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    How to Complete the 2023/2024 Cornell Supplemental Essays

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 1st, 2023
    How to Complete the 2023/2024 Cornell Supplemental Essays

    Cornell University is a private Ivy League research university located in Ithaca, New York. Cornell’s acceptance rate is around 9%, which means you will need to make your Cornell supplemental essay question answers stronger than other applicants. Cornell consists of eight undergraduate colleges in total. Students interested in attending the school will have to complete two essays total: one Cornell University essay question and one college-and school-specific essay question.

    Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

    Cornell University Essay Question

    “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 you shape your perspective. (350 word limit)

    This prompt may sound confusing at first read, but ultimately it is asking about your background and life experiences and how they have helped you become who you are today. Therefore, you can begin responding by highlighting how your race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., impacts the way you go about life. Choose which of these characteristics, or another one, that best describes you. Then, detail how your life has been shaped by this characteristic and how you have shaped your perspective overtime. 

    Next, be sure to tie back to academics! How does this aspect of your life affect your studies and school? Describe what you love about your major and how you were drawn to it. Bonus points if you can intertwine your unique characteristics with your intended academic major. Ultimately, you want to make sure you are hitting on both the “any person…any study” aspect of this prompt! 

    Questions to consider:

    • What is unique about you? 
    • How has your upbringing shaped your life thus far? 
    • What will you be majoring in and how has your background led to this decision?

    Different schools at Cornell

    Cornell requires students to apply to a specific school within their university. The Cornell supplemental essay prompts vary based on what school within the university you’re applying to.

    The schools found at Cornell are:

    So spend some time researching each school and figuring out what you are passionate about and where you want to study. This will help you breeze through the application process due to your extensive knowledge of the school you want to apply to. 

    All of the school’s supplemental essay questions have a 650 word limit except for the College of Engineering. This may seem intimidating, but it provides you with plenty of room to stay creative and emphasize your personality. Let’s get started!

    Cornell Jeb E. 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. (650 word limit)

    The Brook’s School of Public Policy is the newest of Cornell’s schools, having opened in 2021. Take the time to research their website and learn about the majors offered. Think about how the website states that:

    “The Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy brings together scholars across disciplines to tackle the biggest public policy challenges we face as a society, both in the U.S. and globally. Our mission is to make positive change in the world.”

    The goal of Brook’s School of Public Policy is to graduate students who will leave with a greater passion for public policy. So, make sure in your responses you really describe what made you interested in studying public policy. Try to be as specific as possible! After you detail your passion, then focus on your goals in life. What will you use a degree in public policy for? 

    It is completely fine if you chose this major because it slightly stuck out to you more than the others! If this is the case, back up your decisions with some stories and experiences from your life. However, if you are hitting a roadblock you may want to consider writing about a different major! 

    Questions to consider:

    • What is your social passion and how might it benefit by learning about public policy?
    • Are there social laws you would like to add, amend, or eliminate?
    • What role (think resources and opportunities) will the Brooks’ School of Public Policy play in helping you achieve your goals?

    College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 

    Required Essay response

    “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?”(650 words)

    This is your opportunity to share your major and academic interests. Consider what programs CALS offers and why you are interested in them. 

    Talk about:

    • A program you are currently a part of
    • Volunteering you have done
    • Anything remotely related to your intended major you have done outside of school

    This will emphasize your interest in the program because you participate in it during your free time! 

    Be sure to also include clubs, courses or other aspects that CALS has that you are looking forward to. Provide specific examples to display your interest and demonstrate that you have researched their school closely. 

    Questions to consider: 

    • Why do you want to major in this particular subject? 
    • What does CALS offer that other schools do not? 
    • What do you hope to do after you graduate? 

    Optional Essay #1:

    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 experience where you had a meaningful impact on people, a community, and/or an environment of importance to you. (200-word limit).

    This question simply wants you to share how you apply your knowledge and skills for the good of the world around you.

    Questions to consider: 

    • What is your volunteering experience?
    • Why are you driven to serve a particular community?
    • How might you continue to expand upon that service while at Cornell?

    Optional Essay #2:

    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 (e.g., 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) (100-word limit)

    This prompt wants to know about your authentic connection to the world around you. Answering it is as simple as responding to any or all of the relatable bullet points above.

    Also see: How to respond to the Common App essay prompts

    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” (650 words) 

    There are different questions depending upon your intended major in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning – so make sure you are responding to the correct prompt! 

    For Architecture students, describe a project or passion you have that inspired you to study this field. This can be an academic project in school or a side hobby you have! Make sure you are describing this project in detail, highlighting the process as much as the result. Be sure to detail any challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Additionally, focus on what you learned from creating this project and how it further solidified your interest in architecture. Once you have a solid response completed, tie back to Cornell! What resources are you excited about being able to use to help you further your architectural career? 

    For Art students, you want to focus your response on explaining why Cornell. Describe resources, professors, courses, the location, etc. that you are looking forward to being a part of. Make sure you have thoroughly researched Cornell before responding to this prompt as you want to be as detailed as possible! It is also important to tie each resource back to yourself and your interests and goals. This will show the admissions committee that you would make a great addition to the Cornell community.

    For Urban and Regional Studies, you have a lot of freedom in your response! Begin by detailing your background and how it led you to want to study urban and regional studies. Once you have established your passion for this topic, the next step is to tie it back to Cornell! Find a few resources you are interested in and how they tie into your passions. Additionally, don’t forget to discuss your career goals and how Cornell will help you achieve those goals. 

    Questions to consider: 

    • Why do you want to study this topic? 
    • What made you interested in Cornell specifically? 
    • How will you take advantage of resources to help you achieve your goals? 

    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.” (650 words) 

    The College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell is one of the most diverse schools offered in terms  of range of majors. Therefore, try and make your passions and interests stand out so Cornell can see you will find your place in such a broad community. 

    Emphasize what major you would like to pursue. Talk about why you want to study this particular subject and any experiences that have influenced your major decision. 

    Then, discuss professional and future goals and how the College of Arts and Sciences can help you.

    Be specific about clubs, classes and other aspects of the school that will aid you in achieving your goals. 

    Questions to consider: 

    • Why do you want to major in this topic? 
    • What classes offered are you excited about? 
    • What are your interests?

    Don’t miss: How to write an essay about yourself

    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 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 Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).” (650 words)

    The SC Johnson College of Business has two schools that you can apply to. Be sure to reference which one you are interested in and research that particular school thoroughly. 

    In your response, describe how you fit the mold of an ideal business student. Reference their mission statement to show how your values align and to show you have done your research. 

    Be sure to write about an experience you have with a business related activity such as a school club or even something as small as realizing how much money a candy bar is. 

    Be as specific as possible and feel free to get creative with your response. 

    Make sure to reference clubs or extracurriculars that the business schools offer that you want to be a part of and how they will help you in the future. 

    Questions to consider:

    • Why are you applying to the SC Johnson College of Business? 
    • What business background do you have? 
    • What activities are you involved in outside of school? 

    Don’t miss: Top business scholarships

    College of Engineering

    This application is different from the other college essay questions offered at Cornell. Applicants must write responses for two of  three essay options (Essay #1 is required, but you can choose between two prompts for Essay #2). Each response is limited to a maximum of 250 words, which is significantly less than the usual 650 word limit. This means you should focus on being concise with your responses. 

    • Do not drag on
    • Be purposeful with your responses

    Essay #1 (required)

    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. (250 word limit)

    This prompt is ultimately a “why this major and college?” So, answer that! Try to think about what you truly want out of college and why Cornell is the perfect place for you to study engineering. Make sure you have done thorough research on aspects of Cornell that you are looking forward to such as specific courses or faculty. 

    Questions to consider

    • What aspects of engineering are you passionate about?
    • If you had a dream engineering project you could work on, what would it be?
    • When you were younger, what did you always find yourself trying to create?

    Essay #2 (choose either Question A or Question B)

    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. (250 word limit)

    Questions to consider

    • Consider the basic transportation infrastructure of your local community. How are the roads, bridges, and tunnels? Traffic?
    • Engineers help people directly through things such as prosthesis design. How might you help people at the most basic human level though engineering?
    • How will solving the problem make things better for all who live in the community?

    Question B

    “Diversity in all definitional 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?” (250 words) 

    Questions to consider

    • What makes you unique? 
    • What is your background and how has it shaped you? 
    • What can you contribute to the engineering community at Cornell that others cannot? 

    Also see: Top engineering scholarships

    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.” (650 words) 

    Explain your future goals and how your current experiences have affected your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology. 

    Relate back to your outside of school experiences that have pushed you to want to pursue a degree in your selected major. 

    Then, be sure to emphasize how your choice in major will impact your future. Be as specific as possible and try to avoid generalizations such as “it will prepare me for this job industry.” 

    Rather, focus on particular classes or clubs that will give you a leg up on your competition in the job market and talk about those experiences. 

    Questions to consider: 

    • Why the College of Human Ecology? 
    • What do you want to major in? Why? 
    • What are you doing now that relates to this interest in your major? 

    School 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.” (650 words) 

    Take your experiences outside of the classroom and use them to answer this question. Make sure to choose something that you are passionate about. 

    Research more about the ILR school to ensure your response aligns with their values and programs. 

    Choose an ILR specific program that you are excited about to explain why the school is the perfect fit for you. 

    Questions to consider: 

    • What are you passionate about? 
    • What do you want to major in? Why? 
    • What are you doing now that relates to this interest in your major? 

    Also see: How to write a 500 word essay

    Next steps after applying to Cornell

    So that’s what you should know about the Cornell supplemental essays. Now that the hard part is over, and your application is flawless and submitted – take a deep breath. Congratulations, you did it–the hard part is now over! 

    Continue to show interest in Cornell so they know you are committed and prioritizing their school (even if you have a few other top choices.) 

    This can be done by:

    Essentially, showing interest and staying connected will allow you to get that extra foot in the door and make your name known. Exploring your interest in Cornell will also help solidify if it is the best university for you. 

    Don’t miss: An insider’s view of what goes on in a college admissions office

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