Cornell University is a private Ivy League college that is one of the top colleges in the country. Situated in the small town of Ithaca, New York, Cornell's campus is surrounded with gorgeous nature. Cornell has over 23,000 students enrolled each year.
Admission to Cornell is highly competitive. In 2018, Cornell received over 51,000 applicants for the freshman class, and the class of 2022 had an overall acceptance rate of 10.3%. This acceptance rate puts Cornell as the "easiest" Ivy League school, but on a national scale, Cornell is extremely difficult to get into.
Since Cornell receives thousands of applications from qualified students every year, your essays need to stand out in order to get your best shot at acceptance. Below are some real essays and supplements for Cornell written by a real student who was recently accepted.
Without further ado, let's get to the essays!
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Cornell University Essays
Common App Essays ()
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
One in three victims of a heart attack don’t show any symptoms before it happens. Ninety-five percent of cardiac arrests that occur outside a hospital are fatal. These are not merely statistics. A heart attack redefined my life on November 21st, 2015.
It was a warm autumn morning, and I was raking leaves with my Boy Scout Troop to fundraise for our high adventure patrol’s 50-mile hike to summit Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I had left my house on my bike early, without telling my mom—she was asleep, and my dad was at work.
About an hour into raking, I saw my mother park nearby, and braced myself for a lecture about how my absence had freaked her out. No part of me imagined why she was actually there. Two words, delivered with the force of a Mack truck, “Dad died.” That morning on his routine break, his cardiac arteries became terminally obstructed. A heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest ensued. That was it. No goodbye, no I love you, none of that.
From there, my mind spiraled downward into an emotional void. I began to question my entire life—and how my father played into it. What did I last say to him? Did he know how much I loved him? I wanted to pinch myself and end the nightmare. But no, it was real life. In the subsequent weeks, there was no clarity or closure. The path I was travelling on was engulfed by thick fog. I questioned everything about life as I knew it: why do bad things happen to good people?—what does life mean?—how can I move forward?—how can the universe be so cruel? Three years later, I’m still searching for answers.
My father was wise, reserved, hardworking, and above all, caring. I idolized his humility and pragmatism, and I cherish it today. But after his death, I was emotionally raw. I could barely get through class without staving off a breakdown.
Looking at my reflection in my dresser mirror one afternoon, I was examining my bloodshot, teary eyes when I noticed an old sticker of a black and white eye. When I was ten or eleven, I had gotten into trouble for playing video games too much, cursing, or some other youthful infraction. I was in my room as punishment after being scolded, when my dad came in. He placed this simple sticker on the mirror, and said, “Just remember, I’m always watching over you, no matter where I am.” When this happened, I knew he was being contextual about making sure I didn’t misbehave—but after his death, it seemed so omniscient and transcendental. When I look at that sticker, I know he’s with me.
One of my dad’s favorite adages was, “If you really think you’re doing your best—and it’s still not enough—make your best better.” When he would scold me about my grades, I always thought he was just being a “stickler,” demanding perfection. I know now that he was just encouraging me to do and be my best. His words have become my credo. During the entire year after his death, there were more than a few “firsts without dad”—first Christmas, first birthday, first Father’s Day, but also the first time I truly motivated myself. I think of my dad often, but never more than when I am pushing myself to succeed.
One in three victims are unaware they’re about to have a heart attack? Ninety five percent of cardiac arrest victims die? These statistics are just not good enough for me. As my dad would say, it’s time to make our best better to combat heart disease. My father is more than a statistic. His wisdom lives within me. When I face life’s obstacles, I know I can conquer them with him on my side.
Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. (250-650 words)
“If you care about your future, you shouldn’t allow yourself to think such things.”
My mom used to tell me this a lot. She’d always disapproved of my passion for the arts.
My dreams are a few sizes too big for me and my parents make sure I’m well aware of it. In an ideal world, I’d have a knack for composing and singing sappy ballads and I’d be well on my way towards making it big in Korea’s music industry.
However, my parents are firmly against my making music for a living. They’d rather have me study a more academically inclined subject, like law or business. I can’t blame them, either -- socially, any career in the arts is looked down upon. It’s true that fine arts careers are not as financially supportive as careers in scientific or mathematical areas of study. Music and arts are usually for consumer enjoyment, while science and math have real world “purpose”. However, without fine arts, our worlds would be empty and monochrome. They hold so much importance in our lives, yet people disregard them and forget that there are people behind these masterpieces of lyrical art, writing songs for a living.
During my more frivolous years, I used to dream of becoming a singer-songwriter. Every time I brought it up with my parents, they’d laugh in my face and ask if I was joking. They’d say that if I truly cared about my future, I shouldn’t allow myself to have such dreams. It’s hard to become successful, they’d say, and compare me to all the people that have tried and failed. It was a little discouraging, to say the least. I hit the looming wall of my dilemma just last year -- how could I reconcile my passions with my parents’ wishes? Was there even a solution out there?
Eventually, I came to understand their viewpoint. It’s hard to deny the fact that careers in STEM are more profitable and sustainable. I still retain my love of music and desire to continue working on my ability, but now I’ve found another outlet of creativity: programming. The way so many components interact and come together to become something as equally as beautiful as song lyrics, albeit in its own way -- a polished mechanism, an aesthetic webpage, an organized and concise block of code. I used to be so reluctant to test the coding waters, content to reside on familiar shores, but it wasn’t difficult to experience the incredible joy of working through and solving problems.
As soon as I stepped into the world of computers, it felt as though a hundred doors had just opened in front of me. I could peek through the doorway of entrepreneurialism or the entryway of graphic design. I could easily get involved with AI and its moral questions, or create my own universe and every character. I could even stir in my passion for music by working with electronic music. And I think I’ve solved my dilemma.
I discovered the concept of game design as an industry during the summer before senior year, when I had the pleasure of speaking to Sheri Graner Ray, a game design veteran. She told me about all of the different divisions -- the programming, the writing, and the audio -- and her own company, Zombie Cat Studios. She told me about her work in gender inclusivity within the industry. And once I kept searching for more, it felt as though the world of game design had been created for me. For the first time outside of music, I felt an incredible excitement to chase after a new dream. Being able to appease my parents was an added plus.
In the end, I don’t count on getting my parents’ approval of my passions any time soon. I hope to be able to prove myself to them eventually.
Supplemental Essays ()
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? (650 words max)
Since seventh grade, I’ve been obsessed with making others smile. That year was tough on my 12-year-old, bewildered self. It was the first time I’d struggled through anything major in my life. Someone important in my life passed away. Several relationships were beaten up and broken down. My once-straight-A grades took a turn for the worse as the magnet school experience bore down upon me. And ever since I was forced to be that one kid who cried through lunch with her head down on the table, I decided to make sure nobody else would have to be that kid. I’ve tried everything to hear someone’s laugh, from biting sarcasm to the pain of a bad pun. But when I think about when my friends and I are laughing the most, it’s all together, in a call at midnight. We’re playing computer games and listening to silly music and laughing at the expense of each other as we die at the hands of the enemy team in the most ridiculous ways.
I started playing League of Legends late last year. It was a way for me to feel strong and unstoppable when I felt powerless in reality. The gameplay was what initially hooked me, but everything else about the game was equally, if not more, fascinating. The design of the maps, champions, and skins. The precise animations and detail in every interaction. The engrossing theme songs and background music, especially ones like Aurelion Sol’s intro (highly recommend, by the way; it’s a beautifully written, insistent orchestral piece). The concept of worldbuilding and forever expanding upon the backstories of over a hundred characters and their universe. The way gaming brings all sorts of people together and lets them really laugh. I once read a throwback article, called “Total Recall, or: That Time We Disabled Ranked,” that was written by product managers, designers, and producers. It covered an intensive bug that forced the company to work nearly 28 hours straight in order to restore the game and discussed the processes behind bugfixing. It was this article that truly incensed my interest in game design.
When reading about the majors and programs that Cornell provides, I felt a rare yet very real spark of excitement for college and my future. I’d heard of the notoriety of the Computer Science major at Cornell, but the option to follow the major within the School of Arts and Sciences eased my mind. As a right-brained student, I’ve always felt the struggle to succeed academically, especially within maths and sciences, while still pursuing my artistic interests. The BA CS major gives the ability to major in what I want to do while also getting exposure to a larger breadth of courses in other schools. I believe that Cornell will be able to reconcile my passions and style of learning by providing an environment in which I can thrive.
But what caught my eye the most was the specific game design minor that I could pursue alongside a major in computer science. It seems pretty unique to the school and is exactly what I’ve been wanting from a prospective school. Through this route, I’d be able to further my current understanding of programming and learn how to apply this to the world of design and animation. I’d be worlds closer to not only bringing my ideas to life, but also bringing the same happiness, excitement, and immersion that I feel to other gamers like me.
Gaming is what brings a smile to my face, as it does to millions of other people around the globe. I want my efforts to inspire happiness and infectious laughter to reach the world by doing what I love. And now, it truly feels as though Cornell has given me a real chance at being able to make someone smile by doing what they love.
List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
Survival of the Sickest> by Sharon Moalem
What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz
The blockade of immune checkpoints in cancer immunotherapy by Drew Pardoll
The Physical Universe by Arthur Beiser
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Sexual Politics and Religious Reform in the Witch Craze by Joseph Klaits
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
On World Government by Dante Alighieri
Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt
List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)
A Most Incomprehensible Thing (the mathematics of relativity) by Peter Collier
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil
Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian
Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
The Sublime Object of Ideology by Slavoj Zizek
The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind
Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Volume 1 by Richard Feynman
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Justice by Lottery by Barbara Goodwin
History: A Very Short Introductio Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower
List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)
The New York Times
Reddit - /r/programming /r/machinelearning /r/lifeprotips /r/iwanttolearn /r/politics /r/science /r/physics /r/economics
The Washington Post
arXiv.org - arXiv-sanity.com
Scientific American Science
List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
Carykh (youtube channel)
Welch Lab (youtube)
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell (youtube)
Pause and Select (youtube)
PBS Spacetime (youtube)
CGP Grey (youtube)
Now you see it (youtube)
Lessons from the screenplay (youtube)
Dreamlands (Whitney Museum of American Art)
Make Happy - Bo Burnham (comedy special)
The Decemberists (concert)
March Comes in like a Lion (anime)
The Eric Andre Show (tv)
One Punch Man (anime)
Cowboy Bebop (anime)
Your Lie in April (anime)
Rick and Morty (tv)
Game of Thrones (tv)
Stranger Things (tv)
Silicon Valley (tv)
Adventure Time (tv)
Castle in the Sky (movie)
Princess Mononoke (movie)
End of Evangelion (movie)
Your Name (movie)
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