Cornell Essays 2012

Last week I presented a workshop to high school students about college essays. My sense is that you may have many of the same questions asked during the workshop.  What makes a good essay? What should I avoid? How long should my essay be? Do all good essays come from a tragic life experience? What does the selection committee want to hear? As you can imagine, there simply is no “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes to your college essay. There is no denying that your essays are personal and important pieces of your college applications. You may recall from last year, Angela Herrera blogged about The All Important Cornell Supplement, and how the selection committee values your academic interest essays. Demonstrating your academic “fit” with Cornell is important, but there is more involved in writing a successful essay. Here are some tips to help you along in the process:

  • Be sure to answer the question that is asked.
  • Write in your voice – not your teacher’s, parent’s, friend’s or sibling’s, remember this essay is about YOU.
  • Be sure to edit, don’t just rely on spell check. It is ok to have a parent, teacher, friend look over your essays.
  • If you choose to write about a current event or common topic, make sure that your content is personal and unique to you. Your essay should not be a news report.
  • Use language you are comfortable with, your essay is not a thesaurus.
  • Be personal. If you are a funny person, be funny…but don’t be funny if it isn’t genuine.  The selection committee wants to get to know you, how you think, how you approach learning, and how you will contribute to the campus community.
  • Make every word count. You have a limited number of words to make a big impact, so choose carefully.
  • Have fun! This is your time to tell us something about yourself that we don’t know and that may distinguish you from the rest of the applicant pool.

Most importantly, take your time, start early, and don’t be afraid to continue revising your essay. Writing your college essay is a process and there is no need to rush it. The best essay is well-written, concise, gives a glimpse into who you are, and one that you are proud to share!


I’ve asked my colleague, Angela Herrera, ’03, MPA ’08, Associate Director of Admissions and Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment, to share her insight about the Cornell supplement with you. Enjoy!

My name is Angela Herrera and I am the Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment. I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs in 2008. I REALLY love my Cornell!

Prospective students (and parents) ask me all the time, “What is the most important part of the application?” The hope is that I can give them exactly what will get them into Cornell – but in reality the application is like a big puzzle, and in order to get that beautiful picture, each piece has to fit together perfectly. Now, if I had to pick the biggest piece of the puzzle or the foundation piece of the puzzle that would of course be academics! A strong academic profile is indeed important and tells us that you can do the actual course work that is expected of you at Cornell. But beyond that, there is another piece of the puzzle that is critical – kind of like a big corner piece that holds it all together! That is the Cornell Supplement.

The Cornell Supplement tells us where at Cornell you are hoping to study. We hope that you do not put the names of our seven undergraduate colleges and schools into a hat and then choose one randomly. The great thing about the supplement for us is that we can tell that you really want to be at Cornell and that Cornell is a good ‘fit’ for you. How do we do this you may ask? It’s the Cornell Supplement Essay! Each of our seven undergraduate colleges and schools has a unique essay question designed to show the admissions committee that you have done your homework about Cornell. When you choose a college or school on the supplement you have to write the corresponding essay and these essays questions are not just “Why do you want to come to Cornell?” We hope that the question will force you to think about your future and how Cornell can help you achieve that future. We also want to make sure that you have some concrete interests. And for those of you who are undecided, (and its ok if you are) many of our colleges offer “undecided” as an option, but you still need to know exactly what the college is going to offer you and the many, many interests you may be torn between! So here are a few tips as you begin to embark on this research project:

  • Be sure you know the differences between the colleges and schools and what they offer! (For example, we do not offer nursing as a major so don’t write about majoring in nursing).
  • Choose the college or school that best fits your interests now – if you change your mind once you get to campus, we have advisors and departments that can help you navigate that process.
  • DO NOT RECITE the websites or brochures (We wrote it after all!).
  • Understand that many of our programs overlap and that some programs are offered in more than one college – this means looking beyond the major so check out graduation requirements, opportunities for double majors, etc.
  • Don’t talk about being a doctor or lawyer because you can’t major in that yet! Talk about how you are going to use the majors available to get to your career goals.
  • Be sure you are accurate in your information about Cornell (For example, it’s the College of Human Ecology, not the major human ecology).
  • If you are undecided, use this as an opportunity to talk about your many interests and how a particular college or school houses those interests.

In the end, we want to know that you really want to be at Cornell and that you will bring something to our campus! So take the Cornell supplement seriously; it’s the piece of the puzzle that holds it all together!

Admissionscommon application, essay, supplement


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