written by
Sami Elrazky

Cornell University Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

essay guide Essay Guides Advisor Tips Admissions Tips 16 min read
Cornell supplemental essays image: Clara Dickson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Clara Dickson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Not sure how to approach the Cornell supplemental essays? With tips from a student admitted to Cornell, CollegeAdvisor.com's guide to the Cornell essay prompts will show you winning strategies for writing top-notch Cornell essays so you maximize your chances of admission.

If you need personalized help crafting your Cornell supplemental essays, visit CollegeAdvisor.com to create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

Your responses to the Cornell essays are some of the most important parts of your application. Your Cornell supplements allow you to highlight who you are beyond your grades, test scores, and recommendations. This means that you should approach every Cornell writing supplement with thought, consideration, and attention to detail.

However, the Cornell supplements can often leave you feeling stuck; if you're wondering, "how do you write a Cornell essay?" look no further. This guide to the Cornell supplements includes the prompts for all Cornell supplemental essays 2021-2022. You'll find a breakdown of how to approach each Cornell essay and tips for creating an application narrative that will stand out in admissions.

Cornell Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • Cornell has an acceptance rate of 11.0% - U.S. News ranks Cornell as a most selective school.
  • We strongly recommend answering all Cornell supplemental essays—including the optional Cornell essay prompts—comprehensively and thoughtfully.
  • Well-written Cornell supplemental essays give your readers a deeper look into your personality and passions, which can significantly increase your chances of admission.

Does Cornell have any supplemental essays?

Yes—in addition to your Common Application Personal Statement, you will select one of seven additional required Cornell essay prompts to answer. Each of the Cornell essay prompts corresponds to the undergraduate college or school at Cornell to which you are applying (including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; College of Arts and Sciences; Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; College of Engineering; College of Human Ecology; or the School of Industrial and Labor Relations).

Keep in mind that although there are several Cornell essay prompts to choose from, you will only answer the prompt that corresponds to the undergraduate school at Cornell to which you are applying. For example, those interested in engineering should only answer the prompt(s) for the College of Engineering. This means that every applicant will write only one to two Cornell writing supplements.

Need some help writing your Common App essay? Get great tips from our Common App essay guide to build your college application with confidence.

Do you have to write an essay for Cornell?

Yes — the Cornell supplemental essays are a required part of your Cornell application. However, try not to see them as a chore. After all, strong Cornell supplemental essays can make a huge difference in admissions.

Your Cornell essay is a window into your passions, values, and personality. The Cornell supplemental essay allows you to speak to your readers on your own terms. While this task may seem daunting, a well-executed Cornell essay can be incredibly helpful to your application.

What are the Cornell supplemental essays?

The Cornell supplemental essays 2021-2022 are accessible through your Common Application. Additionally, you can visit the main Cornell site for a full checklist of first-year application requirements (including the Cornell essay prompts).

How many supplemental essays does Cornell require?

You must answer one of the Cornell supplements listed on the 2021-2022 Common App. The prompt you answer, however, depends on the school to which you apply.

Each of the Cornell essay prompts corresponds to the seven undergraduate colleges/schools at Cornell. While there are seven Cornell supplemental essays to choose from—and we'll cover them in this Cornell supplemental essays guide—you will only answer one Cornell essay prompt.

How do you write a Cornell essay?

To begin, you want to have a thorough understanding of what the Cornell essay is asking. Not only does this include defining terms, but also asking yourself, “Is this a single Cornell essay with multiple steps/answers?” Once you’ve gotten a grasp on what the Cornell writing supplement is asking, then you’ll want to freewrite. In general, freewriting can help those who stress over how to begin an essay and/or individuals who struggle with having many possible topics and can’t quite narrow it down to one. Check out CollegeAdvisor’s guide to reflection exercises.

Now, armed with your freewriting, you’ll want to start drafting your Cornell essay. While you can work from your existing freewrite, you can also start fresh. In the early stages of drafting Cornell supplemental essays, don’t worry about word count. While it’s important, you don’t want to stifle your creative flow. Leave the ruthless editing for later on in the process. Finally, once you’ve completed the draft and have edited as needed, take your draft to a few trusted sources. These individuals (teachers, counselors, etc.), should read over with a fine-toothed comb, not only for grammatical accuracy, but also for tone and style.

While this is an overview of the Cornell essay process, and a good practice for writing your supplemental essays in general, keep reading for a specific breakdown on how to approach each of the Cornell supplemental essays.

Cornell Supplemental Essays – "What are your interests?" (Non-Engineering), 650 words max:

Let's dive into the Cornell supplemental essays!

Aside from the College of Engineering, the Cornell essay prompts for each undergraduate school mostly ask the same question. This means you can approach the Cornell supplemental essays with essentially the same strategy. Let's take a look at a couple of the Cornell essays and see what similarities they have. Then, we'll tease out what these Cornell supplements are actually asking you and form a response:

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?

You might notice some common themes among the Cornell essays. Regardless of the undergraduate college you pick, the Cornell supplemental essays essentially ask you about your interests. Cornell wants to understand your academic/professional/personal interests and goals, the experiences that have shaped these goals, and how you plan to pursue them.

Identify your interests

Cornell supplemental essays are designed to identify self-motivated students who engage meaningfully with their interests—academic or otherwise. Here, Cornell gives you the opportunity to talk not only about what field of study interests you but also about the meaningful experiences in your life that have led you to this interest. Strong Cornell supplemental essays will address both of these topics.

In brief, these Cornell writing supplement prompts ask you to discuss what you are interested in (specifically, what academic major or subject at Cornell most appeals to you), why you are interested in it, and where that interest will take you in the future.

To begin this Cornell writing supplement, think about what academic field you're interested in. You'll need to indicate one or two potential majors on your application anyway, so this research will be a good use of time.

Remember that your Cornell essays will not lock you into a specific major. Your plans can and likely will change over time, and that's okay! However, as you begin your Cornell supplements, think about what academic subjects you are most passionate about now (and could see yourself pursuing in the future). Then, see which majors at Cornell align with your interests. Once you have an idea of what majors at Cornell interest you, use your response to this Cornell essay prompt to discuss what academic subject/field you hope to pursue. Strong Cornell supplements will demonstrate authenticity and passion!

Align your interests with your program

Since each of the Cornell supplements relates to a particular school, make sure that your Cornell University supplement aligns with your chosen program. For instance, if you're applying to the College of Human Ecology, ensure that the experiences you discuss in your Cornell essays relate to ecology. You can expand on your other interests in the rest of your application.

In your Cornell writing supplement, guide the reader through your interests. Be sure to tell a story about how your passions developed and where they'll take you in the future.

Still struggling with the Cornell supplemental essays? As you approach the Cornell supplements, think about the following questions:

  • What subject are you passionate about? Is there a specific academic field you could see yourself studying, or is there a career path you want to pursue?
  • Why are you interested in pursuing this subject? What life experiences have shaped this passion? What personal ideals and core values have driven your interest in this field?
  • How have you explored this passion up until now? Have your extracurriculars given you a chance to develop your interests, and how so? You've done a lot in high school, now use the Cornell supplements to talk about what you've learned from those experiences and how they've shaped your interests.
  • Where are your passions going to lead you in the future - near or far? Why is Cornell University—and the resources it affords you— the next step in pursuing your academic/professional dreams? What do you seek to accomplish during your time on campus, and what knowledge/skills are you excited to learn?

Additional tips

You have 650 words in this Cornell essay, which is the same amount of words as the Common App Personal Statement. Use the relatively high word count of the Cornell supplemental essays to tell a full (but concise!) story about yourself. Describe your interests, how you've pursued them, how you plan to develop them in the future, and how Cornell would help you do so!

Cornell Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your response add nuance, meaning, or other interest to the other components of your application?
  • Do you discuss concrete details about what you accomplished and why it mattered?
  • Does your response teach the reader something new about you?

Additional tips for College of Arts and Sciences:

For more background on Ezra Cornell’s “any person, any study” founding vision, check out this 2018 video from Cornell University. Perhaps hearing how students and faculty at Cornell understand Ezra’s words will help you craft you own response to this Cornell essay prompt.

Cornell Supplemental Essays – College of Engineering:

The College of Engineering prompt is a little different from the other Cornell supplements. Instead of one long essay, applicants to the College of Engineering will pick two out of three provided Cornell essay prompts to complete. Your maximum word count is lower as well (200 words), so concision is key.

Like with the other Cornell supplemental essays, we will walk through each College of Engineering prompt. We'll then put together a strategy for answering these Cornell essays effectively.

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

Let's look at each of these Cornell essay prompts one by one.

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

This Cornell essay prompt is pretty straightforward. Like other Cornell supplemental essays, it gives you a valuable opportunity to talk more about your experiences— whether you've already included them in your activity list or not.

How do you work with others?

Cornell wants to know that you can work well with others and collaborate to find solutions, both in and out of the classroom. Use this Cornell writing supplement to talk about times that you have had to work with others, challenges you've faced in doing so, and the lessons you learned from overcoming those challenges. The goal is to show not only that you can collaborate with others, but also that you enjoy doing so and will thus be an invaluable addition to the Cornell community.

As you approach this Cornell essay, think about your past experiences. For instance, did you and your friends organize a regular study group that brought your grades up? These kinds of experiences show Cornell that you're someone they want on their campus—someone who not only is passionate about working with others but will do so effectively to bring their ideas to life. Tell the reader how you embody these qualities and how important collaboration is in your own life.

Remember, you only have 200 words in this Cornell essay! Keep unnecessary details/explanations to a minimum. Instead, focus on explaining, in concise terms, what collaboration means to you.

Cornell supplemental essays: College of Engineering prompt 2

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

This Cornell supplemental essay prompt does two things. First, it asks you to talk about your academic interests. Then, it checks whether you've done your homework on Cornell Engineering. An effective response to this Cornell essay will explain both your interest in engineering and how Cornell specifically fits into your future as an engineer.

When answering a "why this college?" question like this Cornell essay prompt, specificity is key. Represent your future with Cornell in mutualistic terms. What do you hope to gain from attending Cornell Engineering, and what will you in turn give back to the community (either in the short or long term)?

Define your “why”

Let’s start with the basics. Why do you want to apply to Cornell Engineering? Speak honestly! You don't need to stuff your response with tons of niche details or copy/paste from the Cornell mission statement. Give honest reasons why Cornell fits with your aspirations and how studying at Cornell will help you grow as both an engineer and a person.

Did you visit and fall in love with the community values you saw on campus? Or did you have an interaction with a professor whose research fascinated you? Tell the reader about it! Emphasize your interest in engineering as well as specific reasons why Cornell is the right place for you to foster this interest.

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?

Top colleges like Cornell want to know that you will be an active participant in the campus community. Your academics are a big part of your college experience, but you will learn just as much from your interactions with other students on campus—and other students will learn from you.

Community and Contributions

This Cornell writing supplement asks you to explain what you will bring to campus—not only in terms of your own academic excellence but also in how you will contribute to student life. Will you be an active member of the community and help make other students' college experiences more meaningful? How will you work to ensure diversity and inclusion prevails at Cornell—be it through extracurricular leadership or through inclusive conversations over dinner? In short, what experiences and traits do you bring to the campus community. How will you use those experiences to build meaningful shared experiences with other Cornell students?

An effective Cornell writing supplement prompt will describe how you have fostered diversity and inclusion in your own communities. This can allow you to talk about how you wish to bring your own voice, experiences, and desire to support the community to Cornell. Ultimately, a strong response to this Cornell essay will make it clear that you belong at Cornell!

Cornell Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your response reveal what makes you a good addition to campus? Does it highlight your best core values?
  • Do you explain your future aspirations in your chosen field?
  • Does your writing show a true passion for your field of study?
  • Do your Cornell essays make the reader want to learn more about you?

How important are the Cornell supplemental essays for admission?

Very!

Schools like Cornell University receive top-notch applicants from around the world in record numbers every year. High test scores, excellent grades, and meaningful extracurricular achievements are common among the Cornell application pool. Combined with your Common App personal statement, the Cornell supplemental essays give you valuable space to discuss your passions, values, and character.

Cornell admissions looks for students who demonstrate "honesty, open-mindedness, initiative, and empathy" both academically and in their daily life. The Cornell essay prompts are designed to find this kind of student. Use your Cornell supplemental essays to make it clear to Admissions Officers that you are passionate about learning, curious about the world, willing to challenge yourself to pursue your interests, and will be a valuable addition to Cornell. Above all, your Cornell essays should show Admissions Officers what makes you special and why they should admit you!

You can read more about what Cornell Admissions Officers look for in prospective students (and what they look for in applicants' responses to Cornell essay prompts) at the "What Cornell Looks For" page. This can help you write Cornell essays tailored to the Cornell admissions team.

Cornell Supplemental Essays: Final Thoughts

Completing the Cornell supplemental essays can seem daunting, but don’t let them discourage you from applying. Instead, view these Cornell essays as an opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions. The Cornell writing supplements should help them see why you'd be a great addition to their school.

Maybe you’re applying with a lower than average SAT score, or maybe you have a couple of blemishes on your transcript. A well-written set of Cornell supplements can work in your favor and make it obvious that you would be a great addition to campus. Use this guide to help you approach each Cornell application essay with a solid strategy. Good luck!


cornell supplemental essays image: we're ready to boost your chances banner

This essay guide on Cornell University was written by Sami Elrazky, Yale ‘22. For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on Cornell, click here. Want help crafting your Cornell supplemental essays? Create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

essay guide cornell cornell essay guide essays college essays