The Cornell University College Experience

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences, as well. Steve earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Cornell University in 2011. He currently tutors many subjects in New York City, specializing in SAT prep tutoring, GRE prep tutoring, and Algebra tutoring. See what he had to say about his time at Cornell University:

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

Steve: Cornell University’s campus is stunningly beautiful throughout the seasons. It is located near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, so the atmosphere is generally very rural and safe. Downtown Ithaca is within walking distance, right next to campus. It can get a bit snowy and chilly during the winter, but I love the cold, so it fit me very well. On campus, there are a variety of places for all students, whether you want to find a quiet place to study or an open field to throw a football around with friends. The architecture is a mix between old and new; there are modern buildings, as well as older, Gothic-style halls.

To get around campus, most people walk. It takes about 30-40 minutes to get from one end of the campus to the other end, but most of your classes will probably be located close together. Because of how big the campus is, other transportation options include riding a bike, driving a car, or taking a bus.

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

Steve: Most professors, advisers, and teaching assistants are very approachable, in spite of their impressive backgrounds. You will occasionally get one or two professors throughout your entire Cornell University career who are a bit grumpy, but overall, office hours are generally flexible, and there are so many people who are willing to help you.

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

Steve: Dorm life can be very different depending on which hall you live in. Each hall has its own layout—and thus tends toward different social structures. For example, there is townhouse living, where four people share a townhouse together. Compare that to my first year at Clara Dickson Hall, where it was a very typical boys’ hallway, girls’ hallway, and a common lounge in the middle of each floor. Most rooms tend to be pretty spacious—I had a single with a walk-in closet, and I still had plenty of room left for everything else.

Dining at Cornell University is amazing. There are a variety of meal plans to choose from, and the food is fantastically delectable. In addition to various ethnic food options, such as dim sum on Saturdays, they also have regular themed-food nights, where chefs prepare food from a particular culture or in relation to the theme of the night. If you get a chance, please visit the Cornell Dairy Bar and try out their ice cream. It is to die for!

As far as social life goes, the student population is hugely diverse, so you will meet all sorts of people from all over the world. I was not part of any fraternity while I was there, but I think something like 30% of the campus is associated with Greek life, if you are interested in joining. I do not think finding a healthy social life will be any problem at all.

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?

Steve: My impression was that all majors/programs were all highly supported through campus funding and allocation of resources. I believe Cornell University has an impressive College of Engineering, as well as a highly prominent Hotel Administration major, if you are looking for specific highlighted programs.

I studied Economics because I was interested in how people make decisions. You will find that many restaurants often ask people to order dessert before they receive their meal because people tend to order more when they are hungry. It may sound like common sense, but this is part of behavioral economics, and I was fascinated to study those types of decision-making options. I thought the university did a great job of supporting my area of study because I had a lot of access to professors and graduate students for help. I had also switched to Economics from Math during my junior year, and I thought the whole process was very smooth and friendly.

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?

Steve: It was extremely easy for me to make friends as a freshman. There are plenty of events to socialize at, and if you cannot attend those, there are lots of opportunities during class to meet other people.

I did not join Greek life, but I do not think it had a dominating role as far as I can remember. They would pass out flyers for certain events and/or fundraisers, and I went to a few parties myself, but Greek life never seemed to overshadow campus life. I think everyone is able to find their own social circle that they feel comfortable with without feeling pressure to join any particular groups.

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

Steve: The Career Center helps you work on your resume and really works with you to build your profile. It is a free walk-in service, and they constantly send you emails about job openings in your preferred field(s). There is also a career fair that many high-profile companies send representatives to in order to recruit students.

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

Steve: The libraries are gorgeous and easily available. Certain parts of the libraries can get crowded sometimes, especially during prelims or finals time (we call midterms at Cornell University “prelims”). But there are over ten spacious libraries on campus dedicated to various departments.

The student union is located at Willard Straight Hall, but I do not think many students go there to study, especially since there are three libraries within a two-minute walk. Dorm lounges are definitely another option, and there are rules during prelims and finals time to be quiet and to respect other people’s studying time in public areas.

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? 

Steve: There is a small downtown area right at the south exit of campus which we call Collegetown. That area has a lot of bars, restaurants, cafés, etc. that fit your general needs.

For even more fun activities, restaurants, or other nightlife events, there is a local Commons in downtown Ithaca that is within walking distance, but most people take the bus. It is an excellent local food and shopping area that hosts cool annual events like the Apple Harvest Festival.

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

Steve: The student body is around 3,500 students per year, for around 14,000 total undergraduates. The university total for students, including graduates and professionals, is around 21,000. Do not be too intimidated by those numbers. Most of my classes, other than the introductory courses in lecture halls, were between 10 and 30 people. Depending on your major, you might have other fluctuations in class sizes.

Generally, I was not happy with the large lecture classes (100+ students), although one of my favorite classes was Psychology 101, which had a class size of 1,000+ students. Yes, a thousand plus. I definitely enjoyed the smaller seminars a lot more, as you could actively participate in discussions and actually get to know the professor and your classmates better.

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

Steve: I think Psychology 101 with Professor Maas was definitely the most memorable experience for me. I took that class as a freshman, and despite the over 1,000 students that were in Bailey Hall taking that class with me, Professor Maas was able to deliver entertaining yet informative lectures that I still remember to this day. I was skeptical at first, due to the sheer amount of students that were sitting in his lectures, but somehow, he made it work. Sadly, Professor Maas has retired and no longer teaches that class, but I hope you will find your own memorable experience at Cornell University!

Check out Steve’s tutoring profile.

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