College Essays

Cornell University Supplemental

Prompt (Cornell University)

In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “…any person…any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. 


I clicked the “Join Call” button and entered an Acquaint cultural networking session with a man from Saudi Arabia. Admittedly, the call did not start off well—English was not his first language, and I was unfamiliar with his accent, so our conversation was awkward and stiff. I tried my best to improve our communication, but I eventually began to consider ending the session early.

Instead, I asked him what I could do to help him understand me. He told me I spoke too quickly for him to understand—he was already adjusting to my needs by speaking in English, so in return I needed to adjust to his needs by speaking more slowly and deliberately. I decreased my talking speed, and the difference was night and day. We then conversed smoothly and comfortably, he gave me advice on how to keep a positive outlook on life, and in exchange, I helped him with his English whenever he asked for assistance. After an hour flew by, I wished him all the best, saddened our conversation ended so soon.

From this experience, I learned to ask questions to enhance my time spent with others, and I incorporated this lesson through each new encounter I had with strangers. From a girl who immigrated to America from Taiwan as a teenager, I gained insight into adjusting to major life changes. From a French woman who endured the loss of her father while striving to become a crisis worker, I witnessed the adversities one may endure on the path towards achieving their aspirations. With each conversation, I expanded my worldview in ways I never would have otherwise.

As part of a learning community devoted to “any person, any study,” Cornell should be a place where its students feel supported and understood by one another, in order to better learn from each other. By working to both learn from each of my peers’ perspectives and share my own, I will do my part to uphold Cornell’s founding principle with each new person I meet, whether it be in class or while gathering at Collegetown Bagels. 

Tips for Writing

  • Start thinking about and writing your essays early, preferably over the summer before senior year. Your senior year will probably be stressful enough without the additional burden of having to cram college essays, and your writing quality will likely suffer under that immense pressure. Getting a head start will give you the time to properly brainstorm ideas, come up with several drafts, and polish your essays before submitting.
  • Don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts before settling on a single idea. It’s always a good idea to explore as many routes as possible and experiment before limiting yourself to a final topic. If you can’t decide on a topic to go with, write a few paragraphs for each one and see which draft you end up liking more.
  • Focus on depth over breadth. Going into specific, vivid detail on a few topics will provide more insight about yourself than writing about a lot of them on a more surface level. This is especially true when considering word count limits, as you simply do not have the space to properly elaborate on a lot of topics within the same essay. 
  • Avoid cliche topics whenever possible. Topics such as how COVID-19 impacted you or a sports victory tend to be overdone, and unless your story is exceedingly extraordinary, writing about them will prevent you from standing out as an applicant. If you opt to write about one of these more “overdone” topics, I recommend adding personal details that can add a unique element to your essay.
  • Avoid simply restating any information you’ve already mentioned elsewhere into your application; that’s redundant and a waste of precious space. If you want to talk about an activity/award you mentioned in your application (which is what I did in this essay), make sure to expand upon what you already listed in your application by discussing specific experiences and lessons  that resonated with you and caused you to grow as a person. 
  • You don’t need to guilt trip the admissions officers into letting you in. There’s a decent chance you’ve heard about how you need a heart-wrenching “sob story” to write about in your college essays. This simply isn’t true; after all, the average person doesn’t have a tragic backstory. Don’t force one into your essays if it simply doesn’t work for you! It’s much better to write about a topic that truly interests and represents you. If you do opt to write about how a hardship impacted you (which can definitely work if it fits you and your experiences), focus more on your growth and the lessons you learned from the experience than the hardship itself. 

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