"Winning is not the important thing. It is the only thing." — Vince Lombardi

"He that lives on hope will die fasting." — Benjamin Franklin

Congratulations, 2018 Essay Contest Winners

  • 1st Place: Livia Betti, Pittsford Mendon HS
  • 2nd Place: Emma Arnold, Mercy HS
  • 2nd Place: Bella Sirianni, Pittsford Mendon HS
  • 3rd Place: Roma Carbone, Mercy HS
  • 3rd Place: Valerie Lepore, Pittsford Mendon HS

Congratulations, 2017 Essay Contest Winners

  • First Place: Madison Kelly, Penfield High School
  • Second Place: Abigail Chilson, Brighton High School
  • Second Place: Hannah Newlands, Brighton High School
  • Second Place: Joe Calcagno, Webster Thomas High School
  • Third Place: Anna Givens, Penfield High School

Essay Contest Winners Announced for 2018

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

The Cornell Club's Essay Contest is open to all 11th-grade high school students in the greater Rochester area. We hope that participating in the contest will help develop your critical thinking and writing skills. In particular, our recent experience demonstrates these skills are critical to success in your college application essay next fall, as well as for your Regents English exam later this spring.

We will award a first prize of $100 in cash, and up to three second place prizes of $50 each; we will also designate an unlimited number of finalists, semi-finalists and honorable mentions, depending on the quality of submissions. In past years, up to 40% of the entrants have been so designated. In addition, if the first prize winner is accepted by and chooses to attend Cornell, the Club will award $950 during the winner's sophomore year. Similarly, if any second prize winner attends Cornell, that student will receive $450.

The Cornell Club of Rochester offers the prize; winning or placing favorably in the essay contest in no way implies a favorable admission decision by any of Cornell's seven undergraduate colleges. But we also know from the past years of the competition that most essayists designated as semi-finalists or higher have been accepted to at least one highly selective college!

In early to mid May, we will notify the winners and send a list of finalists, semi-finalists, and honorable mentions to the participating teachers. The winning essays will be posted on this website after the winners have been notified.


One of the most important skills that you will continue to develop during the balance of your high school years and in college is the ability to thoughtfully evaluate opposing viewpoints -- in other words, to think critically. This skill is important not only for students and scholars, but also for nearly every occupation you might choose, as well as for your personal mental growth and maturity.

The Rules

  1. Select one of the 7 quotation pairs listed below. Here's a hint to keep you on a successful track: Before you start to draft your essay, go over all of the quotations. Think about them. Try to come up with a word or phrase that captures the essence of each pair of quotations.
  2. Pick one of the quotes in the pair you selected and write an essay of no more than 1,000 words that supports that quote or demonstrates the relevance of the quote to life.
  3. There are no limits to the range of your responses, but they should imaginatively reflect not only your own experiences (from school, people you've met, extracurricular achievements or failures, jobs, travel, family dinner discussions, etc.) but also insights you've gained from books, movies, songs, etc. Your essay should give the reader a sense of who you are and why you believe the quote is true. Refer to the grading rubric to see the criteria for judging essays.
  4. Then, on a separate page of the same document, use the opposing quotation and outline a half-dozen or so key points to rebut the case you have just made in your essay. This should take no more than a page.
  5. Finally, on a separate page at the end of the same document include:
    1. Your name
    2. Your parents’ or guardians’ names
    3. Your home address, telephone number, and email address where we can contact you
    4. The name of your school
    5. The name of your English teacher with his/her school phone number and email address

  6. Please do not include any identifying information (your name, your teacher's name, etc.) anywhere on the essay and rebuttal pages. This includes the header you use for AP English, your name at the top of the page, and your name within the body of the essay.
  7. All entries must be in Microsoft Word (.docx, .doc, .rtf or .wps) format or text (.txt) format. Please do not submit entries in .odt or .pages format or paste directly into the body of your email message.
  8. Please double-space your essay and please use 1" margins and 100% magnification.
  9. Submit your essay as a single email attachment to the following email address: CornellEssayContest@gmail.com
  10. All entries must be e-marked no later than January 31, 2018.
  11. Due to the large volume of essays we receive, we cannot send emails confirming receipt of individual essays.
  12. Essays that do not follow the rules will be eliminated from the contest without being graded.

NOTE: Please refer to the grading rubric to see the criteria used in judging essays.

Quotation Pairs

  1. "Comedy is an ability to observe and see what's funny in a situation and be able to forget yourself enough to do it." (Madeline Kahn)

    "The whole object of comedy is to be yourself and the closer you get to that, the funnier you will be." (Jerry Seinfeld).
  2. "There is no truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world." (Thomas Jefferson)
    "There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all time." (Voltaire)
  3. "The early bird gets the worm." (Benjamin Franklin)
    "The early worm gets eaten." (Norman Augustine)

  4. "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." (Albert Einstein, What I Believe)
    "To understand God's thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose." (Florence Nightingale)

  5. "Beneath the rule of men entirely great the pen is mightier than the sword." (Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu, 1838 II, ii)
    "In war there is no substitute for victory. … Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword never saw a machine gun." (General Douglas MacArthur)

  6. "No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place." (Maya Angelou)
    "You can never plan the future by the past." (Edmund Burke)
  7. "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to." (Dorothy Parker)
    "I am convinced that I have been given a gift by God to make money. And so I shall make money and make more money, and then I shall spend my money for the good of my fellow man as I see fit." (John D. Rockefeller, 1898)


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