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Cornell University 2021-22 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Please note this is the guide for the 2021-22 essay prompts. As soon as the 2022-23 prompts are available, we will be updating this guide -- stay tuned!

Regular Decision: 

Cornell University 2021-22 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 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.

You’re never going to guess what we’re about to recommend! (Okay, maybe you will). Before you even put pen to paper, do some research. Spend a little time on the school website, campus, or at local Cornell events to learn everything you can about the academic offerings, culture, and curriculum. Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences is the most generalized of Cornell’s colleges, so take this opportunity to show your well-rounded worth. Why have you chosen not to pursue a more specific or vocation-oriented pathway at this point? What will you gain from having access to a diverse array of academic departments? Is there departmental cross-pollination that excites you? What about an Arts and Sciences education at Cornell compels you, specifically?


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).

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 issues do you care about when it comes to business, why are they important to you, and which Cornell program will help you both address them and achieve your goals?


College of Engineering: Instructions: Applicants must write responses to two of the three essay options. They may choose which two prompts they write about—their choice. Each response is limited to a maximum of 200 words.

  • Engineering is inherently collaborative. What does collaboration mean to you? What strengths do you bring to the collaborative process?

Cornell wants to know how you will become part of the Cornell Engineering community. More specifically, admissions is seeking to unearth whether you have the skills needed to not only create and succeed, but also work with others and contribute new ideas. 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 like-minded peers. Whatever your reasoning, make it personal and you’ll be sure to impress admissions.

  • For you, what makes Cornell Engineering special? Why do you want to attend Cornell Engineering?

You can get an engineering degree at thousands of schools across the country, so why are you so keen to study 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. 

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

This is a classic community essay, through and through. Admissions officers want to know not only that you value diversity, but which diverse perspectives you, specifically, will bring to the Cornell community. Where do you come from? What has shaped you as a person and how has that made your perspective unique? What you address can be reflective of larger cultural constructs or a trait specific to you and only you. Consider why your particular background or experience will be useful in an academic setting. How will it help inspire and/or inform others? Were you raised in an indigenous community? Do you identify as nonbinary? Have you lived on three different continents? What has influenced your identity? What do you believe and how will your worldview bring something of value to the engineering community at Cornell?


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!

We try our best to make sure our guides are as up to date as possible, but we still recommend confirming each prompt and word count with the school in question.
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