In this blog post, we take a deep-dive into the Why Cornell essay. The good news is, there is a formula to crack. There are several key points students should hit in reaching their overall objective of persuading the admissions committee that they are qualified to pursue their intended area of study.
Area of Study
The first component should be about your intended area of interest and what experiences influenced your decision to pursue that major. One note: Some of you don’t know what you want to study. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SAY YOU ARE UNDECIDED. This essay is not binding. No one is going to hunt you down on your first day of school and make sure you declare a major. So, do yourself a favor and write about the area of study you are, at this point, most likely to pursue.
Craft A Narrative
One of our students was a life-long, avid baseball fan. He began his essay by talking about how he used to track the stats of various Yankees players, from Bob Nightingale to Buster Olney. He ultimately realized that the ways in which reporters framed sports stories informed his views on the sport. He also began to admire people who could tell a gripping story related to the typically drab topic of sports data. As such, he decided to pursue a communications major at Cornell.
This story works because it’s relatable. Sometimes kids try to use the essay to get ~profound~. They talk about a tragedy or a revelatory, life-altering moment in their essay and it misses the mark. We don’t mean to undermine the significance of important memories in your life, but not all anecdotes serve the purpose you want them to.
Your objective should be to connect with the admissions committee. That might sound like a difficult task, granted you don’t know your audience personally. As such, you want to humanize yourself as best you can. Stories like lighthearted displays of passion from your youth are a great way to go. Most people can relate.
Weaving in Extra-Curriculars
Next, you should aim to highlight evidence of relevant demonstrated interest. Your essays should not replicate any other part of your application. It should provide new information. Since your extra-curriculars are already on your resume, you don’t want to spend too much time discussing them here. The admissions committee gets it. The extra-curriculars should be a vehicle to connect yourself to the sphere of study at the university.
Our baseball student wrote that he attended the “Wharton Sports Business Academy at the University of Pennsylvania, where I learned many of the fundamental facets of the business of sports, and developed my goal of working in sports media.” Obviously, this information was also present on his resume. So, this sentence really served the function of a transition into the next paragraph and a reminder to the reader that he is qualified by years of experience to pursue his intended major.
Why Cornell’s Major
The majority of your essay--your focal point-- should be about what Cornell has to offer and why you are interested in it. Spend time researching majors at the school. Dive deeply into class curricula, professors, research projects, notable alumni, and any other ancillary information related to the topic. Choose a few very specific academic elements that relate directly to your interest in pursuing your major. Talk about a specific class you would like to take, what skills you have to cultivate in that class, and how those skills fulfill your interest. Discuss academic research that interests you and achievements of the faculty you respect.
Then, in a short paragraph, discuss a subset of classes from another disciple that might help you in your academic pursuit. So, if you’re like our student who loved baseball, perhaps the majority of your essay will be about why you want to pursue a communications major with a focus in sports reporting. A secondary paragraph might also speak to your interest in taking classes at the Business School so you can gain better insight into the operational and financial happenings within the world of sports.
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