A traditional comparison of Cornell and Princeton might start off mentioning Cornell's weather, but in the middle of this winter, it might not apply. Instead its up Corinne Kendall GS, who graduated from Cornell in 2006, to provide a deeper comparison
I am currently a second-year Ph.D. student in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at Princeton. For my undergraduate degree, I went to Cornell, majoring in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology.
In terms of academic caliber and the quality of classes, I think Princeton and Cornell are very similar. Both also share a small-town location, though Princeton is considerably closer to big cities, like New York and Philadelphia, which is a huge advantage for those of us that like to get out of the college towns occasionally.
The biggest difference between Princeton and Cornell is size. Cornell has a huge student body, multiple colleges within the university, is partially state-run and partially private, and has a variety of professional programs attached to it, including a veterinary school and a medical school. Princeton is small. As a result, Cornell has a lot more classes, activities and clubs to choose from. For my interests in particular, Cornell had the advantage of a vet school to intern at and get some hands-on experience, as well as a raptor center, where I learned how to work with large birds of prey, something that has aided me greatly during my current research on vulture ecology. It also offered unique classes such as Naturalist Outreach, which allowed me to teach conservation biology in local schools, and Spider Biology, where I got to do a behavioral study of some local arachnids. The larger number of students also meant there was a greater diversity of students with different viewpoints and backgrounds, with whom one could learn and share ideas. The large size of the school, however, also meant that there was no one looking out for you. I rarely spoke with my adviser and had fairly limited opportunities to talk with faculty. Princeton has the advantage of being a much more customized experience, and I have been astounded at the individual attention that students get from faculty, advisers and TAs. In particular, undergraduate research at Princeton is considerably more independent as students design their own projects rather than getting lost in a huge research lab, where they will be asked to conduct certain experiments rather than their own. With its smaller student body, Princeton can also afford to offer more funding for their students to travel and conduct research.
Overall, I have greatly enjoyed my experiences at both schools. I think the choice between them would depend on one’s independence and aspirations.
If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to email@example.com.