Cornell University Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to Cornell University’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Ithaca, NY

Mascot: Big Red

Type: Private & Land-Grant Research University

Population: 23,500 (15,000 undergrads)

About Cornell University

Cornell University was founded in 1865 in Ithaca, NY, with a unique mission for the time: to provide an institution where any person could find instruction in any study. The university has an undergraduate focus and has the highest acceptance rate of the Ivies hovering at around 14%. It also has a beautiful “Harry Potter” like library, a highly ranked architecture school, and a rich culture steeped in tradition.

Cornell University Statistics

Year Founded: 1865

4 Year Graduation Rate: 94%

Gender Distribution: 53% male, 47% female

Acceptance Rate: 13%

Residency: 25% in state, 51% out of state, 11% international

Location Type: College Town

Schedule System: Semesters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 9:1

Average Class Size: 10

Demographics: 36% Caucasian, 15% Asian, 10% Hispanic, 5% Black, 4% Other

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #9 Best Undergraduate Engineering Program
  • #11 Best Medical School and Research
  • #17 National Universities
  • #19 Most Innovative School
  • #23 Best Value Schools
  • #61 Best Undergraduate Teaching

Independent Rankings:

  • #13 Diversity & Affordability in United States per STARS Reporting
  • #6 Most Green Campus per College Consensus
  • #7 Best College for Business in America per Niche Rankings
  • #9 US College per World University Rankings
  • #11 Private Colleges per Forbes

Cornell University Admissions Statistics

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision: November 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 2nd
  • Transfer Deadline: March 15th

Notification Dates:

  • Early Decision: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision: Early April May/ June

Acceptance Rates:

  • ED 24%
  • RD 8% 
  • Transfer 18%

Average Applicant Pool: 49,000

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 5,000

Average Number Enrolled: 1,000

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 4.07 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th percentile – 1400, 75th percentile – 1560

ACT Scores: 25th percentile – 32, 75th percentile – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections optional.

Subject Test Requirements: No Subject Tests are required, but it is recommended that a student submit two SAT Subject Tests related to their proposed area of study.

Demonstrated Interest: Cornell does not consider demonstrated interest.

Recommendation Letter Policies: One counselor recommendation and two teachers with one relating to the planned field of study. Additional recommendation letters are accepted, and online submissions are recommended.

Cornell University Essay Prompts for 2020:

  • Common App Personal Statement (650 words)

School Specific Prompts:

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. Specifically, how will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals? (650 words)
  • College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours? (650 words)
  • College of Arts and Sciences: Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interest, embodying in 21st-century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College. (650 words)
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management: The Dyson School is unique by design. What motivates you to apply to Dyson, and where do you plan to go from here? (650 words)
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: School of Hotel Administration (SHA): How have your interests and experiences influenced your decision to apply to the School of Hotel Administration? How does this decision relate to your future plans and aspirations? (650 words)
  • College of Engineering: 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)
  • College of Human Ecology: How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? (650 words)
  • School of Industrial and Labor Relations: Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests. (650 words)
  • Cornell Essay Writing Tips

Special Notes:

Although Ivy League Schools are chartered as private institutions, Cornell has some undergraduate colleges that receive funding from the state. There are nine privately endowed and four publicly supported statutory colleges (Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Ecology, Industrial and Labor Relations, and Veterinary Medicine).

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Cornell University Academics


Core Requirements:

What Majors Does Cornell University Offer?

  • 80 Undergraduate Majors
  • Popular majors include Engineering, Biological/Biomedical Sciences, and Agriculture
  • You cannot double major across colleges, but you can have two majors within a single college, minor across colleges, and take classes across colleges.

What Minors Does Cornell University Offer? 

Minors Offered

Cornell University AP Credit Policy:

  • Cornell accepts AP scores of 3, 4, and 5 for course credit. These requirements vary by undergraduate college. You can use AP credits to opt-out of individual school curriculum requirements as well as certain major requirements.
  • Comprehensive AP Credit Information

Honors Programs:

  • Honors Program (To enroll in the honors program, a student must have completed a minimum of 55 credits with at least 30 acquired while at Cornell. Students enrolled in the honors program may earn credits for their research by enrolling in an independent research course.)
  • Honor Societies

Research Availability:

  • 23% of students participate in undergraduate research. These opportunities are generally for academic credit but are sometimes paid.

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

  • MBA Options:
    • One-Year Accelerated MBA: fast track, flexible schedule, classes offered on campus as well as in New York City location
    • Two-Year MBA: full-time program geared toward students who want to move into management roles – 4 semesters + summer internship
    • Dual-Degree Programs: students can earn their MBA at the same time as another degree in a condensed time frame, option to choose an existing dual-degree program or get a customized program approved

Pre-Med Options:

  • Pre-Medical Programs
  • Cornell does not have a pre-med major but does offer guidance to students interested in entering the medical field.
  • Cornell offers free tuition to qualifying medical students.

Pre-Law Options:

Additional Specialty Programs: 

Student Life at Cornell University

School Motto: I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.

Mission and Values:

  • Mission: To discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge, to educate the next generation of global citizens, and to promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community.
  • Values: Purposeful Discovery, Free and Open Inquiry and Expression, A Community of Belonging, Exploration Across Boundaries, Changing Lives Through Public Engagement, and Respect for the Natural Environment
  • Student Testimonials (Niche, Unigo, Cappex)

Cornells’ Residential College System:

  • Residential life at Cornell provides student support and programming in the residence halls to make your experience engaging, meaningful, and gratifying. 
  • Cornell’s living/learning environment is made up of 19 undergraduate residence halls, which includes eight program houses. 

Housing Statistics:

  • Guaranteed for freshmen and sophomores.
  • All dorms are co-ed besides one all-female dorm for first-year women only.
  • All students are required to live on campus. To move off-campus, you must enter a lottery and or meet the allowable exceptions. 
  • Residency Requirements and Exceptions

Campus & Surrounding Area:  

Safety Information: (Campus Safety, Cornell, College Factual)



Student-Run Organizations: 

There are two types of student-run organizations: Independent and University. Faculty and staff of independent organizations are volunteers. University organizations are affiliated with a specific office or department at the university.


Greek Life: Cornell’s Greek Life dates back to 1868, and ⅓ of students participate.


Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attending Cornell University in 2020:

Private Colleges:

  • Total: $75,568
  • Tuition: $58,586
  • Fees: $274
  • Room & Board: $15,796
  • Books: $990
  • Health Fee $456
  • Personal Expenses: $1850

State Contract Colleges:

  • $39,244 – NY State Resident
  • $58,586 – Non-NY State Resident

Financial Aid:


Fun Facts

  • A professor at Cornell invented the chicken nugget.
  • While the mascot at football games used to be a “live” bear, now it’s a student in a bear costume.
  • Cornell was the first Ivy League university to admit women.
  • The Kroch Rare Manuscript Library has one of the first copies of Charlotte’s Web.
  • In 2012, because of recycling and composting efforts, 66 percent of the Ithaca campus’ waste was diverted from landfills.
  • When Harvard comes to play hockey, some fans throw fish on the ice.
  • Since 1905, all students must take and pass a swimming test during their freshman year. It is considered a life skill.
  • Cornell has an underground tunnels system.
  • Cornell has the only agricultural school in the Ivy League.
  • Cornell was almost located in Syracuse.
  • Cornell is the only (partially) public Ivy League school.
  • Notable alumni include Bill Nye The Science Guy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
  • Just for Fun at Cornell.
Wendy Y.
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