An Analysis of the Cornell Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

Padya Paramita

An Analysis of the Cornell Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

After working on multiple essays for each of your schools, you might be surprised to learn that you only have to write one supplemental essay for Cornell University. But it’s a big one! Your response must be as long as your personal statement. Cornell receives thousands of applications from students all over the world who have many unique stories to tell, so this part of the application is very important. Standing out isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, especially if you can impress the admissions officers through the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020.

In reading your response, admissions officers want to learn about your extracurriculars, character traits, intellectual pursuits, and reasons behind choosing Cornell. Your supplemental essay question for the school within Cornell you’ve applied to could end up being the deciding factor behind your admissions decision. So don’t rush to write your response – plan your essay carefully. To guide you through the prompts for the seven Cornell schools, I’ve outlined them, the dos and don’ts for your responses, and more tips to help you tackle the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020. 

Prompts for the Cornell Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

When you add Cornell as one of your schools in the Common Application, you have to pick one of the seven colleges within Cornell, instead of applying to the university as a whole. These are: 

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • College of Architecture, Art and Planning
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
    • Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
    • School of Hotel Administration
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Human Ecology
  • School of Industrial and Labor Relations 

Each college asks you to answer one 650-word supplemental essay question. Your response should be tailored to the school you’ve chosen, and demonstrate unquestionable passion for the field and knowledge of a particular program at Cornell. Without further ado, let’s look at the prompts for each school and the approaches you should - and shouldn’t - take when it comes to your essay.

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.

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? 

Since CALS is an undergraduate institution unique to Cornell, there are many Cornell-specific programs and opportunities you can draw from in order to portray your interest in CALS. You can choose from its 20 program offerings in the life sciences - from Animal Science to International Agriculture and Rural Development - and dive straight into studying the discipline of your choice on day one. These majors are more niche, so the reader must take away a demonstrated fit for the particular program through your writing. 

The key to your answer lies in showing that you have done thorough research on the major that you’ve chosen, and convincing admissions officers that CALS is the perfect school for you. Why are you certain that the CALS Food Science or Landscape Architecture program is what you want over what other schools have to offer? You could highlight your commitment by making a clear connection between work you’ve done in the particular field and your choice of CALS major. Why is CALS the place to explore your passion for life sciences rather than the Biology or Environmental & Sustainability departments at the College of Arts and Sciences?

Avoid general statements about how exceptional CALS is - admissions officers already know that - and reflect instead on ways your interest has grown, what your goals are, and how CALS fits into it all. The more specifically tailored your essay, the better the reader can understand your perspective.

Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!



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?”

This prompt diverts from what the majority of Cornell prompts look for by asking you to elaborate on a topic of interest that engages you like no other. Think about what gets you out of bed in the morning, or a topic that you could give a five-minute presentation on at any moment with zero preparation. If you’re out of ideas, ask your friends or family members what they see as your obsessions. Don’t choose broad issues that you can’t cover in 650 words. You shouldn’t go for common topics that many of your peers might choose either. Think about a topic you’re passionate about which might be more nuanced than others realize. Let the admissions officers know that you’re a perceptive and curious candidate. 

Your essay does not necessarily need to be related to architecture, art, or planning either. You could elaborate on an activity that hasn’t come up elsewhere in your application. This essay could be a great way of depicting that you’re a multifaceted individual. 

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. 

In writing this essay, you must display your knowledge regarding the liberal arts approach taken by the College of Arts and Sciences. The school prides itself on encouraging openness, course diversity, and allowing students to design their own curriculum. Focus your essay both on your major, as well as on how being able to explore your options and have more freedom over your course selection is ideally suited to your learning style. Your anecdotes should focus less on the origin of your interests, and more on how you might respond to a relatively open curriculum. For example, outlining a situation where you took advantage of having agency in course selection can be an effective way to drive your point home.

While you might be excited by the extracurricular opportunities that complement your major selection, the prompt strictly asks you to focus on the curriculum. How can you benefit from two majors in completely different areas? How can your goals be inspired by the courses, lectures, and facilities that the College of Arts and Sciences offer? Remember that many schools take a liberal arts approach. Admissions officers want to know why you’re applying specifically to Cornell’s School of Arts and Sciences over other colleges, so be as specific in talking about your goals and interests as possible.

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management

Affiliated with both the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management is unique by design. Explain how our approach to business education is the right fit for you, and how your interests, experiences or goals will contribute to the unique composition of the entering class.

Like any other “why this school” essay, the Dyson School prompt wants to know why you’ve chosen Dyson over other undergraduate business schools, and how you would be an asset to the incoming class. In other words, you have to elaborate on what makes the Dyson model ideally suited to your learning style, and explain the reasons why you will be a valuable addition. 

You have to show that you’ve done your research on facilities and opportunities exclusive to Dyson. One of the key ways of doing so is to demonstrate your understanding of the unique Economics and Management B.S. Ask yourself how you’d benefit from this degree over a B.S. in Economics from another school, for example. What features will prepare you for a career as an entrepreneur or financial analyst?

Don’t forget to leave space for how your experiences have prepared you to contribute to Dyson. If you’re planning to apply to this school, you should already have ventured into the world of business. Talk about any entrepreneurial initiatives you’ve taken, business-related summer programs you’ve attended, and mention if you have any unusual goals that can distinguish you from other prospective business students. Expand on the skills and values you picked up on the way. Dyson students are allowed to double major with a major at CALS so if your passion for business has a life sciences aspect to it, you should definitely include that in your essay!

School of Hotel Administration (SHA)

The global hospitality industry includes hotel and foodservice management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, technology, and law. Describe what has influenced your decision to study business through the lens of hospitality. What personal qualities make you a good fit for SHA?

SHA is the most prestigious hotel school in the world. Conduct your research and think about the main reasons behind your application to this exceptional college - look at the faculty listing, research opportunities, electives and concentrations. What have been some key factors in your curiosity towards the intersection of business and hospitality? How does a certain program - such as the minor in Real Estate - fit in with your ten-year plan? Don’t just name SHA resources - talk about how they would be beneficial to your goals. You have to be as specific as possible. Due to the school’s higher acceptance rate compared to other Cornell colleges, many students apply through SHA in order to try and receive a Cornell acceptance. So, it’s very important that your essays convey that you’ve thought through this decision and you’re fully confident that this is the path for you.

Don’t forget the second part of the prompt. What personal traits make you a qualified candidate for this extremely specialized program? While you should mention how your academics and extracurriculars have contributed to your career goals in the hotel business, the second part of the prompt specifically asks that you consider the more “human” side of the occupation. Do you have the qualities it takes to work in hotel administration, such as empathy, ability to communicate, cultural awareness and teamwork skills? Provide examples and add any anecdotes that will help admissions officers understand the experiences that helped you make this decision and that will aid you in a successful career in the hospitality industry in the future.

College of Engineering

Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem-solving that helps people, communities…the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in.

This question might be framed differently from the others, but don’t panic. You’re still asked to think about why you have specifically chosen Cornell Engineering as the place to pursue your engineering education - but framed by thinking about long-term goals. Since the prompt emphasizes using your engineering degree towards problem-solving, your essay should too. Think about what issues matter to you, and how studying at the Cornell School of Engineering can help you become more capable of striving towards change.

Don’t expound on large-scale issues such as “creating world peace” or “ending climate change.” While noble, these goals are unattainable for a single person, and also cliché. Since the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020 are geared towards providing more context on you as an applicant, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on issues that might be local to you and aren’t on such a grand scale. Narrow your focus by thinking about the major within Cornell Engineering that you wish to pursue. How would a degree in Material Science and Engineering or Biological Engineering from Cornell help you find a solution to issues troubling you?

The university wants your answer to the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020 to reflect your strongest personal attributes, and this essay is an effective way of showing what you care about, while demonstrating knowledge of Cornell’s engineering offerings. 

Nikki Champlin, a writing expert from Yale and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, talks about how to answer "why this college" or "why this major" prompts similar to this one here:

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?

The College of Human Ecology prompt asks to see connections between the development of your interests and your choice of major and career aspirations. The tricky thing about this prompt is that the College of Human Ecology happens to cover quite a few different fields that don’t necessarily have obvious relationships with each other. It’s probably a good idea that you know what “human ecology” actually means and are fully informed about programs such as Nutritional Sciences or Apparel Design before sitting down to write your essay. 

You need to focus more on your commitment to the specialized department you’re interested in rather than human ecology as a whole since that is too broad of a topic. How have your courses and extracurricular efforts prepared you for undergraduate study in Fashion Design or Design and Environmental Analysis? From reading your response to the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020, admissions officers must understand that you are applying because you’re actually passionate about the field instead of deciding on a whim because you suddenly like the sound of designing clothing.

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.

Just like with other prompts for Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020, you need to build a narrative showing how your interests overlap with Cornell’s offerings. Since you have enough words, this is the place to draw on anecdotes that affirm your interest in people and policy in the workplace. Conduct research and think about how your goals can benefit from taking certain electives or working with a distinguished professor. 

Highlight what sparked your interest in industry - was there one particular incident or did your concern for topics related to workforce policies develop over time? Was there a high school club or internship that contributed to expanding your knowledge of employment policies? Moreover, think about why you want to attend a school that specializes in Industrial and Labor Relations rather than major in Economics at the College of Arts and Sciences. By narrating a unique story that shows why this is the perfect college for you, you can help admissions officers gain a clearer picture of your passion for exploring work, employment, and labor policy issues over the next four years.

Additional Tips for the Cornell Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

  • Keep the Specific School in Mind - It’s not unheard of for students to apply to a less competitive Cornell school such as the College of Arts and Sciences in hopes of later transferring to Dyson or Cornell Engineering. Make sure your essays don’t leave admissions officers doubting whether your interest in the school that you’ve applied to is authentic or not. Don’t write about your love for life sciences or chemical engineering if you’re applying for an English major at the College of Arts and Sciences! Make sure your essay reflects your particular school choice and its unique offerings. 
  • Don’t Repeat Your Personal Statement - Your answers to the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020 are supposed to provide admissions officers with more context on your background and passions. That might be difficult to execute if your supplemental essay covers the same topic as your personal statement. It could be tricky to find a new angle - especially when the prompt for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning is very similar to one of the Common Application personal statement prompts - “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time.” If you’re applying to the AAP school and you’ve picked this prompt for your Common App, you have to come up with something completely different. Cornell will not appreciate two 650-word essays that overlap in content. 
  • Avoid Generic Statements at All Costs - Cornell received the most applications out of the Ivy League schools this year. And the number isn’t getting any smaller. In order to excel in your Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020, you have to connect all the factors that make a Cornell education appealing to you. Specifics will allow admissions officers understand what makes you unique. Stating general facts about the facilities won’t help your case since admissions officers already know that great resources exist at their university!

Your answers to the Cornell supplemental essays 2019-2020 should convey how you would benefit from a degree from one of its specialized undergraduate schools and the ways in which your experiences thus far have prepared you to contribute to the university’s academic environment. No matter which college within Cornell you’re applying to, make sure that your essays reflect an understanding of the curriculum and highlight any relevant experience so that admissions officers know you’re not just applying for the sake of attending an Ivy League school!

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