What Does it Take to Get Into Cornell?

Strategies by School
December 12, 2019
Since 1868, Students Have Chosen Cornell University For Their Founding Principles Of Discovery, Innovation, And Inquiry.

Cornell is not only a leading private Ivy League school for comprehensive research, but it’s also known for its picturesque campus, active participation in the upstate New York community, and the bold, curious spirit of its diverse group of students.

At Cornell, students are encouraged to ask questions, present unconventional ideas, and— through research—use their new knowledge to make their world a better place. If you envision your ideas and passion for research changing the world for the better, you’ll fit right in at Cornell.

While the college admissions process can be unpredictable, there are multiple ways you can learn how to get into Cornell. By focusing your application towards Cornell’s mission and vision, you could join the students who are proud to call Cornell their home.


Cornell's Ideal Student

Cornell was founded on values of discovery, curiosity, and innovation. Of course, Cornell admissions understands that students who have a passion for research have grades and scores that reflect their ambition.

The average GPA and standardized test scores for incoming freshmen are:

  • GPA: 3.9 (unweighted)
  • SAT: 1550
  • ACT: 32

Being a valued member of the Ivy Leagues, Cornell has average scores that reflect their dedication to excellence. However, that’s not all Cornell is looking for—Cornell administrators care about the character and integrity of their students just as much as they care about academic excellence.

Cornell’s requirements are specifically designed to highlight their ideal student; however, they’re also looking for a handful of deeper qualities in their incoming students.


Cornell believes that, if you’re passionate about uncovering new knowledge through dedicated, comprehensive research, you’ll have the academic record to support that passion.

  • Did you challenge yourself with Advanced Placement or honors courses?
  • Did you take initiative or do extra work for a research project that demonstrated your passion for learning?


When a Cornell admissions officer reads your essays and letters of recommendation, they will be looking for evidence of your character, and this includes honesty, open-mindedness, and empathy.

  • Is there a topic you can use for your personal essay that will exhibit your honesty and openness about your life?
  • If you’re a team player, how can you showcase your appreciation for other students and their ideas, especially on group projects or activities?
  • Do you have a soft spot for people or other students in need? What have you done to put your big heart into action?


Cornell places a high value on community outreach. Any information you can include in your application that showcases ways you got involved in your school and community will help you immensely.

  • Were you involved in any extracurricular activities like sports or student government?
  • Have you led any kind of community outreach like volunteering, running donation drives, or organizing a school activity that gives back to the community?


If you want to know how to get into Cornell, this is the part that may seal your admissions decision.

Over all of Cornell’s requirements, Cornell admissions wants to make sure they’re bringing in students that can’t imagine going anywhere else for college. Cornell’s student body is made up of unique individuals who all bring something different to the table, and in order to be one of them, you have to be honest and enthusiastic about Cornell’s mission. Show them how Cornell fits into your life goals.

  • Why do you want to go to Cornell?
  • How do you plan on taking advantage of this education while you’re there?
  • What do you plan on doing with your Cornell degree when you graduate?
  • Why does Cornell’s mission resonate with you?


Their top-ranked programs are diverse, reflecting their overall curriculum and student body. Cornell offers nearly every major and minor you can think of, and this diversity combines with their professors and connections to offer students one of the best educational experiences in the U.S.


Cornell University seeks students who aren’t afraid to challenge themselves with difficult courses, and who are curious and passionate about uncovering knowledge in order to share it with their community. Specifically, Cornell fosters growth through comprehensive research under the supervision of impressive faculty and staff.

If you’re open and honest about why you’ve chosen Cornell, you’ll be submitting an application that will capture their attention, and hopefully help them see you as Cornell’s ideal student.

What You Need To Get Accepted Into Cornell

At 10.6%, Cornell has one of the highest acceptance rates in the Ivy League. While this does make it easier to be admitted to Cornell, Cornell’s acceptance rate is still highly selective. Only 5,183 out of 49,118 applications were granted admission in the fall of 2019.

In order to make your application stand out among thousands, you need to make sure you meet Cornell’s requirements and relate your high school experience to their mission, vision, and values.


You can apply for Cornell by using one of two applications:

You can use these applications to apply for several colleges at once. On this portion of the application, you’ll be able to provide general information like your class history, extracurricular activities, clubs, and sports.


In addition to your general essay for either the Common App or the Universal App, you’ll also need to write the Cornell Supplement, an essay that pertains to your desired area of interest. For example, if you know that you want to study Agricultural Sciences at Cornell, you’ll need to write an Agriculture-specific essay.

Each department at Cornell has their own writing prompts that you can use for your Cornell supplement. Simply choose the prompt that is most closely related to your desired major, and write a clear, concise essay focused on answering the question at hand.


Next, you’ll need to fill out a self-reported school report, where you’ll provide your grades from each class you completed in high school. It may be helpful to have your high school transcript in front of you when you’re filling this out in order to provide an accurate record.

During your senior year, you’ll also need to connect with your counselor and send Cornell a mid-year school report. This allows Cornell’s admission office to keep track of how well you’re doing in classes and other activities while you’re approaching graduation.


Cornell accepts both SAT and ACT scores, and they don’t prefer one over the other. Cornell also follows a superscoring policy for the SATs, meaning they will consider your highest test score if you take the test multiple times.


For your letters of recommendation, you’ll need to provide the Cornell admissions office with three documents:

  • One counselor recommendation
  • Two teacher evaluations

In addition to your guidance counselor, choose two teachers that taught your favorite classes or had the biggest impact on your high school career. You can even choose a teacher that was a mentor for you, like a coach or director. They can evaluate your performance in classes or practices, and give Cornell accurate examples of your work ethic and values.


Some additional materials are required for students who intend on declaring a major that requires work samples.

If you plan on studying Architecture, Agriculture, or Art at Cornell, you’re required to submit a portfolio showcasing your skills in these areas. Architecture students are also required to schedule a formal admissions interview.


Cornell’s application fee is $80, but fee waivers will be granted to students who can demonstrate their need for financial aid. In order to apply for a fee waiver, you must go through your guidance counselor.


  • Early Decision: November 1
  • Regular Decision: January 2

Early decision students can expect an admissions decision by mid-December, and regular decision students can expect a response by early April.


Getting accepted into Cornell is possible if you create an application that focuses on why you belong there. Being an Ivy League school, Cornell is one of the more selective colleges in the US, but you can still raise your chances of acceptance by paying close attention to Cornell’s mission, vision, and values.

On your application, be sure to highlight the way you challenged yourself with difficult classes, and be honest about any struggles you may have had with that rigorous schedule. Select your favorite extracurricular activities and try to connect those with similar organizations at Cornell.

Finally, if you want to make a great impression, be clear about why you chose Cornell and how the college fits into your future. This connection is what Cornell’s admission officers will be looking for; they want students who will contribute to their mission and carry on their values.

Cornell's Campus Life

Cornell looks for a diverse group of open-minded students not only to fit in with their curriculum, but also so those students will feel right at home on their beautiful campus. Cornell’s campus culture offers students countless opportunities to participate in activities, sports, and clubs as a result.

Cornell is famous for hosting over 1,000 student organizations that cover a large spectrum of interests like the arts, sciences, history, and sports.


Cornell University is located in Ithaca, a quaint college town in upstate New York. Ithaca is also home to the small liberal arts college, Ithaca College, so the town provides a great atmosphere for students regardless of what school they go to.

Ithaca has a lot to offer the students who go to college there, including opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, a thriving arts community, museums, and a healthy balance between urban and rural areas. Regardless of what environment you enjoy living in or what activities you like to participate in in your free time, Ithaca’s broad range of things to do is sure to bring something to the table for you.


Cornell’s 1,000 student organizations provide students with more than enough opportunities to collaborate in a common interest.

This broad range of activities includes acapella groups, sports clubs, political and social action groups, and organizations with a focus on racial diversity.

Cornell also has a thriving Greek life with over 60 Greek organizations. In 2018, over 4,500 students belonged to a Greek organization, and brought their own skills and interests to their fraternity or sorority in order to serve their own campus and the surrounding area of Ithaca.


Sports and recreation are vital for the total balance of a student’s experience at Cornell. While academics and community service have a strong emphasis there, Cornell is aware of the need for students to stay physically and mentally healthy in order for them to produce strong work in class.

To maintain the balance between academics and physical wellness, Cornell has two recreation centers, four fitness centers, over 100 physical education classes, and an outdoor education program that challenges students with rope courses, hiking, and caving.

If students don’t want to play a competitive sport at Cornell, they can also participate in the Intramural sports program, which offers opportunities for men’s, women’s, and mixed gender teams.


Cornell’s dining services reflect their emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Whatever your eating preferences are, Cornell strives to make your experience convenient. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or gluten-free, Cornell has something for you.

Because of the large amount of dining locations they have on campus, the Cornell Dining Now app is available for students to reference whenever they need to know if their favorite restaurant is open, they need something to eat quickly, or if they want to try something new.

Cornell’s housing program also provides multiple opportunities for students to find community. All first-year students live together in North Campus, and during your time as an upperclassman you have the option to live in any of the dorms on campus or make your own living arrangements off campus.


No tradition meets Cornell’s campus culture better than their world-famous Dragon Day.

Every spring, Cornell architecture and engineering students use their massive inventions to battle it out in the middle of campus. Architecture students build a massive dragon and parade it across campus to the Arts Quad where it battles a phoenix, the engineering students’ creation.

This friendly battle between departments is a 100-year long tradition and serves as a rite of spring celebration for Cornell students. In fact, the tradition is so famous that the event is live streamed on Cornell’s website every year.

From Application To Career: What You'll Experience At Cornell

Cornell is a legendary Ivy League school that offers countless opportunities for students to make Ithaca their home. From the beginning of the application process to life after graduation, Cornell takes care of its students. Whether you need help with completing an impressive application, choosing an area of study, extracurricular activities, and sports, or even if you’re considering graduate school, Cornell’s resources are vast and valuable.


When you’re polishing your Cornell application, be sure to highlight specific areas of your high school experience that relate to Cornell’s mission and vision. Include advanced classes, community service efforts, and explain why you chose Cornell.

Cornell’s ideal student is open and honest about their experiences, whether they were positive or negative. Talk about your school and community involvement, and be sure to include how a future at Cornell fits in with your goals.


Your essay for Cornell will focus on the area of study you’re interested in, so if you’re unsure about what you’d like to study at Cornell, don’t be afraid to give it some thought. Look at your class record and see which classes you enjoyed the most and which field you can see yourself pursuing professionally.

Even if you don’t know what major you’re considering, simply choose the academic area that you have the most experience with. Create an essay that is honest, open, and focused on the connection between your goals and Cornell’s mission for the future.


During your time at Cornell, take advantage of the numerous opportunities they provide for their students. Choose classes that will challenge you, and join any one of their 1,000 student organizations to create a personal community. Enjoy their recreational facilities, arts programs, and opportunities for trips off campus.

Cornell students graduate as some of the most well-rounded people in the professional workplace, and it’s all thanks to the incredibly diverse experience Cornell offers.


Cornell has a long list of notable alumni, including actors Jane Lynch and Christopher Reeve, as well as the beloved Bill Nye (the Science Guy!) The network that Cornell provides for graduates launches thousands of careers every year.

In 2018:

  • 21% of students in Financial Services had a starting salary of $81K
  • 66% of all undergraduate students had a job secured at graduation
  • 96% of Cornell graduates who applied to law school were admitted

Regardless of the field you intend on pursuing, Cornell’s Career Services Center is dedicated to giving you the exact connections you need to help you pursue your goals.

Your Future At Cornell

Students who have Cornell on their resume have many opportunities to make a difference in the world. During your time a Cornell, you’ll receive a world-class education, enjoy a campus culture focused on diversity and inclusion, and find multiple opportunities to bring your gifts and talents into the workplace.

Of course, if you need help preparing your application, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of WeAdmit’s professional counselors. We would love to help you create an application that ties together Cornell’s mission and vision with your goals. You can get started on your path to Cornell today. All you have to do is find out how Cornell fits into your picture of the future.

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