2023-24 Cornell University Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Thursday, December 7, 2023

High school student preparing for college considers how to choose a major

Is Cornell University on your college list? Because it’s an Ivy League institution with a low admissions rate, your application needs to be extremely competitive. Your responses to Cornell’s supplemental essay prompts can help set you apart if they are compelling, thoughtful, and authentic. Keep reading for some insights into Cornell’s 2023-24 supplemental essays.   

What to Consider Before You Write 

Before you begin writing, it’s important to ask yourself what stories you can tell in your essays that aren’t already mentioned in your application. The admissions committee wants a complete picture of who you are, what interests you, and how you think — this helps them determine how you will contribute to campus life.  

Are the Common App and College Supplemental Essays Really Important During a College Admission Decision? 

You apply for admission to Cornell University through the Common App, which includes supplemental essays. Your application will undergo a holistic review, meaning that the admissions committee will look at both hard and soft factors. Hard factors are indicators of your academic performance, such as GPA, course rigor, and test scores. The supplemental essays are one of the most important soft factors, which also include your extracurriculars, counselor recommendations, and teacher evaluations.  

How Many Hours to Put into Writing Your Supplemental Essay for Cornell University? 

 While there isn’t a specific number of hours you should devote to writing your supplemental essays, it is well worth taking your time with the entire writing process. This includes researching Cornell University to include specific details in your essay, such as professors you want to work with, classes you want to take, and clubs you would like to join. The process of writing a strong essay includes getting feedback from people you trust, revising, and proofreading. Our college essay guide is also a helpful resource.

Does Cornell Look More at Essays and Letters of Recommendation or GPAs and SAT/ACT Scores? 

Even though applications go through a holistic review, the hard factors of the application are still more important than the soft factors — after all, the admissions committee wants to make sure you are capable of college-level work. If your GPA and level of course rigor demonstrate your ability to perform at the college level, admissions officers will then look at the other factors that indicate how you will integrate into campus life.   

Cornell is currently test-optional, meaning you do not have to submit SAT or ACT scores — however, they will be considered if you submit them. That said, the following colleges and schools do not consider test scores at all in the admissions process: 

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) 
  • College of Architecture, Art & Planning 
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: Nolan School of Hotel Administration 
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management 

 

If you are applying to other colleges at Cornell, test scores will be evaluated if you submit them. Cornell has low college admission rates, so submitting high test scores may give you an edge over other applicants with comparable transcripts.   

How to Write the Cornell Supplemental Essays 2023-24 

In addition to the personal statement in the Common Application, you are also required to respond to the Cornell University essay question and the essay prompt(s) for the undergraduate school or college to which you are applying.

It’s important to note that many of Cornell’s undergraduate school and college supplements can be broken down into two simple questions: 

  • Why the major? 
  • Why Cornell [undergraduate college/school]? 

 

The “Why This College?” essay is a common theme for supplemental essay prompts. Though in this case, you will want to address why you’re interested in the specific undergraduate college or school at Cornell, rather than the university as a whole.  

The following strategies and examples can help you respond to these essay prompts.   

Table of Contents

  1. Cornell University Essay Question
  2. College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  3. College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
  4. College of Arts & Sciences
  5. Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy
  6. Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  7. College of Engineering
  8. College of Human Ecology
  9. School of Industrial and Labor Relations

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 shape your perspective. (350-word limit) 

This prompt is new, and it’s a lot like other college essays that ask you to describe community and/or diversity in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on race-conscious college admissions. It might help you to brainstorm the different aspects of your identity and the different communities that influence you — whether that community is your neighborhood, a place of worship, or a club or organization. Then, think about how any of these influences might demonstrate how you can fit in and contribute to the Cornell community. Here’s an example of what that might look like:  

The cultures and histories behind my Indo-Jamaican identity transcend geographical boundaries and shape my perspective. My dual heritage has provided me with invaluable lessons about diversity, resilience, and harmony. I hope to continue learning and sharing these lessons at Cornell as a history major and migration studies minor. 

One of the most profound lessons from my dual heritage is the importance of resilience. The histories of both India and Jamaica are marked by struggles for independence. The tales of my ancestors’ resilience under colonial rule in both countries, and my Indian ancestors’ fight against indentureship, have instilled in me a passion to delve deeper into the history of colonization and migration. This is why I am drawn to Cornell’s strong Caribbean and Asian history curriculum, in addition to the migration studies minor. Not only will I gain a better understanding of the events and influences that informed my identity, but I can participate in opportunities like the Migrations Global Grand Challenge to learn how to address the challenges that migrant populations face.

My homeland, Jamaica, is a union of diverse cultural influences. Not only was I immersed in my mother’s Hindu community, I experienced the African and European influences on the language, art, food, music, and religion that are part of my father’s Jamaican heritage. The festivals and celebrations of my childhood embody the spirit of communal joy, emphasizing the significance of unity despite differences—Diwali lights illuminate the darkness, while Junkanoo parades infuse the streets with vibrant colors. In this spirit of unity, I hope to volunteer with the Einaudi Center’s Foreign Language Introduction Program to share my knowledge of Hindu and Jamaican languages and culture with schools in the community. 

Cornell’s commitment to “any person… any study” aligns perfectly with my values of acceptance and inclusiveness. I see myself as a bridge between cultures, and I’m eager to learn from my peers and share my knowledge with them. I am excited to embrace Ezra Cornell’s vision and be part of a university that values the unique experiences and perspectives that every student brings to the table. 

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences 

Prompt 1 (Required) 

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-word limit) 

If you examine this prompt closely, you’ll see that it asks the two “Why?” questions mentioned above. You have 650 words to tell the story of how you developed an interest in the field you want to study, how you expanded that interest over time, and why Cornell CALS is the right place for you to cultivate that interest into a career. This is illustrated in the following example.  

I have always been fascinated by the natural world and the complex relationships that exist between living organisms and their environment. As a child, I loved spending time outdoors, exploring the woods behind my house, and collecting bugs and rocks. I was also intrigued by my family’s vegetable garden, and I enjoyed learning about how to grow plants and care for animals. 

As I got older, my interest in agriculture and life sciences continued to grow. I took several biology and environmental science courses in high school, and I participated in several extracurricular activities related to these subjects, such as the science club and the environmental club. I also volunteered at a local farm, where I learned about sustainable farming practices and the challenges that farmers face. 

My experiences in high school and in the community have solidified my desire to study agriculture and life sciences at Cornell University. Cornell’s CALS program offers a wide range of courses and research opportunities that align with my interests. I am particularly interested in majoring in Plant Sciences and minoring in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. 

I believe that an education from Cornell CALS will specifically serve to support my learning, growth, and the pursuit of my goals in the following ways: 

  • Access to world-class faculty and resources: Cornell CALS has a world-renowned faculty who are experts in their fields. I am excited to learn from these professors and conduct research with them. Cornell also has state-of-the-art facilities and resources that will support my learning, such as its research farms and greenhouses. 
  • Opportunities to learn from and collaborate with a diverse student body: Cornell CALS is a diverse community of students from all over the world. I am eager to learn from my classmates and collaborate with them on projects. I believe that this exposure to different perspectives will make me a more well-rounded and informed student. 
  • Preparation for a rewarding career in agriculture and life sciences: Cornell CALS offers a rigorous academic program that will prepare me for a successful career in agriculture and life sciences. I am confident that the skills and knowledge I gain at Cornell will enable me to make a positive impact on the world. 

After graduating from Cornell, I plan to pursue a career in agricultural research. I am interested in developing new sustainable farming practices and crop varieties that can help feed the world’s growing population. I believe that my education at Cornell CALS will give me the tools and knowledge I need to achieve this goal, and I look forward to applying what I learn to make a difference in the world.  

Optional Prompts  

It can be tempting to skip these optional prompts, but the more information you can provide to the admissions committee for their holistic review, the better. Think about what you can add that hasn’t already been mentioned elsewhere in your application — keep it short but impactful, like these examples.  

Prompt 2: 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)  

During my high school journey, I’ve strived to embody Cornell CALS’ mission of leaving the world better than I found it. One experience that truly reflects this commitment was my involvement in organizing a community clean-up initiative. Witnessing our local park’s deterioration saddened me, so I rallied a group of volunteers to act. 

We dedicated weekends to restoring the park’s beauty, picking up litter, planting trees, and repairing playground equipment. Our efforts not only transformed the park but also fostered a sense of pride and unity among community members. Children now have a safe, vibrant space to play, and families regularly gather for picnics and events. 

This experience taught me that meaningful change begins at the grassroots level. It’s not enough to master academic disciplines; we must apply our knowledge to benefit society. At Cornell CALS, I aspire to continue this journey, using my education to address larger issues and make a positive impact on the world. 

Prompt 3: 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 pursuing a career in an agricultural entity. 

 

Please feel free to share additional details (optional). (100-word limit) 

I have experience working in an agricultural entity, specifically helping out on my family’s farm during summer breaks. This experience has given me a deep appreciation for the agricultural industry and its importance in our society. While my intended major may not be directly related to agriculture, I believe that understanding the agricultural sciences is crucial for addressing global challenges related to food security and sustainability. I am open to exploring how my education at Cornell CALS can contribute to the advancement of agriculture and its intersection with other disciplines. 

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-word limit) 

This is a lengthy prompt, but on close inspection, you’ll see that it’s the classic “Why?” essay question. How do you envision your future in art, architecture, and/or planning, and how can Cornell help you turn your current passions into practice? These are questions to consider as you craft your response. Check out this example for some inspiration.   

My passion for art and design has been a guiding force throughout my life, and I am excited to channel this passion into my intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP). The intersection of my interests and AAP’s renowned programs presents unique academic opportunities that will help me develop a coherent and impactful art practice. 

From a young age, I’ve been captivated by the power of visual expression. I remember spending hours sketching, experimenting with colors, and observing the world through an artistic lens. This early fascination has evolved into a profound interest in art forms and expression, which is why I intend to pursue an art major at AAP. 

One of the key aspects of AAP that aligns with my interests is its multidisciplinary approach. The college encourages students to explore various art forms and design disciplines, which resonates with my belief that creativity knows no boundaries. I see my artistic practice as an ever-evolving journey that can be enriched by drawing from diverse influences and techniques. AAP’s emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaboration will allow me to incorporate elements from different artistic fields into my work, creating a richer and more nuanced body of art. 

Moreover, my passion extends beyond traditional visual arts into art history, theory and criticism. I am especially interested in spending a semester at Cornell in Rome to immerse myself in art history and expand my knowledge of the art world. Not only will this enhance my undergraduate experience at Cornell, but it will allow me to explore new methods of artistic expression that will profoundly impact my work.  

Additionally, AAP offers access to world-class faculty and resources that will be instrumental in honing my skills and fostering my artistic growth. I look forward to learning from professors who are experts in their respective fields, benefiting from their guidance, and engaging in meaningful discussions about art and design. The diverse range of resources, from art studios to fabrication shops, are ideal for me to experiment with new techniques and materials. 

One of the aspects of AAP that particularly excites me is the emphasis on real-world application. I see art as a powerful medium for addressing contemporary issues and sparking meaningful conversations. AAP’s commitment to engaging with real-world challenges through art and design aligns with my desire to use my artistic practice as a platform for social and cultural commentary. I believe that art has the potential to raise awareness, inspire change, and promote dialogue, and I am eager to take advantage of the resources and opportunities at AAP to create art that has a lasting impact. 

Furthermore, Cornell’s location offers a wealth of inspiration for my artistic practice, from the vibrant arts scene in Ithaca to the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Exploring these environments will undoubtedly inform and enrich my art, allowing me to draw inspiration from the world around me. 

My interests are intricately connected with my intended major at AAP. I am excited to embark on this journey to further develop my artistic practice, drawing from a multidisciplinary approach, engaging with world-class faculty and resources, and using art as a means to address contemporary issues. AAP’s commitment to fostering creativity and innovation aligns perfectly with my aspirations as an artist, and I am eager to contribute to the vibrant artistic community at Cornell while continuing to pursue my passion for art and design. 

College of Arts & 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-word limit)  

Since the College of Arts and Sciences offers cross-disciplinary programs, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded student who can benefit from the College’s diverse offerings. As you will see in this essay, the student is interested in the comparative literature and creative writing programs specifically but also explains how studying other disciplines like history and philosophy will enhance their primary areas of study. Do your research into the College’s values and offerings as you craft your response so you can include specific details that resonate with you.    

I have always been driven by an insatiable curiosity that has shaped my academic journey and fueled my aspiration to study Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences. This innate curiosity has been the driving force behind my quest to understand the complexities of human expression and the power of storytelling. It is this passion that has led me to embrace a diverse range of academic interests and fields, all of which find a home in the liberal arts education offered at Cornell. 

One area of study that excites me the most is Comparative Literature because of the exploration of universal themes, human experiences, and cultural nuances. Through this field, I hope to delve into the depth of human storytelling, examining how it transcends borders and connects people across the globe. I look forward to dissecting the works of authors like Gabriel García Márquez, Haruki Murakami, and Chinua Achebe, and exploring how their narratives capture the essence of their respective cultures while also resonating with a global audience. Comparative Literature offers a unique lens through which I can explore the intricacies of language, culture, and the human condition. 

Storytelling is the quintessential human art, a means of expression that spans millennia. Through Creative Writing, I aim to not only hone my own writing skills but also explore the diversity of voices and narratives that exist in the world. I am particularly drawn to fiction writing, where I can create characters and worlds, breathe life into them, and invite readers to walk alongside them on their journeys. The Creative Writing program at Cornell offers a nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment that encourages experimentation and creativity. I am eager to work with accomplished faculty and collaborate with fellow students who share my passion for the written word. Cornell’s strong emphasis on a liberal arts education will allow me to explore various genres and styles, from fiction to poetry to creative nonfiction, further enhancing my writing repertoire. 

My curiosity extends beyond the realms of literature and creative writing. I am drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. The opportunity to take courses in diverse fields such as history, philosophy, psychology, and anthropology excites me immensely. These subjects provide valuable perspectives that can enrich my understanding of literature and storytelling.  

As a prospective Comparative Literature and Creative Writing student, I am eager to engage in research projects that allow me to delve deeper into my areas of interest. Whether it’s analyzing the impact of postcolonial literature on contemporary society or exploring innovative narrative techniques in fiction writing, I see Cornell as a place where I can expand my knowledge and contribute to academic discourse. 

The College of Arts and Sciences’ emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving resonates with my goal of becoming a well-rounded scholar and writer. I believe that a comprehensive education that encourages intellectual curiosity and fosters a sense of global awareness is essential for addressing the complex challenges of our world. I am excited about the opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions and debates, both inside and outside the classroom, as I believe that these interactions are crucial for personal growth and the development of well-rounded individuals. 

My passion for learning and love for literature and writing has been the driving force behind my academic journey. The academic opportunities and curriculum offered by The College of Arts and Sciences align perfectly with my interests and aspirations, and I am eager to take advantage of them to further my education and contribute to the academic community. My curiosity knows no bounds, and I am confident that Cornell will be the ideal place for me to continue my quest for knowledge, growth, and creativity. 

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)  

Here they are again — the “Why?” questions. As you’ll see in the example below, the student explains how their interest in public policy started, how they nurtured that interest through volunteering and interning, and why they believe the Brooks School will help them achieve their goals. This student demonstrated a lot of thought behind their decision to major in public policy and provided details about Cornell’s program that appealed to them.  

Studying public policy is not just an academic pursuit for me; it’s a passionate commitment driven by my experiences, values, and a deep desire to make a positive impact on society. As a prospective student at Cornell University, I am drawn to the field of public policy because of its potential to effect meaningful change. The Brooks School of Public Policy offers the resources and opportunities to help me achieve my future goals. 

My interest in public policy was ignited by a series of personal and community experiences. One of these experiences resulted from volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Interacting with individuals experiencing homelessness opened my eyes to the harsh realities faced by marginalized communities. It became clear to me that systemic issues, such as housing affordability and healthcare access, played a significant role in perpetuating homelessness. This experience motivated me to explore the role of government policies in addressing homelessness and related social challenges. 

I also had the privilege of interning with a local nonprofit organization that focused on education reform. Through this internship, I gained valuable insights into the complexities of education policy and its impact on underserved communities. I was inspired by the potential of well-crafted policies to narrow educational gaps and provide every child with an equal opportunity to succeed. This experience affirmed my belief in the power of public policy to make a positive impact on people. 

As a prospective student at the Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell, I see the unique advantages of pursuing my passion for public policy at this renowned institution. Cornell’s commitment to academic excellence, research, and public engagement aligns perfectly with my goals. The interdisciplinary nature of the program, which combines social sciences, economics, and law, will equip me with a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted challenges faced by society and the tools to address them effectively. 

The Brooks School’s emphasis on experiential learning is particularly appealing to me. I look forward to participating in internships, research projects, and policy analysis initiatives that will allow me to apply classroom knowledge to real-world problems.  

One of my long-term goals is to work in a government agency or nonprofit organization dedicated to policy research and advocacy. I believe that the Brooks School’s emphasis on policy analysis and research methods will provide me with the necessary skills to conduct evidence-based research and make informed policy recommendations. Whether it’s conducting research on affordable housing solutions or analyzing the impact of healthcare policies, I am excited about the prospect of contributing to the development of effective public policies. 

I am drawn to the Brooks School’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community because I believe that diversity of perspectives is essential for crafting equitable and effective policies. Cornell’s emphasis on creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment aligns with my personal values of equity and social justice. 

My passion for studying public policy is deeply rooted in my experiences, values, and a genuine desire to make a meaningful impact on society. Attending the Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University represents an opportunity to gain the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to achieve my career goals. I am eager to immerse myself in the world of public policy, learn from renowned faculty, engage in meaningful research, and collaborate with fellow students who share my commitment to effecting positive change in the world. Cornell’s rich tradition of academic excellence and public service makes it the perfect place for me to pursue my studies in public policy and work toward a future where equitable policies lead to a more just and inclusive society. 

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 or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650-word limit) 

Since you’re an aspiring business student, you have an opportunity here to write a value proposition — that is, you’re promoting yourself and the value you can offer to the Johnson College of Business. Demonstrate how the value you offer differentiates you from other applicants and aligns with what the college offers. In the example below, the student is applying to the world-renowned Nolan School of Hotel Administration. She has already developed many important business skills that she can bring to the table, and she describes how her interests and career goals align with the Nolan School’s program.    

I am passionate about learning business and leadership skills that I can use to make a positive impact on the world. Additionally, I have always been drawn to the hospitality industry. The managerial leadership specialization at the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration is an ideal way for me to combine these interests and develop the skills I need to manage employees and guests with empathy and professionalism. 

I love creating memorable experiences for guests and making them feel welcome and at home. In high school, I worked part-time as a hostess at a local restaurant. This experience gave me a firsthand look at the day-to-day operations of a hospitality business and the importance of teamwork and customer service. 

In addition to my work experience, I have also been involved in several extracurricular activities related to hospitality and leadership. I am the VP of Hospitality for my school’s DECA chapter, as well as a member of the National Honor Society and the student council. In these roles, I have developed skills in leadership, public speaking, project management, networking, and event planning. I also learned how to work effectively with others to achieve common goals. 

One of the things that I most admire about the Nolan School of Hotel Administration is the focus on developing emotional intelligence and teaching students “how to be service-oriented leaders who make the world a better place.” This aligns closely with my own values and goals. I believe businesses have a responsibility to make a positive impact on the people they serve and the communities in which they operate.  

I am particularly interested in the managerial leadership specialization because it will give me the skills and knowledge I need to become an innovative and creative leader in the hospitality industry. I am eager to learn about the latest trends and challenges in the industry, and I am excited to develop my leadership skills so I can make a positive impact on the world. 

Several topics and issues I care deeply about align with the managerial leadership specialization. For example, I am passionate about sustainability and believe that it is essential for the long-term success of the hospitality industry. I also believe that creating a diverse and inclusive environment is necessary for the comfort and enjoyment of guests and employees alike. It’s also important for the success of any business for employees to stay engaged. So, I am especially interested in learning more about how to develop and implement sustainable practices, promote diversity and inclusion, and create a workplace culture that fosters employee engagement and productivity. 

I am confident that my skills, experience, and values make me a strong candidate for the managerial leadership specialization at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. I am eager to learn from the world-class faculty at Cornell and to network with my fellow students. I am confident that Cornell will give me the knowledge and skills I need to become a successful and socially responsible leader in the hospitality industry.  

College of Engineering 

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) 

You might recognize this as a “why us?” essay, though feel free to answer the “why major?” question if you know what engineering major you’re pursuing. It’s important to be specific here and demonstrate that you’ve done your research about Cornell Engineering. Check out this example for inspiration.  

My passion for engineering is deeply intertwined with Cornell Engineering’s ethos of innovation and collaboration. While I’m still exploring the various engineering disciplines, I am particularly drawn to the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. 

One of my primary interests is robotics and automation. I am captivated by the potential of robotics to solve complex problems and enhance our daily lives. Cornell’s world-class faculty and research opportunities in this field are incredibly appealing to me. I am excited about the prospect of working alongside professors and fellow students to develop cutting-edge robotic systems that can revolutionize industries from healthcare to manufacturing. 

I believe that the most significant breakthroughs often occur at the intersection of different fields. The university’s emphasis on cross-disciplinary projects and its close ties to other departments provide an ideal environment for me to explore diverse engineering interests and contribute to innovative solutions. 

Furthermore, I appreciate Cornell Engineering’s dedication to sustainability. As someone concerned about the environmental impact of technology, I am eager to explore ways in which engineering can contribute to a greener future. Whether through renewable energy systems or eco-friendly design principles, I see my interests aligning perfectly with Cornell’s focus on sustainable engineering practices. 

While I may not have a fixed major yet, I am excited about the prospect of pursuing my interests within the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department and leveraging Cornell’s resources to make a positive impact on the world through engineering innovation. 

Essay 2 (Choose either A or 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) 

Since this has a smaller word count, focus on a specific problem — nothing too broad. To make your essay stand out, focus on a problem that is unique to your community, like the student does in this example. Through this essay, this student is also demonstrating that they value problem solving, community engagement, and sustainability.   

The charm of my small town often comes with a cost—a significant disconnect from modern amenities, notably the lack of a robust public transportation system. The solitary bridge connecting the two halves of our community is a rusty testament to bygone days, often becoming a bottleneck during peak hours. The absence of alternative routes exacerbates the daily commuting ordeal, reflecting an engineering predicament crying for resolution. 

The prospect of alleviating such foundational issues stirs enthusiasm within me. My primary initiative would be to design a modern, durable bridge to supplement the existing one. By employing cutting-edge materials and innovative design, the new structure would ensure smoother traffic flow and longer lifespan. Furthermore, I would incorporate pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes to promote greener commuting alternatives, aligning with modern urban planning principles. 

Exploring the feasibility of a small-scale public transit system, like electric buses or shared bicycle programs, could be a game-changer. This initiative would not only ease the traffic load on the bridge but also provide a sustainable commuting option for the residents. By engaging with local authorities and gathering community feedback, I aim to tailor solutions that resonate with the unique needs and preferences of my town.  

The blend of practical engineering solutions and community engagement excites me as I envision leveraging my education from Cornell Engineering to bridge the infrastructural gaps in my community, paving the way for a better-connected tomorrow. 

Question B: Diversity in all 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 inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community? (250-word limit) 

Diversity questions are becoming increasingly common, but this question wants you to focus on diversity in the engineering field specifically. Everyone is shaped by the various communities they are part of and the experiences they have had — think about this and the perspectives you have gained that you can contribute to Cornell Engineering. The student in this example has a distinct and creative approach to engineering.    

Engineering thrives on uniting unique perspectives, channeling disparate ideas into a harmonized solution. My journey into engineering began in an unconventional manner—through the strings of a guitar. As a self-taught musician, I spent my early teenage years tinkering with sound equipment, constantly chasing the perfect tone. This endeavor led me down a rabbit hole of electrical engineering principles, amplifying my appreciation for the science that orchestrates our world. The blend of creativity and technical understanding I have honed through music is my contribution to the collective symphony of ideas at Cornell Engineering. 

The art of engineering, like music, thrives on a variety of tones and rhythms. My self-driven exploration into the world of music has nurtured an innovative mindset and a knack for out-of-the-box thinking. When confronting an engineering challenge, I often find myself strumming my guitar, letting the strings guide my thought process and weave a rhythm of creative and logical solutions. 

I am excited about the prospect of collaborative learning and working with peers from varied backgrounds, each bringing a unique narrative and approach to engineering challenges. My musical journey has honed a distinct lens through which I perceive and tackle engineering problems, a lens that I am eager to share and intertwine with the diverse intellectual tunes at Cornell Engineering, creating a harmony of innovative solutions for the complex challenges of tomorrow. 

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. (Refer to our essay application tips before you begin.) (650-word limit) 

Once again, this is a combination of the “Why?” questions we already mentioned. Focus on the final part of this prompt — ensure that your response nicely ties your interests and goals into CHE’s offerings and your specific major, as the example below demonstrates. 

Growing up with parents who are social workers really opened my eyes to the importance of helping others. The idea of giving back wasn’t just something nice to do; it was a part of our daily life. Seeing my parents work tirelessly to help those in need showed me the real impact that individuals can have on their community. Their actions shaped my interests, leading me towards wanting to understand more about how people interact and how society affects individuals. 

When I came across Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, everything clicked. It felt like finding the right place where my interests could grow and make a difference. CHE’s mix of social sciences with real-world solutions seemed like the perfect fit for what I wanted to study. I am excited about the idea of learning in an environment that encourages practical solutions to human-centered issues. 

Choosing Human Development as my major was an easy decision because it lined up with everything I was curious about. The range of courses offered, from developmental psychology to social networks, seemed like a pathway to really understanding the challenges people face. I am especially looking forward to courses on social and personality development and getting involved in community outreach projects. 

I see this major as a stepping stone to my future goals, combining what I learn with hands-on work in the community, maybe in organizational consulting or community development. I believe the education from CHE will not only develop my understanding but also equip me with the practical skills needed to make a real difference. 

I love that public service is part of Cornell University’s mission. In fact, I already have my eye on a few student groups that are devoted to community service, such as the Cornell chapter of Habitat for Humanity and Rotaract. I am also keen on finding opportunities to get involved with the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement. These activities seem like great ways to apply what I learn in class to real-world situations. 

The thought of merging my academic interests with community service has always motivated me. CHE, with its focus on addressing human needs and challenges, seems like the perfect place for me to expand my knowledge and give back to the community at the same time.  

I am thrilled at the idea of joining a community that values using knowledge to engage with societal issues. CHE’s vibrant environment is the ideal place to merge my passion with purpose and apply what I learn to helping communities and people in need. I am eagerly looking forward to starting this new chapter of my academic journey at the College of Human Ecology—the ideal platform for me to grow, thrive, and contribute. 

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-word limit) 

Again, you can break this down into the “Why major?” and “Why us?” questions. The example below is a great narrative about how the student’s personal experience at their family’s small grocery store led to an exploration of business ethics and labor practices. The student then aligns this interest with the ILR School’s curriculum.   

In a world that’s rapidly evolving, the workplace is a microcosm reflecting societal trends, advancements, and challenges. My journey into industrial and labor relations commenced not in a classroom, but within the bustling aisles of my family’s small grocery store. It was here, amid the clang of cash registers and the soft hum of daily commerce, that I observed the nuanced dynamics between employer and employee, union and management, work and worth. 

From a young age, I was privy to the myriad interactions of our family-run business. I witnessed the respect with which my parents treated each employee, regardless of rank, and the open dialogue they maintained with the small union that represented our workers. They believed in fair wages, reasonable hours, and a conducive work environment. This ethos of fairness and open communication wasn’t just good ethics; it was good business. The loyalty and dedication of our staff were testaments to the symbiotic bond that blossomed in an atmosphere of respect and understanding. 

However, as I grew older and my gaze broadened beyond our family business, I realized that this ethos was not a common narrative. News stories about unfair labor practices, wage disparities, and unsavory working conditions flooded the media. The contrast between the principles I saw upheld in our family business and the injustices pervading the modern labor landscape was stark and unsettling. 

My curiosity piqued, I dug into research and engaged in community discussions about labor rights, gradually understanding the complex challenges facing today’s work environment. It was during a summer internship with a local labor union that my theoretical understanding morphed into a tangible passion. I was no longer a passive observer but an active participant in dialogues that sought to bridge the gap between labor and management. Each negotiation session, every grievance addressed, painted a larger picture of the intricate yet fascinating world of industrial and labor relations. 

The School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University emerges as the quintessential arena for nurturing my burgeoning interest. The school’s focus on labor relations, organizational behavior, and human resources aligns seamlessly with my interests and the experiences. The interdisciplinary curriculum, melding together law, economics, and social sciences, will equip me with the multifaceted understanding required to make meaningful contributions to the labor relations domain. 

I am particularly excited about the prospect of engaging in discourse with a diverse cohort of individuals. The opportunity to learn under the mentorship of a distinguished faculty, whose research and contributions to the field resonate with my own aspirations, is thrilling. 

In the long term, I envision myself utilizing the knowledge and experience garnered from Cornell to advocate for fair labor practices, whether it be through policymaking, consulting, or on-the-ground engagement with labor unions and organizations. I am driven by the vision of contributing to a landscape where the dignity, rights, and welfare of workers are upheld as sacrosanct.  

The narrative of work is a narrative of society, an intertwining tale of aspirations, efforts, and the quest for equity. It’s a narrative I am keen on not just understanding but influencing. Through Cornell ILR’s undergraduate program, I see a path leading towards not just a fulfilling career, but a journey of making a difference in the fabric of work and society.  

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