What are my Chances of Getting into Cornell?

Our clients and the regular readers of this blog should know by now that we do not subscribe to the insane theory that everyone should go to an Ivy League school. The truth is that most students aren’t better off at an Ivy, and one of our goals is to demystify the application process so that kids can apply to schools that they actually have a chance of getting into. That said, there are still a lot of high school students (and parents) out there that think the Ivy League is the only way to go.

It’s pretty grim to compare the acceptance rates of the Ivy League schools. You see a 4%, a 6%, and then come across Cornell’s overall acceptance rate of 10.6% for the class of 2023 and think you’ve struck gold. A lot of people think, “If I’m going to throw my hat in the ring, why not try at Cornell?” But let’s face it, 10.6% only looks high when you’re comparing it to Harvard’s 4.5%. And in the grand scheme of things, 10.6% is still incredibly low.

While it’s true that Cornell has the highest acceptance rate of all of the Ivy’s, that 10.6% figure is misleading for a number of reasons. Over the past ten years, Cornell’s early decision application pool has increased by 78 percent. That’s a lot. This means that as more students apply early, your chances of getting in should you apply regular decision diminish because a good portion of the class is already full before you’ve even sent in your application. So, when you really break down the numbers, your chances of getting in are much lower than 10.6%. The rest of this blog post will examine the student body composition at Cornell and explain how early decision acceptances affect your overall shot at getting in. 

But first: a note on our data. Gathering the information for this post was no easy feat. We started by choosing three groups of students to highlight as outliers: athletes, legacies, and international students. We chose them because a majority of the students that we work and interact with who want to go to Cornell are not members of these subsets. We did not highlight “minorities” in this piece, as most pieces like this tend to. We find that this perpetuates hate and racism and isn’t really a valid metric. For those who doubt us: for Cornell’s class of 2022 the number of legacies was more than double that of African American students. Do not @ us about this.

While we think it’s important for everyone applying to Cornell to understand the class composition, this information is especially helpful for a non-international, non-sports playing student with no ties to the school.  

It’s important to note that Cornell does not disclose this information. These figures are not on the common data set, which makes them very hard to triple check. We gathered our information by looking at student body profiles on Cornell’s website, cross referencing those numbers on Ivy Coach, reading articles published by The Cornell Sun, comparing information released by other Ivy League schools in their respective newspapers, and calling the admissions office (repeatedly) at Cornell. That last part didn’t work out so well. Many articles had different stats, so we always went with the most recently published number. With all of that said, our data isn’t perfect and our numbers could be slightly off by a tenth of a percentage point. The conclusions still hold true. By all means, if you know of a better way to find this information, slide into our DMs.

Let’s start by looking at the overall student body composition at Cornell for the freshman classes of 2014-2022. Again, we’ve grouped “everyone else” together because those are the students that we most commonly work with.

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As you can see here, international students, athletes, and legacies comprise about 30% of any given incoming freshman class at Cornell. We’ll explain the importance of this later.

Now, let’s look at the early decision data. The table below includes the early decision acceptance rates, percentages of international students, athletes and legacies that were accepted early; the percentage of the class that was filled early (important), and regular decision acceptance rates. (The information for international students, athletes, and legacies was not available for years 2014-2019, hence the N/A.)

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Here are our main takeaways from the tables above:

  1. If you’re going to apply to Cornell, apply early.

    When you apply to Cornell regular decision, anywhere from 37%-47% of the class is already full. That’s almost half. With the exception of a few years when the numbers bounced from 37-39%, the percentage of the incoming freshman class that’s filled by early decision applicants rises every year. On top of that, the regular decision acceptance rate is declining.

  2. Legacy students are encouraged to apply early, and have a ~20% chance of getting in when they do so.

    Also, since the class of 2014, legacy students have comprised at least 14% of every freshman class. This article published in 2018 by the Cornell Sun states that Cornell students should apply early to demonstrate interest. We have our own theory that Cornell wants legacies to apply early so that they can gauge how well they’re keeping alumnus engaged and active. Either way, if you have no familial ties to Cornell then you will not be taking one of those spots.

  3. You are not competing for one of roughly ~3,300 spots available per year.

    If you are not an international student, athlete, or legacy, you are competing for the one of the leftover spots, about ~2,300. The first table shows this breakdown clearly. About 70% of those ~3,300 spots remain for those that are not international students, athletes, or legacies. This lessens your chances greatly if you fall into the “everyone else” category.

  4. Your chance of getting into Cornell is probably not 10.6%.

    The overall acceptance rate is an averaged figure that does not apply to everyone. If you look at the last column on the second table, you’ll see that the regular decision acceptance rate has dropped every year. If you fall into the “everyone else” category, your chances are lower than 10.6%.

This all goes back to our general sentiment towards applying to an Ivy League school: If you’re serious about applying to Cornell, you need to be specific and focused. There should be specific areas of interest that you have clearly defined before looking at Cornell’s website. Don’t apply to Cornell unless you know exactly why you’re applying to Cornell, and definitely don’t apply just because it’s the Ivy League with the highest acceptance rate.

If you’d like to learn more about how we help students build out their college lists, contact us here.