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:
Why is Cornell someone’s dream school? Do you know some reasons why, esp. given that so many apply for ED at Cornell?
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. Putting 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 literally, every 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)–all 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 wingers. I 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 to 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 like 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 other 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…but 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.
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. Digital 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 the websites for the Cornell Clubs of New York, France, 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 your 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.