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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.

Not to Brag, But…

I like to think of myself, in general, as a fairly humble person to others–I self-deprecate myself very regularly and am my own toughest critic. Believe me, I’m not perfect. After all these years at Cornell, though, there are a few insanely bizarre things that I’m proud of97-1kfaouq myself for…and I can’t help but share ’em. So here goes:

1. I have not lost my Cornell ID for good yet…and am still using the one given to me my first day of orientation. I gotta say, I’m pretty darn proud of this one, as I know a few people that are on number 2 or 3. For all the usage that it’s gotten–swiping me into dining halls and helping me pay for meals, being checked at exams, in addition to letting me gain access to a lot of places–I’m just shocked that this original one is still kicking around. (There was the time I was separated from it temporarily, though).

2. By graduation, I will have taken a class in 6 out of the 7 undergraduate colleges at Cornell (AAP, thanks for ruining my track record). Yep, that’s right;  I’ve enrolled in courses from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Human Ecology, Industrial and Labor Relations, Engineering (if CS/INFO 1300 counts), Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Hotel Administration. I was this close to completing them all! Unfortunately, for the sake of grades, I think it’s for the best that I didn’t enroll in anaap01 AAP class…my art skills have gone downhill since I passed third grade. Though, I did sit near AAP Dean Kent Kleinman on a Campus to Campus bus once…does that count?

3. I’m excellent at snagging seats in StudentCenter. During the pre-enrollment and add/drop periods, there’s always stress amongst students as many classes become full–and you see the dreaded blue square, meaning you can’t enroll in the course due to capacity. In very large classes, though, the second that 1 kid drops the class and the green circle appears, you’re good to enroll (unless someone else snatches it before you).  Here’s a pro-tip: if you’re really desperate to get into a class, check StudentCenter during odd hours–like a Sunday night at 11pm.

4. I’m this close to getting rewarded at Manndibles, CTB, and Hot Truck (and was really close at Yogurt Crazy, too). Lots of eateries around here have those cards where, if you get x amount of stamps/punches, you get a free coffee/sandwich/etc. blog1While I’ve definitely redeemed a card at Hot Truck, the 2nd closest I’ve gotten was at Yogurt Crazy…which now has conveniently gone out of business.

5. If my I-Clicker track record means anything, I’d be a helluva game show contestant. I seem to have a knack for answering I-Clicker questions correctly. (These are the little 5 button devices that some professorsMessages-1 use to have you answer multiple choice questions in class, shown at right.) I can’t really explain why, though…

6. I proudly took an 8:00am intermediate French class that met 3 days a week freshman year. Hours before half of my hall was awake, I was on the Arts quad speaking French. Truth be told, though, I honestly don’t mind early morning classes–you get a great feeling of productivity early on in the day (and that’s why I’m not ashamed to admit that, even as a second semester senior, I still have an 8:40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

Are these all things to genuinely be proud of? Eh, I’ll leave it up to you. While they may not be suitable accomplishments for my resume or LinkedIn profile, and this blog post is kind of written in jest, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little proud of ’em.

7 Graphs You Should Understand If You Attend Cornell

As a business major at Cornell, I love graphs. They’re an excellent way to explain concepts, visualize data, or to get a point across. And, as a Cornell student, and Life on the Hill blogger that’s spent years here and had countless experiences in and out of the classroom, there are a couple concepts and lessons that need to be explained…and graphs do the trick!clocktowerx300-qvdiob

(And before I begin… yes, I know these are poorly drawn–I’m not an AAP student! Thanks to Skitch software, they were easy to draw.)

So let’s go:

1. How much it’s okay to talk in your Freshman Writing Seminar course (or any small discussion based course, for that matter):

Cornell Freshman Writing Seminars should be an educational sociologist’s dream case study. Here’s an idea: take 15 ambitious students that excelled in high school…and in their first semester of college, plop them in a room together to make them participate a course where their grade is  dependent on discussion and participation (as well as, obviously, papers). If you talk too much, as evidenced by the graph, you come off as overachieving. Talk too little, and you get a poor participation grade…and remain an awkward (wo)man of mystery to the rest of the class. There is an optimal though, and it varies based on individual circumstance. Examine the graph below. See the arrow? Aim for that peak!!


2. When you’ll find TA’s useful: As a teaching assistant, nothing gives me greater pleasure than helping students out with assignments and explaining concepts. I’m available in office hours, by email, and by appointment. The only time that you’re probably not gonna get a response is if you email me, say, past 1am on the day that an assignment is due or there’s an exam. The phrase “poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” sums this idea up pretty nicely. As this graph shows:


3. Going off of a previous post, here’s a graph that shows when the Terrace line for salads at Statler doesn’t stretch to Cortland on a weekday basis (time of day is on the x-axis):


4. Appropriate time to show up to an apartment for a social event: This one I can already foresee getting flack for, but here goes: if you show up to a Cornell social event precisely on the dot…you’re gonna have a bad time. I don’t make the rules, and heck, I wish it wasn’t like this, but if you’re attending a semi-large gathering, in my experiences it’s your best bet to show up at least 30 mins-1 hour late (from when you’re told, or it’s listed on Facebook). This, of course, is speaking from numerous occasions where I’ve been awkwardly early to things because people don’t show up on time. Unless you’re excellent friends with the host or just that cordial, sitting around and waiting for other people to come may not be your idea of a good time.


5. Desirability of a car on campus after 4 years: Speaking as someone that doesn’t have a car here, this one hits close to home. The older you get here, the more you feel the lack of a car curtails your freedom (to go home, to run errands, to go to Chipotle, etc…..but mostly just to go to Chipotle.)


6. On “winter break excitement levels”: The 5 or so weeks that we get off in December-January always results in the same cycle of feelings for me.


In blue is the beginning of the break. This is the “I can’t wait!! I’m gonna visit friends in NYC, travel the country, relax, and catch up with old friends” mentality that you’ll have starting the moment you finish your last final, to the first week or so of break.

In green is where the excitement begins to fade. This is where you realize, a good chunk into break, that sitting on your couch and watching Netflix at 3 in the afternoon sounded a lot more enticing when you were cramming for things in Ithaca. Assuming you return home for break, this is where the days all kind of blend together and you just don’t do all that much.

In red is where you miss the social stimulation of Cornell and realize your hometown is very quiet. It’s characterized by 9pm bedtimes, a craving to walk to get food at night, and the like. Fortunately, in my case, this exacerbated state only happens at the end of break.

7. When it’s acceptable, freshman year, to come out of the blue and introduce yourself to others randomly. Note that I’m not saying you shouldn’t introduce yourself to people after this period–but I’m specifically talking about the giddy, “where are you from?” “what dorm are you in?” “What’s your major”-type line of questioning that usually stops a good couple of weeks into first semester.


Well, that about wraps up this post…hopefully you either learned something, or I at least gave you food for thought. And always, if you agree with me or vehemently disagree, feel free to get in touch!

What’s it like to take an Ivy League Class on…Wine?

One of the benefits of being a CALS and AEM student is the flexibility that the requirements provide–and that’s not something I’ve taken for granted at all. Case in point: As a second semester senior that was interested in experimenting with a new academic field, and knew very little about wine, I recently signed up for VIEN 1104: Introduction to Wines and VinesMessages(There is a Hotel wine class as well, which is generally larger.) Let me tell you about my experiences in the course, as it’s definitely been a unique experience!

I’ll start off by saying that if you think this is a course that students take simply to get drunk in class, you’d be sorely mistaken. If anything, students like that would be weeded out pretty quickly–as we’re only a few weeks in, and it’s been a pretty comprehensive introduction to wine principles and grapegrowing. In fact, many of the students in the class have experience in vineyard management! Topics covered so far have included the history of wine production, fermentation, and sensory evaluation. (Who knew there were so many ways that grapes could grow?)

And yes, there are regular wine tastings in class! And not an insignificant amount is being poured. As we bring 4 wine glasses to class every day, the TA’s come around a few times per lecture to fill each one up a little less than halfway. I’vewineslide really been surprised by the diversity of wine flavors and aromas that exist based on the type of winegrapes and how they’re grown–and have sampled firsthand beverages with aromas that students have described as fruity, bitter, spicy, and similar to “cat pee” (yes, that’s a thing). Those that aren’t 21, or those that aren’t in the mood to drink, don’t have to–it just improves the classroom experience. Additionally, there’s no shame in tasting then spitting. What you are not allowed to do, however, is wear excessive perfume/cologne: this understandably affects “your and your neighbors’ sensory perceptions of wines” (from the syllabus).

Something cool I’ve learned in Wines and Vines is that wine perception varies a fair amount based on the individual, due to the uniqueness of each person’s senses. Whenever we do a tasting, it’s usually followed by an I-Clicker Messages-1multiple choice survey question that asks what we thought of the beverage, or to compare it to another one. Seeing how the class reacted to a particular drink, compared to your own opinion, is pretty neat.

So how’s the experience been overall? Great. Despite being at night near the Vet School (quite the walk from Collegetown), This is the quintessentially great Cornell course. Why? Because it’s on a subject matter that I have no experience in, but thanks to the well-designed course and passionate professors, has sparked my interest in the field. Will I be an expert viticulturist one day? Probably not…but at least I’ll be able to carry with me an interest in viticulture and enology for the rest of my life.

One quite literal “take-away” from the class are some cool Cornell CALS wine glasses that we were able to buy (as pictured). Hopefully I’ll be able to put ’em to use regularly after the course is over. Heck, maybe if my business career allows for it down the road, I’ll be able to move to Napa Valley, buy a few acres of land and apply what I’ve learned in the class!

A Guide to Cornell’s Best On-Campus Lunches

Some people attend Cornell for the rigorous academics, others attend for the intellectual atmosphere, and many come for the varied extracurricular experiences. I came here just for the food. Okay, that’s not true, but the point being…Cornell has some Messages-36pretty darn good dining options available, particularly during the lunch hours.

Since I’ve been back to school, just for you dear readers, I ate at as many of my favorite lunch spots on campus as I could, to snag pictures. Why? In part because I thought it’d be a fun topic, and in part because, having blogged for for almost 4 years, I’m kinda running on exhaust here for post ideas (kidding…just a little bit). But regardless, here’s the fruit of my efforts: a guide to my favorite lunch options on campus. Also, I assume that because I did this for a blog post, I’ll get reimbursed by Cornell’s Office of Web Communications for all these lunches (right Emily/Lisa?).

So, here we go. In no particular order, here are my favorite lunches:

#1: Trillium’s Chicken Parmesan Meal (usually only available on Mondays): I don’t wanna overstate how good Trill’s chicken parm is, but let’s just say that if I was given the option of failing a required course this final semester just to enjoy another 4 monthsMessages of Trillium Chicken Parm…it wouldn’t be an easy choice to make (yes, this is a joke). The garlic bread it comes with is fantastic, as is the marinara sauce on the pasta. Pro-tip: make sure you get your free soda, which comes with the meal. Plus, Ernie is the guy that works behind the counter there, and you’re almost guaranteed a hearty “hello!” from him every time you order it.

#2: Goldie’s Chicken Panini: Just excellent. Ever since Goldie’s opened my freshman year, it’s been a quality place to get soups and sandwiches on the go. The chicken panini has an awesome taste, it’s nicely portioned, and you get a pickle with it. It Messages-2doesn’t get better than that. I will say, though, that mandatory with the meal, in my opinion, is a Yoohoo drink because they have ’em at Goldies, and I haven’t figured out anywhere else on campus that stocks them. Yoohoo brings you back to your childhood, and nothing works better than nostalgia to help you get over that finance prelim.

#3: The Big Red Barn’s Pasta with Sausage: Sometimes when I want to pretend I’m a brilliant PhD student, I “sneak” into Messages-3the Big Red Barn, Cornell’s graduate student center, and grab lunch. The Pasta with sausage is excellent and it’s also a great atmosphere to eat in–very cozy, especially in the winter. I do wish it were a little more generously sized, but whatever.

#4: Synapsis Margarita Pizza: Not too much to say, besides the fact that it’s filling and great. The tomatoes, you can tell, are fresh…and it’s fun to watch it being cooked in the fire oven right in front of you. It’s definitely a nice alternative to a cheesier pizza, as I don’t feel bloated after eating it. Plus, Messages-9I dig the Cornell athletics memorabilia around the place. In general, though, I prefer eating there when it’s not raining inside.

#5: Libe Cafe’s Ham and Swiss sandwich (not pictured): If I’m on Central…I don’t normally stray far away from the Ag Quad, but when I do and am hungry, I try to head to Libe Cafe in Olin–the Ham and Cheese sandwich there is excellent. You also get to eat it in Libe Cafe, which has some of the most comfortable chairs on campus for dining. You gotta grab a Cornell Sun newspaper, score a red chair, and slowly eat it as you hear liberal arts majors having intellectual conversations in the background to get the full experience.

#6: Manndible’s Burrito Bar: It’s definitely a good choice if you’re around the Ag Quad, except they don’t take BRB’s. Everyone there is very friendly and it’s nice to support an Ithaca-owned business. I planned to show a picture of how nice their burritos were…but the plan backfired Messages-12when the burrito wrapper told me the bread was unusual today, and gave me my burrito with a gaping hole in it. Ah well, now you can at least see the inside; it’s not usually presented like this, I promise.

#7: Terrace Salads. I can’t praise enough the glory that is the Terrace lunchtime salad…and the fact that the line stretches out the door every day (almost to Cortland) speaks for itself. I love the orange dressing, lettuce, and meats they have–seriously, Messages9it’s worth trying. A bonus, too, is watching the salad bar employees masterfully put the ingredients together at the speed of light (or close enough). I guess you gotta be that efficient, though, when the line is that long…

So that about wraps up my favorite lunch options on campus. Honorable mentions include Trillium burgers, Cornell dairy (not really lunch, but should be mentioned anyways), and the new Thai wrap from Cafe Jennie in the Cornell Store. And, as always, comment here or message me if you have any feedback!

Back in Action for my Last Semester of College!

Well, the time has come. After 7 semesters of Cornell academics, I can’t believe it, but…I’m back to college after my final winter break, and my last semester as an undergraduate has started!

My schedule this term is definitely manageable, compared to semesters past in Ithaca. With 15-16  credits plus my normal AEM teaching assistant position, I shouldn’t be too overwhelmed. It’s always tough, because there are so many courses that I wanted to take to get as much as I can out of these last few months…but ultimately, the freedom Notification Center-2to attend lectures/events/social gatherings without having to worry about nighttime prelims or problem sets means a lot to me this last semester, especially living in a more mature, off-campus location.

What do I have to look forward to in the next few months? (Consider this a preview of possible blog posts to come.)

  • Introduction to Wines and Vines! Yep, I’ll be tasting and evaluating wines for academic credit. Though we’ve only had 2 classes so far, it’s been a blast and very educational. I’ll try to talk about this soon. While I’m not in the traditional “Hotelie” one, this one is definitely a unique, positive experience as well.
  • Living in Collegetown. It’s definitely been a unique experience thus far, and coming from a semester in Washington D.C. and a summer in Manhattan, I’d say it’s been quite a difference too.
  • Dealing with this final cold burst. I know I should be a veteran to the cold afterNotification Center 3 Ithaca winters already, but wow….it is freezing. Just taking this picture this morning on my phone (at right), my hands practically froze up.
  • More Senior-y reflections. Gear yourself up for more of these–but I’ll try to keep them entertaining.
  • Exploring and taking advantage of all the new stuff on campus. Since coming back from my semester in D.C., I’ve realized that so much has changed over the course of a few months! The new Dairy Bar has opened, as has the Cornell Store’s cafe, Gates Hall, and my personal favorite…the new home of the Dyson School in Warren Hall.
  • Events. I’m already excited for what’s to come. Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon will be here, as will the founder of Reddit, and Senator Scott Brown…and I’m sure many more events will take place that haven’t been announced yet. I’m going to try to get to as many of these things as I can.

So…yeah! These are a few of the things I have to look forward to in the coming months. Let me know if you want to hear more about anything in particular.

Adventures in a Cornell Sweatshirt: Assessing Public Perceptions of Cornell

Given that I interned last summer in Manhattan, and spent this previous semester in D.C. through the Cornell in Washington program, it’s fairly safe to say that I’ve spent a decent amount of time away from Ithaca in recent months. While these experiences have given me a breath of fresh air from the 6 semesters spent in upstate New York, they’ve also helped me begin the slow transition toithaca_campus the real, post-college world.

Want to know one interesting component of my time away? It’s been thought-provoking to learn about the public’s perceptions of Cornell, outside of Ithaca.  Sure, most everyone agrees that Cornell is a good school…but, I would argue (based on anecdotal evidence) that Cornell garners more unique reactions and responses from people than a lot of schools do. 

Given my propensity to wear Cornell apparel in public (which I credit in no small part to the Cornell Store giftcards that I’ve accumulated over the years), it’s surprisingly easy to elicit reactions from strangers about the school, wherever you are. And, not like I’m Andy Bernard about it, but at my age…whenever fyou’re introduced to someone and exchange basic background information, the name of your college comes up relatively frequently.

Here are a few random notes from exchanges I’ve had with people over the last few months, when they notice any sort of Cornell apparel on me, or Cornell comes up in conversation:

  • First off…it seems like everyone knows someone that went to Cornell. This probably happens more in the tri-state area than it does in rural Nebraska, but the point generally rings true. Are you at a supermarket near home? An elderly woman might stop you to say how her best friends’ grandson goes to Cornell, and loves it. Or, if you’re at a doctors/dentists office, the doc might start out the appointment by expressing how theirb [buddy from medical/dental/vet] school “LOVED his time at Cornell and talks about it lots, even though it’s [cold/stressful/isolated].”
  • If I had a dime for every “Ithaca is Gorges” remark I’ve gotten…
  • I was on a wine tour in Napa and Sonoma Valleys the other week, and an employee at one of the smaller vineyards got all excited when he saw my sweatshirt, saying: “You go toviticulture440 Cornell?! They have one of the best viticulture programs in the country! We call it the U.C. Davis of the East!”
  • A few people have started conversations with me with regards to Cornell wrestling. One guy, in a location far from Ithaca, was in awe that I attended Cornell because that’s where NCAA  legend Kyle Dake wrestled. I also once met a high school wrestling coach in an elevator who saw my sweatshirt and remarked, “Great wrestling team they have over there.”
  • In my experience, the public loves talking about Cornell’s Hotel School–or at least those familiar with it. A few conversations I’ve had with people jhave started along the lines of, “Cornell’s the one with that cool hotel management program, correct?” It’s innately intriguing to many that an Ivy League school has classes in subjects like casino management and foodservice operations–as evidenced by this recent shoutout in The Simpsons.
  • Yes, high schoolers and middle schoolers forced into using them, Cornell Notes were invented at Cornell. No, the format is not required to be used.
  • On a much more serious note, given recent tragedies on campus in recent years, I’ve had people occasionally  remark to me that Cornell is a “suicide school, right?” or “it’s really stressful up there, correct?” I’d imagine this became pervasive when USA Today and most of the other national media outlets reported on the string of tragic incidents a few years ago. Whenever this comes up, as much as I’d like to say that statistically, these tragedies are in line (and below) the national average, I often just emphasize the positive experience that I’ve had at the school and the avenues for support available on campus.
  • Here are some pop-culture references and celebrities that come up in conversation: Andy Bernard from The Office, NatalieNyeE_0 Keener from Up in the Air, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Keith Olbermann, and Ann Coulter.
  • The weather. Ohh boy, people like talking about Cornell’s weather! Telling people you go to Cornell often elicits a “wow, it’s cold up there” comment…followed by an inquiry along the lines of how I deal with it. One of my favorite weather related remarks? When I got into Cornell as a high school senior Early Decision and was withdrawing my other applications…an admissions officer I had corresponded with from a school in a much warmer climate told me something like, I should “enjoy Cornell and be sure to buy lots of winter apparel” (said in good spirits).

Well, there you have it. Am I generalizing? Yeah, probably…nobody said anecdotes provided solid insights. But hopefully these have been interesting to read.

In other news, I’ll be back to Ithaca this weekend; check for updates soon!

Enjoying the Ride in High School and College

So as a college senior, and a Life on the Hill blogger since mid-2010, I think it’s about time I start making some preachy and stereotypical senior revelations. Looking back on my years at Cornell, and life overall, one of the biggest things I wish I could have altered was my rather outcome-oriented mentality. At a largely pre-professional school like Cornell, many people are always focused on the next step–be it an internship, career, or grad school application. Of course, this mentality is existent in high schools as well, as students often enter high school with a plan to maximize their 4 years for favorable college decisions. To illustrate this, let me showcase two messages that prospective Cornell applicants have sent me in recent days:

The first one:

Hi David, I’m sure you have answered this question a ton of times, but I am a sophomore and Cornell is my dream school. I was just wondering what kind of things make you stand out when it comes to your application. Right now I have Varsity swim, debate, ASB, key club, and national honors society. I know it’s kind of early to be thinking about all of this but I’m mortified about being rejected from this school. You seem so knowledgeable and awesome to a sophomore like me! thanks hope you have time to respond. ps. how many B’s can you have? Sorry for the extremely general questions.

And another one:

Hi there! My friend and I came across your blog two days ago, and we love it! We both are freshmen in high school, and want to go to Cornell. We were just wondering, what extracurriculars did you participate in that you think were most noticed by the admissions officers? Thank you in advance! ~Class of 2021!

First off, thanks so much for the questions! I think it can be very beneficial that people are goal oriented, and I applaud any high school freshman or sophomore that already set his/her sights on Cornell. However, I think these two messages epitomize this incredibly outcome-oriented mentality, where people–myself included–tend to focus on supposed future benefits while neglecting the opportunities at their doorstep and enjoying life.

This is something I’ve surprisingly given a lot of thought to; I totally understand that there’s value in playing the college admissions game, but if you look at every step in your academic and professional career as preparing for the next step, you never get to truly enjoy the moment. So, my answer to the student’s “which high school extracurriculars to do” question is, well…those that interest you and that you’re passionate about! Don’t spend 4 years in high school, or college for that matter, doing activities just for an admissions officer or HR department to glance at years from now.

If you’re this concerned a decision that will be made in a few years, what’s going to happen if you get into Cornell? Will you be pre-med or pre-law, and devote another 4 years to tirelessly impressing a committee? Again, I’m not advocating slacking off, and I get that grades are important for these programs…I’m just saying to consider the decade or so of your life that becomes less enjoyable if you don’t live in the moment, and see everything as working towards an outcome. And yes, I’ve known premeds/prelaws since the start of college that have concerned themselves with every grade or extracurricular that they’ve taken on.

Here’s a personal example of this that sticks out to me–namely, I wish I studied less earlier in college. To set the scene: it’s freshman year, probably a Wednesday or Thursday, around 5:30pm in my residence hall, and 6-7 of my hallmates spontaneously decided to go to a fun restaurant downtown to celebrate someone’s birthday. When they approached me about attending, I remembered I had a French prelim the next day, so immediately said I couldn’t. I can think of a few other times where I declined, as well–for a math exam, a paper I had to do, etc. For some reason, these examples have stuck in my mind over the years as I’ve thought about what I’ve missed by declining these types of events. (And believe me, there are lots of people like this at Cornell–very academically focused, turning down events to study, joining clubs because it “looks good,” working on assignments until 4am, etc.)

So, friendly writers that sent me these questions…look, I get it. You gotta do the college admissions thing to get into competitive schools–maintaining great grades while participating in numerous clubs, sure. But having a mentality where you’re “mortified about being rejected from” Cornell only as a sophomore, or asking how many B’s you’re permitted to get in high school before rejection is guaranteed…I don’t think this is a fantastic idea. As kids say these days, you only live once (#YOLO). Plus, being a teenager can be fun, and  college is supposed to be some of the best years of your life…so I say enjoy it to an extent.

I wish I didn’t express reluctance in sledding down Libe Slope at 3am when I had classes early the next day, and wish I went to a few more of those fun events instead of endlessly studying. Granted, I’m not pre-med or pre-law, so as always…take my advice with a grain of salt.

By the way, I did end up getting a solid A in the French class that I studied for instead of attending dinner with hallmates freshman year. But would I have taken an A- or–gasp–a B if it meant a higher quality of life and enjoyment that freshman semester? Probably. It’s about balance, mes amis.

On ‘Being a Cornell Legacy’

Well, here’s something that I haven’t mentioned on this blog yet:

I am a legacy at Cornell. Yep, both of my parents went (and met!) here, my grandfather attended, and various aunts/uncles in my family have graduated from this fine institution as well. In part because of numerous debate and literature in recent years on the notion of legacy status in admissions, and the fact that legacies make up 15% of the Cornell student population, I feel inclined to share my perspective. Take it for what you will…

First off, I’m not going to disagree that legacies sometimes get a conferred advantage in the admissions process, because, well…that wouldn’t be true. As The Sun reported, “when two applicants are of roughly equal qualifications, children of alumni will receive additional consideration.”

Okay, you say, but any advantage, even slight, given to legacies is treasonous / horrible / affirmative action for the rich / [insert slander here]. But here’s my philosophy, given my life experiences…

I think it’s safe to say that college admissions, generally, are not a purely academic meritocracy–and never have been. This is particularly true at Cornell, with its “any person, any study” motto guiding the university’s actions since 1865. Instead, I believe Cornell admits people based on the value they bring to the university. How would I surmise this?

Well, if Cornell wanted to rank applicants based on their GPA’s and SAT scores, then admit from the top of the pile until they had a full class, they could do that–easily–and generate sky-high metrics that would make the US News-loving populace envious. But they don’t, and choose instead to select a class that brings a breadth of experiences to the collegiate community.

For example, Cornell athletes that are recruited show determination, work ethic, and teamwork…and this benefits the university through our vibrant sports programs and school pride. (Indeed, given these traits, its no wonder so many of them excel in classes.) Successful Cornell applicants from under-achieving communities with slightly lower SAT scores also bring an incredibly unique perspective to campus–and their admission means they obviously have a great deal of aptitude and potential. Underrepresented minority students also contribute to the campus, besides their academic prowess, by creating a diverse, heterogeneous community.

So how does this apply to legacy admissions?

First, here’s some background on me:

I remember that when I was young, I spent a decent amount of time playing and wading around the beautiful gorges of Ithaca–with the campus in the backdrop–while attending my parents’ Cornell reunions. This instilled in me a sense of pride and jubilation for the University at a very early age, as I had already felt a member of the ‘community.’ I also remember climbing the Lindseth rock wall during their reunions, as well, and watching them joyfully reconnect with old classmates and relive their Cornell years. Before many applicants my age had likely heard of Cornell, I had been made aware of Professor Maas’ legendary PSYCH 1101 class, or the infamous wines course experience. I knew how to get from North Campus to West, had already heard Skorton speak at an alumni event, and had worn many-a Cornell piece of apparel growing up.

I recall that my grandfather always used to talk with pride, and joke heavily, about the University, too; he once told an elderly acquaintance who introduced himself as a Columbia man “that he’s sorry he couldn’t get into Cornell.” Simply put, in my earlier years, Cornell didn’t permeate my life…but it didn’t comprise an insignificant role in it, either.

So how does this apply to legacies? Well, I do think that there’s value in the fact that I am a teaching assistant for a course that my mom took 35 years ago, and that from my freshman year dorm, I can point to where she lived her freshman year. Or that my dad took the same accounting course I did, ~38 years prior. Or that both my grandpa and dad have both told me about their college experiences at the old Chapter House bar. Or that when they come to campus, I can point at the house where my parents met at a party. These experiences provide a sense of unity and cohesiveness not just to us, but–on a larger scale, considering how many Cornell families there are–Cornell as an institution.

Above all, in a relatively transient campus with an undergraduate population that changes 100% entirely every 4-5 years, I honestly believe that legacy admissions help to further foster the notion of a lasting ‘Cornell community.’ (Okay, fine, and alumni donations don’t hurt, either.) Plus, I’ve heard about many legacies that were not accepted despite their connections…so I would argue any preferential treatment is small at most.

I welcome your thoughts, as always!

So What Have I Been Up to in D.C.? (The Picture Edition)

As the semester’s slowly winding down (wow…this term really has gone faster than all the rest), I realized I haven’t shared too many pictures from my experiences in the Cornell in Washington program! So, without further ado, let me take you on a sporadic tour of random events that I’ve attended throughout the semester.

Let’s start off with what was arguably the coolest event: meeting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg! Every semester, students in the Cornell in Washington (CIW) program get to meet with her at the Supreme Court, first listening to her speak then asking her questions. It was really awe-inspiring to be sitting in a majestic building, hearing from one of the brightest, and most highly-regarded legal minds in the Western democracy–not to mention, a Cornell alum.

One qualm: we shared a meet-and-greet session with American University and Washington University, and the event was scheduled from 3-4pm. Because this was what many CIW students had been looking forward to all semester, we got there early-about 2:45ish. However, WashU didn’t show up until 3:30, and Justice Ginsburg’s staff told us she would only come in once everyone was there. So…because one group of WashU kids were late, the event that we all had looked forward to for a while was 50% shorter.

Anyways, here’s a picture of the entire Cornell in Washington group with her:

…and me outside the Supreme Court:

At CIW, because it’s a relatively small program (40-50 kids), someone’s birthday always makes it a good excuse to have group dinners/ice cream events:

Earlier in the semester, we went on a comprehensive tour of DC, where we stopped at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial:

Walking by this most days on my lunch break from Treasury doesn’t get old:

Then there was the time in mid-October when my Netflix addiction made the front page of the Sun during the government shutdown:

Experiencing some of D.C., and  Dupont Circle’s, interesting array of food has been a plus as well. (no, I don’t always take pictures of food…I had this blog in mind while doing so for these). On top: a huge Italian sub from Taylor Gourmet; bottom left: a fancy chocolate cupcake; bottom right: Thai Coconut Milk gelato. They were all delicious!

And lastly, and perhaps most recently…I’ve been working on my 50 page research paper on business lobbying. It’s allowed me to gain some familiarity with regression software. Unfortunately, for those statistically inclined, my r squared value  for this linear model hadn’t been as high as I had hoped (around .1):

So…yeah! That’s what I’ve been up to. Let me know if you have any questions about the program. Though this semester has been a unique experience, I gotta say, I’m really looking forward to getting back to Ithaca!