Essential Things that EVERY Cornell Freshman Should Know Before Arriving (UPDATED!)

Freshman year at Cornell is an unbelievable experience of ups and downs, and most people I’ve talked to in May feel as if they’ve matured in some way since the beginning of the year. While I definitely feel like Cornell has tons of support systems in place (peer advising, academic advising, resident advising, alumni mentoring, Gannett…), I felt like I was often given generic advice that was too generic. Let’s face it, folks, generic advice simply doesn’t help. At all. Some of my favorite USELESS PIECES OF INFORMATION given to me before move-in day:


Sure, things like that make you feel all warm and bubbly inside. But can you really apply that knowledge to specific Cornell situations?! Not really. Without further ado, here is a random list of everything I wish my freshman self had known the day we arrived on North Campus that first time:

  • You’ll probably be getting Bear Necessities food, in Robert Purcell Community Center, more than a few times. 2 notes: 1) Don’t get confused when everyone starts talking about eating at “Nasties,” as Nasties is Bear Necessities.bnn 2) Sure, it might look like, feel like, and smell like a fast food restaurant…but it is oftentimes not as quick. Don’t expect to order, then get your hamburger in 45 seconds like at a McD’s. I’ve waited 15-20 minutes for food, and have seen people arriving late to class and running to catch busses because their food came out late. (Also, don’t accidentally grab the wrong sandwich.)
  • Here are some similarly named things you MUST be able to distinguish:
    • Uris Hall and Uris Library. Sounds silly, but it’s easy to mix ’em up. Uris Hall is the rusty brown social science building next to the Statler; Uris Library is right below the clocktower. Same with Olin Hall and Olin Library; the library’s across from the clocktower, and Olin Hall is the Chemical Engineering building near the Engineering Quad.
    • McGraw Tower is the clocktower; McGraw Hall is on the Arts Quad.
    • Wanna sign up for Introduction to Sociology? Great. But you must know that there are 2 Intro Soc. classes with the exact same “Introduction to Sociology” name. One is DSOC 1101 in the Ag. School, and the other is SOC 1101 in Arts and Sciences. I can’t imagine how much it’d blow if you found out midway through the course you weren’t in the appropriate class.
    • Likewise, on a more personal note: there are two David Schatz’s in the class of 2014 at Cornell. 
  • Llenroc is the name of the File_Llenroc.jpegDelta Phi fraternity’s frat house; it’s significant because it was built specifically for Ezra Cornell. Cool fact you should know: Llenroc is Cornell spelled backwards. There; I just saved you the “NO WAY?!” stupefied reaction you might have had during O-week.
  • Cornell is not high school. Repeat: Cornell is NOT high school. This means it is OKAY to eat meals/get breakfast alone if you can’t find anyone else to go with. Seriously…nobody is going to judge you for eating by yourself. I remember first semester, I loved waking up late and having a leisurely breakfast and reading the Sun, before badminton. Here’s what does not happen:

Untitled-1Yeah. that definitely does not happen. Everybody knows that all the food flinging happens at RPCC.

  • Similar note: I know it might seem like everybody from Westchester County already knows each other and has grouped up/made unbelievable friendship bonds during O-week, but I promise this isn’t the case. Don’t be afraid to tag along with a group walking to Appel and talk to anybody you want.
  • Cool feature of the Cornell website: the ability Cornell Universityto search for any Cornellian’s info by their name. This is useful for getting in touch with that kid in your Econ class whose phone number you lost, or to fire off an email to your TA (when Facebook just won’t do).

A few tips for saving money freshman year:

  • I wish I had listened to a commenter’s advice last year when he suggested I downgrade my meal plan first semester from 14 meals to 10; I never went to the dining halls 14 times a week.
  • Textbooks can often be expensive; investigate options online or on-campus to buy or rent books(i.e. CampusBookRentals). I’d imagine that renting would be a good option when you’re taking a class to fulfill a requirement or to deviate from your main academic path…and thus would not need the book to refer to later (e.g. a Hotelie taking Astronomy…). You could easily save a ton of money that way.
  • Nasties is overpriced when it comes to convenience items…so what can you do? Try to head to Target in the Ithaca Mall on the weekends to get all that you need.
  • Don’t buy bottled water in eateries like Trillium. They have free cups for waterCornell_Trillium.jpg (3072×2304) on the side to use with the water button on the soda dispenser.
  • When you get to Cornell, hit the ground running and start looking for opportunities. This sounds like generic advice I mocked at the beginning of this post, but let me give examples. If you want to be an RA (resident advisor) sophomore year, you have to make up your mind early since informational meetings are held as early as October; some kids I’ve met were bummed out second semester when they missed the deadline. Likewise, if you’re interested in Greek life, it helps to make all the connections you can with brothers/sisters first semester to make the rushing process all the easier. Finally, attend Clubfest (mentioned here), which takes shortly after the school year begins. It helps so much to see first-hand the hundreds of clubs at Cornell, and trust me–you’re not going to get this kind of exposure to ALL these clubs at any other point in the year. Since I’m stressing to you now the significance of it, you have no excuse for not attending. Nada!
  • Let’s talk about OL (orientation leader) groups. I know that your group might seem like a really big deal your first week or so at Cornell, and if you get placed in an awesome group that “clicks” and Untitledplays the best “get-to-know-each-other” games…good for you. However, if your group doesn’t seem to mesh and you’re not too thrilled with the people, don’t sweat it. Really. Nobody that I’ve talked to has mentioned OL groups after the first 3-4 months of college. Oh, and don’t be afraid to play the orientation games that might seem silly at first. Everyone’s curious about other people and these games can be a great way to get to know people.
  • Somewhat related tip: during orientation week, there’ll be a lot of scheduled activities, and you might notice a few of the cool kids blowing them off to go party or what-not. Not to sound like a stringent rule-follower, but I suggest that you go to everything listed as “mandatory” in your orientation guide. They’re not suggesting you sit in an auditorium to torture you…but rather tell you newstudentprograms.cornell.edu_orientation_OrientationGuide11.pdfthings that could really be of help freshman year. Seriously, they go out of their way to make the informational orientation events fun (see the booklet cover on the right for proof)…so do yourself a favor and attend ’em.
  • Don’t get put off when your classes are located in buildings that have nothing to do with the subject matter. My bugs class was in a Hotel School classroom, the Introduction to American Government class last semesterstatler02.jpg (460×280) was in a room filled with wall-size periodic tables, and a few Arts and Sciences classes are in Ives Hall (where the “Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations” logos are splattered all over the place).
  • GO COURSE SHOPPING! One mistake I made first semester was thinking that I shouldn’t dare sit in on classes that I was thinking about dropping, or adding classes last minute. Honestly, even if you think your course schedule is set in stone..there’s no reason not to attend 1 or 2 more random lectures the first week of class. Worst comes to worst, you decide not to take it and  have “wasted” an hour of time. Best case scenario? You realize you prefer a class over another previously-scheduled one, and ultimately have a more fulfilling year. Go ahead, sit in on Introductory Philosophy or Horticulture. It could be that one class you’ll always remember.
  • Lastly, get excited because…

anchorman-sequel-jump.jpegIf any current students or alums have any more suggestions…absolutely get in touch via the contact page.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

10 thoughts on “Essential Things that EVERY Cornell Freshman Should Know Before Arriving (UPDATED!)

  1. Julia

    I’d also add – don’t get overly tied to what you think you want to study/be after Cornell. Some of the best classes are the unexpected ones, and you might just find out that you love a particular subject when you couldn’t stand it in high school.

    To that end, don’t worry too much about tailoring your major for a specific job. With a few exceptions (engineering, architecture, etc.) most jobs will happily accept people with different majors. I worked as a management consultant for a Big 4 for 10 years, and I often hired history, philosophy, biology, even French Lit majors. If you can think logically, write well, speak coherently, and are comfortable in different situations, I can teach you whatever you need to know about business. But I can’t teach people/thinking/speaking/writing skills.

    Last of all, savor the experience! Do the unusual, take that semester abroad, take a semester off to explore South America, go traying at 2am instead of “getting your rest,” because once you leave the Hill, it’s fun but never the same.

  2. Amy

    Actually there are 3 Olins – Olin Library, Olin Hall for chemical engineering, and Olin Lab for chemistry behind Baker Lab. I got the two chem buildings mixed up and missed a review session.

  3. Amy

    Also, for who’s you mean whose. Who’s = Who is, Whose = belonging to who. He has a phone number, he isn’t one.

  4. Add A Website

    Hiya, I’m really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and internet and this is actually annoying. A good website with exciting content, that’s what I need. Thanks for keeping this site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it

  5. Margie

    Actually The Cornell Store rents textbooks too, at the store and online, which gives you the savings and it’s easier to give the books back at the end of the semester.

  6. Moses Cohen

    While being a freshman is not easy, you posted great tips not only for Cornell freshmen, but to mostly any university (beside cup tip and few others).

    By the way, “cool kids” already found friends to go to party with only when arrived? won`t happen here, everyone is nerds 🙂

    I will keep track on your posts, looks like a hit,

    Moses Cohen, read my blog too בניית אתרים.

  7. A

    Another tip: ALWAYS carry an umbrella with you. And by always, I mean always. 95 degrees and sunny in the morning can easily become 45 degrees and rainy by midday in Ithaca.

  8. Roma

    WOW! Amy’s fact check and grammar lesson helped way more than everything you said! Without it, your article made no sense, but now I SEE! So I spent an hour of time scavangering your article for more completely eye-opening, fundamentally relevant errors. Boy, am I glad I did!
    “Actually”, it is indeed believed that the average age of a prospective freshmen is 18, and the men in your picture captioned “I’m coming to Cornell” are well over 18 given the graying condition of their hair and luscious quailty of their mustaches. This paradox of words and images paints a pictures of confusion. Now, I think everyone at Cornell will likely be old and smell like death. Please avoid this in the future by choosing a more appropriate image. You’re welcome.

  9. Randman926

    My brother is an incoming freshmen this Fall. What is something I can give him you wish you had been given, or brought with you, for your first year that you didn’t get?

  10. Sam

    I am not the loudest person and I want to know if I will find nice people who are not overbearing. Honestly, are there very friendly people at cornell?

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