How to get into Cornell University

How to get into Cornell University

For Undergraduate and Masters Courses

Cornell University was established by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White over 150 years ago to explore and contribute to all fields of knowledge, an academically unconventional idea in those days. The founding of the university, an Ivy League institution, drew inspiration from the former’s words, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Today, over 23,000 students strive to meet their wide-ranging academic and professional goals from Cornell.

As Cornell itself puts it, there is no “magic formula” that guarantees admission to the university. It has a highly selective admission process that focuses on access, affordability, diversity, and inclusion and that sees only about 10 percent of applicants getting the green signal to study in the university.

Who is an ideal candidate?

What exactly does Cornell look for? The first requirement is intellectual ability. Simply put, you need to have demonstrated your passion for learning. Have you put yourself up against the most challenging of courses?

Along with intellectual ability, Cornell values honesty, open-mindedness, and empathy, and your application and recommendations should reflect them as your personal values. Your engagement with your community, leadership skills, your extracurriculars, and hobbies and interests will push your candidature further ahead.

As for your essays, speak in your own voice to explain who you are as a person. Write about something close to your heart and help the application readers appreciate your thoughts and feelings. Develop your idea strongly and express yourself well to leave a good impression with the admissions team.


Cornell University statistics and facts

  • Undergraduates: 14,907
  • Postgraduates: 8,109
  • Campus: 4,800 acres; Ithaca, New York
  • Founded: 1865
  • Founding principle: “Any person . . . any study.” Ezra Cornell, 1868
  • Academic staff: 1,639 (Ithaca); 1,235 (New York City); 34 (Doha)
  • Endowment: $7.2 billion
  • Source: Wikipedia


Cornell University Undergraduate admissions


Admission requirements

Basic requirements: First-year or freshman applicants need to meet the basic educational requirements outlined college-wise under the Freshman Requirements Chart available on the Cornell website. As a candidate, you will also have to decide whether to apply for early or regular decision.

Choice of college: You will have to choose one undergraduate college or school. The colleges/school are College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; College of Arts and Sciences; Cornell S. C. College of Business (School of Hotel Administration and Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management); College of Engineering; College of Human Ecology; and School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Application: You have to complete the Common Application (CA) or the Universal College Application (UCA), both of which can be submitted online.

Additional material: In addition to the application, you need the School Report (to be sent by the counselor/designated official) or your school’s own report form along the official transcript; a statement from your guidance counselor or college advisor; two teacher recommendations, with your name and date of birth on all pages if the teachers are sending them by mail; and the midyear report (not if your school in on trimesters) soon after the application deadline, preferably online.

Supplemental information: The Cornell Questions and Writing Supplement (CA) or the Cornell Supplement, which includes Cornell-specific questions and essays, is required by the university to match your intellectual goals to college/school.

Official transcript: Your school should send (online or by mail) your official secondary/high school transcripts before the application deadline.

Standardized test scores: SAT or ACT test scores are necessary. Some colleges have specific requirement of SAT Subject Tests and you should find out from the university website what exactly is required.

Application fee: An application fee of $80, or a fee waiver approval, must be submitted along with the application.

Interviews: Architecture program applications are required to participate in an interview, Department of Art applicants are encouraged to participate, and interviews are offered to School of Hotel Administration applicants. There is no interview for other applicants.

Additional submissions: Additional forms such as Early Decision Agreement and Arts Supplement are not required and are not to be submitted. However, some majors such as architecture and art do require additional forms and portfolios, information about which is available on the Freshman Admission Requirements Chart.

College and school admission requirements

Cornell’s colleges have secondary school subject requirements and recommendations, standardized testing requirements, and special requirements. Each also has recommended additional preparation. You are expected to ascertain the requirements and recommendations while submitting your application to your college/school of choice.

Tips on applying to Cornell

Cornell recommends that you give yourself adequate time before the deadline to complete the application as well as gather the supplemental information required. Understanding your Cornell school or college by reading about the institution on the university website will help you not only in submitting your application correctly but also in writing your school/college interest essay.

Importantly, you need to research your area of academic interest. A knowledgeable essay about your interests and why you want to study at Cornell will help your case. The admissions officials are not only trying to find out whether you would be a good fit for your Cornell school or college academically, but also whether Cornell would be a good fit for you.

Inform your guidance counselor or advisor and teachers well in advance that you plan to go to Cornell. This will give them sufficient time to prepare to write their statement or recommendation for you.

Some tips for sending your application: Write your name and date of birth on each page mailed, in case the pages get separated. Give your email ID on all application materials. Check that your email settings allow you to receive messages from Cornell. Save copies of your application before you send it. Set up your online application status account by following instructions that will be mailed to you after you send your application. When you are ready, click send for both the application and the application supplement. If you are applying for a design-based major, review the portfolios and supplements required before you send your application.

International applicants

Cornell reads applications based on where you now go to school, not by your citizenship status. Your application will be considered along with other students from your school or other students from your US state or your country.

The application process for international candidates is the same as it is for first-year applicants. Admission decisions are need aware, which means applicants are considered on the basis of their or their parents ability to meet the educational costs.

SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test requirements are not waived for international applicants on the basis of IB, A levels, or international credentials. Applicants whose first language is not English have to submit TOEFL/IELTS scores. However, there are some conditions under which a TOEFL exemption can be sought (see the link to the international student’s page).

International applicant tips

Send three years’ secondary-school records/marks and state/national/other external exams. Predicted marks of any board exam that the student may take on completing schools should also be included.

Separate transcripts translated into English should be submitted for each school that the candidate has attended. No supporting documents or lengthy bound files should be sent. Personal accomplishments can be summarized on one page and sent along with the supervising teacher’s recommendation.

Cornell does not require your statement of finances to process your application though school/colleges of the university may require it as part of the application. A statement needed not be sent with your application and will be sought if you are admitted.

Graduate school admissions

True to Cornell’s motto to be a university where any person can find instruction in any study, its Graduate School has 100 different academic fields. Each field has its own admission requirements and makes its own admission decisions.

Besides conferring research and professional degrees in 100 fields of study, the Graduate School provides opportunities for exploring 18 minor (non-degree granting) fields. The degrees include M.S., M.A., M.A./Ph.D., M.S./Ph.D., and Ph.D. Professional degrees include master’s and doctoral degrees in a wide range of fields.


Your first job as an applicant is to identify the field and faculty by researching Cornell’s programs using its online resources. You should then understand the university’s system of “field structure,” where each field encompasses departments and disciplines and comprises major and minor subjects, research interests, and concentrations. Each field may include faculty across departments and disciplines.


GRE/GMAT: Most programs require GRE scores and some GMAT scores. International students may be required to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Recommendations: Most fields require two or three letters of recommendation. Students must submit the names and contact information of their referees on the application, and the referees receive information on how to provide their recommendation. Ph.D., M.A., and M.S. applicants require recommendations from faculty familiar with their work or from those aware of their performance.

Statement of purpose: You need to submit a one- or two-page statement of purpose that helps reviewers understand your academic objectives, reason for undertaking graduate work, and its relation to your academic/professional goals.

Transcripts: Applicants require a baccalaureate degree from a reputed institution. Transcripts from each college or university attended should be submitted: an unofficial copy with the online application and an official copy after admission and before enrollment.


On fully understanding the admission requirements and materials required, you are ready to apply. The application fee of $105 should be submitted along with the application (fee waiver is available for certain applicants). Changes cannot be made to your application.
Also read these Cornell blogs and articles:
How I got into Cornell MBA
Cornell Johnson MBA application tips
Why I turned down a masters with scholarship offer from Cornell University
16 things every Cornell Johnson MBA student should know
People more likely to lie and cheat in the afternoon says Cornell Professor
The dark side of attending Ivy League programs

Resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12