So you want to go to Cornell? That makes sense. Why wouldn’t you? It’s one of the greatest colleges in the world and an Ivy League to boot. You may already know it’s “technically” the easiest Ivy League University to get into. While “easiest Ivy League” doesn’t translate to “an easy acceptance,” there are proven ways to give your application a better chance of being accepted. From test scores, GPA, AP classes, and making your application unique, many tools lie at your disposal to help you become a student at this elite college. In this guide, we’ll break down several application strategies you can use to get Cornell.

Cornell University Overview

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Before we strategize on how to get into Cornell, let’s take some time to look at the school itself. After all, most students I meet only know three things about Cornell:

  1. It’s an Ivy League School
  2. It’s Incredibly Selective
  3. Andy from the Office graduated from there

funny photo

While those facts are essential (especially the first two), they don’t reveal much about Cornell. So, here’s a summary of information you should know if you plan to go there. If you know Cornell’s history, location, and academic offerings, please skip to the “How Hard is to Get into Cornell?” section.

Brief History of Cornell

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Cornell University is a distinguished Ivy League land-grant research university. Cornell’s campus resides in the scenic city of Ithaca, New York. The university was chartered in 1865 and established on Ezra Cornell’s farm in Ithaca.[1] Its first president, A.D. White, was inaugurated three years later as the university began admitting students. In 1868, the iconic Cornell chimes rang for the first time. And, by 1890, the university celebrated the graduation of its first African American students: Charles Chaveau Cook[2] and Jane Eleanor Datcher,[3] who each earned a four-year degree, and George Washington Fields,[4][5] a former slave, became the first African American to graduate from the Department of Law at Cornell[6] (now called Cornell Law School).

The late 19th century also saw the founding of Cornell’s Veterinary and Medical Colleges, laying the groundwork for Cornell’s expansion into diverse fields of study.[7]

The 20th century marked several critical developments at Cornell. In 1901, the first ‘Dragon Day’ was celebrated, becoming a long-standing tradition (more on that later). The early 1900s also saw Cornell adopting “Big Red” as its nickname. The university made strides in diversity and innovation with the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first Black fraternity, in 1906 and the establishment of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in 1914. Moving into the 21st century, Cornell continued to innovate, notably with the dedication of the Cornell Tech campus in New York City in 2017 and its exploration into carbon-neutral heat solutions in 2022.[8]

As of the fall 2023 semester, Cornell’s student population is impressively diverse. It comprises over 16,000 undergraduate and 7,000 graduate students.[9] These students hail from all 50 U.S. states and 130 countries.

What State is Cornell in?

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Cornell rests in Ithaca, New York. In addition to housing one of the largest and most beautiful campuses in the United States, Ithaca has more going for it than just Cornell. For starters, it’s a small, quaint town ensconced in an area with over 150 waterfalls[10] and a population of 32,870 people.[11]

As you can imagine, Ithaca isn’t an eyesore. It’s gorgeously scenic and the incarnation of picturesque New England, small-town tourism. But it’s not all bucolic landscapes. In addition to its host of waterfalls, forested hills, and countryside, there’s actually quite a bit to do.

What’s there to do at Cornell?

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If you attend Cornell, you’ll find yourself studying A LOT. However, when you’re free, you’ll find plenty to entertain you in Ithaca, New York. Ithaca boasts more restaurants per capita than New York City.[12] Food is a way of life. Case in point, the ice cream sunday was even invented there.[13] If you’re an outdoor type, you can go hiking in the gorges or one of its parks. Ithaca has over 28,000 acres of public parks. Students and Ithaca natives take advantage of these parks by going skiing, hiking, and biking.[14]

However, if you prefer the indoors, Ithaca has you covered. Ithaca Commons is a central part of the Cornell student experience. The Commons is a hub of lively shops, restaurants, and cultural events. This pedestrian-only area is a favorite gathering place for students. Regular festivals and events, like the Apple Harvest Festival and Chili Cook-Off, add to the coziness of Ithaca’s exciting, small-town ambiance. Cornell’s integration with the Commons is evident in events like CU Downtown, where students connect with the local community. My personal favorite of Cornell’s cultural quirks is the Dragon Day Parade.

Dragon Day Image

Dragon Day, a parade festival organized by the Cornell College of Architecture, well… makes dragons: massive life-sized dragons in the form of floats that parade down the streets of Ithaca. I’ve never attended one of these, but my friends have. They’re a riot of color, noise, and excitement as Ithaca’s streets shift into a whimsical North Eastern fantasy-themed parade.

Cons of Going to Cornell University

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what could go wrong

Cornell University, while prestigious, isn’t the right fit for every student. Here’s why some students might not prefer Cornell. Living in a small town isn’t for everyone. If you want a metropolis brimming with bodies and traffic, Ithica won’t be for you. Yes, there’s plenty to do in Ithica. However, suppose you want a diversity of activities only a large city can provide. In that case, you’ll need to travel to a city like Syracuse or Rochester (54 and 96 miles away, respectively) to get your fix.

Cornell’s Large Campus

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First, Cornell’s large campus can be daunting. While nestled in a small city, Cornell boasts a massive campus. Cornell could be problematic for those who thrive in a smaller college environment. You better like walking as well because Cornell’s campus is enormous. At 2,300 acres,[15] you will likely get your daily steps (if you keep track of those things).

Cornell’s in a Small City

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Lovers of big cities might also find Ithaca’s smaller, rural locale less appealing. Cornell might not be your ideal setting if you dream of a college life amidst skyscrapers and a melting pot of millions of people. While the campus is colossal, the city is tiny for most. As I mentioned earlier, Ithaca is home to just over thirty-thousand people.[16] Don’t get me wrong: Ithaca is beautiful, but not New York City. College typically takes more than four years to complete. If you crave a truly urban environment, you may not want to attend a college in a small town, even if said college is Cornell.

Cornell University Academic Standards

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The academic rigor at Cornell is notable. It’s a university where the workload and educational expectations are high. Students seeking a more relaxed academic experience WILL find Cornell’s coursework challenging and stressful. Darren Tsai, a recent graduate of Cornell University’s Computer Science program, said this:

The classes are hard, especially if you’re like me and you come from perhaps a… smaller public school… background. You’re going to struggle when you first get there. I have classmates who have come from a lot of really good test-in schools or private schools like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, and they definitely have an easier time adjusting that first semester. But I promise you, it’s doable; it’s just a big learning curve. The workload is a lot, but it’s something that becomes more manageable as you go on.[17]

When you combine a large university with a tough curriculum, another problem emerges. Class sizes are large, and one-on-one time with your professors becomes scarce. Tsai illustrates this by saying the following:

In such a big major like [Computer Science], there was a semester, even when I was a junior, that my smallest class was 150 people. So… you… have [to weigh] the pros and cons of that.[18]

Large class sizes may only keep some students from earning excellent grades. However, college doesn’t solely center on academics but also connections. Students who wish to move on to graduate school, competitive internships, and other opportunities often gain those opportunities through their connections with professors and other faculty. That will be difficult to accomplish when class sizes are so large. This means you’ll need to work harder to connect with professors and other mentors at Cornell.

Pros of Going to Cornell

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what's in it for you

Emily, a new Cornell alumna, shares some of her favorite, little things about her time at Cornell.

“You literally walk over a waterfall or gorge to class every day. It’s on top of a hill over a lake and next to lots of state parks. To be honest, I really liked the ice cream that was served in every dining hall. They have their own dairy farm, and you can take an ice cream-making class towards your credits. When Joe Biden gave the commencement speech, they made him an ice cream flavor.”

On a more serious note, Cornell’s appeal extends beyond its scenic campus and delicious ice cream. Getting a Cornell diploma will open up opportunities to you for the rest of your life, and it may not be as challenging to get into Harvard or Yale – good news for you. Besides its apparent prestige, here are a few benefits of attending Cornell.

Finding Your People at Cornell

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When you’re not in class, there are many opportunities to do the things you love and ways to find your people. There are over 1,000 clubs and organizations you could join, some academic and professional and others cultural, recreational, and social, making it easier for you to find a community on campus.[19] Into beekeeping? Yep, there’s a club for that. Or maybe you could join the Fusion Dance Club or the Hindu Student Council.[20] The point is, there is a club or community for you on campus. You can bet on it. Cornell also offers many support services like mental health counseling, tutoring, and disability accommodations to help students find their footholds in their college experience.

Strong Alumni Network

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Cornell’s alum network can be a great advantage to you post-graduation in finding career opportunities or in finding a mentor. Cornell alums go on to be leaders in their field of choice, which can give you the connections you need to get started in your career.

Generous Financial Aid

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Not all hope is lost if you can’t afford Cornell tuition. Cornell offers financial aid packages that cover the difference between the cost of attendance and what a family can reasonably be expected to afford.[21] Going to Cornell isn’t cheap, so this is a significant load off for those who didn’t grow up at the top of the socioeconomic ladder. Let’s talk about how much it is to attend Cornell.

How Much Does It Cost To Go To Cornell?

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How Much Does It Cost

As you might have guessed, going to Cornell isn’t cheap. Cornell’s estimated “sticker price” varies significantly per student. It can exceed $88,000 for endowed colleges and approach $67,000 for NY state residents. Even at the lower end of that spectrum, $67,000 annually is outrageously expensive for any college education. These astronomical prices give credence to the tragic truth that colleges are businesses. They have institutional priorities that are not always aligned with the best interests of their students.

And while we can debate the ethical implications of that, we can’t discuss its reality. Cornell is an Ivy League school. That’s the Porsche of universities. Porsches are not cheap and aren’t made for everyone to drive. Case in point, elite schools like Cornell have elite price tags. Not everyone can afford to attend. In fact, most can’t.

Below, you’ll find a table that breaks down the costs of attending Cornell. Please remember that the estimates below reflect the total cost before applying for financial aid. The price variation depends on a few factors: the student’s chosen college within Cornell, the specific college major, whether said student has New York State residency status, whether they plan to live on or off campus, etc. The list goes on. These estimates aim to cover all expenses for a full-time student for the fall and spring semesters. While they’re more of an art than a science, they’re a close approximation based on the data available that Cornell has released.

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2023-2024 Cost Breakdown

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For the academic year 2023-2024, expenses include tuition, fees, and living costs. Tuition is $65,204 for most colleges and $43,888 for NY residents in state contract colleges. Other expenses are consistent across all categories, with a student activity fee of $310, health fee of $500, housing costs at $11,562, food expenses around $6,992, and costs for books and course materials estimated at $1,364. Personal expenses are calculated at about $2,218. The total estimated costs thus reach $88,150 for most colleges and $66,834 for NY state residents attending state contract colleges, with transportation and health insurance being additional expenses that vary by individual circumstances.

Feel free to look at the table below for a thorough breakdown of the costs of going to Cornell.

Estimated Expense Endowed Colleges State Contract Colleges: Non-NY State Residents State Contract Colleges: NY State Residents
Tuition $65,204 $65,204 $43,888
Student Activity Fee $310 $310 $310
Health Fee $500 $500 $500
Housing $11,562 $11,562 $11,562
Food $6,992 $6,992 $6,992
Books, course materials, supplies, Equipment $1,364 $1,364 $1,364
Personal Expenses $2,218 $2,218 $2,218
Total $88,150 $88,150 $66,834
Adapted from the Cornell University Financial Aid Website

Aid and Tuition Variations

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Cornell commits to meeting 100% of demonstrated financial needs for undergraduates. But remember this: what Cornell considers financial need differs from what you and I feel constitutes as “need” (see image below).

funny meme

The meme might be tongue-in-cheek (it most definitely is), but you get the picture. Cornell’s financial aid is based on a sliding scale that benefits its bottom line. Thus, its commitment to meeting 100% of the demonstrated financial need only applies to families whose annual income is below $75,000. Hence, if a student’s family makes 76,000, that aid will significantly decrease.

Remember this as well: Three of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges—Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Ecology, and Industrial and Labor Relations—are funded by the state of New York and offer significantly reduced tuition rates for New York residents. If a student is a New York Resident, this works much better financially, but only if they apply to one of these colleges.

Finally, according to Cornell’s College Board Report, aid is given to 48% of full-time students.[22] Call me pessimistic, but we can invert that number and surmise that 52% of Cornell’s full-time students DID NOT receive aid. Does this mean that being a full-payer makes you more likely to get into Cornell than a student who is awarded aid? I doubt anyone from Cornell’s staff would admit that, as the university reports that it’s “need-blind.” But whether it does or doesn’t, we can see that if your family can afford to pay the total sticker price, they likely have a higher chance of getting in.

To illustrate this, according to Cornell’s Financial Aid website, we read the following:

Cornell’s undergraduate admission process for U.S. students is “need-blind,” meaning interest in or need for financial aid is not amongst the many factors considered when making admission decisions.[23]

No one can know how the exact numbers play out or how they’re calculated except Cornell’s admissions team. All we know is this: Cornell is expensive, and most full-time students who attend Cornell don’t receive any financial aid.

Assume you might have to pay the sticker price for Cornell. If you or your family can’t afford to pay for it, perhaps you shouldn’t count on attending.

How Hard is it to get into Cornell?

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easy medium hard

As we’ve said before, Cornel is an Ivy League University. As a member of the Ivy League, Cornell remains one of the most selective colleges in the US. While the college has the lowest acceptance rate of all Ivy League Schools, it’s still highly competitive and selective.

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Cornell University Acceptance Rate

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As of 2023, Cornell has an acceptance rate of 7 percent.[24] Like other Ivy League schools, Cornell’s admissions team keeps its data close to the chest. Cornell’s most recent announcement granted admission to 4,994 students for the Class of 2027. When we look back at the Class of 2026, in 2021, Cornell welcomed 5,168 students from an applicant pool of 71,164. Similarly, in 2020, they extended offers to 5,852 students out of 67,380 applicants for the Class of 2025.[25]

However, it’s important to note that for the upcoming 2023-24 first-year class, Cornell faced a staggering 68,000 applications but could only accommodate 4,994 students. This is how that atrociously low acceptance rate of 7% comes into play.

To put this in historical perspective, here are the recent acceptance rates for Cornell University[26] for the past few years:

  • Class of 2026: 7%
  • Class of 2025: 9%
  • Class of 2024: 11%

As you can see, earning acceptance into this school is only growing more challenging. However, there are a few ways to improve your chances. Take applying Early Decision, for example.

Cornell University Early Decision Acceptance Rate

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We’ve written before about what a crucial asset early decision is for students.[27] However, just to give a brief refresher, check out the definitions below. If you already know Early Decision, skip to the next section.

What is Early Decision?

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Early Decision (ED) is a college application process where a student applies to one college early. The ED deadline is usually November 1st, and said student commits to attending that college if accepted. It’s a binding agreement, meaning students are contractually obligated to attend that college if admitted. Early Decision often has higher acceptance rates than regular admission, so it’s a way for students to boost their chances of getting into their top-choice school. However, it’s essential to understand that it’s a significant commitment, so ensure the student is confident about their choice before applying Early Decision.

What is Early Action?

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Early Action is another application option. With Early Action, students submit their college applications early, usually by November 1st, but it’s non-binding. This means that if a student is admitted through Early Action, they aren’t obligated to attend that college. It’s an excellent way for students to receive early feedback on their college applications. If admitted, it relieves some of the stress associated with the college application waiting game. However, it’s important to note that Early Action acceptance rates are typically lower than Early Decision rates.

Does Cornell offer Early Decision?

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Yes, Cornell does allow students to apply via ED (Early Decision). Every student I know or have worked with who attended Cornell was accepted under early decision. Keep reading to learn more about using Cornell’s early decision to your advantage.

Does Cornell offer Early Action?

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Cornell currently does not offer Early Action. Thus, students interested in applying early to Cornell can’t apply via Early Action. Why is this the case? Who knows? Perhaps Cornell wants their pool of applicants to be only more committed applicants. With Cornell requiring their applicants to apply using only ED or regular decision, they ensure their applicants, perhaps, are more serious about their interest in attending Cornell. But now I’m speculating. I don’t know. No one but a Cornell Admissions officer knows its whole truth. Regardless, until something changes, you won’t be applying Early Action to Cornell.

Applying to Cornell University Using Early Decision

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While not the advantage many assume, applying ED marginally improves a student’s chances. Don’t let the word “marginal” mislead you. After all, there’s only a marginal chance that any student can get in. To get admittance into Cornell, you need every advantage you can secure. Thus, every minor boon you can grasp can collectively give you a significant edge.

If you want to go to Cornell, applying early has benefits. Cornell admissions statistics indicate that around a third of its first-year class is during early decision. In 2021, Cornell admitted 1,930 out of 9,017 early decision applicants, for an early decision acceptance rate of 21.4%.[28]

I’ll repeat it: the early acceptance rate for Cornell is 21.4%.

This aligns with the current research regarding early decision admissions. A study by the National Association of College Admission Counsel in 2019[29] was promising. According to the survey, admissions rates for first-year students applying early-decision have higher acceptance rates compared to their regular decision counterparts (61% vs 49%).[30]

On the surface, this is a big win for early-decision applicants. And rightly so, applying early gives you a 14% chance of acceptance. BUT… that’s only if you’re already a stellar student. The pool of applicants in Cornell’s early decision pool typically contains above-average students, students that Cornell’s admissions team would already deem a good fit for the university.

Thus, early decisions help, but less than you might think, probably not by 14%. The numbers can be a bit deceiving.[31] For example, recruited athletes applying in the ED round often see admission rates near 100%.[32] This high success rate is due to prior clearance from coaches and admissions offices. When applying in the ED round, legacy applicants also enjoy significantly higher admission rates than others.

Does Early Decision Increase Your Chances of Acceptance at Cornell?

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A recent study[33] sheds light on Early Decision applications. It reveals a significant trend, particularly at highly competitive institutions like Cornell. Opting for ED can yield an average 1.6x increase, a remarkable 60% boost in your likelihood of securing admission to top-tier schools. However, it’s crucial to note that this advantage decreases at less selective institutions. For example, if your initial chances of admission were 4%, applying early can raise your prospects to 6.4%. This shift represents a meaningful increase of approximately 2.4 additional percentage points.

The critical thing to remember is that the benefits of applying ED at Cornell are nuanced. It depends on the college you apply to and the program within the college. Applying ED at Cornell’s College of Engineering is around 5.15%,[34] but the Cornell School of Hotel Administration,[35] in the SC Johnson College of Business,[36] is at 15%. Applying early decision to each program can significantly increase your chances of admission, but how much it increases depends on the program. Admissions is complicated, especially when applying to an elite school like Cornell.

What Does Cornell University Want in a Student?

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what do you want?

Colleges want the next generation of leaders and innovators. They want students who will change the world in ten or twenty years and have long, exhaustive Wikipedia pages detailing that impact. They want the brilliant and brightest, who think like geniuses and work like dutiful and diligent dogs. They want students with integrity, hearts boiling with goodwill, and a relentless devotion to ending suffering. Cornell wants this and more. Cornell wants students with a fusion of these qualities: the innovative philanthropist, the kind genius, the technological prodigy, and the ethical billionaire. In short, they want high school students who are living machines with the souls of saints. How do we make your application look like that?

One step at a time.

Katy Lemon, the Associate Director of Admissions at Cornell University, put it this way.

What the admissions team is looking for beyond the numbers is intellectual potential, strength of character, and love of learning.[37]

Let’s list those three qualities:

  1. intellectual potential
  2. strength of character
  3. love of learning.

While vague, it’s a reliable start to understanding what the school seeks. But as if to elaborate on what this means, Lemon does just that. She continues by saying the following:

[Cornell] want[s] to know about each student’s ability, achievements, motivation, leadership, diligence, and integrity; their sense of fairness and compassion. All of this and more can be revealed through the required application essays and recommendations and is reflected in an applicant’s extracurricular activities, hobbies, after-school and summer jobs, and volunteer work.

Lemon, one of the primary gatekeepers of admission at Cornell University, gives us a hint. These three qualities are what the school is looking for, and she explains that qualities can be demonstrated in a variety of ways.

  • Required Application Essays
  • Recommendations
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Hobbies
  • After-school and Summer jobs
  • Volunteer work.

Now, we’re getting closer to what Cornell is looking for. They want a narrative that tells a history of a student’s story with those qualities at the front and center. Your application should demonstrate intellectual potential, strength of character, and a love of learning. And that we can do.

It’s a myth that elite schools like Cornell simply want well-rounded students. There are too many perfect-scoring, valedictorian-class presidents to accept them all. The key is to stand out by cultivating your passions and abilities. This brings us to the first element you need – passion.

Cornell Wants Students With Passion

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The goal is to show the admissions committee that you care deeply about things outside of the classroom. Cornell’s motto, “any person, any study,” means that they greatly value students who take the initiative in pursuing their passions.[38] Let’s say you are passionate about giving everyone access to healthy food. If you are passionate about this, you will act on it. Perhaps you demonstrate your passion by helping create gardens in poorer communities or organizing a rally to open a grocery store in a food-sparse area. This would be an impressive way to demonstrate your passion. If you have a passion for something other than academics, it shows the admissions committee that you have the drive to impact the world positively. And Cornell likes to produce graduates who will positively impact the world – who knew?

Make sure your passion meets this checklist:

  • The passion extends beyond the classroom setting (it’s less impressive if it happens at school)
  • You genuinely care about it
  • It involves changing, helping, creating, or improving something

If your passion checks the boxes above, you’re ready to consider the following “must-haves.”

Cornell Wants Students with Skill and Unique Expertise

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Demonstrating your skills in conjunction with your passion for your application is crucial. Being passionate in itself is easy. Many people care deeply about something. Only some, however, will devote the time and energy to turn their passion into marketable skills.

For example, many can admire a beautiful sculpture, but few can sculpt it.

Analyzing a piece of art, appreciating its angles, and theorizing its message is a lovely pastime. However, it is an act many can do if they sit long enough. Creating a sculpture requires much more knowledge, skill, and devoted time than thinking about artwork.

So, let’s say you gained some knowledge, practiced for hours, and became a proficient painter. Maybe your paintings have won school awards or even statewide and national competitions.

Remember that you don’t have to excel in fine arts; you just have to be skillful with something. Or, even better, you need to learn something new. Raw talent is not a requirement. The struggle of working from the ground up to develop a skill is extremely attractive to admissions committees.

Skill and passion work well together on a Cornell application to show the “love of learning” they seek.

Cornell University Craves Students Who Impact the World

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Again, Cornell wants students who will positively impact the world. They want to work with students who apply their knowledge and skills for good and who want to “promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community.”[39] It’s easy to think this process is about what a university can do for YOU. Remember that when the admissions committee reviews your application, they consider what you can do for THEM. They want someone who will have a significant impact and change the world.

So, how do you convince Cornell that you will change the world? That’s likely to be believed if you have already changed it somehow. It is not a requirement to have impacted the whole earth by the time you graduate high school. Yet, impacting your circle, community, or state is a good start. If you have impacted your community at such a young age, it is more likely that you will have a more significant impact later in life.

Consider taking on an “Impact Project” to display to the admissions committee.

Impact Project Review: How to Enhance Your College Application

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When considering what impact project to do, focus on the following:

  1. Demonstrate your passion outside of school
  2. Utilize a unique set of skills
  3. Make a positive impact on your community

Here are some examples of what you could do for an impact project:

  1. Start a science or math club at your school and organize projects or events.
  2. Organize an art exhibition featuring local artists or focusing on a theme you’re passionate about.
  3. Lead a community service project addressing a specific social issue.
  4. Initiate a sports clinic or fitness program for underserved youth.
  5. Participate in coding competitions or contribute to open-source projects.

Choose a project aligned with your interests, values, and desired impact. The authenticity and depth of your involvement will resonate with the admissions committee. Colleges also understand that you cannot do it all. You do not have to be on the varsity soccer team, be a first-chair flutist, or have a perfect ACT score with a 7.8 GPA.

Here are some examples of competitive candidates who are imperfect:

Applicant #1

  1. It has impacted the community by organizing peaceful protests around issues they care about
  2. Excels in language arts and writing classes
  3. Struggles in biology class

Applicant #2

  1. Uses their coding knowledge to contribute regularly to an open-source project
  2. Holds an impressive ACT score
  3. Writes with some difficulty

Both applicants have weak spots but have created a brand that will serve them well. Impact projects can be very helpful in developing a brand for yourself and showcasing what you excel at. It’s that focus that will convey to the admissions committee that you have the potential to make an impact.

So, remember these examples when deciding on an impact project. Giving yourself space to chase after what you’re passionate about is okay.


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Now that we have discussed what to focus on in your application, let’s talk about where you need to be academically to be considered for admission into Cornell.

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Unsurprisingly, you need a stellar GPA to be considered for admission at Cornell: between 3.8 and 4.0 unweighted. If accepted into Cornell, you will likely graduate in your class’s top quarter. If your grades aren’t perfect due to circumstances beyond your control, consider writing about them in your application’s “additional information” section. It also dramatically helps to compensate for a lower GPA with impressive SAT/ACT scores.[40]


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You should score between 1470 and 1550 on your SAT or 33-35 on your ACT to be a strong candidate for admission. Cornell is currently a test-optional school.[41] However, if you decide not to submit standardized test scores, there should be a good reason.

Tip for later: Cornell offers to score your SAT results super. This means that they will consider the highest scores you scored on each subject of the SAT over multiple test-taking attempts. However, they will not super score your ACT scores. So, they will consider only the highest attempt on all subjects on the same day. Cornell also participates in the score choice program for the SAT. This means that you could send Cornell only one SAT score rather than needing to show them all your previous attempts.[42]

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AP Classes

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If you scored well on AP exams, these could be used for credit in the university’s curriculum. Remember that you must score fours and five to get credit in most classes. Some classes, such as chemistry and computer science, require five to get any credit for them. To get credit for university classes, you will need to send your AP scores directly to Cornell by using the school’s CEEB code of 2098.[43]

Preparing Academically for Colleges Within Cornell

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Remember that there are specific class requirements to be accepted into a particular college within Cornell. Here are some requirements that need to be met for some of the prominent colleges:

  1. College of Arts & Sciences: 4 units of English, 3 of mathematics, 3 of science, and 3 of one foreign language.
  2. College of Engineering: 1 unit of chemistry, 1 of physics, and 4 of mathematics (2 of algebra, 1 of geometry, and 1 of calculus)
  3. College of Agriculture and Life Science: 4 units of English, 4 of mathematics, and 4 of science (including 1 of biology, 1 of chemistry and/or physics, both recommended)
  4. College of Human Ecology: 4 units of English, 4 of mathematics (calculus is strongly recommended), and 4 of science (Including 1 of biology, 1 of chemistry and/or physics, and additional core sciences such as advanced biology)[44]

Colleges at Cornell University

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If you’re serious about getting into Cornell, you’ll need a carefully calculated application strategy. Carefully calculated doesn’t mean a complicated list of reasons why you want to apply. It’s a list of everything you’ll do before you apply. This list should start as early as your Freshman or Sophomore year of High School. You see, you’re not just applying to Cornell; you’re applying to a College or School at Cornell. Each college or School has its own admissions committee and set of criteria. Below is a list of each of the Colleges at Cornell University. Read them and remember which ones you believe you’d be a good fit for.

Colleges At Cornell University
College/Program Acceptance Rate Description
The College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS) 14.2% Known for pioneering purpose-driven science, offering over 20 majors and 30 minors, focusing on real-world challenges.[45]
The College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) 9.5% Dedicated to creative and impactful approaches in architecture, fine arts, and city and regional planning.[46]
The College of Arts & Sciences 6.1% The largest undergraduate college, providing a liberal arts education with over 60 areas of study, emphasizing exploration and diversity.[47]
The Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy 9.8% Focuses on public policy teaching, research, and engagement, covering areas such as data science, environmental policy, health policy, human security, and social policy.[48]
The College of Engineering 5.15% Known for its depth in engineering disciplines, offering 14 majors and 20 minors, encouraging independent thinking and innovation.[49]
The College of Human Ecology 11.1% Examines human life from scientific, social, and design perspectives with interdisciplinary and flexible academic programs.[50]
The School of Industrial and Labor Relations 19.5% Explores pressing issues in society, organizations, the economy, and international affairs, with a strong background in liberal arts and social sciences.[51]
The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business 4.8% Houses two AACSB-accredited business schools, providing education in hospitality business and applied economics and management.[52]

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Want to see if you fit the bill of a Cornell student? Here are some notable trends to see how likely someone like you will be admitted.

  1. Most notable is that 61% of the 2022-23 freshman cohort attended public schools. Nearly half of those accepted have the money to attend a private school before college. This is consistent with what we discussed above: those who can afford to pay full sticker price at Cornell are likelier to get in.
  2. Roughly 15% of incoming students are legacies.
  3. 20% are first-generation college students.
  4. The Class of 2026 comprises students from 50 states and 85 countries, and 58% of those admitted into the Class of 2026 identify as students of color. These points tell us that Cornell values diversity, which could give you a leg up if you are not in the majority. That being said, a third of the class of 2024 was native to New York – where Cornell is located.[53]

Application Deadlines

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If, after all this, you think Cornell is the place for you, add these application deadlines to your calendar. The deadlines will differ based on whether you are applying early or on a regular decision. Here are the deadlines for early-decision applicants:

  • Nov. 1 – application submitted
  • Nov. 1 – international students’ financial aid applications submitted
  • Nov. 21 – U.S. students’ financial aid applications submitted
  • Mid-December – Admissions decisions and financial aid awards announced

Here are the deadlines for regular decision applicants:

  • Jan. 2 – application submitted
  • Jan. 2 – international students’ financial aid applications submitted
  • Feb. 15 – U.S. students’ financial aid applications submitted
  • Early April – Admissions decisions and financial aid awards announced
  • May 1 – Deadline to respond to an admissions offer

Some of the application deadlines are different. For example, If you are applying to the hotel management program, the art program, or the architecture program, you’ll need to check Cornell’s website for the deadlines for interviews and portfolios, separate from your general application.[54]


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As you can see, getting into Cornell isn’t easy. Even though Cornell is the “easiest Ivy League to get into,” you still need an impressive application to be considered. If, after reading this, Cornell seems like the place for you, remember to convey your passion, skill, and impact in your application to make you a competitive applicant. Sure, there are other things: GPA, AP classes, ACT/SAT scores, etc. If attending an Ivy League School like Cornell remains your priority, you’re in for a world of work. And if you are, and you’re willing to work through the grind of enhancing your application, you just might find yourself in Ithica, New York, in the fall. Perhaps you grew up in a family that lived in the hotel business and want to follow in their footsteps. You may apply to the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and apply to the School of Hotel Administration.

Are you a programmer? Have you been coding since you could talk? Majoring in Computer Science in the College of Engineering might be an attractive option. Whatever you decide, you’ll be stretched, pushed, and nearly devoured by all it will take to turn your application into the one that gets you into Cornell. Whatever you do, if you aim to get into Cornell, you’ll need to be among the best and brightest in your school and quite possibly in the U.S., if not the world.

It’s a lot of work, but I don’t know anyone who went to Cornell who didn’t love going there. It’s not perfect. No school is. But living in Ithica, attending classes with some of the brightest students and professors in the world, and having access to the resources of one of the world’s best universities is a unique privilege.

We wish you the best.

We’re rooting for you and hope reading this article helps you along the way.

Contact Us


[1] Schulte, Jenny. “Cornell: The rise of the land grant university.Ithaca Times, 10 May 2017, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[2] Cornell University Library: Rare and Manuscript Collections. “Legacy of Leadership | Cornell’s Presidents.Legacy of Leadership | Cornell’s Presidents, Cornell University Library, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[3] Cornell University: RMC Library. “Early Black Women at Cornell – Exhibition > Introduction.Rare and Manuscript Collections, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[4] Cornell University. “Our Historic Commitment.Cornell University Diversity and Inclusion, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[5] Nielsen, Euell A. “George Washington Fields (1854-1932) •.” Blackpast, 2 January 2016, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[6] Lubozynksi, Owen. “Law School portrait honors first Black graduate, Class of 1890 | Cornell Chronicle.Cornell Chronicle, 13 September 2022, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[7] Cornell University. “About.Cornell University, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[8] Cornell University. “Earth Source Heat: Creating carbon neutral, deep geothermal heating systems.Cornell Earth Source Heat, Cornell University, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[9] Cornell University. “Student enrollment – Institutional Research & Planning.Institutional Research & Planning, Cornell University, 19 12 2023, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[10] Cornell University. “Student Experience | Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Accessed 20 December 2023.

[11] Ithaca city, New York.” Census Bureau, 2022, Accessed 20 December 2023.

[12]Restaurants in Ithaca | Outdoor Dining, Pubs & Food Trucks.Visit Ithaca, Accessed 20 December 2023.

[13] York, Michelle. “The Ice Cream Sundae’s Birthplace? That’s the 64000-Calorie Question (Published 2006).The New York Times, 6 August 2006, Accessed 20 December 2023.

[14] Ithaca Trails. Ithaca Trails, Accessed 20 December 2023.

[15] Cornell University. “Locations.Cornell University, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[16], Data Comons, 30 August 2022, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[17] Tsai, Darren. “Should you attend Cornell University? | Thoughts from a Recent Grad.YouTube, 19 April 2020, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[18] Ibid.

[19]Cornell University: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Attending Cornell.AdmissionSight, 30 April 2023, Accessed 22 February 2024.

[20]Student Organization Directory | Student & Campus Life | Cornell University.Student & Campus Life, Accessed 22 February 2024.

[21]Preparing for Your Cornell Application | Undergraduate Admissions.Cornell Undergraduate Admissions, Accessed 11 December 2023.

[22]Welcome | Net Price Calculator.Net Price Calculator, 2022, Accessed 3 January 2024

[23] Cornell University: Office of Financial Aid. “First-Year U.S. Students | Financial Aid.Cornell Financial Aid, Accessed 3 January 2024.

[24] US News & World Report. “Cornell University Admissions – US News Best Colleges.U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, 2023, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[25] Top Tier Admissions. “Cornell Admissions Early & Regular Decision Acceptance Rates.Top Tier Admissions, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[26] College Transitions. “Cornell University Acceptance Rate and Admissions Strategies.College Transitions, 1 June 2023, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[27] Gray, Marcus. “How To Get Into The Ivy League.Odyssey College Prep, 8 August 2022, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[28]  Milliman, Hayley. “How to Get Into Cornell: 4 Expert Tips.PrepScholar Blog, 20 December 2022, Accessed 11 December 2023.

[29] National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). “STATE OF COLLEGE ADMISSION.National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR COLLEGE ADMISSION COUNSELING, 2019, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[30] Perry, Christin. “Early Action Vs. Early Decision: What’s The Difference?Forbes, 18 January 2023, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[31] Moldrem, Maddie, and Allison H. Korn. “The Early Decision Program’s Allure Rests on Misleading Data.The Register Forum, 25 December 2021, Accessed 2 January 2024.

[32] Levy, Jeff. “Early Decision: No-Brainer or Big Mistake?Grown & Flown, 27 September 2023, Accessed 2 January 2024.

[33] Sundquist, Kate. “Does Applying Early Decision or Early Action Increase My Chances?CollegeVine Guidance, 26 October 2022, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[34] Cornell University. “Cornell Engineering Undergraduate Admissions Requirements.Cornell Engineering, Accessed 29 January 2024.

[35] Nolan School of Hotel Administration at the SC Johnson College of Business. “Bachelor’s in Hotel Administration & Hospitality | Cornell Nolan.Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Accessed 29 January 2024.

[36] Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “How to Apply | Undergraduate Hotel Administration | Cornell Nolan.Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Accessed 29 January 2024.

[37] Lemon, Katy. “What is Cornell looking for? – Frequently Asked Questions.Cornell University, Accessed 29 January 2024.

[38] Raymond, Juliette. “How to Get Into Cornell: Admissions Stats + Tips.CollegeVine Guidance, 1 October 2021, Accessed 5 December 2023.

[39] Sawyer, Ethan. “How to get into Cornell + Admission Requirements 2023.College Essay Guy, 27 July 2023, Accessed 7 December 2023.

[40] Sawyer, Ethan. “How to get into Cornell + Admission Requirements 2023.College Essay Guy, 27 July 2023, Accessed 7 December 2023.

[41] Ibid

[42] Ibid

[43]How to get into Cornell | College Admissions.Going Ivy, Accessed 11 December 2023.

[44] Shemmassian, Shirag. “How to Get Into Cornell University: The Definitive Guide — Shemmassian Academic Consulting.Shemmassian Academic Consulting, 29 September 2022, Accessed 7 December 2023.

[45]Undergraduate admissions – Institutional Research & Planning.Institutional Research & Planning, 2023, Accessed 15 December 2023.

[46] Ibid

[47] Ibid

[48] Ibid

[49] Ibid

[50] Ibid

[51] Ibid

[52] Ibid

[53] Belasco, Andrew. “Cornell University Acceptance Rate and Admissions Strategies.College Transitions, 1 June 2023, Accessed 11 December 2023.

[54]How to get into Cornell | College Admissions.Going Ivy, Accessed 11 December 2023.


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