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How to Write the Cornell Engineering Essay 2019-20

If you want to attend Cornell College of Engineering, you’ll have to write a supplemental essay about your goals. This guide will help you develop a Core Message that draws a connection between the career you want and the unique resources at the College of Engineering.

Note: The prompts have changed for 2020-21. Check out our updated guide here

First, let’s take a look at the Cornell Engineering essay prompt!

Tell us about your interest in engineering or what you hope to achieve with a degree in engineering. Describe what appeals to you about Cornell Engineering and how it specifically relates to your engineering interest or aspirations. (650 words maximum)

So what’s the best way to approach the Cornell Engineering essay? Start with some introspection about your goals and motivations.


Step One: You

  • Motivation: What draws you to engineering? Do you love problem solving? Are you driven to create something new that is all your own, or are you energized by working on a team?
  • Goals: What kind of things do you want to do with an engineering degree in the future? Do you want to work with a big cutting edge company, or start your own? Do you want to create something new, or do you want to solve problems and improve the world? Is there a specific project or issue that you dream of tackling?

Tip: As you develop your topic, jot down a few notes about how your personal experiences have informed your goals. This doesn’t need to be the main focus of your essay, but a few personal details will give your reader more insight.

For example:

  • My goal: Design a better system to predict hurricane tracks
  • Personal connection: Growing up in the Florida Keys, frequently evacuating for hurricanes


Step Two: Cornell

How will you prepare to achieve your goal(s) from Step One? To answer this question, research the resources at the College of Engineering. Dive into their website and look at resources in and out of the classroom that will strengthen your problem-solving skills and prepare you for your future goals. For example, you may be interested in specific courses or concentrations, student groups, research opportunities, internships, campus events, or study abroad opportunities. How will Cornell prepare you f0r your future?

Tip: Try to focus on resources that are unique to Cornell Engineering. For example, instead of saying that you’re interested in the introductory course The Earth System, you could share your excitement about Cornell’s unique course on Meteorological Observations and Instruments.

Let’s look at an example student’s brainstorming list!

Goal: Design a more accurate system for predicting hurricane paths

Personal Connection: Growing up in the Florida Keys

Resources at Cornell:

  • Earth and Atmospheric Sciences major
  • Research with the Northeast Regional Climate Center
  • Climate Change minor
  • Study abroad in Samoa: Social and Environmental Change in Oceania program
  • Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Student Association
  • Opportunity to take field courses at Shoals Marine Laboratory


Step Three: Your Core Message

A Core Message is a 1-2 sentence statement that summarizes your response to the prompt. Try to develop a Core Message that draws a connection between your goals and the resources at Cornell Engineering.

Let’s revisit the example student. Their Core Message might say something like this:

“Growing up in Florida, I learned about the way that meteorologists struggle to predict hurricane paths, and this made me want to create better technology to monitor hurricanes. Cornell’s Earth and Atmospheric Sciences program offers resources in and out of the classroom that will help me learn how to design a more accurate hurricane monitoring system.”

Why this works: The student summarizes their response to the prompt and draws a clear connection between Cornell’s resources and a specific goal that they want to achieve.

Try to include your Core Message somewhere in the first paragraph of your Cornell Engineering essay. Then, you can start adding more specific details about how Cornell will prepare you to achieve amazing things in the future!

Looking for one of the other Cornell supplemental essays? We’ve got all the Cornell essay prompts  here!


Click here for our guide to the Common App essay

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