How to Write the Cornell Supplement 2019-2020

Cornell is a private research university that is a member of the prestigious Ivy League. Like Columbia, Harvard, and Yale, Cornell is in an urban setting. However, Ithaca, a medium-sized city in upstate New York, is a smaller and more low-key than New York City or Boston. This makes Cornell a great geographic fit for people who want to be surrounded by resources, but don’t want to be shoved on public transit. Cornell has 15,182 undergraduate students spread across a variety of colleges and is famous for their unique programs for an Ivy League institution. Cornell is the only school in the Ivy League to offer degrees in agriculture and hospitality. They boast 50 Nobel Laureates, and 23% of the students are international. The acceptance rate is 10.6%.

The Cornell supplement for the 2019-2020 application cycle is fundamentally the same as the one from last year, although it is worded differently.  

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. 

If you’ve been writing a lot of supplements, one of the first things you probably noticed is that they don’t give a word limit. However, if you look down at the bottom right of the dialogue box (the place you write your answer), you’ll see that it will cut you off at 650 words. This means that there is a 650-word limit. We advise our students to aim to have their responses be around 500-650 words. While you can write less than 500, it could show a lack of effort, interest, or attention. Writing less than 500 words would certainly be sacrificing valuable space for the convenience of a shorter answer. And while the prompt is winding, this is really a “why us?” question. You should have a lot to say!

Having space is a luxury, but it can be easy to get lost in it and to find yourself somewhere with no idea how you got there or where to go next. To take full advantage of this prompt, it’s critical that you have a plan of action. We like to approach it with the outside in mind: Introductory Anecdote, Academics, Environment and Community, Closing. For the remainder of this post, we will be breaking them down for you.


You need to start your answer with a story that builds the narrative around the information you will be providing for the rest of the prompt. This should not be about a visit to campus or a friend who goes there. Instead, this section should be focused on who you are and what you are passionate about academically. It will lead to what you want to major in, so it should be related to that. Despite this broad scope, it should also be focused. We like small stories that say a lot. For example, we’ve had students write about the first time they lost a debate, and how that impacted their perspective on rhetoric and language. We’ve had students write about an experience in the field during an internship focus on environmental preservation. We’ve even had students write about volunteering at an animal shelter as part of their recovery from a football-related concussion. There are so many different ways to link your academic passions to what you are passionate about doing — preferably outside of a formal classroom.


After the introductory anecdote, you should transition as smoothly and seamlessly as possible into 1. What you want to study and 2. Why Cornell is uniquely positioned to help you pursue your academic goals (and no, it being a fancy school is not a good enough argument). In this section, you should specify what you intend on majoring in. You should also name two professors in your major department that you would like to study under, and why. These should not be the ‘big name’ professors unless they make the most sense. Focus on match, not clout. After naming professors you’d like to study under, you should specify one class in your major that you are excited to take. It should also not be part of the mandatory curriculum. Follow that with one class outside of your major that you’d like to take and link it to a potential minor. Finally, specify a school-run off-campus study program, research opportunity, or internship opportunity that you would be interested in taking part in.


Once you have set up your academic motivations for applying to Cornell, you should have space to address some of the less curricular reasons. This is somewhere to talk about a team, club, or community group that you’d like to be involved with. Consider including a short anecdote that links you to this interest. We especially love anything to do with food, or something completely unexpected given the rest of your application and that is framed with the awareness that it would require you to bust out of your comfort zone.


When you are closing up this supplement, you should circle back to the passion and excitement that you exhibited early in the piece. Reiterate the link between that passion and our enthusiasm for Cornell.


Are you feeling stuck? Drop us a line. We help students write outstanding supplements that upgrade their applications.