Ivy League Breaking News: Cornell’s 2021 Application essays are up and ready to write as of June, 2020. To write a successful Cornell University application essay in 2020-2021, you need to show that you know your area of interest at Cornell. Here’s how.
The Cornell University application essay is particularly demanding in its focus on your knowledge of yourself and even more on your knowledge of an area of interest–or two areas–at Cornell. As a result, to write a successful Cornell University essay, you need to learn how to do research on the university, and on the department(s) involved in your chosen area of study, going into as much detail as you can manage. This is not a true research essay, of course–no MLA citations, please– but it does blend you and your background with what you want to do at Cornell–and why you want to go to Cornell.
I will give you a quick example of the outcome of this kind of research in an essay excerpt in a moment, but first let’s take a look at the prompts themselves:
Cornell University Application Essay Prompts for 2020-2021
REQUIREMENTS: In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words) that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.
College Interest Essays for Fall 2021 Applicants
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 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?
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: What kind of a business student are you? The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business offers two distinct business programs, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. Please describe how your interests and ambitions can be met through one or both of the Schools within the College.
College of Engineering: Tell us about what excites you most about Cornell Engineering and/or studying engineering at Cornell University. How do you see yourself becoming a part of the Cornell Engineering community?
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?
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.
To Start the Cornell University Essay: Demonstrate Interest through Research, Research, Research
Why research? Well, aside from having a better essay, you will also create what is commonly called “Demonstrated Interest.” Colleges like Cornell field tens of thousands of applications, and they look for those applicants who show evidence of real knowledge and commitment to the university–that is, demonstrated interest. Before we get to my example, you might need to learn a bit about college majors (or concentrations) and the way universities are broken up into schools as well as majors–for information on that, click to see my post exploring schools and majors, from a few years back–after you click, scroll past the intro section until you get to the subheading Majors and Colleges, where I explain the way things are organized, focusing on Cornell, specifically.
Now take a look at an example of doing specific research for an academic focus at Cornell.
An Example of Researching a University for the “What’s Your Major” or “What Makes You a Good Fit” Essay Like the Cornell Supplemental Essay
So let’s start with an excerpt of an essay body paragraph from an application essay for Cornell University that I edited, with some specific references in bold print that were added. These bold-font concrete details were put in place by the author after my suggestion that this writer research more specific evidence and information at Cornell-I explained how she could click down through the layers in her specific school and into research units and professors. She found two specific researchers at Cornelll working in her areas of interest:
I hope to interact with professors who have a passion for research and chemistry, such as Geoffrey Coates, whose research on catalysts includes new, biodegradable polymers that might be used in biomedical devices—bringing my interests in surgery and chemistry together. I am also fascinatd by the work of Peng Chen, who has been applying single-molecule microscopy in a variety of innovative ways, with applications that may range from solar power to medicine, the kind of thing that makes me wonder about powering medical implants with solar technology–like, a solar shirt that recharges a heart implant. As I research my options at Cornell . . . . my mind is on fire with ideas.
Keep in mind that concrete evidence is better than broad proclamations in most kinds of writing, and in an application essay, concrete details like those above show a fine-grained knowledge that also suggests your true commitment to Cornell, and thus boost your application’s chances.
This excerpt is still in rough draft form, but you can already see how this writer is trying to cite specific detail on the school and drop some names, to show a deep understanding as well as commitment.
Some Thoughts on Essay Content and Structure
This section of the essay I excerpt above followed the introductory section of the essay. The essay introduction started with a nice hook, after which the author reviewed her own life and interests, and how in a second paragraph, explained how those interests developed and grew. In the excerpt above, from paragraph three, she pivoted to specific things going on at Cornell University that connect with her story and her academic interests.
If you use this kind of approach, the app reader learns a bit more about you in general, but you also provide some bona fides by showing that you know a lot about the school–or at least that you have specifics on why you want to go there.
The result: talk about your Demonstrated Interest. That rough draft, above, became a final draft that helped this particular student get admitted to Cornell university–after that research, and several more drafts, to refine her focus. To see one of the sources this author used in her essay, click to see what Geoffrey Coates is up to, here: Coates Research.
In this kind of research, persistence pays off. For example, for her references to Peng Chen, you would have to find his main page, here–Chen Research–do some reading, and click through two more layers to find out how his work relates to solar energy, here: Chen Solar. It’s the kind of reading and clicking that gets you to these details that will convince your app reader that you are serious about their school.
Yes, all of this may be just to name-drop twice in a single paragraph in a single application essay. But in an application game that is all about nuance and margins, paying attention to the details makes a lot of the difference.
It’s a lot of work, yes. But through this kind of process, many of my clients stumble upon the specific area of interest that they will puruse in college, and some find their mission in life as they did this kind of research.
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