The Ivy Coach Daily

August 9, 2023

2023-2024 Cornell University Supplemental Essay Prompts

An aerial view of Cornell University's campus, featuring red-bricked buildings and greenery.
Cornell changed its supplement for applicants to the Class of 2028 (photo credit: Sach1tb).

Cornell University has released its 2023-2024 supplemental admissions essays for applicants to the Class of 2028. For years, Cornell asked applicants to respond to an essay of up to 650 words in length that essentially asked, “Why Cornell?” But this year, the Ivy League institution has changed things up, creating essays specific to the individual school to which a student is applying within Cornell. So what supplemental admissions essays will applicants to Cornell’s Class of 2028 be asked to write? Let’s dive in!

2023-2024 Cornell Essay Topics and Questions

Essay for All Applicants 

In 350-words or less, all applicants to Cornell University are asked to answer the following prompt:

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.

It’s difficult not to view this new essay prompt as Cornell’s direct response to the SCOTUS ruling outlawing Affirmative Action. While colleges can no longer directly consider race as a factor in the highly selective college admissions process, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a legal loophole in the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

While Cornell’s admissions committee explicitly cited family, school, and neighborhood or global communities in the question, students can write about their race, faith, gender, sexuality, or just about anything else in response to this prompt. After all, Cornell’s admissions committee seeks to build a diverse incoming class, and no Supreme Court decision will get in their way. While the Ivy League school wasn’t nearly as bold as Johns Hopkins University in citing race in its supplemental essay prompt, it’s very much implied that race is on the table.

School-Specific Essays

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

CALS asks applicants to respond to a required essay of up to 650 words in length followed by optional essays of up to 200 words and 100 words. Of course, no optional essay should ever be considered optional in Cornell’s admissions process. Write it!

Required Essay Prompt

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)

This is a hybrid prompt: Why Major and Why School at Cornell? More so than any Ivy League school, Cornell cares about school fit. Cornell’s admissions committee not only wants to know why you wish to attend Cornell but why you wish to attend the school within the school at Cornell.

After all, Cornell’s admissions committee wasn’t born yesterday. They, too, know that getting into certain schools at Cornell is easier than others. So if a student is genuinely interested in computer science yet is applying to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, simply writing they enjoy farming won’t pass the sniff test.

In this essay, applicants should avoid name-dropping professors at CALS who may or may not even be there next year or classes that may or may not even be offered next year and instead focus on the enduring aspects of the school within a school. Cornell’s admissions committee wants to see how applicants hope to leave a mark in agriculture and life sciences during their lifetime.

By thoroughly examining specific programs, institutes, culture, traditions, and activities at CALS, applicants can show rather than tell why they wish to attend.

Optional Essay Prompts

CALS applicants have up to 200 words and 100 words, respectively, to answer the following two optional essay prompts:

Instructions: The optional short-answer questions invite you to share additional information about your background, interests, and experiences as they relate to aspects of the Cornell CALS mission. The content of any responses submitted will be included in the holistic review of your application (which is also the case for any optional additional information submitted as part of your Common Application or uploaded through your Cornell Application Portal once you’ve applied).

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.

CALS applicants would be wise to choose an experience that relates to agriculture or life sciences for this prompt. Ideally, the experience the student writes about will also be reflected in their extracurricular pursuits listed on The Common Application. Applicants should tell a small story. Too often, applicants try to accomplish too much by telling grandiose stories. And applicants should be sure to leave out the self-congratulatory sentences. There’s no need to brag in elite college admissions — ever! 

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:

Please feel free to share additional details.

This prompt allows applicants to write a more detailed portrait of their family’s farm or their experience working as, say, a farmhand. It’s another chance for students to show rather than tell why they hope to contribute to the field of agriculture.

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Students have up to 650 words to respond to the below essay prompt:

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 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.

It’s a hybrid essay prompt as Cornell’s admissions committee not only wants to know why applicants want to study architecture, art, and planning, but they want to hear a specific example of an instance that inspires their interest in the field. Of course, we always encourage our students at Ivy Coach to share such anecdotes when asked why they’re interested in a discipline — whether they’re asked to cite an example or not — since showing rather than telling is always the way to go.

And then the third component of this hybrid essay prompt is a Why College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. This component of an applicant’s answer should be filled with genuine specifics about the school within a school. And, no, name-dropping professors and regurgitating classes listed in a course catalog do not count. Applicants should aim to capture enduring aspects of the school within a school at Cornell.

College of Arts & Sciences

Students have up to 650 words to respond to the below essay prompt:

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.

It’s a hybrid essay prompt: Why Major and Why School within a School. Cornell wants to understand the origin story of your interest in studying your intended major through a specific narrative — always as a high schooler rather than a child. And they also want to know why Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences. The second part of this essay’s answer should be filled with specifics that only apply to Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences. If a sentence can apply to another university, delete it.

Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Students have up to 650 words to respond to the below essay prompt:

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.

It’s a straight-up-the-middle hybrid essay prompt: Why Major and Why Brooks? Cornell wants to hear a narrative about a student’s interest in studying public policy. It could be through their coursework, their activities, or even their reading for pleasure. And then Cornell wants to hear that an applicant has done their homework on the Brooks School of Public Policy. As such, applicants should cite specifics about the school within a school at Cornell that do not apply to any other school at Cornell or any other university.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Students have up to 650 words to respond to the below essay prompt:

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).

It’s a hybrid essay prompt: Why Business and Why SC Johnson? Applicants should share a story or stories about their interest in business — ideally as evidenced in their extracurricular pursuits listed in the activities section of their Common Applications.

And then, applicants should transition to demonstrating how they can best pursue their interests at SC Johnson. To do so, applicants should cite specifics about the school within a school at Cornell that don’t apply to any other undergraduate business school. And, no, name-dropping professors and listing classes do not count as genuine specifics. Instead, applicants should cite enduring specifics about the school within a school to show rather than tell why they wish to attend.

College of Engineering

College of Engineering applicants must write two supplemental essays, each of up to 250 words in length. The first essay is required of all College of Engineering applicants. For the second essay, applicants have the choice of responding to the first or second essay prompt option.

Essay 1

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.

Cornell’s College of Engineering wants applicants to narrow their engineering focus. If a student is interested in mechanical engineering, their essay response should focus on mechanical engineering. Likewise, if it’s environmental engineering, the student should get specific on their interest in environmental engineering.

To do so, applicants should focus on the curriculum design and the programs and institutes Cornell boasts that tackle research in these areas. And they’d be wise to avoid writing about classes. It’s a Why College essay and Why College essays should not be approached like a game of Mad Libs where a student can insert a class name for one university and change it to another name for another university. It’s all about capturing the enduring specifics of the College of Engineering, and the specific engineering track a student intends to pursue.

Essay 2
Option 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.

This prompt presents a fantastic opportunity for engineering applicants to showcase how they think and want to change the world in a specific way. Applicants should be sure to pick a small problem in their local community that they encounter — and it need not be a sexy problem. Maybe it’s potholes. Whatever it is, applicants should showcase how they’ll leverage the power of engineering to make the problem better for locals.

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 the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?

While the Supreme Court outlawed Affirmative Action, Cornell’s admissions committee still wishes to admit a diverse class. And diversity doesn’t only mean racial diversity. It also means diversity of faiths, geography, gender, sexual orientation, and thought. So the question is wide open for an applicant to showcase what life experience or perspective they’ll bring to the College of Engineering.

College of Human Ecology

Students have up to 650 words to respond to the below essay prompt. Students are also asked to check out these essay application tips before beginning.

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.

It’s a three-part question. Cornell’s admissions committee wants to know why students are interested in studying a discipline within the College of Human Ecology, how they hope to influence this field during their lifetime, and why the College of Human Ecology is the right fit for them. As such, students should share a narrative that demonstrates the origin of their interest in the field — always as a high schooler instead of as a child — before transitioning to their hopes and dreams for shaping the field in their own small but meaningful way during their lifetimes, and then citing specifics about CHE that only apply to this school within a school at Cornell.

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Students have up to 650 words to respond to the below essay prompt:

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.

It’s a hybrid essay prompt: Why Labor Relations and Why ILR? Students should thus begin by writing a narrative that details their interest in studying labor relations — always as a high schooler rather than as a child — which is ideally evidenced in their activities listed in The Common Application.

Applicants should then transition to the Why ILR component of the prompt. And, no, citing that ILR is the most prestigious school to study labor relations sure doesn’t count. Students need to detail specific after specific about ILR — without stooping to naming professors or listing classes — that do not apply to another other university.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Cornell Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your case for admission to Cornell University by submitting powerful admissions essays, fill out Ivy Coach‘s consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to outline our college counseling services for seniors.

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