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Last updated March 8, 2023

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How to Use the Cornell Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

At 8.7%, Cornell's acceptance rate is the highest in the Ivy League. But that doesn't mean that getting in is easy. In the admissions process, Cornell prioritizes your academic preparation and personal talent and character.

Getting into Cornell isn’t easy, but the Cornell Common Data Set can help. In this post, I walk you through the Cornell Common Data Set and extract information that will make you a better applicant.

Let's dive in.

How Cornell Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

Cornell isn’t as concerned with class rank or test scores as they are with in-the-classroom academic achievement. Admissions officers will be looking to see that you’ve taken as many rigorous classes—those AP, IB, and dual-enrollment classes in particular—as you can.

Admissions officers also want to see your talent and character shine through across your essays. They’ll expect your recommenders to speak to your strengths in the classroom, and they’ll be looking to see how you’ve impacted those around you in your extracurriculars.

Take a look at the “considered” column. Each of those factors likely won’t determine your application’s fate, but they can affect how your application is viewed. If you have a lot of work experience because you help support your family, for example, then an admissions officer might not expect to see as many extracurricular activities.

Finding your own story across all of these categories is the key to success in your Cornell application.

Very important Important Considered Not considered
Rigor Class rank Test scores Religious affiliation
GPA   Interview Applicant interest
Essay   First generation  
Recommendations   Alumni/ae relation  
Extracurriculars   Geographical residence  
Talent/ability   State residency  
Character/personal qualities   Race/ethnic status  
    Volunteer work  
    Work experience  

Does Cornell track demonstrated interest?

Nope. Demonstrated interest is not considered as part of your application to Cornell. So don’t stress about declaring that you’re a die-hard Cornellian. Instead, focus that energy on showing your academic and school fit through your essays.

Does Cornell care about standardized test scores?

Yes, Cornell does care about standardized test scores. But unlike some of the other Ivies, standardized test scores aren’t among the most important parts of your application. They are merely “considered” and are secondary to factors like GPA, essays, extracurriculars, and personal talent or character. We can see this ranking hold true for the enrolled first-year students: 41% submitted SAT scores, and 20% submitted ACT scores. Compared to a place like Princeton, which considers test scores “very important,” that’s a huge drop from—Princeton’s submission rates were 56% and 35%, respectively.

Does Cornell care about essays?

Yes, Cornell cares a lot about essays. They’re one of the most valuable parts of your application because you have complete control over what they say. And because they’re a main way Cornell admissions officers learn about you, essays are considered “very important” when evaluating applications. Think about it: pretty much every student who makes it through Cornell’s admissions process will be an excellent applicant. When the applicants are all competitive, what is there to differentiate them? Yep, you guessed it. Essays. That’s why your essays need as much time and attention as you can give them.

What GPA do I need to get into Cornell?

The Cornell Common Data Set doesn’t offer any GPA information, but it does reveal a few key insights about class rank. Of all the students who reported class rank and enrolled as first-year students at Cornell, 99.6% were in the top half of their high school graduating classes. What’s more, 96.5% were in the top quarter of their class, and 84.2% ranked in the top tenth.

While class rank data can’t tell us about average GPAs, it does tell us that the majority of Cornell students were academic rock stars in high school. If you want to join them, you should be, too.

Cornell Acceptance Rate

67,380 students applied to Cornell. That’s the largest applicant pool in the entire Ivy League. Admissions officers admitted 5,852 applicants, making the acceptance rate about 8.7%. That rate is still extremely low, but it does make Cornell one of the Ivies with the highest acceptance rates. (Compare it, for example, to Yale’s 5.3%, Brown’s 5.5%, or Princeton’s 4.38%).

Cornell Early Decision Acceptance Rate

The Cornell Common Data Set reports that 9,017 applicants applied Early Decision to Cornell. Of them, 1,930 were admitted. That’s an almost-manageable acceptance rate of 21.4%, which is up 12.7% from the RD rate. That’s a huge jump in the acceptance rate, especially for an Ivy.

What’s the right application option for you?

With a 21.4% ED admit rate, why wouldn’t you just apply Early Decision?

Well, choosing between Regular and Early Decision can be easy or difficult, depending on your situation. If you think Cornell is the perfect fit, ED might be the way to go. It is a binding decision, meaning that you’re contractually obligated to attend if you’re admitted, so you’ll have to bear that in mind. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into deciding where to apply ED, so it should be a decision you make carefully.

If you’re not willing to enter into a binding ED agreement, then Regular Decision is the better option for you. But if you’re already a strong candidate and Cornell is your top choice, then an Early Decision application may be your golden ticket.

Most popular majors at Cornell

Knowing the most popular majors at a school can help you determine whether it’s a good fit for your academic interests. Unfortunately, the Cornell Common Data Set doesn’t report on major-specific data. But we can get to that information by assessing what subject areas students earned degrees in.

There’s a tie between the top two most popular majors at Cornell. Computer science and engineering majors both received 15.35% of degrees awarded. That’s unsurprising, especially given the popularity of Cornell Engineering. The third most popular major was biological and life sciences, at 13.28% of degrees awarded, followed closely by business and marketing at 12.47%.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Compupter and information sciences 15.35
Engineering 15.35
Biological/life sciences 13.28
Business/marketing 12.47
Agriculture 10.39
Social sciences 8.52
Physical sciences 2.78
Architecture 2.62
Natural resources and conservation 2.39
Family and consumer sciences 2.29

Cornell is also one of the few top-tier schools with agriculture and natural resource conservation in the list of most popular majors. If you know very little about Cornell to begin with, these facts may come as a surprise. If you’re already familiar with Cornell, then you’ll know that Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is its second largest. But that’s why Common Data Sets are so valuable. The data alone can tell you what a school is most recognized for, which can help you build your college list and craft a smart application strategy that stands out.

What should you do with all this information?

Cornell may have one of the highest acceptance rates among the Ivies, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get into.

If you want to get in, you’ll need to pick the right application option, find the right major for your academic interests, and craft a thoughtful application approach.

By looking at what Cornell considers most important in applicants, you can highlight key features of your application to make it stand out to admissions officers. In particular, highlighting your talent, personal character, and academic achievements can help you write an application that Cornell admissions officers will notice.

But I know. That’s easier said than done. Thankfully, we have a whole guide about How to Get into Cornell—we’ll see you there!

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