Cornell University Essay Guide

In this Cornell University Essay Guide, we will cover how to approach the 2020-2021 Cornell University supplementary essays. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


If there is one thing that Cornell University prides itself on, it’s the colleges. That’s why Cornell’s motto is, “Any person, any study.” It means that any major, profession, or field — whether it be the sciences or humanities — has a place at Cornell.

Unless you apply to the college of arts and sciences, you’ll have to not only pick a specific school to apply to, but also apply to a specific major within that school. For many applicants, this can be daunting, which is why we recommend that you research each school and its majors beforehand. If you do decide to attend Cornell, you will have the choice (up until sophomore year) to change majors.

The following supplements provide another opportunity for you to explain your passions and interests, and why Cornell would be the best place to for you to pursue them. These essays are two-fold: you want to explain why both the college and your chosen major are a good fit for you.

Because they are on the longer side, you should approach them as you would the common app essay. It’s important that you show authenticity and depth, all while being concise. There are eight colleges within Cornell, so take the time to understand which would be the best fit for you before you begin writing.

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?

First off, it’s important to note that CALS is one of the land grant and “state” colleges within Cornell. This means that if you are a New York resident, your tuition will be discounted.

Second, there are about 22 majors in CALS, and although it is called the college of “Agriculture and Life Sciences,” not every major focuses on science or agriculture. For example, the communications, statistics, and data science majors are all within CALS.

Cornell admissions appreciates tangible examples and anecdotes that demonstrate your interest in a major or field of study. Therefore, for this essay, focus on how your past experiences — whether they be academic or extracurricular activities —have led to your current interests. It’s important to give specific examples. Select a main theme to discuss, then delve deeper within the essay.

It is also helpful to reference professors in your chosen major that are researching a topic or teaching a class relating to what you want to study. Peruse Cornell’s CALS website if you’re unsure. Remember, you’re trying to show how CALS, specifically, would be the best college for you, and why your chosen major would be the best field of study for you to pursue.

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?

Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning is where the fine arts majors, urban planning, and architecture (a five year program) majors are housed. So, you will submit this supplement in addition to submitting a portfolio.

For this question, it is important to curate a response that gives the admissions officers concrete examples, but also portrays your creative side. Using descriptive language and vivid anecdotes, delve deeply into your passions (and your preferred artistic medium(s)) to exemplify why you wish to pursue them at Cornell.

This is also the space to talk about your aspirations for the future beyond college, especially since the architectural and urban planning majors are pre-professional. This essay is the same length as the common app essay, so make sure that you’re giving the admissions team a different, new side of you. Don’t just repeat your personal statement. You want to show that you are multi-faceted and passionate about what you are pursuing.

College of Arts and Sciences

Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interest, 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.

The College of Arts and Sciences is the liberal arts college of Cornell University. There, you can major in History, Biology, Government, Spanish, or even American Studies. The countless majors are also accompanied by countless minors, which you can reference in this essay if you are interested in studying two different (or similar) skill sets.

You do not have to focus on one major or concentration in this essay, but I recommend that you be specific when talking about your interests. For example, if you’d like to pursue a pre-med track but you’re also interested in the social sciences, discuss how, for you, these fields relate to each other. I recommend starting off with an anecdote that explains where you developed your interests or illustrates how you have actively applied your passions throughout high school. Then, discuss how you hope to apply them in college or a future career.

Also, don’t forget to explain why you’re interested in those subjects at Cornell University, in particular. Because most universities have liberal arts colleges, this aspect of your essay is important. Reference Cornell professors with research projects that pique your interest, refer to classes you would like to take, or talk about a course of study that is specific to Cornell that aligns with your interests. Make this essay as Cornell-specific as you can.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management: The Dyson School is unique by design. What motivates you to apply to Dyson and where do you plan to go from here?

Cornell University is in the process of developing an undergraduate business program that used to be part of CALS, but is now a separate school. The business major at Cornell, Applied Economics and Management (or “AEM”) is very pre-professional and concentrations can range from marketing to finance.

For this essay, I would focus on any business experience that you may have had in your past four years of high school, and explain why you want to develop these skills in college. This can encompass a wide range of experiences — have you held any positions in student government that involved planning, communications, or finance? What about in a club or on a team? Have you participated in any personal projects where you’ve cultivated important skills for business?

Start off the essay by establishing your career aspirations and explaining why and how the college could help you achieve them. If possible, mention the course of study you would choose and specific classes within that field. It’s also beneficial to talk about extracurricular clubs within the college that would help you develop your skills (you can find these on the website). You do not have to lay out your life plans in this essay, but give the admissions team a full explanation of why you’re interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in business, especially beyond the classroom.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

School of Hotel Administration (SHA): How have your interests and experiences influenced your decision to apply to the School of Hotel Administration? How does this decision relate to your future plans and aspirations?

My advice for this essay would be similar to my guidance above, as both majors/colleges have similar course work, and students often pursue the same internships and jobs after graduating.

My main caveat for this essay, however, is that the School of Hotel Administration (SHA) focuses largely on hospitality, and the hotel school classes reflect that. Therefore, if you are applying to SHA, you need to explain why the hospitality aspect of business is particularly interesting to you.

Additionally, the admissions team would like to see hospitality experience (of any sort) within your essay and application. The hotel school is specific to Cornell University and differs slightly from the business major. So, I suggest researching and incorporating other aspects of SHA that are less business-focused, such as the culinary class or the establishment nights (when students run the hotel restaurant for a night). Expand your essay beyond the business aspect of SHA by explaining why hospitality interests you and why Cornell is the ideal school for you in that respect.

College of Engineering

Tell us about your interest in engineering or what you hope to achieve with a degree in engineering. Describe what appeals to you about Cornell Engineering and how it specifically relates to your engineering interest or aspirations.

For this essay, you can describe experiences from high school that helped cultivate your interest in engineering, such as Science Olympiad, coding, or robotics club. However, Cornell University is very focused on the pre-professional aspect of college, so try to expand beyond just your STEM-based experiences, and showcase your humanity. Explain how engineering would help you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re looking to pursue a biomedical engineering degree, explain how would your degree could help you change the pharmaceutical industry, or address the opioid crisis.

As an engineer at Cornell, you will have free credits to pursue a minor. If you wish to do so, include how an engineering background AND your minor would help you in the professional world and beyond the classroom. In your essay, emphasize not only that your experiences have prepared you for those difficult engineering classes, but also that a well-rounded education through Cornell’s engineering program will benefit you in the long run.

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?

First off, it’s important to note that Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology is another land grant college (meaning, there is discounted tuition for New York state residents).

I am a Human Ecology graduate, and one of the most important parts of the college to note is that the majors are very interdisciplinary, yet also very pre-professional. Therefore, I stress that when choosing a major, it’s important to understand not only what the coursework is like, but also how the major will help you pursue a certain career. My Policy Analysis and Management major focused around policy with an emphasis on statistics, economics, sociology, and government. However, I wrote my essay about wanting to concentrate on health policy and pursue a career in hospital management.

In this essay, think beyond the course work, but also make sure to tie in classes or content-specific research at Cornell that will help you grow the skills necessary for your profession. The majors in Human Ecology are unique and specific — if you decide to apply to a major within the school, you’ll have to be very precise in your essay on why that major would be a good fit for you.

Use examples from volunteering or extracurricular experiences. Create a narrative and story that expands beyond what you’ll learn in the classroom, that can be woven throughout your application and this essay.

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests.

The School of Industrial and Labor Relations is also another land grant college (meaning, there is discounted tuition for New York state residents). The Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) college only has one major: Industrial and Labor Relations. Many students in ILR tend to pursue a pre-law track or work in Human Resources or, sometimes, management consulting. ILR course work often focuses on labor relations in the workforce, and how different laws and policies reflect these practices. There is a great emphasis on the social sciences, and a great deal of critical thinking and problem-solving is incorporated into the coursework.

In your essay, before laying out your professional aspirations, explain why professional environments and the relationships they foster are interesting to you — whether that be on a legal, political, or organizational level. Describe experiences (professional, academic, or social) that may have guided you to these interests.

As always, make sure to do your research and explore coursework and research within ILR that interests you. This essay may seem more difficult — most high school students don’t have as much experience in a professional environment. However, in my experience with students, I have found it helpful to look at ILR from a perspective that makes sense to you: think about how ILR applies in the context of your current life. For example, perhaps you grew up in a town where you were part of a minority, and would like to help improve diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Then, explain why you would like to attend this college and pursue this major.

This Cornell University essay guide was written by Dominique Turner, Cornell University ‘20. If you want to get help writing your Cornell application essays from Dominique or other Admissions Experts, register with today.