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How to Answer the Cornell Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

NOV 17, 2019 • 12 min read

When applying to Cornell, you will need to complete one supplemental essay. The topic of the essay will depend on which college within the university you are applying to.

Nevertheless, in general, the majority of the topics are a variation of:

  1. Why do you have an interest in your intended field?
  2. Why will Cornell help you explore that interest?

The three colleges with topics that vary from this structure are the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, the College of Human Ecology, and the Charles Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Because these three topics are unique, they will be discussed later on in this post. For now, we will discuss the topics from Cornell’s five other colleges that follow the structure stated above.

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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.

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?

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.

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.

To begin writing your essay, first think about your genuine interest or passion and how you came to realize it. Was there a specific experience that got you interested in this area? Did you read a book or watch a movie that sparked the interest? Were you inspired by a teacher or other figure in your life? Was it forged due to a challenge that you had to overcome? How has your interested evolved over time? Begin your essay by telling the story of how your interest came to light or how it has evolved. Telling the reader a story about your interest rather than stating it will make the essay more compelling.

Next, you need to connect your interest or passion to Cornell and, specifically, the college to which you are applying. Now is the time to do your research. Utilize Cornell’s website as much as possible to help you connect your interest to the university. Are there specific classes offered in the school you have chosen that are unique and align perfectly with your interests? Does a professor do research that focuses on your interest? Will being part of the larger Ithaca community further your interest? Connecting your interest to Cornell is critical. You don’t want the reader to believe that this is an essay you sent to any other school. Lastly, because the topics do have slight variations, make sure to adapt this format to fit the specific requirements of the question for the college to which you are applying. Hopefully you will now have a great starting point for your supplemental essay!

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Now we will address applying to the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the College of Human Ecology. The topics for the essays are as follows:

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?

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?

These two questions are similar in some regards to those described above. Both questions still want to know your motivations and passions and why Cornell is the best place for you to pursue them. However, they also want to know what you intend to do with your passion. To answer the first part of the question, you can utilize the format previously described above:

  1. Identifying your passion/motivation
  2. Telling a story of how it came to be or has developed overtime
  3. Describing why Cornell will help you further those interests.

The slight difference in these questions is that you need to connect them to your future aspirations. Perhaps you are primarily interested in the Dyson School because its concentration in Strategy will teach you the skills you need to start your own business. This unique curriculum may be exactly the right fit to help you fulfill your dream of founding your own technology start-up company. Whatever your ultimate goal is, describe how Cornell’s unique program will help you achieve it.

The last topic comes from the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. It is arguably the most unique supplemental essay. However, there is a still a big similarity between this topic and the other above. The topic asks:

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 question is similar to those above as it asks for your passions and inspirations, but it does not ask how Cornell will further your goals. Because of this, you are going to have more space to describe your “thing,” so let the creativity begin! This question is meant for the Admissions Committee to get to know you and your passion. Ask yourself, what do I care the most deeply about? If you enjoy creating elaborate sidewalk chalk murals more than reading about classic architectural styles, write about creating sidewalk murals. Do you lose track of time trying to complete 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles of your favorite Star Wars characters? Don’t pick a passion or quirk that you think will look the most impressive to the Admissions Committee. An honest supplement essay describing your true passion will come across as the most sincere and better engage the reader. It is possible that you could even write about two passions if space permits.

Once you have chosen you passion, you are left with the important task of presenting it in an engaging way. As described above, you could take about how you developed that passion. How did you discover it? Has it evolved over time? You could also tell a story about your passion. You could describe a particularly difficult mural you were attempting to draw and how you persevered through the struggles to complete it. While writing your story about your passion, keep in mind what the story is saying about your personality. Does it display positive traits such as that you are highly-motivated, a problem solver, you work well in teams, etc. The best stories will tell the Admissions Committee something about you that they don’t already know, so make sure what you write about is different from your Common App response.

Lastly, despite Cornell’s supplement questions having a fairly large, 650 word limit, make sure to make the most of the space you have. Ask yourself, does each sentence of your essay add value to your application? Is it a sentence that no other applicant will have in their essay? If it does not, go back and revise. However, do not pontificate just to hit the word limit. If you are content with your well-written essay that is slightly less than the word limit, there is no need to add unnecessary content to meet it.

These tips should give you a solid start on your Cornell supplemental essay. Like most supplement essays, Cornell’s questions are structured for them to learn more about you and for you to demonstrate why Cornell is the ideal fit for you. Good luck!

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