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Cornell University 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Cornell University 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 school-specific essay of 650 words or 2 essays of 250 words each

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Community

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.

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)

Admissions wants to know what has made you into the person you are today and how those experiences will affect the way you engage with and contribute to the Cornell community. Start by thinking about the kinds of experiences you’ve had in the communities you’ve been a part of thus far. Then, think about how those meaningful encounters will affect your time at Cornell. Maybe you had to fill in as head camp counselor when your team lead was sick—did that teach you the importance of stepping up when unexpected opportunities arise? Remember: admissions wants to invite students to campus who are excited about the chance to meet people from all walks of life and won’t shy away from newness and difference. So, tell a story about an experience that has shaped you and connect the lessons you learned to the ways in which you will contribute to inclusivity on campus next fall. (And though it’s tempting to mention how excited you are to join the a capella group “Here Comes Treble,” let’s leave The Office references in the drafts folder.)

In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words) that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.

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.

This prompt is very simple: Why do you want to study Public Policy and how will the Brooks School help you to realize your dreams? If you’re pursuing a degree in Health Care Policy or Policy Analysis and Management as an undergraduate, it’s likely that you have a very personal tie to social issues and other systemic problems that impact the public domain. This is your opportunity to share your story with admissions. Maybe you are passionate about using your persuasive writing and critical thinking skills to implement policies that will benefit the earth (and all its inhabitants). Perhaps you’re eager to take action to close the gender wage gap or reimagine the U.S. healthcare system. Whatever your reasoning may be, show admissions that you have thought carefully about your decision to not only pursue public policy, but pursue it at Cornell.

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. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals? (Required)

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 concrete reasons and practical experiences to back up your chosen course of study. Why couldn’t you pursue your interests in a more general liberal arts environment? Be specific.

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. (200-word limit)

Cornell wants to hear about an experience you engaged in that made a positive impact on a community close to your heart. Your answer doesn’t have to be connected to Agriculture and Life Sciences in any way, so let your mind wander. Maybe you bring your therapy dog to your local hospital once a month and you love watching everyone’s eyes light up the moment Spunky enters the room. Perhaps you challenged your fear of public speaking to deliver an address at a town hall to advocate for greener public transportation options. When have you gotten involved for the greater good? This essay is optional, but why would you pass up the opportunity to provide admissions with more information about yourself and your motivations? 

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 (ex. 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).

If there’s any information that you didn’t include in the two previous optional short essays, this is the place for you to expand as you wish.

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.

This is a simple Why Essay, even if the prompt is verbose. Applicants need to write an essay explaining why they want to study their major, specifically, at AAP. Admissions is looking for evidence of previous interest/experience in your major of choice, confirmation that you’ve taken the time to explore Cornell’s resources and programs thoroughly, and (if you’re hoping to pursue a 5-year professional degree program) an indication that you’ve already started putting your passions into practice with a project. You’d be wise to write an essay that weaves together your interest in architecture, art, and/or urban planning with your vision for the future, hopefully one that includes graduating from AAP.

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.

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, opportunities, 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? Finally, don’t forget to weave your “passion for learning” into your response in order to address both questions.

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).

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: 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: 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. 

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 Cornell’s Environmental Engineering program will propel you toward your dream career in city planning and hazardous waste management. 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 (besides Andy’s school spirit in The Office), admissions wants you to describe that interest and then connect it to your aspirations. 

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 your opportunity to not only show admissions that you’re paying attention to the world around you, but also demonstrate your creativity and vision. Start by brainstorming a few problems or challenges—big and small—that bother you or impact your life in some capacity. Maybe it’s rampant wildfires or accessibility issues in your community. Although the scope and scale of your problem can vary, remember that Cornell is looking to accept applicants who want to be a part of the solution. Show that you’re not only informed and concerned, but also actively engaged in addressing the problem head on (in one to three innovative ways).

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?

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 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.

Admissions wants you to build a bridge between your past experiences and your decision to apply to CHE. Then they want you to kick it up a notch and build a (more theoretical) bridge from CHE to your future aspirations. 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. The more you can demonstrate a deep familiarity with CHE and your vision for your future, the better!

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!

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School Stats:

State: New York
Acceptance Rate: 7%
Undergrad Population: 15,735
Out-of-State Tuition: $68,380
In-State Tuition: $46,056
Ivy League: Yes
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