Intellectual Interests Essay

"I got into Cornell off the wait list. A lot of people were like, "Oh, you just got into Cornell because your dad donated a building." No. Okay. I got into Cornell because I'm smart. I'm smart enough to have a dad who donates buildings to things."

Andrew Bernardof "The Office" 

It would appear that the Harvard and Dartmouth grads who write for The Office are gleefully taking shots at Cornell University via "The 'Nard Dawg."  But if your parents didn't donate a building to Cornell, you'll need to make the most of the lone supplemental essay they require that asks you to write a 500-word essay about your chosen course of study.

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Lots of schools require applicants to respond to a similar prompt, but very few allow you up to 500 words to do so.  If you've really investigated Cornell, you'll know that's not surprising.  Ezra Cornell, who founded the school, once said, "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study."  Today, there are over 70 academic majors and Cornell has a reputation for academic intensity.  Successful applicants have to show not only that they've excelled in academics, but also that they're excited about the academic opportunities waiting for them at Cornell.

Here are the prompts (we'll return with advice down below):

Please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 500 words) that corresponds to the undergraduate college(s) to which you are applying.

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:
How have your interests and related experiences influenced your selection of major?

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning:
How does the major you would like to study in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning match your intellectual, academic, and career interests? Discuss any activities you have engaged in that are relevant to your chosen major.

College of Arts and Sciences:
Describe your intellectual interests, their evolution, and what makes them exciting to you. Tell us how you will utilize the academic programs in the College of Arts and Sciences to further explore your interests, intended major, or field of study.

College of Engineering:
Engineers turn ideas (technical, scientific, mathematical) into reality. Tell us about an engineering idea you have or your interest in engineering. Explain how Cornell Engineering can help you further explore this idea or interest.

School of Hotel Administration:
What work and non-work experiences, academic interests, and career goals influenced your decision to study hospitality management? How will these contribute to your success at the School of Hotel Administration?

College of Human Ecology:
What do you value about the College of Human Ecology perspective as you consider your academic goals and plans for the future? Reflect on our majors that interest you as you respond.

School of Industrial and Labor Relations:
Describe your intellectual interests, their evolution, and what makes them exciting to you. In your essay please address how the ILR curriculum will help you fulfill these interests and your long-term goals.

Back to the advice…

If you apply to Cornell just because it's an Ivy League school and autumns in upstate New York are spectacular, you'll be in for a rude awaking when you arrive and realize a) Cornell's academic workload trumps that of most of the other Ivies and b) spectacular autumns in upstate New York are but a teasing precursor to the spectacularly terrible winters that follow.

Successful applicants choose Cornell in large part because they're drawn to their chosen academic program.  These students have well-developed academic interests.  They can tell you what their favorite classes have been, what subjects they have to know more about and why they find those topics so interesting.  They like to learn and can't wait to dive in and do more of it at Cornell.

Whichever prompt above you're responding to, focus on these important areas:

1)  Show the origins and development of your academic interests. 

Cornell needs to know that you're not selecting a major simply because that's one of the questions on the application.  They expect you to have defined academic interests and they want to know the story of those interests. 

Origins of interest sound like this:

"I've never seen my father angrier than the day I took our family television apart just to see how it worked.  I was 12 years old, and Monday Night Football was just about to start.  It wasn't the first time I'd done something like that, but it was the first time I wasn't able to put something back together quickly.  It took me three hours, but I did it, just in time for my dad to see his beloved Giants lose.  I never made that mistake again, but I've also never stopped trying to learn how things work." 

The development of interests sounds like this:

"My junior year of high school, I volunteered to lead a fundraiser to send our soccer team to Europe to compete in a tournament.  And while I enjoyed organizing the car wash and the donation drive and the now much maligned "shrimp-a-thon" (Sizzler doesn't really mean it when they say, "All you can eat shrimp," by the way), what I really enjoyed was crafting personal emails to ask for donations, and writing the regular update newsletters I sent to people who were supporting us, and updating the travel blog I wrote during our stay in Europe.  Every day, I thought about new ways to share our story with people who might be interested.  Yes, we raised money.  But we also raised interest.  People who had never cared about our team started caring.  We developed a following of loyal supporters, and 18 guys who had never been to Europe finally got to go because of it.  That experience was the first time I started to understand the power of the well-written word."

Those examples are specific and, more importantly, believable.  These students aren't telling us that "Engineering is interesting because I've always been fascinated with math and science," or "I learned about communications by taking AP English."  They're giving us specific, real examples to show where their academic interests came from. 

2)  Focus on your genuine interest, maybe even excitement, for the subject matter.

When you're sharing your stories, let the reader hear your genuine interests.  True engineers get giddy when they talk about engineering.  Seriously, they do.  Students who really love politics don't believe that talking about it ever gets old.  A real Civil War buff can talk for hours about her favorite battles.  Look for examples of you showing your true passion for the subject matter, something you weren't just doing to get a good grade.  Even if it seems silly, like the fact that you and your fellow math geeks solve problem sets together on the weekends, that's perfectly valid.  In fact, most math majors would tell you you'd be right at home with them. 

3)  Tie these interests to Cornell.

Any student who really has this kind of academic passion would investigate the academic programs of her chosen colleges.  These students don't talk about the classes they'll have to take in their chosen major; they talk about the classes they'll get to take in their chosen major.

Successful Cornell applicants can tell you with some clarity how they'll be spending their academic time at Cornell, why their chosen course of study is the right one, and what they're most excited about when it comes to learning, particularly at Cornell.   

It's just one essay.  But at Cornell, it's a crucial one.  So talk about how your academic interests got started and how they developed.  Focus on your real passion and let the reader see just how much intellectual enjoyment these subjects bring you.  And most importantly, tie those interests to Cornell and show why it's there you want to pursue them.

Andrew Bernard likely didn't do these things, but then again, his dad donated a building.  The rest of us have to get in the old fashioned way.

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Filed Under: Advice for specific colleges

Hey guys! Below is my response to Cornell's prompt:
Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests? (Please limit your response to 650 words.)

It is 647 words long, and due in less than 10 hours. I would really love your comments, and as promised, will critiqued yours almost immediately!

Response:

"They said this money serves God's purpose, now they act like it belongs to them", said my grandfather with contempt, after resigning from his various posts with the Swadhyay Parivar. This intrigued me, and on further research I learnt that over the years that organization had been involved in many fraudulent business practices, and with a membership of over five million, had come to very closely resemble a cult.

Thus began my fascination with social psychology - what drives people's behaviors, what are our motivations, what we think affects us versus hidden stimuli. The internet proved to be a great mentor - from the brilliant psychology blog 'The Situationist', I learnt how the widely accepted beliefs on human thinking and behavior are seriously questionable; from 'Psyblog', I learnt about cognitive biases and how they lead us to making irrational decisions, whereas 'The Last Psychiatrist' provided incisive insight into the mind of a practicing psychiatrist. Soon I became the fourteen year old trying to convince her friends why hate could not be a sustainable source of energy for the 'Sith' (from the Star Wars universe) because it is not a natural emotion, but a function of stimuli from abhorrent sources. Multiple re-runs of 'Lie To Me' and books like 'What Every Body is Saying' by Joe Navarro even convinced me that I had become a walking lie detector with an uncanny ability to decode even the slightest tics!

My second enduring passion is computer science, and particularly coding. Few things get me more excited than reading about how some 14-year old has successfully defaced the website of a major corporation, or how some 22-year old has made his fortune with a website startup. I have taken all the computer science courses offered by my schools, and many weekends find me sitting rapt in front of the computer, wracking my brains over some problem from 'ProjectEuler', or furiously trying to optimize my code for 'Codechef'.

Since my education system does not provide much latitude with respect to these interests, I have endeavored to continue my journey of self-improvement by taking online courses, such as 'Introduction to Programming in Java' and 'Introduction to Algorithms' (MIT OCW). I am currently reading 'An Introduction to Developmental Psychology' by Alan Slater, and make it a point to discuss the concepts I learn with my therapist. In this regard, the College of Arts and Sciences offers unparalleled opportunities - the space to explore the relationship between people's emotions and judgments with Dr. David Pizarro at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research (BEDR), with the time to participate in research with the Knowledge Representation and Reasoning group at the Department of Computer Science. If admitted, I would pursue double majors in Computer Science (focusing on Artificial Intelligence) and Psychology (concentrating in Social and Personality Psychology), with a minor in Cognitive Science. Computer Science's emphasis on algorithmic approach along with psychology's focus on critical thinking provide fertile ground to probe the many questions I have, such as "Can cognition be parameterized?", and "Can findings from machine learning further our understanding of social psychology?".

I am also interested in embarking on a cooperative work-study program in computer science, because of the unique opportunity to immerse oneself in an intensive environment with professionals. Having taught myself five computer languages, I am eager to test my mettle, as well as bring the skills I learn at the workplace back to the laboratory.

Overall, Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences is an institution where I can flourish with students who are equally passionate about making a difference in people's lives. If I can understand what drives people into joining cults, what makes them believe so firmly in an ideology that they do not think twice before taking their own lives, and if I can make even one person see reason, I would be the happiest person in the world.

Hello Shlok Gilda- Please keep in mind that colleges often check application essays for plagiarism. After passing your essay through a plagiarism checking tool, it is quite clear you have lifted some of the paragraphs from another essay on this forum (I cannot post the link due to "Spam" restrictions). I suggest you REMOVE these sections COMPLETELY . Cornell will REJECT your application immediately if they come to realize that you have COPIED somebody else's work.

Regards,
EssayAdvice

Thanks for your reply.
Yes, I have taken the last two paras from another essay in the forum. Though I wouldn't say 'lifted'. But thanks anyways, I will modify them.

I was done in 500 words and couldn't think of anything more to add (I know that doesn't justify it, just saying).
Besides the last two paragraphs, how would you rate the rest of the essay?

Thanks a bunch!

7/10.

Some small pointers:
-"how some 14-year old has successfully defaced the website of a major corporation" - Will not be looked upon favorably by Adcoms- use something else to show your passion. Your passion for Comp sci does not come out strongly.

-You haven't mentioned enough about WHY Cornell's CAS is the right place for you. Mention specifics of the College. Needs some serious work.

Regards,
EssayAdvice

URGENT - this is due in a few hours. Could someone please have a look?

Hey Liang! Thank you for your suggestions. I have made some major changes in the essay and am posting the updated version below (and no, you aren't late. I will be submitting this much later now):

"They said this money serves God's purpose, but now they act like it belongs to them", said my grandfather with contempt, after

resigning from his various posts with the Swadhyay Parivar. This intrigued me, and on further research I learnt that over the years
that organization had been involved in many fraudulent business practices, and with a membership of over five million, had come to
very closely resemble a cult. Thus began my fascination with social psychology - understanding what drives people's behaviors and
why we behave the way we do.

The internet proved to be a great mentor - from the brilliant psychology blog 'The Situationist', I learnt how the widely accepted
beliefs on human thinking and behavior are questionable; from 'Psyblog', I learnt about cognitive biases and how they lead us to
making irrational decisions, whereas 'The Last Psychiatrist' provided incisive insight into the mind of a practicing psychiatrist. Soon I
became the fourteen year old trying to convince his friends why hate could not be a sustainable source of energy for the 'Sith' (from
the Star Wars universe) because it is not a natural emotion, but dependent on stimuli from abhorrent sources. Multiple re-runs of 'Lie
to Me' even convinced me that I had become a walking lie-detector with an uncanny ability to decode the slightest tics!
This early interest has now grown more academic, and has combined with another passion, computer science. I discovered
'ProjectEuler' in tenth standard, and since then my mania for efficiency has only grown. I vividly remember one particularly
challenging problem - finding the last ten digits of the non-Mersenne prime 28433×2^(7830457)+1. It consumed me completely for
two whole days, but I was finally able to bring down the run-time of my code from three minutes to less than a second. That sense of

adventure in exploring the many intricacies of a tough algorithm, the freedom for creative openness, provided a most exhilarating
high. I knew I was hooked.

Since my education system does not provide much latitude for these interests, I have endeavored to continue my journey by taking
online courses and discussing my ideas on online forums. I am currently reading 'An Introduction to Developmental Psychology' by
Alan Slater, and make it a point to discuss the concepts I learn with my therapist. In this direction, the College of Arts and Sciences

offers unparalleled opportunities - the space to explore the influence of people's emotions with Dr. David Pizarro at the Center for
Behavioral Economics and Decision Research, with the time to participate in cutting-edge research with the Knowledge
Representation and Reasoning group at the Department of Computer Science. If admitted, I would pursue double majors in
Computer Science (focusing on Artificial Intelligence) and Psychology (concentrating in Social and Personality Psychology), with a
minor in Cognitive Science. I am particularly interested in 'Reasoning About Knowledge (CS 6764)' and 'Reasoning About
Uncertainty (CS 6766)' since they provide a solid foundation to understand group dynamics. I can almost see myself working with
Dr. Arpita Ghosh, trying to decipher how the crowd forms decisions and what implications this has in the marketplace. In fact,
Computer Science's emphasis on algorithmic approach along with psychology's focus on critical thinking provide fertile ground to
probe the many questions I have, such as "Can cognition be parameterized?", and "Can findings from machine learning further our
understanding of social psychology?".

My experience with programming has taught me never to settle for the second-best solution. Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences
would provide the most efficient route to explore unopened frontiers at the critical juncture of psychology and computation. If I can
use my research to understand what makes people believe so firmly in an ideology that they do not think twice before taking their
own lives, and if I can make even one person see reason, I honestly believe my purpose in life would have been served.

The beginning of you essay is quite strong. That being said your paragraphs need to flow from one another more gently. There are some abrupt changes from paragraph to paragraph. You ending could also be less abrupt.

But, overall the essay is good. It conveys your passion for computer science as well as for psychology.

Thanks! I'll try and incorporate your suggestions.
I will review your essay in a little bit; just pulled an all-nighter and I don't think I can do justice to it right now.



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