. Collaborate across disciplines and colleges.” Don’t force yourself to fit each of the values described, but highlight the parts of yourself that align with some of them.

Next, you’ll want to write about a past experience you’ve had as a business student which demonstrates that you hold one or more of the values described by the college. Devote this portion of your essay to a reflection on what the experience or experiences taught you about business.

Then, you’ll want to discuss what this experience left you wanting to learn. This will allow you to explain why you intend to pursue your studies at one or both of the programs mentioned in the prompt. Why do you want to attend a business school specifically, as opposed to studying a related subject in the College or Arts and Science. Tie your academic interests into your future ambitions. Perhaps you interned in an HR department the summer after junior year, and it left you wanting to learn more about both HR and management. The company you interned for was a large corporation, and now you think you want to work for a large Fortune 500 company in the future. You can write about how the Dyson School’s program will both prepare you for such a career and connect you with industry professionals.

College of Engineering: Tell us about what excites you most about Cornell Engineering and/or studying engineering at Cornell University. How do you see yourself becoming a part of the Cornell Engineering community?

First, let your admissions officer get to know you and what motivates and excites you about studying engineering. Was it an experience you had taking apart a toy as a child, building your own computer, or learning a cool engineering concept in school or in a movie?

This prompt also asks you to write about how you envision your academic journey. In writing your essay, let your enthusiasm for what you intend to study shine through. You can write about what you look forward to studying within the classroom; the classes you look forward to taking and the content you look forward to learning, as well as the professors whose classes you are excited to take.

You should also write about what you look forward to getting involved in outside of the classroom. Cornell Engineering has a series of organizations and opportunities for student involvement. Read through the Student Experience website, and choose one or two opportunities you could see yourself joining as a Cornell student. This will allow your admissions officer to get an idea of what you would be like as a member of the Cornell community.

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.

This school is unlike any other at Cornell, and your job is to explain why it’s a school you’re interested in attending. Spend some time understanding the program and what you might expect to learn through the curriculum. Once you pinpoint the class or aspect of the pedagogy that excites you about the school, you’ll want to explain your past experiences that have led you to have an interest in studying work, employment and labor through a social science lens.

Keep in mind while the prompt asks you to write about your past experiences, you should use this as a means to write about your broader interests. This means that you should focus more on the big picture than the literal experience you are writing about. Once you discuss your experience and interests, you’ll want to relate it to your future course of study at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.