The College of Arts and Sciences (AS) is the largest of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges, and also contains the widest range of majors, from Africana Studies to Statistical Science to Philosophy to Astronomy. Unlike the other colleges at Cornell, there’s no common thread running through AS. For that reason, it’s especially important that your supplement be as detailed and specific as possible to the field of study you wish to pursue. Bring in examples of how your experiences throughout high school led you to your desired major.
For example, if you want to major in computer science, try writing the essay about the apps you’ve developed or the meticulous manner in which you organize sections of code. When explaining your interest in government, don’t try to connect your experiences in model congress to something completely unrelated, like art history — maximize your message by focusing specifically on what’s relevant to the field of study. If you aren’t yet positive about a major, take advantage of the opportunity to explain what you’re considering through your “intellectual interests.”
In transitioning between the two parts of the prompt, illustrate why specifically you chose the major you did. This provides a logical pathway from your interests to why you wish to study at Cornell. Try to isolate a specific moment in your life, or a series of moments, that made you absolutely certain that you wanted to devote your education and career to this particular course of study.
An uncommon example could be: You went on a trip to the Middle East, participated in an archeological dig, and discovered a piece of ancient Roman pottery that was determined to have been used by Constantine in the fourth century. Ever since, you’ve strived to pursue a career in archaeology, so you can continue making connections with lost civilizations. Don’t feel intimidated if you haven’t done anything “crazy,” either. As long as the experience is important to you — that’s all that matters. The ultimate goal is to humanize yourself in the eyes of the admissions staff.
The second part of the prompt asks, “Why Arts and Sciences?” Make sure to provide concrete examples of courses, concentrations, clubs, and/or research opportunities that have drawn you to AS. That being said, be careful not to appear as though you’re just quoting the website: elaborate on how each of the examples you provide will be meaningful to you and help you advance your academic interests and goals! Also, try to avoid dropping names of professors, unless you’ve had personal contact with them. Instead, refer to the course they teach or the research they’re doing.
Last week I presented a workshop to high school students about college essays. My sense is that you may have many of the same questions asked during the workshop. What makes a good essay? What should I avoid? How long should my essay be? Do all good essays come from a tragic life experience? What does the selection committee want to hear? As you can imagine, there simply is no “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes to your college essay. There is no denying that your essays are personal and important pieces of your college applications. You may recall from last year, Angela Herrera blogged about The All Important Cornell Supplement, and how the selection committee values your academic interest essays. Demonstrating your academic “fit” with Cornell is important, but there is more involved in writing a successful essay. Here are some tips to help you along in the process:
- Be sure to answer the question that is asked.
- Write in your voice – not your teacher’s, parent’s, friend’s or sibling’s, remember this essay is about YOU.
- Be sure to edit, don’t just rely on spell check. It is ok to have a parent, teacher, friend look over your essays.
- If you choose to write about a current event or common topic, make sure that your content is personal and unique to you. Your essay should not be a news report.
- Use language you are comfortable with, your essay is not a thesaurus.
- Be personal. If you are a funny person, be funny…but don’t be funny if it isn’t genuine. The selection committee wants to get to know you, how you think, how you approach learning, and how you will contribute to the campus community.
- Make every word count. You have a limited number of words to make a big impact, so choose carefully.
- Have fun! This is your time to tell us something about yourself that we don’t know and that may distinguish you from the rest of the applicant pool.
Most importantly, take your time, start early, and don’t be afraid to continue revising your essay. Writing your college essay is a process and there is no need to rush it. The best essay is well-written, concise, gives a glimpse into who you are, and one that you are proud to share!