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  • Beth & Tim Manners

How Cornell Decides

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

Cornell Sun: “Unlike many other colleges, which review all applications from a central undergraduate admissions office, Cornell has a ‘somewhat unique system’ … Once an application is submitted, it will be given to the one — and only — college or school that the student is applying to, where his or her material will undergo a ‘first review’ … About 80 percent, or over 40,000 of the applicants, will be chosen to proceed to the next step. Only after the applicant has successfully passed the academic review, the admissions staff will consider other components of his or her application — such as recommendation letters and extracurricular activities.”


“In addition to the level of performance … Cornell also looks at how demanding those courses are. In colleges like CALS, where students must pick a major or at least specify a general subject in their applications, admission officers will also take into consideration whether the students have taken and performed well in classes relevant to their intended major … Another important and yet often overlooked factor is the college-specific essay, more commonly known as the ‘why’ essay, which is reviewed in both the first and the subsequent steps of admissions. The essay is the opportunity for students to demonstrate both their writing skills and that they have taken the time to research and learn about Cornell.”


Cornell looks “for students who can make the most out of the ‘any person … any study’ environment, who can learn from and collaborate with students from all kinds of backgrounds and majors. Sometimes, this quality … even outweighs academic performances in the evaluation process … Admission officers also look for other qualities that would contribute to the Cornell community, such as persistence and community ties. While Cornell doesn’t expect ‘a long list of activities,’ admissions staff hope to discover these values from the essay and extracurricular activities … A passion for contributing to and becoming part of the community is also extremely important.”