Monthly Archives: November 2013

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!

Answering Prospective Students Questions: Because It’s Been a While

I remember when I was writing Life on the Hill blog posts my freshman year, a frequent thing I’d do was post questions sent to me from prospective students, and add my answers. Since I’ve gotten quite a few questions recently from high school seniors, and it’s that time of the year again where college decisions are being made…I figure, why not answer some more?

Keep in mind, of course, that I’m but one undergraduate among 13,000; be sure to get other perspectives as well! So here we go:

How supportive is Cornell when a student tries to create a club and contribute to a school community? If it is, is it fully funded or does it have to run as a private organization?

While I don’t have personal experience with founding a club, I know the tour guides tout that the administration is really flexible with this kinda thing. The Student Activities Office has a pretty comprehensive website that promotes vibrant student life on campus, so I’d say they’re very supportive. You then have to apply for funding through the Student Assembly Finance Commission, which isn’t incredibly straightforward (been there)…but it’s definitely do-able. The resources are definitely there to help you start a club, if you’re proactive.

im heading to cornell in the fall as a planned economics major, and didn’t plan on transferring, but as i’ve started to realize what i want i feel the AEM major may be better for me. what is the average GPA for transfer? transfer rates? your help would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance!

As an internal transfer mentor, I’ve been asked this question very frequently; the short answer is…it depends. You need to articulate your fit for the AEM major through your experiences, both work and academic. Detailed information is available here (they say a 3.3 GPA at least is realistic, but I’d say even higher). It’s really hard to prescribe “one size fits all” advice, and they don’t openly publish internal transfer rates/average GPA for acceptance. (They do say, however, that 59 kids internally transferred into the Dyson School this semester–but we would need to know, to fully understand the competitiveness, how many kids applied.)

One tip, though: get involved with business activities. If you want to join the business school, you’ll have a hell of a lot stronger, and more convincing, argument if you say your experiences at [business club] and [business internship] have led you to pursue AEM, as opposed to just saying, “business interests me” without any justification. Plus, getting immersed in these experiences can solidify your academic passion, or make you realize that maybe it’s not such a fit for you after all.

Hey, I am considering going to Cornell, however, for a pre-med student how competitive are the science classes? Is everything graded on a curve. Will it be extremely hard to stick out to the professors. Also, how can a freshman get involved in research?

I’m not a pre-med, but having spoken to many pre-med students…I know that the classes are definitely not easy. Intro biology and chemistry pre-med classes, along with orgo, are indeed graded on a curve; I think grades get less curve-based as you advance in the major/program. With about 400 students in each CHEM 2070 lecture this semester and about 350 in BIOMG 1350, it might be hard to stick out given the size of the courses…but not impossible.

Believe it or not–and I honestly believe this–the thing about large and small sized courses at Cornell is that, courses that need to be small are small, and courses that can be large are large. In large introductory lecture based courses, where the professor is speaking the vast majority of the time–it won’t matter if there are 100 or 500 kids in the course.

Plus, TA’s are your friends! Go to discussion sections, review lectures, office hours, study groups, etc. Being a pre-med at Cornell, from what I’ve heard, isn’t easy, but it’s a very well-trodden path, so there are a ton of resources to help you out if need be.

Hi, how is the t-mobile cellular coverage at Cornell? Also is there wifi everywhere around campus? Thanks in advance for your insight.

T-Mobile’s coverage website shows the 14853 zip code-area as satisfactory, but I can tell you from personal experience most students have AT&T or Verizon. Anecdotally, I can also say my dorm freshman year had cell towers on top of it. In terms of wifi–yes, you’re covered. Unless you’re in the middle of an open field, you should be able to access wifi in most buildings and immediately outside.

Is there segmentation based upon which school you go to or do they mix the kids up-primarily from a living situation perspective? Anything you could elaborate on in this regard would be extremely helpful.

Freshman year, there is no segmentation by major/school. Hotelies live with pre-meds, who live with fiber science majors, architects, and engineers. This is done, I assume, so you meet a wide variety of people on campus from different backgrounds. After freshman year, students break off and either live in Greek houses, move to West Campus, or find alternate housing arrangements (through Cornell or on their own).

Do students take an active role in discussions, or is the class lifeless? 

I’m generalizing here, but I’d say Cornell students are generally active and passionate in classes. You’re not going to get much student engagement in a 500 person lecture, but in seminar courses, I’d say people enjoy talking in classes and are proactive. There are thousands of courses offered at Cornell, and plenty of courses can fulfill a single requirement (e.g. historical analysis)…so generally, people are in classes because they want to be in them (e.g. for their major),or need to do well in them (read: pre-meds and orgo).

Granted, if we’re talking about a Friday 8am thermodynamics review class, maybe this doesn’t apply as much…

Does the advising system really work? 

My experience? It varies by college. Freshman year, when I was in Arts and Sciences, I’ll never forget during O-Week when my business-minded self met my advisor…who was a brilliant theoretical computer scientist that taught graduate student classes. He was a decent guy, but could not help me–we weren’t a fit.

Since I switched to CALS and Dyson, I’ve found my advising experience much improved. My advisor and I share identical academic interests, I’ve had her as a professor, and she’s been super approachable with any academic questions I’ve had. Perhaps it’s because I had to submit a biography about my interests and what I wanted in an advisor?

It all comes down to proactivity at Cornell. If your advisor/major/school isn’t a match, you gotta make the effort to change it!

Feel free to send any other questions to me via the contact form!