The college application process: How mine led me to Cornell

By: Erica Ellis

By Joanna LaTorre ’21

The process of applying to colleges can be incredibly intimidating, but with proper time management and enough preparation, anyone can get through it. Below is the process of how I applied to Cornell as a regular decision applicant, as well as reasons for why I chose to attend.

I knew I wanted to apply to Cornell for various reasons

  • I wanted to be surrounded by nature while still having access to a metropolitan area, which Cornell allows by having a campus-to-campus bus service directly to New York City.
  • Dyson has a small program, which would allow me to feel more comfortable in my learning environment as I learn best in small class sizes.
  • Cornell was advertised as one of the more affordable Ivy League institution, and the cost of tuition was a major factor for myself as I did not want my education to be a burden on my family.

High School Junior Year

Joanna LaTorre in front of a Where are you from map

I have known since about the 9th grade that I wanted to go out-of-state for college and attend an elite university. Before starting my junior year of high school, I compiled a list of universities I had considered attending and created a college tour schedule according to my high school’s academic calendar. During various school breaks, I was able to tour several campuses and narrow down my list according to factors I liked at each school.

During the winter break of my junior year, I assembled my final list of colleges I wanted to apply to, which included Cornell. I color-coordinated an excel sheet of schools based on the level of difficulty of getting in according to acceptance rates: safety schools, achievable schools, and reach schools. I then set up my own criteria with factors including location, tuition, class size, score requirements, and median salary upon graduating.

When applying to universities like Cornell, I made sure that I set up a timeline for my application process and aimed for my SAT/ACT tests and essays to be done before I started my senior year.  I also took SAT subject tests in classes I had just taken. While this seemed easy in theory, I actually had to take both the SAT and ACT multiple times in order to reach a comfortable score within the range typically admitted by Cornell. I also made sure my essays were reviewed by a variety of friends and professors.

Towards the end of junior year, I asked teachers from different subject areas to write recommendation letters for me. Requesting the letters towards the end of junior year while explaining my anticipated application submission deadline showed my professors that I was respectful of their time. I highly discourage students from asking for letters last-minute, as teachers often have busy schedules and may not be able to put as much thought into their writing on a time crunch. I politely explained to my professors that I was aiming for a top university, attached my resume, and told them to take their time. They appreciated my thoughtfulness when requesting letters, which I assume was reflected in their writing.

High School Senior Year

My high school principal highly encouraged every student to submit all college applications by October 1st in order to make sure seniors enjoyed their time. While I did not apply as an early-decision applicant to Cornell, I sent out all Regular Decision applications by the end of November in order to be stress-free the rest of my school year. Due to financial burdens, I was unable to travel to Ithaca my junior year in order to truly see if I wanted to attend Cornell, which is why I was not an early decision applicant.

Ivy Day

I was sitting at a Panera Bread with random classmates during a state science fair competition before the awards ceremony. It was 4:45 PM, and I was constantly refreshing my email accounts in hopes of getting an early email of my decision. Results were accessible at 5:00 PM. 

Eating was a difficult task as I was full from anxiety waiting for the first college response. Finally, after putting my phone down for 15-20 minutes to enjoy my meal, I saw the first email arrive from a reach school: Cornell.

An acceptance. I was the only one from my entire grade level. One of two from my county.

Cornell Days

A polaroid that was taken of random prospective Cornell students during Cornell Days, including me.
A polaroid that was taken of random prospective Cornell students during Cornell Days, including me.

I immediately scheduled a flight to Ithaca for Cornell Days and fell in love with the campus upon stepping foot here.

During Cornell Days, current students volunteer to greet prospective students and share their experiences, while admitted students across every major have the opportunity to meet their potential future classmates. Dyson hosts its own event called “Dyson Days” in which admitted Dyson students have the opportunity to meet each other.

In search of Warren Hall, wearing my Cornell Days name tag, I asked an admissions representative where I could find Warren. Immediately, she recognized my name, and before directing me to my future learning hub, said “I remember reading your application. Welcome to Cornell.” This positive interaction made all the difference. I knew I had truly been accepted into this school.

The glamour of Warren Hall’s newly renovated features, the freshly-bloomed flowers across campus, the ivy leaves climbing up the sides of historic architecture, the friendliness of current students, and the delicious first taste of Cornell Dairy ice cream confirmed my decision to attend Cornell.

Fun fact: Two of my favorite things in life are flowers and art, so since I was surrounded by so many different flowers and had access to an art museum on campus, my visiting experience was that much more exciting.

During Dyson Days, I sat in on a class, had lunch with my future TAs, and established friendships with people who would eventually become my current best friends.

Making my decision

Joanna LaTorre in front of a post it wall

After comparing my financial aid packages, experiences, and other factors originally on my college search criteria, the choice was clear: Cornell would be my home for the next four years.

Two years later, I am here writing about my experience. I have volunteered for Dyson Days and communicated with students from my high school to encourage them to take the leap of applying as well in hopes of providing others with the positive experience I had as a prospective student.

Joanna LaTorre

Joanna LaTorre

Joanna LaTorre is a sophomore in the Dyson School from Satellite Beach, Florida and is concentrating in Finance. She has interned for her city government in the accounting and sustainability departments, as well as in the Real Estate Licensing Department for a local credit union. Joanna is interested in the intersection between fashion and the global economy. She is currently the Vice President of Student Development for the Dyson Undergraduate Council and Vice President-elect of Housing for her sorority. She is also a Dyson Ambassador, a junior analyst for Cornell Alpha Fund, and on the Cornell Fashion Collective PR committee. In her free time, she enjoys blogging about women’s fashion, sketching interior/architecture/fashion designs, exercising. and enjoying time with friends exploring Ithaca.


  1. I knew you would succeed the moment you began to manage and organize your stress! Now … after reading your comments … I can better understand why you stressed so much, despite rarely showing it. For me…you were [and still are] one of my favorite students of 20 years of teaching. I’m very proud of you and privileged to have been a small part of your path to success. As we used to say in the 60s, “keep on truckin'”

  2. I am a current senior in high school and you are living my dream. I am inspired by you to turn in my early applications and regular decisions by the end of November. I am interested in finance and also interested in interior design, fashion and architecture. Loved reading about you.

  3. This is really an inspiring reading. I was able to learn a lot from your reading, about application preparations and how the Cornell is like, which have strengthened my belief of applying to Cornell. Currently a senior, I realized that I was really lucky to view the beautiful campus before senior year. Thanks a lot for the sharing.

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