Okay so I get a million variations of this question every year, and it really is hard to answer because I’m not in admissions, and admissions can be really random in some ways, and very predictable in others. Unsurprisingly, high GPA and SAT/ACT scores are a “must” for your application to be taken seriously, unless you’re backing it up with a Nobel prize. Take the SAT’s a dozen times if you have to. Sign up for the most advanced classes offered at your school - it shows that you take advantage of all available opportunities to push yourself academically.
One good leadership position is better than eight generic club memberships. I wouldn’t even bother including any club for which you don’t have an officer position, or any “one-time” community service projects (two hours in a soup kitchen, a beach clean-up) unless you had a role in organizing it. Any experience relevant to your future major/field is great.That said, don’t assume that someone from your field will be reading your application (my English professor reads applications from students in science fields.)
That same professor told me that the essay can make a huge difference to the strength of an application. Don’t write about high school club activities or community service that was already included elsewhere in your application in your personal essay; get them on your side by giving them an idea about who you are. I know a girl who wrote about how her love of cooking is connected to her passion for chemical engineering. I wrote mine about the organization of my bookshelf. Don’t sweat your interview too much; I didn’t even have one. Most importantly, apply all over the place and take advantage of fee-waivers if you qualify.
You actually chose a great time to visit, because you’ll have the opportunity to experience traversing Cornell’s HUGE campus in many feet of snow. That way, if and when you return as a student, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. :)
Since you’re visiting on a Saturday, not many places on campus will be open to eat, except dining halls, which could give you a good idea of what campus dining is like. If you do decide you want to eat at a dining hall, I’d definitely suggest you eat at any of the ones on West Campus, because they have significantly better food than the North Campus dining halls. Off campus there are tons of great places to eat - I’ve never been disappointed by any restaurant in the commons, and CTB in Collegetown is delicious if you’re wanting a quick meal.
Even if you’re planning to take a formal tour, I’d suggest making an extra little trip to North Campus. That’s the section of campus where all freshman live, and is the site of some of my best and first Cornell memories, so I think it’s good to see what that’s all about since it’s where you’d be spending your first year as a Cornellian too! If you’re feeling up to it or just want a way to kill time, I think walking around the commons is always fun, too. There are lots of interesting little shops around there, and it’ll introduce you to the vibe of Ithaca beyond Cornell.
I don’t have any specific questions I think you should ask, but I do encourage you to ask a lot! I guess I’d especially ask about things that are unique to the program(s) that interest you at Cornell. If you have other, general questions though, DS and I are here to answer them in case you forget to ask them when you’re visiting!
Welcome to Ithaca…try to stay warm!