Jing Jiang / Sun Senior Staff Photographer

The Cornell admissions office saw a record high of 17,000 more applications than ever before.

February 24, 2021

Five Majors, Four States, Three Colleges: Excitement Builds Among Early Decision Incoming First-Years

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With colleges waiving standardized testing requirements and hundreds of deferrals from the Class of 2024, the college admissions cycle has been more competitive than ever. 

The Cornell admissions office saw a record high of 17,000 more applications than ever before — even with Zoom classes, online standardized tests and canceled campus tours, more high school seniors than ever want to come to Cornell. 

For Jackie Cheng ’25, Cornell’s unique academic offerings drew her in during her junior year. 

“When I was doing research I realized Cornell didn’t have a Chinese language major but it did have a China-specific international relations major,” said Cheng, referring to the China and Asia Pacific studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It was exactly what I wanted.”

Even as campus tours and information sessions were canceled, Cheng took a trip to Ithaca with her mother. Cheng wasn’t able to enter the buildings on campus, but the visit cemented her decision.

“The day we went it had been raining the entire day and right when we got there the sun started shining,” Cheng recalled. “That was kind of a sign.” 

Jonah Sussman ’25 was admitted early decision to the College of Engineering. Sussman took his SAT during the summer of 2019, sparing him from testing cancellations. However, like most seniors, Sussman’s high school experience has endured it’s fair share of cancellations. 

“The biggest thing for me that got canceled was my school musical,” said Sussman. “It got canceled like a week before, so that was pretty disappointing.”

Sophia Chierchio ’25, who hopes to major in government or economics, chose Cornell for its diversity.

“I live in Staten Island and at least for me, the people in my school, everyone’s really similar in terms of economic background, social background,” Chierchio said. “Cornell is extremely diverse and if I want to go into government one day, I think it’s really important to interact with different types of people and learn about different cultures.”

Chierchio also comes from a Cornell family, and was lucky to have had several Ithaca visits before applying. Other students, however, relied on virtual resources. 

Anthony Washington ’25 is an incoming music major from Arlington, Texas. While he decided on Cornell his junior year, there was no opportunity for a trip north before the pandemic hit. 

“I’ve basically been raiding all of YouTube,” Washington said. “I’ve kind of just watched every video, talked to every friend that I knew and gone on the website.”

Even without an in-person campus tour, Washington was still confident in applying through early decision. 

“We didn’t get much of a senior year,” Washington said. “Going into college I don’t have that many expectations about orientation week, but I’m kind of acclimated to expect the unexpected.” 

Shriya Suresh ’25 also took advantage of virtual tours. Aside from a quick trip through Ithaca her sophomore year, she has yet to walk through Cornell’s campus, but like Washington, she is still confident in her choice. 

“It was just so pretty that I knew I would be fine,” said Suresh, who plans on majoring in nutritional sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She has been taking advantage of various social media pages to meet other early decision admits. While class Facebook pages are not novel, they have become more important than ever, as incoming first-year students remain uncertain about how social life will look in the fall.

“I feel a lot of people already know other people going in,” Suresh said. “I think now because of COVID, everyone’s trying to get to know each other before they get on campus.”

Tanya Merino ’25 was already set on applying for an early decision by her junior year of high school. She was able to squeeze in a tour of the College of Arts and Sciences at the beginning of 2020.

“I come from a pretty small town,” said Merino, referring to her hometown of Peekskill, New York. “Ithaca just felt like home.”