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Cornell University 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

Cornell University 2020-21 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 school-specific essay of 650 words

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why

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?

With such a specific professional focus, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is asking for an equally specific commitment from you. Make sure you have real concrete reasons and practical experiences to back up your chosen course of study. Why couldn’t you just pursue your interests in a more general liberal arts environment?


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? 

If you’re having déjà vu, maybe this will jog your memory: “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time.” It’s the first line of Common App prompt #6. So if you’ve already written an essay on this topic, you have the extra challenge of coming up with something totally new; even if it’s the same question, you need to show a new side of who you are. Otherwise, our advice remains the same: take this opportunity to let admissions peek into your brain. As a future artist or architect, you need to show that you have a process for getting inspired and playing with ideas; and you need to demonstrate the discipline and motivation to see them through in your response.


College of Arts and Sciences: Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into their academic interests, discover new realms of intellectual inquiry, and chart their own path through the College. Tell us why the depth, breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum are ideally suited to exploring the areas of study that excite you. 

This why essay for the College of Arts and Sciences focuses specifically on their curriculum. So our first piece of advice is the same as always: do your research. Spend a little time on the school website, campus, or local Cornell events to learn everything you can about the academic experience. Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences is the most general of Cornell’s offerings, so take this opportunity to show your well-rounded worth. Why have you chosen not to pursue a more specific or professionally-oriented pathway at this point? What will you gain from having access to a diverse array of academic departments?


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.

Business College hopefuls have also been tasked with writing a why essay, but in this case, it’s more about your fit than the schools’ offerings. Show how your own goals and interests align with the school’s programs and opportunities. But more importantly, demonstrate how your background and pathway to business school sets you apart from your peers. You’ll need to learn how to write a good value proposition eventually, so consider this essay your first foray into marketing — what are your passions when it comes to business, and which Cornell program will help you best achieve your goals?


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? 

The first part of this is a version of the classic Why essay: Why do you want to study engineering a Cornell? The second part is a classic Community essay: How will you assimilate into the Cornell community (bonus points if you can touch on how you will contribute to the community!). 

So, first things first: You can get an engineering degree at thousands of schools across the country, so why are you so keen to study engineering at Cornell, specifically? Remember that your choices here aren’t set in stone, so don’t stress over your vision; just show that you’ve done your research. Maybe you fell head over heels for Cornell when you joined your older brother on his campus visit while you were still in grade school. Maybe there’s an alum who is doing what you aspire to do, and you want to follow in their footsteps! Whatever it is that draws you to Cornell, admissions wants you to describe that motivation and then connect it to your aspirations. 

Now onto the second part: Cornell wants to know how you will become part of the Cornell Engineering community. Maybe you can’t wait to join a Project Team and use the skills you learned in robotics class to help your team build space exploration vehicles. Perhaps you can’t wait to discuss the limitations (or lack thereof) of quantum physics with your fellow nerds. Whatever your reasoning may be, make it personal and you’ll be sure to impress admissions.


College of Human Ecology: How have your experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology. How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?

Short, sweet, and to the point, this prompt secretly wants to make sure you know what human ecology is before you apply. Unlike many of Cornell’s specific schools, this one doesn’t necessarily flow directly into a particular career path so it’s important for you to demonstrate that you have a plan before committing to such a focused course of study.


College 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.

What subject could you talk about for hours on end with your friends, family, or even a complete stranger? Maybe it’s the need for legislation on regulating toxic chemicals in everything from our cosmetics to our food and water sources. Perhaps it’s the impending water crisis, and the public policy that you believe would change the way Americans use and think about water. With this prompt, it’s a good idea that you touch on when or where your passion first began, how it developed over time, and how you are planning to pursue this issue or interest at Cornell. This prompt gives you a wonderful opportunity to reveal something new about yourself through discussing your enthusiastic engagement with a given issue; in the process, you will showcase your curious, well-rounded nature to admissions — and huzzah for that!

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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