There are several things Cornell students would like everyone to know: they are not hypercompetitive, they are not all stressed to the point of suicide, and by no means should they ever be considered the dumbest school in the Ivy League.
Cornell is an academically rigorous school with a solid reputation for high-achieving students. The school stands out in the Ivy pack by virtue of its semi-private status, which has produced a certain diversity in academic programs. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is said to be one of the best in the country, and the School of Hotel Administration is also widely known as a leader in its field, though some Cornell students question the rigor of the “hotelie” program. History, political science, English, and biology are all notable programs in the College of Arts and Science. Though the school boasts about diversity, Asians seem to make up the largest part of that minority. The school is politically active and leans left on most issues. Students who want to go out at night will inevitably encounter the Greek scene, which dominates social life and all the local bars, making some students refer to Cornell as the “Ivy League Party School.” Party school or not, Cornell's excellent programs will drive students to success.
Students characterize the Cornell college experience as perpetually demanding as the cold weather that permeates the Ithaca campus for most of the year. “Cornell is not a normal school. If you think you're a normal kid, with normal aspirations, don't come here. Cornell will test you to the brink of your academic strength. It sucks a lot of the time, and anyone would agree with that. The winter at Cornell is at times unbearable. But the nice weather, beautiful campus, and knowledgeable and intriguing professors more than make up for it. If you think you're up for a challenge, come to Cornell. If not, don't even try,” writes a sophomore biology major.
Cornell’s campus is described by students as being exceptionally gorgeous because of the natural setting of the campus that blends into the environment. Students also use the term “gorgeous” as a play on words, because two sides of the campus are bound by gorges. When the going gets tough, it’s rumored that suicidal students use the gorges to meet their doom, but students say most of them have a handle on things. “They're more of a geographical hazard than a sucking black pit of death,” writes a student in the Hotel school. Although such a rumor sounds jarring, it’s a testament to how seriously Cornell students take their studies. “Cornell is a school for people that like to work really hard. It is not a party school, it is not a school for hanging on the quad to throw the Frisbee and talk about the good times. Cornell is a school where you go to work your ass off and move on from there,” writes a sophomore engineering major.
The Cornell educational experience differs depending on which department students are pursuing a degree in. There are seven undergraduate colleges, some of which are endowed colleges and the others are contract colleges, meaning the endowed programs charge the private school rate whereas the contract colleges have a public school tuition with discounted prices for in-state students. The seven colleges each define their own academic requirements, admit their own students, and provide their own faculty members. “Because Cornell has so many different schools, if you really do your research, you can choose a program that is either entirely professionally or entirely academically oriented. It's all here,” writes a freshman American studies major. This means that the intensity of student coursework depends on which school students go to. Even so, students differ when it comes to their study habits. “I have engineer friends who sleep 5 hours a night and study in the library all the time. On the other extreme end, one of my floormates who is also an engineer plays Guitar Hero almost non-stop in his room. I have never seen him flipping through his book. In general, the students in artsy majors tend to lead a less stressful life than the ones in hard-core science majors,” writes a freshman business major.
Many classes are graded on a curve, making students hypercompetitive. “Many non-Cornellians think that Cornell's academics, classes, and professors are at a more difficult level. This may be true, but I think the academic stress is mainly due to competition with your fellow peers. Especially with the curving system, you have to compete with others to be one of the few with the A. There is also more competition when it comes to finding jobs. Cornell students are all qualified candidates, making it harder for one to get a job,” writes a sophomore involved in Greek life.
The amount of diversity at Cornell is admirable, with almost 30 percent of the student body coming from a minority background. The minority with the most representation are Asian students, which make up about 16 percent of the student body. Despite these numbers, students say the school is racially segregated. “This is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about at Cornell: Cornell supports voluntary segregation. The program and cultural dorms, and the Greek system all support a form of self-segregation that I find very depressing. I understand that someone who feels like they belong to an ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural minority could feel more comfortable living with and socializing with others who belong to this same minority, but this kind of exclusionary practice only ends up creating more divides,” writes a senior English major.
When it comes to political activism, students say that many Cornellians lean left, though there’s enough campus dialogue to create balance. “While at first glance a lot of people look spoiled, dig a little deeper and you'd be surprised. Cornell is definitely a liberal school, although political activism does come from all sides and the Cornell Republicans are just as loud as the Cornell Dems. Ithaca is a historically leftist city, and you should be aware of that,” writes an alum involved in student publications.
When students aren’t protesting something on campus, or have their heads buried in their books, they’ll find a way to hop over to a party. Since Ithaca’s rural location prevents many students from traveling too far for activities, Greek life holds the majority of parties. Students say almost a third of students go Greek and these groups have a noticeable presence on campus. “The Greek system dominates the social scene, to the detriment of those who do not join it. I spent freshman year going to frat parties, like most everyone, but wanted nothing to do with the Greek system when it came time to rush. Bars close at 1 AM (or did while I was in school) and were also dominated by the Greek system. House parties in Collegetown are house parties; they're as cool as the people who show up. If you have cool friends you'll have cool house parties to go to,” writes an alum who majored in History.
Otherwise, there are plenty of non-Greek activities for students who decide that it’s not their thing. “There are over 600 student groups on campus, and they range from cooking clubs to sports clubs to religious clubs to political groups. I actually find the idea of all these clubs overwhelming, but I guess it helps to find one or two groups that you really want to get involved in,” writes a freshman anthropology major. Then there’s athletics. Cornell loves their men’s Ice Hockey team. “In terms of athletics, we don't get excited about football, but if you don't think Cornell has school spirit, then go to a hockey game,” writes a sophomore Spanish major.