How to Write the Cornell University Supplement 2018-2019

Cornell is a private research university located in Ithaca, NY with an undergraduate student body of approximately 14,000. Last year, Cornell accepted just 10.3% of applicants which is the lowest acceptance rate in school history. The school has called the class of 2022 the “most diverse class in university history.”

Cornell’s supplement asks:

Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into their academic interests, discover new realms of intellectual inquiry, and chart their own path through the College. Tell us why the depth, breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum are ideally suited to exploring the areas of study that excite you. (Please limit your response to 650 words.)

In all its wordiness, the Cornell supplement is basically asking why you want to go to Cornell. We never endorse a boring five paragraph essay, but we do use a formula for answering this question when the length requirement exceeds 500 words. Your goal is to write about what you plan to do both inside and outside of the classroom.

Origin story--academic interests

You need an opening paragraph. This is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions officers. Think ahead here: the story you choose to tell should lead directly into the second paragraph, which is where you’ll pick a major.

We know how overwhelming it can be to try and decide *right now* what you want to do with the rest of your life, but here’s the thing. While it’s important that you are genuinely interested in what you choose to write about, no one is going to hold you to the major you write about in this supplement. Cornell is, afterall, a research school, and this portion of the essay is a research assignment. Pick something that is related to your interests and go with it.

Think about your favorite classes, or the one you hate the least. Then think of a short story that demonstrates your interest in that topic. You need to write about a topic of interest that is also a field of study at Cornell. Look at the portion of their website that lists the majors and minors and plan ahead.

Back It Up

The second paragraph is all academic, and you’ll need to do a deep dive. Every college offers a 101 class in pretty much everything, so steer clear of writing about those. Find upper level (200-300) classes that are only offered at Cornell. You need to find a few classes that really relate to your interests and explain why you want to take them and how they’ll enrich your education. Be as specific as possible. Let’s say you’ve declared your love for biology. There are pretty much a million different directions to go in with any major, so look at the classes that are offered and tailor it to your specific needs.

Read about professors and familiarize yourself with the research they’re doing. This is a good time to write about how you’d like to contribute to research project X. What kind of work are the professors doing and how does that relate to you?


There is a 100% chance that you can find a club, team, or group at Cornell that suits your interests. Cornell has a birding club, a figure skating club, and a fintech club - to name a few. You’ll probably even find a slew of new clubs and potentially interesting ways to spend your Thursday evenings, but now is NOT THE TIME TO BRING THAT UP. The extracurricular you choose should be related to the major that you choose.

One of our writers applied to Cornell and tried to dazzle the admissions office with a lengthy essay on her plans to join the Association for International Human Rights. We totally get it; you want to sound worldly, smart, and in tune with important sounding world issues. The problem was that our writer had zero experience with anything human rights related, so the essay made no sense within the context of the rest of her application. If you haven’t guessed, she didn’t get in.

The extracurriculars you choose to write about absolutely must be a logical extension of the things you’re already doing. They’re looking for students that are focused. Be very specific about why you plan to join this club and explain why your previous experience makes you a good fit for joining.

School-specific things to Cornell

Here’s a little secret: even the most prestigious colleges like to hear nice things about themselves. Don’t go overboard, but find a thing or two about Cornell that makes you want to go there and write about it.

Also, go beyond Google. If you can find out that your summer camp crush has an aunt named Greta who has two golden retrievers, you can find something about Cornell that doesn’t pop up on the first page of the internet. Check Twitter, Instagram, and any other outlet you think might lead you to something that really interests you. Reach out to current students and alumni for hidden gems of information. Maybe you heard a story from an alumnus about a teacher who knew all of her students by name, or there’s a school tradition you’ve been following. Try to find something they don’t brag about on the website.

Sidenote: this is not a good time to talk about how you came home from the hospital the day you were born in a Cornell footed onesie or how you heard that the alumni network can help get you a job in New York City after you graduate. Don’t make them feel like a stepping stone. Think about something unique to Cornell that really makes you want to go there, and write about it.

Wrap it up

Finish by putting a bow on it. Since you’ve followed this formula, you should have already explained things pretty clearly. The majority of your essay is above - backed by Cornell specific research and morsels of information you found in the depths of the internet - so close it out briefly then edit, edit, and edit some more.

If you’re feeling stuck at stage zero with your research or writing, we’d love to help.