Scoop! The Cornell University Application Essay Prompts for 2015-2016

If you’ve been waiting to start the Cornell essays, wait no more.  They’re Baaack.

Like many schools,  Cornell has posted a form with the prompts for this year ahead of the official unveiling when the Common App goes live on August 1st.  The “2016” application has been posted for those who will use a paper application with the Universal App.  The essay prompts are the same no matter what format you use, paper or eletronic, Common Application or Universal Application, so you can start writing now.

And the news for this year’s Cornell prompts is good:  only one important change has been made, and that change eases confusion and lessens the pressure on you to write a Swiss-army knife of an essay.  I will post the prompts in full, below my brief explanation here:

Alternate College Option is Gone

The big change for Cornell in 2015-2016 is this:  as I reported earlier this year, Cornell is dropping the alternate college designation on their applications.  Cornell used to offer applicants the option to write one supplemental essay, but to aim it at a primary college and a second, alternate college option.  So in the past you could choose the alternate option and then you wrote an essay for your dream college that was also supposed to work for another college, just in case.  Thus the Swiss-army knife allusion.

However, unlike a Swiss-army knife, which actually works pretty well based on my experience, an essay written for one specific college is not likely to work very well for a second college–this observation also based on my experience.  In writing an essay that might work for a fallback subject of study, you are more likely to hurt your chances of creating a good essay in the first place.  Given the low number of admits to alternate colleges, Cornell has (mercifully) killed this option.  Thanks, Big Red.

Confused by all this talk of colleges when you only want to go to that place called Cornell?  Here’s the gist:  Universities are subdivided into smaller units.  Usually this is done by dividing the university into less broad units called colleges, and then dividing those colleges into more specific schools, which house one or a limited number of majors.  I  talked about this in my earlier post on Cornell as well, and detailed how Cornell specifically divides itself into various colleges, et al, so if you did not click and read above, click and read now:  Cornell’s schools and colleges.  This earlier post also ties into looking at majors, and I link you to some specific example material at Cornell to get you started, so it’s worth a read as a broad introduction to subjects of study (college majors, in other words) and to Cornell specifically.

It’s also a good place to start thinking about the kind of application essay that asks you to explain why you want to attend the university, or how you plan to use your education at the university, or what attracts you to the university, or what about the university engages you intellectually . . . I could go on, but these are all basically the same prompt.  And this prompt will require you do do some research on the university, narrow down the schools of interest, then start digging deeper, into and including looking for research of interest that is going on at the university and within your target college, then into specific people doing the research, as well as looking for facts and video material, up to and including lectures, and anything else that is pertinent–and what is pertinent includes anything that is authentically interesting to you and that might also be useful in an app essay. 

Just avoid that mistake of confusing the options for an undergrad with those for graduate study only.  Some stuff you find online will not be available to you as an undergrad, and it would sound either ignorant or pretentious  to write as if you were going to be a (graduate) assistant for Professor Bigshot–as an incoming freshmen.  T.A.’s and G.A.’s are almost always grad students.

If you are looking at an M.B.A. program page online, for example, you are in the wrong place.   Go back to the undergrad programs (and try the M.B.A. again in four or more years).

I will write again soon about how to research subjects within a university (provided the application editing I do does not turn into a deluge earlier than planned).  In the meantime, Oh Future Big Red, read the prompts below, and start clicking and reading on the Cornell website–and taking notes.  Keep in mind that you should be talking about Cornell as much as yourself.  And in the process, you may make up or change your mind about what it is you want to study. Good luck and e-mail me (soon–space is going) if you need editing help.  Here are the Cornell prompts for 2015-2016–and yes, they are the same as last year, except for dropping the alternate college:

Cornell

College Interest Essays
The primary focus of your college interest essay should be what you intend to study at Cornell. Please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words)  that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying. Be sure to include your full legal name exactly as it appears on passports or other official documents and date of birth, and attach the page to the back of this form. (Special note here:  the Cornell Application pdf linked below states the max words at 500, the Common App site on 8/9/15 stated a max wordcount of 650 for the same essays–as it has since 7/1/15.  Which leads me to question if Cornell is penalizing those who submit a paper app (the pdf with a limit of 500 words) or if this is a bureaucratic snafu–anybody at Cornell or elsewhere can use the comments at the bottom of this prompt to let me and everybody else know.  In the meantime, submit electronically to evade this odd 500 word limit on the paper app–even if you have to walk miles from your cabin in the woods to go online, I guess.  Okay, back to Cornell’s instructions):

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

How have your interests and related experiences influenced the major you have selected in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning:
Why are you excited to pursue your chosen major in AAP? What specifically about AAP and Cornell University will help you fulfill your academic and creative interests and long-term goals?

College of Arts and Sciences:
Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests?

College of Engineering:
Tell us about an engineering idea you have, or about your interest in engineering. Describe how your ideas and interests may be realized by—and linked to—specific resources within the College of Engineering. Finally, explain what a Cornell Engineering education will enable you to accomplish.

School of Hotel Administration:
The global hospitality industry includes hotel and foodservice management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, and law. Describe what has influenced your decision to make the business of hospitality your academic focus. What personal qualities make you a good fit for SHA?

College of Human Ecology:
How have your experiences influenced you to consider the College of Human Ecology and how will your choice of major(s) impact your goals and plans for the future?

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.

And finally, for those who want it straight from the font, here it is:

Cornell University Supplement for 2016 (UCA version in pdf format)

(Note that Cornell dates their application forms by the year of admission–you will be entering in the fall of 2016, thus this is the 2016 application.  Other colleges use other systems (e.g. the class that enters in 2016 is usually called the class of 2020, and some schools will call you that.  Optimistic, that’s what they are.  Cornell apparently doesn’t look that far down the road.)  Good luck, come back soon, and contact me if you need editing.

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

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.