Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥


Last updated March 8, 2023

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

How to Write the Cornell Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

Cornell categorizes their supplemental essays by school and college. We walk through all of the Cornell supplemental essay prompts and give tips on how to answer them. 

Cornell’s supplemental essays are a little different from those at other schools. Instead of giving all applicants the same supplemental essay prompt, Cornell gives you prompts based on the school or college to which you’re applying. So if you’re applying to the College of Arts and Sciences, then you’ll answer the CAS question.

Let’s get straight to it and take a look at the prompts.

Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals.

There’s a lot going on in this prompt:

  • Why do you want to study public policy?
  • What experiences have you had that sparked that interest?
  • What are your life goals?
  • How will attending the Brooks school help you achieve them?

In your essay, be sure to address all of these questions. The key to acing this supplemental is to make a clear connection between your background, your interests in public policy, and your fit for the Brooks school. Don’t hesitate to draw on specific examples from the Brooks School to make your case.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

For the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, you’ll have one required prompt and two optional ones. Usually, the more you can show that you put time, care, and effort into your application, the better, so we recommend answering at least one of the optional questions.

Required: 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?

If you’re applying to CALS, then there’s a good chance you have a background or interest in agriculture or life sciences that has shaped your decision to apply. Your response can be open and authentic about those reasons. Don’t forget to address what your goals are and how CALS and Cornell specifically will help you achieve them. Feel free to draw on specific details from CALS or Cornell that are appealing to you.

Optional (1): At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good.  Please elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you. We encourage you to think about community broadly - this could include family, school, or local and global communities. (300-word limit)

This prompt is asking for a classic community essay. While you could focus on something like the “global community,” it’s best to choose a community that allows you to write about a concrete experience where you had a tangible impact. In your response, be specific about what you did, how you did it, and why it mattered—to you and to your community.

Optional (2): The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is dedicated to the exploration of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background in agriculture or are interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. (300-word limit)

You might respond to this prompt if you have a compelling reason for wanting to study agriculture. Perhaps you grew up on a farm, or maybe you grew up in a food desert and want to create more equitable access to food. Whatever your story is, you can use this prompt to make a more compelling case for your admission to CALS.

Finally, you’ll also have the option to include any personal experience you have with agriculture.

Select all that apply:

  • My family owns or operates a farm
  • I have experience working in agriculture
  • I have interest in pursuing a career in agriculture

Please feel free to share additional details below (optional)

If you’d like, you can select any of the options and write about anything you think admissions officers should know.

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

What is your "thing"? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours?

In this fairly quirky prompt, the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning wants to get to know you better by reading about your passions. As far as passions go, the options may seem limitless. You don’t necessarily want to write about a passion that is so far in left field that it has nothing to do with your academic interests. But at the same time, choosing a strictly academic interest may make your application blend in with all the others. It’s all about finding the right balance. Choose an authentic “thing” that is relevant but also very specific or unique to you. This prompt is begging to hear your personality, so don’t be afraid to show it.

College of Arts and Sciences

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.

Before you start writing, I’d recommend you do some research on Cornell’s website. This is an academic interest and why us essay, so you’ll want to have a good grasp on what Cornell has to offer. Look at courses, faculty research, student research, special facilities, research and internship opportunities, academic clubs, and more. In your answer, explain why you’re drawn to your academic areas, and make clear connections between your background and interests and Cornell’s offerings. If you want, you can also ground your answer in the “any person…any study” guiding framework.

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration).

Again, you’ve got a lot of layers with this prompt. Let’s take a look:

  • What kind of business student are you?
  • What kinds of topics or issues do you care about, based on your personal, academic, or extracurricular experiences?
  • Why are the SC Johnson College of Business and your specific school the right fit for you?

This prompt explicitly asks you to connect your background to your business interests and to make a clear case for why the SC Johnson College of Business is the best fit for you. To do that, you’ll need to show how a particular experience or viewpoint led to your interest in business. Be specific! Detail the areas of business that intrigue you or the problems you’re hoping to solve. When you’ve got that down, research the business offerings at Cornell. Pick a few of your favorites, and connect, connect, connect.

College of Engineering

Cornell Engineering is one of the most sought-after engineering programs in the country. For your application, you’ll be required to write two supplementals, both of maximum 250 words. For Essay 1, you’re required to answer the first prompt. For Essay 2, you have the option between Question A and Question B.

Essay 1 (required)

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering?  If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about.

Like many of the other supplemental essay prompts, the required Cornell Engineering prompt wants to know why you’re interested in attending Cornell. Your goal here is to show academic fit. You need to clearly (and specifically!) articulate what your interests are, and then you need to explain—again, using specific examples!—why Cornell Engineering is the best fit. Your interests, goals, and values should match up with what Cornell has to offer like two perfectly-fitting puzzle pieces.

Essay 2 (choose A or B)

For your second essay, you get to choose one of the following two prompts.

Question A: Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem.

This one’s a pretty straightforward take on a community essay. Pick an engineering problem in your community and try to solve it. But the problem you pick, or the type of community awareness you show, can help set you apart from the rest of the “bench” engineers. Be mindful of the community you choose and the impact your solution would have.

Question B: Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Engineering the best solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and/or the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?

And here we have a diversity essay. You might opt for this prompt over Question A if you have an important story to tell about your identity, a particularly unique voice to bring to the Cornell Engineering community, or a specific point to make about diversity or inclusion.

College of Human Ecology

How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?

You’ve got a lot going on with this question: how your experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology, what your future goals and plans are, and how your choice of major will shape your goals and plans. This supplemental essay is all about school fit. Cornell admissions officers want to see that your background and goals fit perfectly with what’s available at the College of Human Ecology. Do thorough research before you start writing, and feel free to draw on specific examples (like particular coursework, faculty members, or research or internship opportunities) to make your case.

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School.

To start, you’ll need to pick the topic(s) or issue(s) you want to write about. Remember: these topics should be related to some part of your life, be it personal, academic, or extracurricular. You need to be clear about why these issues matter to you. But you can’t just write about any issue that comes to mind. You want to select something that shows alignment with the School of Industrial and Labor relations. Do some research on the ILR School, and make sure your essay makes that alignment clear.

Phew—that was a lot of prompts! By this point, you should be ready to write the prompt(s) for your academic area (and maybe more, too). If you haven’t already, check out our Cornell Common Data Set post and How to Get into Cornell guide for even more admissions insights.

If you found this guide helpful and want to take your college essays to the next level, consider signing up for the Essay Academy, our digital course that walks you through every step in the college essay writing process.✏️

Liked that? Try this next.