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How to Write the Cornell Engineering Essay 2020-21

All that's standing between you and admission to the Cornell College of Engineering is a pesky essay on "becoming part of the Cornell Engineering community." No to worry, this guide will show you how to write a response that'll impress the socks off those Cornell admissions officers. Let's get going.

First, let’s take a look at the Cornell Engineering essay prompt. (Note that the prompt has changed since last year):

Tell us about what excites you most about Cornell Engineering and/or studying engineering at Cornell University. How do you see yourself becoming a part of the Cornell Engineering community? (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 achieve your goals from Step One? To answer this question, research the resources at the College of Engineering: dive into their website and look at what they offer in and out of the classroom to help strengthen your problem-solving skills, and prepare you for your career. For example: specific courses or concentrations, student groups, research opportunities, internships, campus events, or study abroad opportunities. 

Tip: 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, 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 and community at Cornell Engineering.

For 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. This made me want to create better technology to monitor hurricanes. I know that the Cornell Earth and Atmospheric Sciences program will help give me the foundation to approach this goal, while also allowing me to study with people who are equally drawn to meteorological questions and science.”

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

Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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