FAQ: Cornell and the CS major

It’s around college application time for high school seniors, so I’ve been receiving quite a few emails with questions about my experience at Cornell and the CS department. I thought it might be helpful to have a post answering some common questions.

1) How do you cope with the weather?
Ithaca winters are harsh but that doesn’t stop anyone from activities on campus. In fact, Cornell rarely cancels classes even for snow storms. We learn to be prepared for all weather conditions!

2) What is the Computer Science major like at Cornell?
Cornell has a brilliant CS department and the academics is particularly rigorous. Classes involve a number of time consuming, non-trivial projects during the semester, in addition to exams. However, every class is a rewarding experience because you learn a lot.

3) Given the rigour of the academic program, do students find time for extra-curricular activities, without it being too stressful?
This varies from person to person. I know people who take more than 20 credits regularly and still make time for 2 or 3 clubs on campus. I also know people for whom balancing 15 credits with other activities is stressful enough.
It really depends on personal priorities. In my freshman and sophomore years, I was involved in some theatre and journalism on campus, but now I’m prioritizing more CS related work. I’m a teaching assistant for a CS class and I’ve been doing research with a professor. I don’t find time for theatre or journalism anymore. We have a wide range of activities to choose from, but we have to prioritize our interests because we do have high academic workloads. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it helps you grow in depth, rather than breadth.

4) The CS major is so large. Are professors still accessible to students?
If students are busy, the professors are even busier. In addition to teaching large classes, they have their research, phd students and other departmental work to manage! And let’s not forget that they have families and regular lives as well. Yet, all my professors so far have been very willing to talk to students personally. The student does have to make an effort to go to office hours or contact the professor. To share a personal experience –
Because I did research in the CS department over the summer, I got to know some of my professors better than I would have otherwise. I even got to attend dinners at their homes and know them beyond a classroom/workplace relationship.

5) Are classes graded on a curve?
Yes, large classes are graded on a curve. But it’s not as mechanical a process as it seems. Although the numbers matter most, the course staff does consider improvement over the semester and is generally forgiving about one bad exam or assignment.

6) What are the opportunities for internships/jobs?
On-campus recruiting happens almost throughout the year. Particularly at the beginning of semesters, there are interviews happening every day! Cornell’s CS program is very reputed and there is no dearth of tech recruiters from leading companies and start-ups as well.

I covered the CS major related questions in this post, and I’ll try to do more of these posts in the future to answer general questions as well. I hope it helps!