What Truly Makes Cornell Unique

As a Life on the Hill blogger, I love getting emails from prospective Cornellians…they keep me on my toes and remind me what was on my mind as a senior in high school. The other day, I got this email, which was pretty darn thought-provoking for me:

Hi David,

Why is Cornell someone’s dream school? Do you know some reasons why, esp. given that so many apply for ED at Cornell?

Thank you,

It’s a great question, and, talking in terms of the undergraduate experience, it’s harder to answer than you would think–even given my years spent at this school. ithaca_campus-1hdvls6Putting aside the notion of college admissions strategy (e.g. applying to the highest-ranked school you can get into) makes it more difficult to answer.

Why? Well, if we’re comparing the campus itself, Cornell’s campus is beautiful in my biased eye…but so is Stanford’s, Yale’s, UVA’s, and so on (as well as a plethora of small liberal arts schools). Going off of academics/faculty, Cornell has had 41 Nobel Prize winners affiliated with the school, and maintains a community of absolutely brilliant professors…but so do many other similarly-ranked schools. And, if you’re going off of prestige and name itself, well again–there are a few other colleges that fit the bill too (you might’ve heard of a few of ’em in towns like Cambridge, Hanover, or New Haven). 

So what makes Cornell different?

My answer: Diversity and opportunity. In, almost literallyevery possible sense of the word.

Let me explain…

Diversity in terms of students: I’ve met aspiring winemakers,  hotel managers, landscape architects, policymakers, interior designers, financiers, astronomers, and fiber experts (yes, like the clothing material)–allAdmissions-17yi4st actively pursuing their passions. Everyone from pre-professional I-Bankers to theoretical physicists. People from Hawaii to Ghana. People from Alaska and people who had never seen snow before getting here. Left wingers (politically speaking) and right wingersI just can’t imagine that at any other point in my life, I will be surrounded with such diversity–in the best meaning of the word.

Opportunity in terms of discovering your passions off-campus: Almost limitless opportunities exist here. Interested in government or policy? Check out the legit Cornell in Washington program, or the Capital Semester program. Aspire to99 be a filmmaker? Cornell in Hollywood is up your alley. The tech scene interests you? Cornell Silicon Valley and Cornell NYC Tech ensure opportunities for connections and events. Have a deep passion for marine biology? Spend a few months on Cornell’s own island, Shoals Marine Lab, off the coast of Maine. If architecture is your “dig,” you’ll enjoy Cornell in Rome. Labor relations/HR students benefit from ILR’s connections with places likes-logo Disney World, GE, and the International Labour Organization to spend a semester putting theory into practice.

…and discovering them on campus: Think of (just about) anything you’ve ever been interested in, and realize that Cornell likely offers an outlet to pursue it…or the opportunity is there (maybe thats why the Squirrel Club exists).Want to work on a racecar? Join Cornell Racing. Like media? Join The Sun, the Social Media Club, Slope Media, or any of the otherpic1 many on-campus publications. Scientists can join the Entomology Club or the Herpetological Society. Musicians can join the pep band, play the chimes, or join CU Winds, and business-oriented people can select from 4-5 business frats and countless finance clubs. Not to mention, if you affiliate with a specific ethnicity/religion/nationality, chances are that there’s stuff for you. Cornell Hillel is booming…butHome - Cornell University Hillel so is the Cornell Filipino Association. Don’t believe me? Take a look at last year’s comprehensive list of 800+ student organizations (warning:PDF) to appreciate the variety.

(The amazing thing is when people combinecheese_club.jpg (430×292) their interests–for example, I TA’ed a business class with many bio majors. But that’s an aside.)

Academically: Again, any person any study rings true. With over 4000+ courses across 7 undergraduate colleges, you can take a class in almost anything. Casino Operations to Beer. Human-Environment Relations to the Ethics of Eating. Korean to iPhone App Development. History of Terrorism to Psychology of Entertainment Media. tree1Digital Business Strategy to Stardom. For (your required) PE classes: Anything from Juggling to Tree Climbing, SCUBA to Birding, and Thai Massage to Handgun Safety. (Heck, You can even do a themed semester.)

And when you graduate? Well, I still have 1-2 months to go (!!!), but when that day does come, I know I’ll find comfort knowing that the comprehensive Cornell network spans globally. Don’t believe me? Check out theCornell Silicon Valley | Alumni | Cornell University websites for the Cornell Clubs of New YorkFrance, Boston, Beijing, Oregon, Los Angeles, D.C., and so on. I’d love to be proven wrong, and I know alumni clubs exist at other schools, but I can’t imagine finding any other place with such established and diverse post-graduate connections and events. 

Coming to Cornell won’t be easy–you’ll be essentially given a list of classes that used to fill a phone book-sized text and are expected to be responsible enough to navigate yourCornell-in-Washington-q8i2k4 way through it all. But if you are up to the task, you can create a 4 year college experience that provides you with unparalleled opportunities to pursue what you want to.

..and that‘s what sets Cornell apart. Hopefully I didn’t sound like too much of an advertisement here…as I’ve said, Cornell isn’t right for everyone. It’s just that, after 4 years, I finally grasp the unlimited opportunities Cornell provides.

 [Here is where I step off my podium]

*Images/logos courtesy of their respective organizations.

9 thoughts on “What Truly Makes Cornell Unique

  1. Richard C.


    My daughter just got into Cornell. She is a singer that loves performing pop and rock music. Any leads for clubs or places to visit when we come up to Ithica?



  2. Marina

    Hi, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this article. Like you said, it that was an excellent question to ask, and I’m impressed by your answer. I’m only in my second semester here myself, and every week at least, I run across something new and different going on, or I find someone who has a totally different view of life from me, and it all makes me appreciate Cornell, and the world, the more. Thank you!

  3. Anthony Lopez

    This couldn’t be more spot on. As a young alumnus, I would add that Cornell stands out from other institution because of the emotional connection you have even after graduation. It’s more than just and undergraduate or graduate degree. It’s a life long mutual partnership that does not go unnoticed. As I approach my 5th Year Reunion I plan to come back in June and join over 800 of my ’09 classmates and thousands of fellow alumni in celebrating that long lasting bond! That alone speaks volumes.

    Anthony ’09

    P.S. Would I do it all over again, in a heartbeat!

  4. Mat

    As a Cornell parent (that sweats the tuition all the time) I couldn’t be happier with the opportunities my child has been given (sweating the tuition less these days)…An engineering student on one of the engineering teams and a member of a couple clubs, he/she just got a great (GREAT!!) co-op for next fall. That’s an unbelievably valuable program, too, which involved resume writing, interviewing skills, and networking skills…taught, practiced, and applied. Most Cornell students had a few choices of where to attend college…ours did…with some great scholarships. I can honestly attest that there is no way my child (adult) would have had the same opportunities both on campus and off had he/she decided to go elsewhere. (I say he/she because I don’t want to get in trouble with my student for writing on the blog!) It’s been a heck of a lot of work, though, so Cornell is not for the faint of heart. But for the hard working and motivated…it’s the best place to be. The opportunities are endless and I’m confident the friendships and connections will be lifelong.

  5. Marina

    I am a senior in a local school near Cornell and have been fortunate enough to participate in several amazing opportunities through Cornell and the people I know there. I have been to Shoals Marine Lab in Maine, joined the Herpetology Club, played trumpet in the pit band for a Cornell student production of Hair, etc. This post definitely rings true to what I have experienced and I wanted to add that Cornell also has an incredible community that is very different from pretty much any other school I have visited. Every school I visited had a much smaller community than Ithaca, not that Ithaca is big, but it has everything that a good college town should have (and is actually nationally ranked as a top college town by several websites). To Richard, I would suggest JAM (Just About Music), it is a dorm/club (you don’t have to live there) that has open mics, concerts, recording equipment, and really amazing people who love music and are into exactly the sort of stuff your daughter seems to like. That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

  6. LL

    I can’t believe you wrote this whole response for my short question! Thanks so much! I can definitely feel your excitement and an answer from a senior is so rich in perspectives. I look forward to all the opportunities and diverse group of people I will meet at Cornell~

  7. Randall Nixon '78

    Thank you for you wonderful blog about life on the Hill. I’m chairman of the Cornell Ambassadors in my county, and a lifelong member of the Cornell Club of Maryland. Every year, I host the Send-off party for incoming freshman here at my farm. I will incorporate your wonderful essay in my annual speech — giving you full attribution, of course!

    I’m also a double parent, and FYI for amy worried parents reading this, DESPITE paying Ivy League tuition for 7 years and counting, it has been well worth the investment.

  8. Nazim

    Hi guys,

    I am planning to apply for an MBA this year and the reasons mentioned in this article actually made Cornell to be my top choice. I am a dance, banker, soccer coach, swimmer and adore wine. So I do not see any other place, where I can combine all of them together 🙂 Unfortunately, I do not have a chance to visit the school before applying as I live overseas, but hopefully will have a chance to be a part of this environment in a year time.

    Thanks for such a positive article.

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