Cornell University


When the name Cornell University comes up in conversation, people who’ve been there usually exclaim, “It’s so pretty there,” and after a visit, it is easy to agree. The campus sits on founder Ezra Cornell’s farm, overlooking Cayuga Lake, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It covers 745 acres with classic ivy-covered buildings and contemporary research labs.

Students are proud of the fact that the university has been open to all kinds of students from the beginning. By 1870, Cornell was the first major university in the eastern United States to admit women. And it led the way in welcoming students of varying ethnic backgrounds as well. The nation’s first African-American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, was founded here in 1906.

Whenever my schedule got way too crazy and it seemed like I wasn’t going to make it, I took the time to put everything in perspective. Sitting at the top of Libe Slope and taking in the breathtaking view of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake, or standing in the middle of the suspension bridge and jumping up and down to make the whole thing shake while watching water cascade over the falls, was the best cure for anything that was getting you down.

In fact, the university offers seven undergraduate colleges: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; the College of Architecture, Art and Planning; the College of Arts and Sciences (the traditional liberal arts college); the College of Engineering, the School of Hotel Administration; the College of Human Ecology; and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Students in all the colleges come from a wide range of backgrounds, and from all fifty states and more than 120 countries. It’s a high energy, eclectic mix that gives the schooll its distinctive flavor.


The twenty on-campus libraries provide the best places for studying in whatever kind of atmosphere suits you best. The two most popular libraries are Mann and Uris. Mann is located on the Ag quad and is most frequented by students in Ag and Hum Ec. Uris Library is located on the corner of the Arts quad looking down the hill, affectionately known as Libe Slope. Uris can get pretty social at night, but within the library, the A.D. White Library, with its balconies and alcoves, provides a classic academic aura for studying. It’s nice and quiet studying among the books in the stacks. The best-known spots in Uris are the Fishbowl and the Cocktail Lounge where wine isn’t served, but wines may be studied.

Seven undergraduate colleges; 4,000 courses to choose from; more than eighty majors. After four years here, anyone is prepared to be a success in the real world. The opportunities provided to students are unique and unlike those available anywhere else. More than one alumni has called it “the best place on earth to be.”


Information Summary

Ranks 3rd in New York and 25th overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 98.4
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $73,904
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 34 / 1540
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 13 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 97% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 23,600


Regardless of which undergraduate college you technically enrolled in, you can take classes from every school on campus, and there’s no need to search in order to find the popular ones. The legendary Psych 101, incessantly discussed in tours and information sessions, is held in the biggest classroom, Bailey Hall, with a mere 2,000 of your closest friends. Despite its size, Psych 101 is educational and interesting. Offered only in the fall, one class in the semester is a live demonstration of a psychic telling one student everything about his or her life.

When I took Psych 101, Professors Bem and Maas selected Mindy from the class for their demonstration. Four years later, I would still hear people say, “There’s that girl from Psych 101.” In a class of 2,000, who says you don’t get to know your classmates? Interested? It’s offered Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 10:10 A.M.

Other popular classes, though smaller in size, are Human Sexuality offered in Human Ecology, and Introduction to Wines in the Hotel School, which once a week offers an hour of tasting wines from around the world.

Class Size

This school is big, and you have to accept this fact to be happy there. Classes vary in size, but in freshman year, you will most likely have a couple of classes with at least 200 people. Depending on what you are studying though, it is possible that you may never have a class bigger than fifty people. Popular intro classes, such as Government 111 and Chemistry 207, can easily have 400 or more students in the class, but, as you move into upper-level classes, the numbers get much smaller. Language classes and first-year writing seminars usually aren’t much bigger than twenty students per section. Most large intro classes will also have a mandatory discussion section held during the week, led by a TA (teaching assistant) or the professor, with many fewer students, rarely over twenty-five per section. These sections provide students with a time to ask questions and get to know the teaching assistants. TAs can be very helpful and are usually very willing to meet with and help the students in their section. Being nice to your TA will come in very handy when you need help on papers or problem sets. Faculty are accessible and friendly too if you make the effort to get to know them. Don’t be shy!


There are seemingly, to quote late professor Carl Sagan, “billions and billions” of programs of study. There are more than eighty majors at the university, and you can graduate with a B.A., a B.S., a B. Arch, or a B.F.A., or any combination. Bachelor’s degrees are awarded to any field from animal science, and operations research, to ancient civilizations, textiles and apparel, and mechanical engineering. The largest enrollments (by major) are in biological sciences, applied economics, and engineering.

Believe it—you can major in anything and any combination of things you can find. Friends of mine had majors in classic civilizations, historic preservation, and linguistics and psychology.

Clearly, there are no boundaries to what you can study, even if it includes subjects that have never been put together as a formal major. That’s one of the benefits of going to a school with a great deal of academic flexibility.

Required Courses

As for what’s actually required of all students, the list is pretty short. Entering freshmen must take and pass the swim test, take two semesters of first-year writing seminars and two semesters of physical education. Now, there’s no need to worry about these three requirements in the least. Seminars offered across the curriculum by the award-winning Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines are as varied as majors. Writing seminars are offered on such topics as:

  • African-American Women Writers
  • The Personal Essay
  • From Fairy Tales to the Uncanny
  • Contemporary Moral Problems

There are just as many phys ed classes to choose from to fulfill that requirement including the (extremely popular) ballroom dancing, tae kwon do, rock climbing, intro to ice skating, badminton, squash, Swedish massage, yoga, scuba diving, running, skiing, golf, and riflery.

Study Away

Getting tired of being on campus but think transferring is a little too drastic? It’s easy to study somewhere off campus and still graduate on time. You can study abroad in more than fifty countries, such as Spain, Sweden, Australia, and France. Engineers can take part in a co-op program and spend a semester and a summer earning some serious money in real-world work experiences. The Cornell in Washington program gives students in any college the opportunity to live inside the beltway at Dupont Circle in their four-story building with three floors of apartments and one of classrooms and a computer lab, take classes with faculty and visiting professors, and have an internship in the nation’s capital. Urban Semester gives students a chance to spend a semester in New York City working and studying.

You can also spend a summer at Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island off the coast of Maine. Undergraduate students can earn a semester’s worth of credit studying topics related to marine biology and ocean ecology, and participate in research projects—sometimes on the station’s research vessel. Adventurous students also take part in archeological digs around the world and more locally in New York State.

Undergraduate Research

Cornell is one of the top research universities in the world, and hundreds of undergraduates participate in faculty research projects every year. It isn’t hard to find a project. It can be as easy as talking with a faculty member after class about getting involved in his or her research. There are also structured undergraduate research programs on campus, such as the Hughes Program in biology or the research teams (such as Robocup) in the engineering college. Some students even get their names on research papers and present their results at conferences. It’s a wonderful way to meet professors and other student researchers, and it looks great on your résumé!

Most Popular Fields of Study


Cornell university building :: Cornell University Library :: Cornell University
Johnson Museum :: Cornell University


Every fall, thousands of applications pour into the Admissions Office. Over 30,000 students apply for admission to one of the seven colleges. The Undergraduate Admissions Office collects and keeps track of all the applications and, once they are complete, funnels the applications to admissions offices in each college for decisions. The Common Application and short in-house supplement are used in all the colleges (interviews and portfolios are required for some).

At this stage applicants must decide which of the colleges to apply to. For example, one can major in biology in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and in the College of Arts and Sciences. In the Ag school, bio focuses on the natural world. In Arts and Sciences, biology can be studied with anything from classic civilizations to anthropology to linguistics. (Don’t worry—internal transfer between schools is possible if you decide you don’t want to study biology and want to try meteorology or theater arts instead.)

Requirements for admission vary by school and program, but basically excelling in any college preparatory course load in high school is a step in the right direction. The SAT or ACT with writing is required. SAT Subject tests are specified by college and division. AP credits are accepted but will count differently depending on your major and score, so don’t think you’re home free just because you got a 5. Applicants who go to small high schools that don’t offer AP classes shouldn’t be concerned about being at a disadvantage. Some freshmen arrive with fifteen to twenty AP credits under their belt, and yes, they will probably be able to start out in higher level classes or maybe finish a semester early, but the majority of students have only a few, if any, AP credits and still graduate in good standing after four years.

Important Factors

One of the best things about admissions is that they look beyond the numbers. Special talents and leadership records are just as important as your SAT scores. Three percent of incoming students with an exemplary leadership record in high school are selected as Meinig Family National Scholars. Students who held jobs during their high school academic year may be selected as Tradition Fellows, an undergraduate loan replacement fellowship. In order to continue to be a Fellow, students must work, keep a certain GPA, and be involved in public service activities. Upperclassmen can apply to be Tradition Fellows in the spring of each year. The Hunter R. Rowlings III Presidential Research Scholars program is designed to recognize, reward, and encourage students who have demonstrated academic excellence and true intellectual curiosity. These scholars are assigned a faculty mentor in freshman year and are given special opportunities (some paid) to participate in research as undergraduates.


Regardless of whether the college you’re applying to requires an interview or not, the Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network offers the opportunity for applicants to meet with alumni in their local area for a casual exchange of information. The most important thing to remember is that if you get accepted, the people who read the application believe you can make it and be a success.

Financial Aid

Cornell’s need-based admissions policy makes it affordable to attend. About sixty-five percent of undergrads receive some form of financial aid.

My financial aid package was excellent. I was a National Scholar and came out owing only $5,000. But my parents made sacrifices and so did I. My mother went to work while I was in school to help pay for my college. (She hadn’t worked before.) Yes, I was in debt. My take on it is this: Education’s supposed to be hard; not impossible, but not a free ride.”

The financial aid system is need-based. The university doesn’t give merit or athletic scholarships.

The most important thing to remember is that paying for college isn’t meant to be easy. It can put a strain on your resources. But you will receive a top-quality education, and as alums will tell you, the name alone will take you far in life. Need-based aid also gives the university the kind of diverse community it needs to be a great institution. The mix of income levels and socioeconomic backgrounds at the university makes it a truly interesting and stimulating place.


When parents think about paying for college, work-study is always on the top of their lists. Work-study is a great thing. Your employer only has to pay half of your wage; the other half is paid by the government. Therefore, employers LOVE work-study students, and there are usually enough jobs to go around. Granted, it may not be your dream job, but in most jobs, there is plenty of room for advancement, and your salary usually advances, too. If the job is in research or something related to your major, it gives you additional experience that makes you even more marketable once you leave.

When I first started hunting for a job, it was the worst. Every place I inquired at was full and none of the available jobs fit in with my class schedule. It seemed hopeless. I called my mother in tears and told her I didn’t want to be on work-study anymore. Then I found a job at the Undergraduate Admissions Office as an administrative assistant. The job had great (and flexible hours), and an understanding staff. I stayed there for the rest of my four years, became a student personnel assistant—which meant I hired and coordinated all the students for the building—and still had a job after taking a semester off to go to Washington. The job gave me excellent experience that I put to good use after I left.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 2793rd for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in New York.



All freshmen have a similar first-year housing experience, living together in residence halls located on North Campus. Some returning students elect to live in residence halls on West Campus, but about half of students live off campus in sorority or fraternity houses, in Collegetown, and in the surrounding areas. There are a variety of off-campus options to choose from, from high-tech (and expensive) apartment buildings to three-story Victorian houses with six apartments that include oddities like oval windows, sinks in hallways, and sitdown showers.


The university offers a lot of music, theater, dance, and films, but if you’re looking for other social activities, trust me, you’ll find plenty. As each weekend approaches, one is faced with an immense variety of choices. Since one-third of the campus is Greek (fraternities and sororities), there are always a collection of fraternity open parties, crush parties, after hours, and formals to attend. Fraternities are housed both off and on campus in just about every direction, so there is bound to be one nearby. Many other options exist outside of the Greek realm and cater to many different interests. Student Services supports more than 600 student organizations and clubs—and if you can’t find one you want to join, you can create your own! In addition, the very extensive intramural sports programs will help you let off steam in competitions involving everything from giant slalom skiing to inner tube water polo.

Campus Activities

Just glance at the Daily Sun on Friday and you’ll find a plethora of activities going on all over campus. On any given weekend, you can attend a concert, a varsity sporting event, intramural games, an ethnic festival, or listen to a speaker. Because of its size, there are always lots of people at whatever event you attend, and you’ll definitely meet someone with interests similar to yours:

  • Diwali, a celebration of the Indian New Year—“the festival of lights”—takes place every fall. It’s put on by the Society for India and the on-campus Indian Association and features traditional Indian food and a performance of skits, traditional and modern dance, and instrumental music.
  • In the spring, the Festival of Black Gospel brings famous gospel singers to campus and unites regional gospel choirs, like Pamoja Ni, in song and spirit.
  • One weekend in every year, Lynah Rink is packed solid to watch the hockey team play their biggest rival, Harvard. Smuggled in under jackets and in shirts, fish of every size and color as well as some frozen fish sticks and lobsters become airborne when Harvard players skate onto the ice.
  • Some years, Bailey Hall is packed with over 1,800 a cappella fans for Fall Tonic, the all-male Hangovers annual concert. Visiting a cappella groups who perform during Fall Tonic are undoubtedly amazed at the number of people at the concert and often mention that there are more people in the audience than students at their own school. We are dedicated fans and strongly support the groups or teams we enjoy!


The Public Service Center mobilizes over 3,000 student volunteers each year in both one-time and ongoing projects. That’s over 170,000 hours each year of service to the community. During Into the Streets, a national day of service, there are close to 500 volunteers who work with thirty local agencies. On that one Saturday alone, students do over 2,500 hours of service in the greater Ithaca area.


In the evening and weekends, the cinema organization offers at least four different films, playing either in the theater at the Straight (Willard Straight Hall, the student union) or in Uris Auditorium. Both are on central campus and are a short walk from any dorm or apartment. The movies can be classics that you never thought you would see on the big screen, movies that have just left theaters across the country, and foreign films. Every so often, the student film classes show their own interesting (and often experimental) work.

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


The athletic department fields varsity teams in basketball, crosscountry, indoor and outdoor track, soccer, squash, tennis, polo, lacrosse, field hockey, rowing, gymnastics, and hockey. Known as the Big Red, the sports teams are of championship quality.


In addition to the main Career Services Office, each of the undergraduate colleges also has a career services center where students can go for career planning and information, job search strategies, and advising. Alumni around the world network with current students to help them find jobs and offer externships to sophomores, juniors, and seniors who want to experience the real world of work. Placement rates into medical, veterinary, and law schools are considerably higher than the national average for other colleges and universities.

Public Service Continues After Graduation

Cornell’s record of public service holds true after graduation as well as during the undergraduate years. The university traditionally ranks in the top ten schools nationally in the number of alumni who are accepted into Peace Corps training. Many more work with AmeriCorps and VISTA in their postgraduate years.

Prominent alumni include:

  • Adolph Coors, ’07, Beer Baron
  • E.B. White, ’21, Author
  • Allen Funt, ’34, TVPersonality
  • Harry Heimlich, ’41, Developed the Heimlich Maneuver
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., ’44, Author
  • James McLarmore, ’47, Burger King Founder
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ’54, Supreme Court Justice
  • Toni Morrison, ’55, Author, Nobel Prize Winner
  • Janet Reno, ’60, Former U.S. Attorney General
  • Lee Teng-Hui, ’68, Former President of Taiwan
  • Christopher Reeve, ’74, actor
  • Pablo Morales, ’94, Olympic Medalist

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