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Cornell University is a private Ivy League research university that accepts just 14 percent of applicants. Although this is a slightly high number for the Ivy League, it still makes Cornell very selective.
In order to boost your chances of acceptance, it’s important to be informed about the admissions process.
Luckily, we’ve got you covered! In this guide, we’ll share:
- Important info about Cornell
- Can’t-miss application deadlines
- Application essay topics
- How to apply, step-by-step
- Tips for applying successfully
By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the information and tips a successful Cornell applicant needs. Let’s get started!
Cornell was founded in 1865 and is the federal land-grant institution in New York State. The university feels that as such, they have a responsibility to “make contributions in all fields of knowledge in a manner that prioritizes public engagement to help improve the quality of life in our state, the nation, the world.”
The “private university with a public mission” boasts many notable alumni, including 45 Nobel laureates, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, authors Toni Morrison and E.B. White, and Bill Nye the “Science Guy.”
It’s divided into 14 schools, seven of which are undergraduate, and utilizes a semester-based academic calendar.
Enrollment, Tuition, and Financial Aid
Undergraduate enrollment at Cornell totals 14,566. Total enrollment is 23,016. With a faculty of 2,157, the student/faculty ratio is 9.1:1. The most frequent class size at Cornell is 10-19 students.
The university estimates that tuition for the 2018-2019 school year will be $54,818, while housing, dining, and health-related expenses will total $15,136. Books, supplies, and miscellaneous expenses are estimated at $2,800. Costs may vary depending on which Cornell school the student applies to and whether the student is a New York State resident.
Founder Ezra Cornell’s vision was a university where “any person can find instruction in any study,” and Cornell tries to honor this vision today. The school’s mission is to remove financial barriers so that any deserving student has the opportunity to invest in a Cornell education.
Financial aid options at Cornell include work-study, loans, and Cornell grants, described by the university as “free money that does not need to be repaid.” About half of undergraduate students receive Cornell grants, with the average award totaling $40,686, and some as high as $76,997.
Cornell spans 2,300 acres in the city of Ithaca, New York. Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes region, the university allows students to experience the natural beauty of upstate New York.
Hiking and outdoor activities are favored pastimes, with students exploring nearby lakes and gorges. Although some students say the city is “in the middle of nowhere,” it’s been named one of the top 100 places to live, a top 10 recreation city, and among both the greenest and “foodiest” towns in America.
Nearby Ithaca Commons offers walkable restaurants and shops, and students also head to Collegetown for a bustling social scene. Ithaca’s weekend farmer’s market is another popular destination. But for students who want more city life, Syracuse is under an hour away, and there are frequent buses to NYC that allow for day trips.
Cornell’s largest undergraduate colleges are the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. High-ranking graduate colleges include the Law School, Weill Cornell Medical College, the College of Engineering, and the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, as well as the top-ranked College of Veterinary Medicine.
Among Cornell’s most popular majors are Engineering, Business, Marketing, Management, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Agriculture, Agriculture Operations, and Social Sciences.
The school has one of the best freshman retention rates in the country, with 97 percent of freshmen returning for their sophomore year. Students say that there are plentiful opportunities to pursue just about any interest in-depth, and professors are “experts in their field…who are enthusiastic about passing their knowledge on to their students.”
Student Body and Extracurricular Activities
Cornell students hail from 50 states and 140 countries, so they’re a diverse bunch united by ambition and ability. 52 percent of students are female and 48 percent are male, and 100 percent of students are full-time.
More than 1,000 student organizations can be found on campus, meaning there truly is something for everyone. Cornell offers an active Greek life, with more than 60 fraternity and sorority chapters. 31 percent of students join a sorority, and 32 percent join a fraternity.
The school also has more than 30 NCAA Division I varsity teams, the Cornell Big Red, that compete in the Ivy League. The men’s lacrosse, wrestling, and hockey teams are particularly successful. In addition, 30 percent of students participate in intramural sports.
At Cornell, you can participate in storied traditions like Dragon Day, when costumed students from the College of Architecture build an enormous dragon and parade it across campus while being heckled by rival students from the College of Engineering.
First-year undergraduate students live and learn together on North Campus. Residence halls are conveniently located near the Tatkon Center, a support and resource center for first-year students offering tutoring, counseling, meditation, and more.
Students also encounter Faculty Fellows, professors who are affiliated with specific residence halls and mingle with students at programs and events. There’s also a Dining Discussion Program, where students share conversation and meals with professors in the dining room.
54 percent of undergrads live on campus, and upper-level students can live on West Campus, in a themed residence hall on North Campus, in co-ops, or in a fraternity or sorority house. Some consider the upper class housing lottery to be stressful, but many off-campus residence options are available too.
Cornell Dining is ranked in the top 10 nationally, and they have more than 30 dining facilities that offer flexible meal options. There’s a kosher dining room, and students can eat vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, halal, farm-to-table, and more. The school also frequently hosts fun and delicious dining events.
Applying to Cornell
Now, let’s take a look at the most important information you’ll need to know to apply to Cornell University.
Average Admitted Student
Since Cornell accepts only 14 percent of applicants, it’s important to know how your statistics stack up to the average admitted student’s numbers. This gives you a good idea of your chances of acceptance. And if you’ve got time to spare, you can take action to make your application more competitive.
Cornell’s average admitted student has an SAT score of 1480 out of 1600. The 25th percentile score is 1410, while the 75th percentile score is 1570.
Here’s what that means for you:
You should aim for at least a 1410 if you want to be admitted to Cornell. Almost anywhere else, this is a fantastic SAT score, but it still puts you at a slight disadvantage when applying to Cornell. To be on the safe side, it’s best to score a 1480 or get as close to 1570 as possible.
Cornell is competitive when it comes to GPA as well, and the average admitted student has a GPA of 4.04. This means you’ll need to take challenging courses, make nearly straight A’s, and be at or very near the top of your class.
What if My Numbers Are Lower?
If you’re already a junior or senior, you don’t have much time to boost your GPA. Instead, you should focus on increasing your SAT score as much as possible, securing high-quality letters of recommendation, and writing excellent college application essays. If you still have time, work on raising your grades. Take challenging courses, and get tutoring or extra support as needed.
Of course, you can still apply to Cornell, even if your GPA and SAT scores are lower than those mentioned here.
Cornell’s website explains that there’s no magic formula to get into Cornell. Instead, the admissions process is “highly individualized,” and the admissions team evaluates whether you’ll be a good fit for the university’s culture and philosophy.
Admissions officers consider factors including:
- Intellectual potential
- Your reasons for choosing Cornell
Still, you should understand that if your numbers are much lower than those of the average admitted student, your chances of acceptance aren’t great. Pursue your dreams by applying to Cornell, but protect yourself by applying to additional schools that are a better fit for your numbers.
You have two options if you’re applying to Cornell: Early Decision or Regular Decision.
Early Decision is binding, and Cornell’s website explains that you should only consider applying early if Cornell is your first choice. The deadline for Early Decision applicants is November 1. Students can be admitted, denied, or postponed to Regular Decision. Admissions decisions are announced in mid-December.
The Regular Decision deadline is January 2, and decisions are released online in early April.
Accepted students must reply to an offer of admission by May 1.
Should I Apply Early?
Although Cornell considers all applications equally, some evidence suggests applying early may give you an advantage.
An early application indicates that you’re passionate and committed to Cornell, and you’ll also be compared to a smaller pool of applicants. Most importantly, the acceptance rate for Cornell’s Early Decision applicants is 25.6 percent. (Remember, this is in comparison to an overall acceptance rate of 14 percent.)
Of course, you should only apply early if you’re certain that Cornell is absolutely your first choice. Applying early also means you’ll need to have your standardized tests, letters of recommendation, essays, and application completed by November.
Applying to Cornell: The How-To Guide
To apply to Cornell, you’ll need to complete either the Common Application or the Universal College Application.
Cornell explains that there’s no preference for one application over another: “Although there are slight differences in the applications, it is important to recognize that both applications provide us with the critical information that our selection committees will need to make thoughtful admissions decisions and they will be viewed equally.”
You may wish to decide which application to use based on the other schools you’re interested in. The Common App is accepted by more colleges and universities, so it may save you time during the application process.
Below is a brief overview of the Common Application and the Universal College application.
The Common App is accepted by over 700 colleges and universities. To complete it, you’ll need to create a student account at commonapp.org and add Cornell University to your “My Colleges” list.
You’ll be prompted to provide general information about your grades, course activities, test scores, exam dates, and parents/legal guardians. During the process of applying to colleges and scholarships, it’s a good idea to keep all of this information together in one place.
The Common App also has a required personal essay. In brief, the seven topic options include:
Meaningful background, identity, interest, or talent
Lessons learned from a challenge, setback, or failure
A time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea
A problem you have solved or would like to solve (ethical dilemma, intellectual challenge, or research query)
An accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth
A captivating topic, idea, or concept that you find fascinating
A topic of your choice
When you fill out the Common App, you’ll also complete the Cornell Questions and Writing Supplement. This supplement, which we’ll discuss in-depth momentarily, is crucial.
Universal College Application
The Universal College Application is a newer option that’s currently accepted by 44 colleges and universities.
If you choose to complete the UCA, you’ll need to first create your applicant profile, then add Cornell to your “My Colleges” list.
Some benefits of the UCA are:
- The interface is faster and includes an auto-save feature.
- If you need technical assistance, you’ll get a faster response (since less applicants use the UCA).
- You can link to online content you’ve produced, such as a film project or newspaper article.
- You can edit your essay after submitting (if you notice any errors).
Like the Common App, the Universal College Application requires a personal essay. The topic is:
Please write an essay that demonstrates your ability to develop and communicate your thoughts. Some ideas include: a person you admire; a life-changing experience; or your viewpoint on a particular current event.
You’ll also be required to complete the Cornell Supplement.
When you apply to Cornell, you’ll need to select an undergraduate college or school. Your options are:
- College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
- College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
- College of Arts and Sciences
- Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (School of Hotel Administration and Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management)
- College of Engineering
- College of Human Ecology
- School of Industrial and Labor Relations
This is an important decision, as applicants aren’t permitted to change the college to which they’ve applied after submitting the application.
The college you choose also determines which supplemental essay you’ll write:
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: Describe two or three of your intellectual interests and why you are excited to pursue them within your chosen major in AAP. What personal experiences, background, or future goals will you bring to your scholarly and artistic pursuits at Cornell?
College of Arts and Sciences: Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests?
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management: How have your interests and experiences influenced your decision to study Applied Economics and Management? Describe how you would take advantage of the Dyson School’s unique opportunities, for example, its affiliation with both the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: School of Hotel Administration: The global hospitality industry includes hotel and foodservice management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, technology, and law. Describe what has influenced your decision to study business through the lens of hospitality. What personal qualities make you a good fit for SHA?
College of Engineering: Cornell Engineering celebrates innovative problem solving that helps people, communities…the world. Consider your ideas and aspirations and describe how a Cornell Engineering education would allow you to leverage technological problem-solving to improve the world we live in.
College of Human Ecology: How have your experiences influenced you to apply to the College of Human Ecology? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?
School of Industrial and Labor Relations: Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests.
In regards to the essays, Cornell offers two pieces of advice:
- Don’t write what you think admissions officers want to hear. Give the answers that will tell admissions officers about you.
- Help the admissions team learn about something that’s important to you. They’re particularly interested in the topic you choose, how well you develop your idea, and how you express yourself.
Additional Application Materials
You will also need to pay an $80 application fee. If this represents a financial hardship, you may submit a fee waiver request.
In addition to the materials outlined above, your application must also include:
- The School Report
- One counselor recommendation
- Two teacher evaluations
- Official SAT or ACT scores
- Official transcript
- The Midyear Report, when mid-year grades are available
- Any additional items required by the school to which you’ve applied (design submissions, interview or portfolio, SAT Subject Tests)
Freshman applicants are required to submit either all ACT or all SAT scores. If you choose to submit both exams, you must submit all scores for both tests. The optional essay section is not required.
Although SAT results are superscored to combine your highest reading and math sections, ACT results are not.
Some colleges and schools have SAT Subject Test requirements as follows:
- Arts and Sciences: Two subjects of your choice
- Engineering: Mathematics (any level) and a science of your choice
ACT scores can’t be used to fulfill SAT Subject Test requirements, and neither can AP and IB scores. However, if you take AP and IB tests, Cornell does ask that you report your scores.
After completing your application, be sure to save copies for yourself. Check your email regularly for communication regarding your application, and ensure that Cornell emails are able to bypass any spam or junk filter.
You can also set up your online application status account by following the instructions you’ll receive by email after submitting your application. Cornell recommends double checking that you clicked Submit/Send for both the application and the supplement.
Conclusion: Applying to Cornell
When applying to Cornell, you’ll need to complete either the Common Application or the Universal College Application, in addition to the Cornell Supplement. Applications must be submitted by November 1 for Early Decision and January 2 for Regular Decision.
Cornell also requires the SAT or ACT, a school report with a counselor recommendation, transcripts (including mid-year and final updates), and two teacher recommendations.
You have the best chance of being admitted to Cornell if your SAT is at least a 1480 and your GPA is at least a 4.0. Cornell admits around 14 percent of applicants, meaning admission is highly competitive. If your numbers are below those of the average admitted student, be sure to apply to safer options as well.
At the same time, don’t despair: Cornell considers many factors in addition to your statistics. Build up your SAT and GPA as high as possible, and write thoughtful college application essays that help admissions officers get to know you and all you have to offer.
Make your application as competitive as possible by using the information and tips here, plus the advice from our guide on getting into the Ivy League. Who knows? You just might get a highly coveted acceptance from Cornell.