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What’s New in College Applications for 2015-2016: Cornell, and How to Explore Colleges, Schools and Majors

In Applying to an American University, Applying to Cornell, Choosing a Major, Cornell Supplement on July 16, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody needing to figure out how to explore a major and what it means to pick a college within a university; anybody who does not know what I mean by what I just wrote;  anybody applying to Cornell.

This is the first in a series of posts on details, trends and changes in college applications for 2015-2016. 

There are few seismic changes in college applications for this year, but a lot of small changes and quite a bit of news.  This post will look at changes to Cornell’s application for this year–and will show why you want to visit and read each college’s application webpages closely.

For an update on college applications data showing admissions trends for Cornell, the Ivy League and others, you will want to see my recent post on trends from last year’s app cycle.

Tinkering with the Details:  Cornell University

The message for this section is simple:  visit each school’s website and look closely at all of the rules and requirements.  Don’t just rely on a cursory look, or on the college applications book you bought, or on what your friend who applied last year did–schools change details of their applications all the time.

New Wrinkle 1: Spring Admissions

Cornell introduced a spring admissions option for last year’s applicants–instead of starting in the fall of 2015, a small number of students will begin school in spring of 2016.  This total of 125 spring admits was added to the planned enrollment for the class of 2019.  All universities have a certain amount of attrition each year, particularly when enrolled freshman students choose not to return.  In the Ivy League schools, the number of students who  feel alienated or overwhelmed or for some other reasons choose to go somewhere else for their sophomore year is generally very small.  In Cornell’s case, the most recent data shows that they lost 3% of their enrolled freshman–about 431 total for the last available year of data.   This certainly played a role in Cornell’s move to create what is in essence a half-year gap enrollment option, filling in some of the slots that open when students leave, but it also seems a genuine effort to offer some additional opportunity–and it is worth a look particularly if you have plans for a gap year.  June to January may be enough of a year off . . . For more on this and for a profile of the enrolled class from last year, read this:  Cornell Class of 2019.

New Wrinkle 2: The End of Alternate College at Cornell, and What is a College within a University Anyhow?

Cornell is deleting the alternate college option in their application.  In the past, applicants selected a primary college to which they were applying and then had the option of designating an alternate college–the idea being that you could increase your chances of admission by selecting two areas of interest.  Of course this meant that specific foci in essays would not work so well for the alternate, and Cornell concluded that there was no real benefit to students (or for Cornell app readers) in the extra paperwork– Cornell is liberal in allowing students to change their educational paths, i.e, move to a new major and college/area of study.  So the alternate college option gone, but we can still talk about:

Majors and Colleges

If this confuses you, here’s the deal:  all universities are divided into smaller units that house  specific areas of study.  These subdivisions within the university as a whole are called colleges or schools. Something like a college of engineering is pretty much self-explanatory, but most universities also have very diverse colleges/schools, like Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, which includes everything from a Comparative Literature major to an Astronomy or Chemistry or Anthropology major.   Majors are still more specific areas of study pursued by individual students and defined by a selection of required classes that lie within the college or school that houses the major.

Here is how Cornell breaks itself down:
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
College of Arts and Sciences
College of Engineering
School of Hotel Administration
College of Human Ecology
School of Industrial and Labor Relations

You would want to use the information for the college that houses your areas of interest to identify a major or  majors to pursue.  If you are not very clear about what you want to do, just go to the various colleges that look interesting and click, click, click to explore what is on offer, going right on down to specific classes and instructors.   The College of Arts and Sciences does  a good job helping you explore majors and minors, so for an example click here:  Cornell Arts and Sciences–and read on to explore the majors and classes they offer.  You can, of course, also explore minors and look at double majors using the same procedure.

I add only that  recent changes in technology are confusing some traditional distinctions–bioengineering, for example, pulls together some of the toughest classes from multiple colleges–at Cornell, Biological Engineering lies within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  In contrast, while Chem will be a major subject for a Bioengineering student, a straight Chemistry major will be in the College of Arts and Sciences.  Other schools put Bioengineering in their College of Engineering–again reinforcing my message to visit and read closely the information your target schools offer.

As for  supplemental essays and information, Cornell is likely to release the supplement only at the end of this month (I write this on July 16, 2015–plan on July 30-31st for this year’s release, based on recent year openings).  If I pick up an early release of the essays and prompts, I will post it and my analysis.  In the meantime, you should be working on your Common Application essays–click here for the prompts:  Common App Prompts for 2015-2016. 

Scroll past the intro to find the full Common App prompts, followed by the U.C. prompts and others.

Good luck and come back soon.

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