My Experience at Cornell University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Meghan received her Bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University in 2013. She is a Boston tutor specializing in Writing tutoring, SAT prep tutoringACT prep tutoring, AP English tutoriing, and many other subjects. Check out her review of her school:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Meghan: Cornell is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and it is a fairly rural campus. It is approximately four hours from New York City, and the closest metropolitan area, Syracuse, is a little more than an hour away. However, Ithaca itself is a rich little city. It boasts more restaurants per capita than most large cities, and it has numerous concerts, cultural festivals, and events. The buses in Ithaca will take you anywhere you need to go on or off campus, and bus passes are free for freshmen. Many upperclassmen have cars. The campus is quite large, so a bike is certainly a nice addition, but everything is within walking distance if you invest in a good pair of shoes and a very warm winter coat!

I always felt incredibly safe in Ithaca. I spent a lot of time running by myself and never felt uneasy. The campus is covered in Blue Light emergency phones in case of any incident, and, generally, the city of Ithaca is filled with friendly people—college students and locals—who would help out a stranger at the drop of a hat. The area surrounding Cornell is quite residential and fairly quiet.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Meghan: I was consistently impressed with the willingness of my professors to devote extra time and energy to helping me succeed. My academic advisers were not always the most helpful, and I ended up finding much more comfort in talking with my class professors when I needed advice. Professors are almost always on email, and, in my experience, have been very willing to look at drafts of papers, offer study tips, and help with general college questions, like selecting courses for a new semester or deciding on a major or minor. It was amazing to me how much my professors cared about me, as well as how interested they were in my academic work throughout my undergraduate career.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Meghan: Dorm life at Cornell is pretty spectacular. All the freshmen live together on north campus in a wide variety of dorms. There is an all-girl’s dorm, a dorm with mostly singles, a dorm with mostly suites, and dorms featuring more classic doubles. There are two dining halls within walking distance of all of the freshman dorms, and the food is great—I still miss it! You can always find a good array of healthy options, as well as vegetarian/vegan meals and cultural foods. Plus, Cornell makes its own ice cream, which all the dining halls carry.

The dining halls are not limited to serving meals, and they actually offer lots of opportunities for social activities, ranging from movie nights to video game competitions to fitness classes. Each dorm also has its own weekly events that offer an opportunity to get to know people beyond your floormates. I cannot say enough about living with all the other freshmen your first year; it really helps you make friends and start to feel at home!

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Meghan: I studied English and minored in Music, and found a lot of support for both programs. The English major is very flexible, and I had a lot of freedom in choosing courses that were interesting to me. I chose to complete an honors track in the subject, which allowed me to take some graduate courses and challenge myself at a higher level by writing an honors thesis. I always found support from both my professors and the Academic Dean during these endeavors. Currently, Cornell is building a new humanities building, and I love to see such an assertion of the continued investment in liberal arts disciplines. For a big research university that is understandably focused heavily on engineering and science, Cornell really does a great job continuing to build their humanities programs.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Meghan: Because of the north campus living center, I found it fairly easy to make friends despite being a somewhat shy freshman! I also recommend joining several student clubs and activities as soon as you get on campus. There are so many to choose from, and each offers a great group of supportive people with similar interests who will more than likely become your friends. Cornell is very community-oriented, and there are plenty of ways to make the huge campus seem a little smaller through clubs, activities, and organizations. Despite its large size, by senior year, I never walked anywhere on campus without seeing someone I knew.

Greek life is very popular at Cornell, but it does not define the social scene of the campus. A third of Cornellians rush, and most of my friends who did found it fun and rewarding. Outside of social fraternities and sororities, there are also professional and service groups that many students find engaging. I chose not to rush, but I did sing in the Cornell University Chorus and an all-female a cappella group, After Eight. I was also a member of the Concert Commission and played on an intramural soccer team. All of these activities allowed me to meet a huge number of people and really enjoy my time outside of class. 

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Meghan: Cornell is incredibly helpful regarding career services. They host a huge number of workshops on interviewing and resume building, and they even offer one-on-one services for mock interviews or cover letter writing. Several times a year, companies come to campus for various job fairs or graduate school fairs, and there are always many reputable companies at these events. Oftentimes, companies specifically send Cornell alumni to represent them at such fairs, which provides a really helpful low-stress way to connect and have a conversation with a representative for a company in which you might be interested.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Meghan: With more libraries than you can count on your fingers, Cornell always has room to study. One of the libraries is open 24 hours, all year round, and each dorm has designated study spaces and lounges. There are also coffee shops and open spaces all over campus that are available for group work and individual study.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Meghan: I expected Ithaca to be a little bit boring sometimes, being such a small town in rural New York, but I can truthfully say that there was never a time in four years when I felt bored there. Cornell itself is a huge campus featuring giant plantations for running, hiking, or enjoying the scenery, as well as frequent sporting events, exhibitions, and musical or dance events. Beyond Cornell, though, the town of Ithaca is a special place that students should definitely take advantage of. There are several fun museums, an incredible farmer’s market on the weekends, and really great, interesting restaurants to try. (An all-vegetarian restaurant? Thai cuisine? Tapas? It is all there!) Cornell has its own little town known as Collegetown, which features the incredible sandwich shop, Collegetown Bagels, as well as many bars and restaurants. Students often do stay close to campus, but the center of Ithaca offers more places to eat, shop, and learn, and buses make it easy to get there.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Meghan: Cornell is big—it is about 14,000 undergraduates, so campus is always bustling. However, within that giant number, students are divided into seven different colleges. This allows you to get that “small school” feel of having a designated quad and buildings that are generally close to each other, while enjoying the benefits of a large institution, such as having thousands of courses to choose from each semester. As an English major, my major courses were always fairly small, ranging from six to thirty or so students, but I did take courses in science and math that were larger lectures of a couple hundred students. These large classes featured once a week discussion sections that divided the class into groups of 15-20, which offered a space to ask questions and work through problems without having to raise your hand in a giant lecture. I loved going to a big school—there are so many opportunities for research experiences, plus lots of extracurricular activities to choose from.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Meghan: My junior year I chose to pursue an honors track within my English major, which required writing a thesis—a multi-chapter scholarly paper that would take up much of my time and focus throughout the coming year. My favorite professor had already committed to advising another student’s project, but made me a few recommendations. I emailed Professor Wong based on these recommendations, and, after I explained my project to her, she agreed to be my advisor. I had never taken a class with her, and she knew nothing of my work, but once she agreed to advise me, Professor Wong worked tirelessly to make sure my project was absolutely the best it could be. She pushed and challenged me, offering me difficult reading and making me question my own assumptions about what made “good” scholarly writing. We met once a week and, though she scheduled the meetings to last an hour, would often go much longer as we worked through the specific issues at hand. She always made sure I left with a huge “to do” list and never let me settle for a sub-par chapter, or even a sub-par paragraph. 

In the end, I worked so hard to produce a paper I was truly proud of, and I earned Summa Cum Laude on my project. It is an understatement to say that Professor Wong helped—in truth, I could not have created such a strong paper without her. She pushed me beyond doing good work into doing my best work, and I learned from her to never settle for less than that. I learned the value of devoting myself entirely to a singular project, as well as to working through the times when it seemed I could not figure out where to go next (or the times when I just really wanted to go to bed). She encouraged me to set my own deadlines and stick to them. I learned a lot more than how to write an honors thesis from her, and I am so grateful.

The reason this story stands out to me is not only because she was a great adviser, but because she was a great adviser when she did not know me at all. She agreed to devote hours of her time over the course of an entire year to helping me pursue the academic project I had chosen, even without a personal connection or an experience in a class. She took me on and believed in me on the sole information that I had a goal and I wanted to make it happen, and any professor willing to do that, especially for an undergraduate, is a truly special addition to a university.  

Check out Meghan’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.