Trip Report: Cornell University

12 Aug

Nestled in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York, Cornell University is the largest Ivy League university with 13,500 undergraduates and 6,000 graduate students.  Statistically it is the easiest Ivy League school to get into with an admission rate of 18% for 2010 (compare to Brown University at 9% or University of Pennsylvania at 14%).

With seven undergraduate colleges offering degrees in traditional liberal arts, hotel administration, engineering, human ecology, industrial and labor relations, agriculture and life sciences, and art, planning and architecture, you should be able to find something interesting to study.

Each undergraduate college conducts its own admissions process and prospective students can select two college choices on their application.  If they don’t get into their first choice, then they get another chance with the second college.  For some areas of study, this gives an applicant two chances to gain admission.  For example, if a student is interested in studying biology, she can apply to the arts and sciences college and to the agriculture-life sciences college.  Both offer opportunities to study biology but each college has different graduation requirements.

This can lead to applicants trying to “game” the system by applying to a college that has a higher rate of admission and then getting into another college through the backdoor.  The admissions officer at the arts and sciences information session acknowledged that this happens and says that students can apply for an internal transfer.  Usually it is not a problem if that student has maintained a good academic record.

Cornell has a reputation for being a pressure cooker, in part probably because of the rigorous academics.  My cousin, a professor in the engineering school, confirmed that “The workload is heavy here.”  Last year there were half a dozen student suicides, two of which occurred within a two-day period.  Three of those suicides took place at the bridges spanning the gorges around the campus.  The administration has since erected ugly chain link fences to prevent further attempts (see my photos).

It is no surprise then that our student tour guide specifically talked about the mental health services available to students, with easy-to-remember acronyms like CAPS and EARS.  The suicides were never brought up but it was clear she was trying to assure prospective students and parents that the university was doing everything it could.

The campus is quite large and hilly and one can easily stay in shape criss-crossing it.  There are trails into wooded areas with views of waterfalls, streams and gorges.  One can even glimpse Lake Cayuga in the distance.

Three of the undergraduate colleges are publicly funded by New York State, meaning that a New York state resident pays only $36,176 for tuition, room and board to attend the agriculture and life sciences, human ecology, or industrial and labor relations college.  This is a bargain compared to the $52,316 price tag to attend the other four colleges.

Some interesting facts about Cornell University:

  • Some famous alumni: Dr. Joyce Brothers, E.B. White, Christopher Reeve, Jimmy Smits, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Abby Joseph Cohen, Janet Reno, Paul Wolfowitz
  • Students need to pass a swim test to graduate
  • The largest class is Psych 101 which has 1,300 students and is taught by a popular professor
  • The university received 36,338 applications for the class of 2014 and 17,000 applications were for the College of Arts and Sciences

2 Responses to “Trip Report: Cornell University”

  1. Seth August 12, 2010 at 1:48 PM #

    Ah, my alma mater! Nice coverage, Wanchee.

    Yes, Cornell is all that- gorgeous, intense, spacious, big. I got a very good education there.

    I was sad and glad to see the new fencing on the suspension bridge I walked across every day. Ugly, yes, but a small price to pay.

    A frat brother of mine (‘Space’ we called him) once drove three terrified roommates over that little bridge in a VW beetle…then shifted into reverse and backed it off again, as the span bowed like a string with a cat running across. Fun fact- Space was our safety officer.

  2. ann thurlow August 14, 2010 at 10:20 PM #

    Wanchee – Cornell had a rash of suicides when I was a freshman in college. I had no close friends there, but one of my best friends was very close to a student who knew two suicides that year. Two of my friends went up to visit from Barnard, and were shocked by the pressure-cooker atmosphere. Santana was playing on campus that weekend, charging very little for tickets, and the concert didn’t sell out! The pressures are nothing new; there was a freshman suicide at Columbia that fall – I didn’t know him, but had friends who did, and knew several witnesses to his leap.

    In my home-state, U. Mass. students referred to “christening” new high-rise buildings…my parents realized that I really didn’t face greater risks in NYC than many of my counterparts elsewhere.

    We parents place so much pressure on our children to excel; then, after they do, they’ll find themselves surrounded by others who are just as driven as they are. Sometimes, we should remind them that nothing in life is that important.

    Enjoy the trips with your daughter!

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