How To Get Into Cornell

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Wondering how to get into Cornell? We’ve got you covered.

Cornell is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York. Cornell offers nearly 80 undergraduate majors and over 120 minors. Over fifteen thousand undergraduate students attend each year, and roughly ten percent of students who apply each year are admitted. 

The competition is tough, and preparation is key. In this guide, we’ll share information and advice that will help you strengthen your application and increase your chances of becoming a Cornellian. 

About Cornell

“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

– Ezra Cornell, 1868

Cornell is a statutory land-grant research university, which means that it’s a private school that receives state funding. It currently has 15,735 undergraduate students, and the student-faculty ratio is nine to one. 

Cornell University offers over four thousand different courses. Its eight colleges offer nearly 80 unique majors and a choice of over 120 possible minors. The majority of its classes have fewer than twenty students each, with only about thirteen percent of courses having more than fifty students per class.

Undergraduates study at Cornell’s Ithaca campus, which spans over two thousand acres in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. In addition to the main campus, the university also owns 2,800 acres nearby that house the Cornell Botanical Gardens. This beautiful outdoor space includes an arboretum, herb gardens, ponds, flower gardens, and even waterfalls.

First-year and second-year students are guaranteed campus housing. The main campus offers over thirty dining facilities with food that has been ranked in the top ten among U.S. colleges. There are over twenty libraries, including one of the largest research libraries in the United States. 

Is it Hard to Get into Cornell?

Cornell is a highly competitive university. It accepts approximately 10% of applicants each year. In the past, rates hovered around ten percent. In recent years, the acceptance rate inched closer to nine percent. 

Acceptance rates declined drastically this past year, with record-breaking numbers of students applying. Over seventy thousand students applied in 2022, and the acceptance rate dropped to 7.3%. The acceptance rate for Early Decision students was much higher, and we’ll cover that in detail towards the end of this article. 

You’ll need excellent grades and a stand-out application to gain entrance to Cornell. 

Standardized Tests and GPA

Cornell does not require test scores (its suspension of SAT/ACT requirements has been extended through 2023 and 2024), but it may consider them. If you test multiple times, results will be superscored to combine your highest subsections.

Some colleges and schools at Cornell are score-free, meaning that they won’t consider test scores in their admissions process. Others are test optional, meaning that they will include a review of test results if they are submitted in the application review process.

These are the score-free colleges and schools:

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business 

These others are test optional:

  • College of Arts & Sciences
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Human Ecology
  • Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy
  • School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Only 41% of enrolling students in the Class of 2025 submitted SAT scores, and 20% submitted ACT scores. Students who did submit scores averaged 1510 on their SATs and 34 on the ACT.

Because so few students submit scores, it would make sense to submit yours if you scored above 1500 on the SAT or 33 on the ACT and are applying to a test-optional college or school. 

Cornell did not provide GPAs for the Class of 2025, but they did reveal that 96% percent of students were in the top quarter of their graduating class and 84% were in the top tenth of their graduating class. The most recent average weighted GPA on record for accepted students was 4.07. 

Academic excellence is of paramount importance, but you’ll need more than that to gain entrance to this exclusive school. 

What is Cornell Looking For?

An excellent academic record is key to getting into Cornell, but GPA and test scores on their own won’t be enough. Cornell will also consider your character, your extracurricular pursuits, and your overall involvement in the world around you.

Here are the four things that Cornell considers most important in an applicant:

  • Your Intellectual Potential
    In the next section, we’ll detail how you can demonstrate your intellectual potential to Cornell. It’s a combination of course selection, GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular pursuits.
  • Your Character

Cornell values “honesty, open-mindedness, initiative, and empathy”. Your essays and letters of recommendation should detail how you live your life by those values.

  • Your Involvement

This includes extracurricular activities, community involvement, and workplace experience. Cornell is interested in your skills and talents, your ability to work well with others, and your leadership experience. 

  • Your Reasons for Choosing Cornell

Cornell wants to know why you would be a good fit for their university and for the college of your choice. In the essay section, you’ll have the opportunity to explain why you chose that specific school or college within the university and why you’re a perfect fit. 

Cornell University’s core values are listed below:

  • Purposeful Discovery
  • Free and Open Inquiry and Expression
  • A Community of Belonging
  • Exploration across Boundaries
  • Changing Lives through Public Engagement
  • Respect for the Natural Environment

Keep these core values in mind when it comes time to write your supplemental essays. We’ll cover those in detail farther down in the article. 

What Should You Do in High School?

Here are some things that you can do in high school to show Cornell that you would be a great addition to their next class. 

Excel in Challenging Classes

Cornell expects its students to have “an outstanding record of academic achievement”. You’ll need to demonstrate that you can handle the most difficult coursework available to you while still maintaining a weighted GPA above 4.0. We have more advice on keeping your grades up here.

You should take or surpass the following course load:

  • 4 units of English
  • 3 of mathematics (including pre-calculus)
  • 3 of science
  • 3 units of one foreign language 

Some schools have additional admissions requirements, such as an additional year of math, chemistry, and physics.

Earn High Test Scores

Standardized tests are an opportunity to demonstrate your academic ability. It would be wise to take both the SAT and ACT exams as early as possible so that you can find out which one suits you best and how much additional preparation you’ll need to achieve your target score (ideally above 1500 on the SAT or 33 on the ACT).

Make sure you have time to test and then study and test again if need be to achieve your desired score. Giving yourself plenty of time to familiarize yourself with these exams and try out different testing strategies will help you to score as high as possible. 

We have lots of tips on how to study for standardized tests here.

Pursue Your Passions

Pursuing things that you’re truly passionate about will give you something to write about on your college essays. It will give you your hook, something to distinguish you from the other applicants and make you more memorable. 

So seek out new opportunities. Get out of your comfort zone and find what lights you up. And then dive deep. It’s better to pursue a small number of passions wholeheartedly than to occasionally clock in on a long list of extracurriculars. You want to be able to demonstrate that you share Cornell’s values of purposeful discovery, public engagement, and respect for the natural world.

Check out this article for ideas on great extracurriculars to explore. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself what you can do to better the lives of those around you. 

Serve Your Community

Community service activities are an excellent way to show prospective colleges that you work well with others and would be a valuable addition to any community. Don’t stretch yourself too thin by dabbling in dozens of different projects. Do find something that you truly care about and can contribute to in a meaningful way.

Cornell wants to know what you have to contribute to their community, and it’s not enough to tell them what you’ll do once you get there. You have to establish a history of community service now – not necessarily through established organizations (though that can be good too), but in real and meaningful ways that you can write about when it comes time to write those college essays. 

Remember that community service can look different for everyone. Steady jobs or familial responsibilities are just as valid as community service projects. The important thing is that you’re involved in the world around you in a positive way. 

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Build Relationships with Your Teachers

Cornell requires two teacher evaluations and a recommendation from your counselor, so you’ll want to foster those relationships throughout high school. 

In order to receive truly valuable letters of recommendation, your teachers need to know you as a person. Maybe your AP Biology teacher was also your soccer coach for three years, or your English teacher runs weekend nature cleanups that you always show up to. Ideally, your letters of recommendation should come from teachers who can speak to both your academic abilities and your community spirit. 

Cornell Application Process and Checklist

When applying to Cornell, students must apply to one of their eight colleges:

  1. College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  2. College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
  3. College of Arts and Sciences
  4. Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  5. College of Engineering
  6. College of Human Ecology
  7. Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy
  8. School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Each college has its own admissions requirements and essay prompt(s). Students are not allowed to change their choice of college after applying, so choose carefully. Some majors, such as architecture, require portfolios. See the admissions requirements link above for details. 

Here’s Cornell’s application checklist:

  • The Common Application 
  • The School Report
  • Counselor Recommendation
  • Two Teacher Evaluations
  • The Midyear Report, when your mid-year grades are available
  • Official secondary/high school transcript
  • $80 application fee or fee waiver
  • Cornell University Questions and Common App Writing Supplement 
  • Items that are required by the Cornell undergraduate college or school to which you’ve applied: Interviews or portfolio and design submissions.

Cornell Essays

Cornell University has a long list of supplemental essay prompts. The questions that you answer are dependent upon which school or college you’re applying to. You can find the full list here. Refer to the What is Cornell Looking For? section above for inspiration on what to focus on when it comes time to write your essays. 

Cornell’s college-specific application process means that it’s important to research the college or school to which you’re applying in great detail before writing your college interest essay. If you’re not sure which college you want to apply to, start with Cornell’s list of majors.

Tips from Cornell:

Tip #1: “Give careful thought to the questions asked, but don’t try to write the answers that you think we want to hear; give us the answers that tell us about you.”

Tip #2: “In your essay, help us understand your thoughts and feelings about something that is important to you. We are interested in the topic you choose, how you develop your idea, and how well you express yourself.”

General Essay Tips

Essays are your chance to distinguish yourself from a stack of similar candidates. 

Writing outstanding college essays starts long before you put pen to paper or pull out your laptop. It starts with rich life experiences, with struggle and perseverance that give you something worth writing about. This is one reason that extracurriculars are so vital. 

Depending on how many colleges you plan to apply to, you may need to write ten to twenty supplemental essays by the time you’re through. If you leave this to the last minute, it can be an overwhelming prospect. These essays are far too important to be rushed, so start early. Many colleges release their essay prompts each summer. 

Here are some more tips to write the best possible essays for your college applications:

  • Stick to the topic.
    Permitted word counts are low, so there’s no time to waste. Get to the point!
  • Include specific details.
    You’ll have to cut extraneous words, but that doesn’t mean your answer should be boring. Instead of telling them what you’re interested in or what matters to you, illustrate those things with vivid examples to make sure your application stands out.
  • Write in your genuine voice.
    Your essays shouldn’t be riddled with errors, but they shouldn’t be stiff and formal either. These short responses are your best chance to make an impression and showcase what makes you unique. Let your personality and voice shine through. 
  • Show your values. 

Focus on values that you genuinely believe in and share with Cornell. Don’t just tell them what matters to you; provide examples of how you live and embody those values.

  • Be reflective.
    Go deep on these essays to demonstrate a high level of critical thinking and self-awareness. Your response should go beyond a basic answer and also serve to explain why each topic is important to you and how you’ve grown as a person.
  • Edit carefully and double check for errors.
    First you’ll want to edit for content, ideally getting outside perspectives from people you trust to make sure that your answers are conveying what you want them to. Once you’re satisfied with the content, you need to proofread multiple times to make sure each response has zero errors. Have other people proofread your essays as well to make sure you haven’t missed any mistakes.

Should You Apply Early to Cornell?

Students who apply early to Cornell are significantly more likely to be accepted. The Early Decision deadline is November 1, while the Regular Decision deadline is January 2. 

Early Decision requires a commitment to matriculate, which means that students who receive an offer of admission and an adequate financial award under the Early Decision Plan are required to accept that offer of admission and withdraw their applications to other colleges or universities. 

Of the 71,164 students who applied to Cornell last year, 9,555 applied Early Decision. Of those, 1,831 were accepted. That’s an acceptance rate of nearly twenty percent. Of the remaining students who applied Regular Decision, the acceptance rate was only five percent. Statistically, students who applied Early Decision were four times as likely to get into Cornell.

If Cornell is your first choice, you should definitely apply early. 

Final Thoughts: How to Get into Cornell

With more people applying each year and an admittance rate sinking into the single digits, Cornell isn’t an easy college to get into. You’ll need to earn an unweighted GPA of (nearly) 4.0 while taking a challenging course load, all while maintaining a rich life outside of school. When it’s time to apply, research your chosen school or college carefully before writing your supplemental essay. 

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