Case Studies

Read Some Cornell University Admission Guidelines

Miguel Marfori

Know Cornell University admission criteria

When you're in the shop for getting into an elite college, consider going to Cornell University. Known for having great academic achievements among the faculty, being a member of the Ivy League, and having great things for students to do, Cornell University also has a reputation for having a lot of courses to offer than most universities (yes, it's that many. If you think we're lying, you can check it out here). Oh, and if you're a fan of libraries, you'll be glad to know they got the best library system in the world. How best can it be? If you got time to read over 5 million volumes of books, then yeah, you got it all right there. It's a place of diversity and opportunity which a blogger posted about on Cornell's blog right here. They're also known for having students that come from all kinds of backgrounds so you can feel great in knowing there is diversity prospering here. So now the next question comes: Are you interested in being part of this place? Do you want to experience what makes Cornell genuinely unique? If your answer is yes, then we've got a guide for you on how you can get admitted there. Read on below and find out what it’ll take to get you in! 

1. Scrutinize yourself and find out if you got what Cornell's looking for

Before you go about fantasizing about being frolicking in their library of books, you need to do a few things first, and one of them is examining yourself closely and finding out if you got what Cornell looks for in a potential student. You can't expect to be a part of this university and realize you don’t even have they’ve been looking for. They describe more about these things here, but here they are:

  • Intellectual Potential

For this one, Cornell asks “Have you challenged yourself with the highest-level courses? How have you demonstrated your passion for learning?”. They want to see if you’re the student who has the potential to grow and nurture your intellect. They also want to see just how good you are in mind. 

  • Character

When it comes to character, what Cornell wants is seeing empathy, initiative, honesty and open-mindedness. They even ask if your recommendations and essays are a contribution to your reliable attributes. In a way, they want to see a character that evokes the values they describe that reflect yours well.

  • Involvement 

It's all about the extracurricular activities for this one, so they're curious how you spend your time outside of school. They even ask what skills or interests you've developed, which means they want to see a uniqueness in you that not many students have at all.

  • Reasons For Choosing Them

This factor in Cornell's selection is unique because they want to see how you can take advantage of the benefits you'll get from them. It's where you'll have to let them know why they're the choice for you.

When you’ve taken the time to understand what Cornell is looking for and you’re confident you got them, proceed to the next step! 

2. Don't be afraid to be an energetic individual.

But what Cornell looks for in students isn't the whole picture. After all, they say this before they even described what you've just learned above in the site: "Our admission process is highly individualized, and we spend lots of time evaluating whether you'll be a good fit for the culture and philosophy of our university." What it means is every student they'll evaluate will be unique. So to put it simply: no students are alike. How they'll evaluate will be based not just on what they're looking for but also on things they can't quite put on paper. It's the factor that just sparks a kind of wonder.

3. Develop the spike

So how in blazes can you get the factor that’ll make Cornell see you as the diverse student that they’ll gladly accept? You’ll need to develop the spike within yourself. So what is it? According to PrepScholar here, a spike, “is what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way." An excellent way to say it is you're going to become the person who'll be on top of the world in the area. It's where you can show you're spectacular in something that everybody will have to stop and look at you well.

To get to this point, you have to strengthen your skills with one area and keep at it until you become a world-class person. If you need an example, look at Connor McGregor. Yes, his name already evokes charm, authenticity and awesomeness. He can fight and kick someone's ass with flair. Sure, he can't exactly be a singer or a basketball guy, but he shows the world he's got the spike for the MMA. If you can get to that kind of level or close to it, then Cornell will have a run for the money with you. Wouldn't you like that?

4. Maintain excellence with other areas

As you're slowly developing your spike in one area, you'll need to maintain excellence with other areas which means you have to prioritize what occupies your time and leaving out the rest. For example, if you happen to be indulging in 10 areas of interests that will have Cornell interested in you, it's best to keep 3 or 4 of them. Then, 3 of them will have some excellence while the other one will get the spike from you. Doing this will show Cornell that you're an applicant who's got a spike while also being excellent in other things. In a way, that'll show them you got the diversity.

5. Select the course at Cornell University that suits you

When you’re comfortable getting into the groove of developing your spike and maintaining excellence in other areas, your next move is picking the course that suits you. As you’ve learned earlier, Cornell University is known for having a robust selection of courses spread across seven undergraduate schools. There’s a lot of them so go through the link earlier and find the one that speaks to you. A good tip here is picking the one that suits the areas of interests you’re currently developing because Cornell takes notice of the course and evaluate your overall person to see if you’re truly suited for the course. 

6. Be mindful of the requirements from Cornell

Now that you have your course, you'll need to know the requirements that you'll need to collect. It can be a bit of a drag to get them all, but thankfully, Cornell's site already has it all organized here. Here’s a peek at what they’re asking from prospective students: 

  • Completed Universal College or Common Application
  • Transcript of high school records
  • Evaluation from 2 teachers
  • Midyear report
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Counselor’s letter of recommendation

There are also additional requirements depending on the college that has the course you've picked, so it's a good idea to head here to see what you’ll need to collect. 

7. Take note of the scores Cornell loves to see

While Cornell does say, they're looking for individuals who've got the diversity and opportunity in them, the scores from SAT and ACT still matter to them. After all, they're part of the requirements and will be a factor to your access. If you're skeptical, you'd want to see what Magoosh has here for you:

As you can see, your SAT score must be above 1470 and ACT score must be above 33 to let Cornell know you're just as diverse as they want you to be. But you can't get these scores as quickly as you write an application down. You need to work your way toward getting scores like this. 

8. Score well on the required tests

Now that you know the scores you need to get from SAT and ACT to get Cornell to notice your application, your next step will be to get yourself ready in getting the scores. But how? You'll need to study well and ace the tests as nobody else has done before. It'll be tough, so here are the things to remember:

  • Practice the tests 

When it comes to doing the tests, you’ll need to practice. So do it as it is: Practice. Get yourself acquainted with the structures, the questions and the other sections that’ll get you ready. From there, practice until it’s already habitual in your system. 

  • Prepare with the apps

Back then, trying to prep for SAT and ACT tests wasn't fun. You had to prepare a lot of books, and accommodate some stuff that could take a chunk out of your time. Now? You can prep up with the app versions, which is where you can apply what you’ve learned in your practices and be good with them. 

  • Expand your knowledge

When it comes to expanding your knowledge, it pays to do a lot of other activities such as watching documentaries, reading thought-provoking books, mastering math and other things that'll have you see that knowledge can be powerful indeed.

  • Go to class

Even with today's techs going all advanced like sci-fi, nothing beats the class where you can learn with other potential applicants from the ones who took the tests and passed them with flying colours. It'll cost a bit, but getting your knowledge from an actual test passer can be indeed a great thing.

9. Know more about Cornell’s acceptance rate 

Cornell may sound like they're easy to talk when it comes to applying for, but the acceptance rate can be something of a surprise. How so? Take a look at TopTier Admissions data here:

As the data shows, acceptance rates from 2012 were as high as 20.66%, which is higher than most elite colleges. But the following years saw lower until reached 13.96% this year. It’s estimated that by 2023, it’ll be 10.55%. 

Though the rates can indeed be higher, you still have to remember that Cornell is very selective when it comes to deciding who can be accepted into their school, so don't be complacent about it. All that you need to know with these rates, it is your job to make yourself unique for Cornell to notice you.

10. Boost up your application to the max with excitement and diversity

So now that you're already aware of the current situation with Cornell, it's time to give your application a boost. You won't just apply like any ordinary student: You want to apply as the diverse and opportunistic applicant who lives and breathes the values Cornell wants to see. So how do you go about it? Here are the ways:

  • Be phenomenal with the essays

When you apply for Cornell, you'll be doing a supplemental essay. Depending on the course you'll take, each of the seven sections has a different essay required so don't go thinking what one student answered will apply to the others. What's common about all the questions is they're tied to the section itself so you can expect that if you're going for a course in the Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, they'll ask something like, "What is your "thing"?". So when going about these essays, first take note of the question and understand the meaning to it. From there, you can then draft it in a way that it not only answers Cornell what they want to see but also give them a glimpse of your true essence. It pays to describe your interest with the particular course.

  • Tailor your strengths and skills to the course you’re going for

When you’re tidying up your profile, you’ll need to tailor it based on the strengths and skills to the course you’re applying for so that Cornell can see a clearer picture of you. For example, if you're applying for a business-related course and one of your strengths is leadership, then you can give Cornell a good story on how your skill there helped out a business. Or, if you're going for nursing and one of your strengths is perseverance, you can let Cornell know you exhibited this skill through an event that required you to be a nurse. In short, it's all about allowing Cornell to see the uniqueness of your strengths, and how they'll be great for the course you'll be taking.  

  • Give them a visit 

Unlike most elite colleges, Cornell University allows prospective students to visit them with details here. Yes, that's right. Much like how a shopper would try before they buy something, Cornell will let you see what they're like which will raise their spirits with you because you're showing interest and you want to give them a piece of your character. It's also a way for you to showcase your interest, learn more about who they are, and do other things that will let them you're not the average student who just comes and goes away. When you've finished the tour, it'll give your cred with Cornell a boost because when you're ready to apply, they'll remember who you were.

  • Talk with the experts

As you’re slowly finishing up your application, make sure to talk it out with the experts. This way, you’ll have a second opinion and get some tips and tricks on how to boost it even further. It’s also a way to let you see what else you missed out so that when you submit it, you can rest easy. 

11. Be familiar with the inner way of Cornell’s selection process

When it comes to determining which of the applicants can be selected to grace their doors, Cornell does what it can to make their selection process great in a way that it'll be fair and balanced for the students. And as more and more students apply, it'll get tougher with the acceptance rate going down steadily. That's why Jonathan C. Locke, Associate Vice Provost For Enrolment, can say it's a strict process. When he was asked about the admissions in Cornell in 2018, he said, it’s a “highly difficult process and very subjective” and a “somewhat unique system”. 

So how does it go? The staff at admissions will go for their first review with the stage of checking on a student's performance with academics. It's also where they'll see the scores, grades and other things that make the bulk of a student's overall rating. When students finally pass the first review, the officers will then check on other things such as the extracurricular activities, experiences, and other factors that will give them the idea on whether or not the student is genuinely fit for Cornell. But it goes beyond that: They also check on who the student is, what background they are, and other things that a lot of universities don't consider. To sum it up, Cornell takes a lot of factors and then more to see who is worthy of Cornell.

It's a rigorous process, so it's not easy to even pick the ones who can truly be accepted, and it got Locke in a bind at times when some students who weren't accepted made some complaints. He said, "One of the things that drives us crazy is when we hear from students who [have] been admitted to another Ivy say, ‘I just don’t get it, if I’m good enough to go there, why am I not good enough to go to Cornell?” Yes, it's quite severe indeed when you're the guy who has to make selections with a great staff.  

12. Submit everything, cross your fingers and hope for the best

Once you've got it all under wraps, make that submission, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. It's not a guarantee you'll get right in, and it'll take time. But just know that you did all that you can, and you'll just need to wait and see what Cornell thinks about very soon.

Not Accepted? 

So after some time, you get the answer and find out you're not cut out for the Cornell University. It'll get your spirits down a bit. So does it mean all is lost? No, because there are two alternative options to give a try if you still want to be part of Cornell. They’re not the usual options, but if you’re up for them, here they are: 

Alternative Option A: Attend a different college and transfer to Cornell later

You can try applying for a different college and transferring to Cornell later. The requirements are here so you should keep them in mind when you’re growing and nurturing yourself elsewhere. Take note that while doing this option would be a bit of a risk with other elite colleges, this one has a high chance for you because the transfer acceptance rate as of 2019 is 17.09% according to Campus Reel. Compared to the acceptance rate of 13% for 2020, it’s as if Cornell’s glad to bring in students from other colleges. 

Alternative Option B: Apply again after going through a gap year

Another way to gain admission into Cornell is applying again after you’ve gone through a gap year, a year-long break before or after college to pursue other activities for further development in education and other parts of life. You can think of it having your mini-vacation after finishing high school. Stumped on how it’ll work out for you?Here’s something to give you the details:

But this option is riskier than alternative option A because it'll show Cornell that you didn't go to any other college after rejection and it may have them reconsider your application. But this is also where you can use your gap year with an advantage because you can further develop your skills in other areas that are tied to the course you want to apply. When you give Cornell another look, they'll see that your gap year made you even more significant than ever.


Cornell University is genuinely a great college. With its students embodying the diversity they want to the other things that make them a spectacular institute to hang out, it's no wonder they're part of the Ivy League. While it is indeed to get into this college, knowing that they're the college that appreciates a background with experience shows that they're always looking for the student who isn't just going to be a one-time show: They want the student that's got some spike with a few excellent points here and there. They're looking for the kind of student that isn't well-rounded but more like the kind that never goes for the standard way of living. If you're that student, then you're ready to get into the world of Cornell!



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