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College tour impressions: Cornell

Cornell topped the list of matches for Becky’s various interests, when that research was conducted, which is not at all surprising given its founder’s motto of offering any subject of study to its students. It was our second Ivy League school to pay a visit to.

Its suburban campus sits high in the hills surrounding Lake Cayuga in the Fingerlakes region and there are some fantastic views over the area to be had from several vantage points. While downtown Ithaca is not within walking distance – it is 15 to 20 minutes away by bus – there is a happening area literally a block away from campus called Collegetown, with plenty of eateries and shops to provide off-campus diversions.

No two adjacent buildings on campus look similar in architectural pedigree, and at first I found that visual somewhat disconcerting, but very quickly came around to thinking it all fit together quite well. The campus itself is huge and even though it is rather well-defined in its main boundaries, its major arteries are open to the through traffic, which I find somewhat less than optimal for a non-city setting.

Unlike at other institutions, at Cornell we started with the tour and not the info session. Our tour guide was a hyperactive girl whose delivery at first felt too in-your-face for me to enjoy. But again, I came around to liking her a lot towards the end of the tour. Despite her occasional over-the-top cheerleading tendencies, the girl gave us tons of useful information, constantly cracked us up with undoubtedly scripted but delivered with gusto jokes, and not for a second lost our attention. She also did something that we have not experienced on any other tours. In the middle of it, she took the entire group into a classroom, sat us down and declared it a Q&A session. For the next half an hour or so, she rather expertly dealt with a lot of different questions. Even when she opted for what felt like canned answers to common inquiries, that was one of the most useful experiences we’ve had in our journeys so far.

We only went into one other building – the campus chapel – which was a less than obvious stop on a tour of an unaffiliated school. Since the chapel is used by all different religious organizations on campus, its Catholic design notwithstanding, the purpose of showcasing it was mostly in expressing how all of the different faiths coexisted at the institution.

Because we were not shown much in terms of facilities, we had to take our tour guide’s word that they were top-notch. Not unlike what we had to do at Yale.

Towards the end of the tour, as she was talking about athletic pursuits available at Cornell, she happened to mention an ice-skating student club. That itself almost sealed Cornell’s status as one of our definite targets. Very few colleges in the nation have ice skating as a recognized on-campus activity; at most, it would be an individual off-campus pursuit for Becky.

Then we went to the official info session and it nearly succeeded in negating our heretofore positive impressions. It was led by a cheery woman whose style of presentation made her seem almost fake in her exuberance. Working off a PowerPoint presentation, she kept making unfunny puns that fell flat with the audience, and then entirely lost me when she went into a lengthy monologue that could be summarized as “Why you may consider not to apply to Cornell”. I saw a few people in the audience exchange bewildered glances with other members of their parties, just as Becky and I expressed our own puzzlement to each other, and Becky later said that she felt it was rather intimidating to hear an administrator focus on telling the audience that the college was so selective, the prospective applicants should be doing themselves a favor and looking elsewhere.

With the exception of some details of financial aid available at Cornell (need-blind, just as at all other Ivies, and explained in detail in the brochure that we picked up before the session), the presenter failed to tell us anything that we had not heard already from our excellent tour guide. She did roll out a quartet of current students to go through some topics and field a few questions, and those four kids provided the best moments of the session with their composure, well-spokenness and thoughtfulness.

We finished our visit with lunch at the full-service hotel that sits in the middle of the campus. Not that it would figure in the decision process, but it was definitely a different kind of experience to watch the flow of campus life from the restaurant window.

Despite the mostly horrible info session, Cornell is clearly near the top of our list. As an Ivy League college should be.


  1. John

    The hotel is there because of the degree in hospitality management. My youngest SIL went to Cornell, if you want more info or her take, let me know.

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