Cornell may have beaten Princeton in Men's Basketball, but how do the two differ as educational institutions? Rob Berger '05, a chemistry graduate student at Cornell, offers a comparison.
I was a chemistry major in the Class of 2005, and recently finished graduate school at Cornell. I love both schools, and if you're trying to decide between the two, I don't think you'd go wrong with either. But they are different places in certain ways, and overall, I'd say I'm glad I went to the two schools when I did.
The most significant differences between the two schools are related to the fact that Cornell has about three times as many students as Princeton. Academically, both schools are great, and once you get to independent research and the higher-level courses in your major, the size difference doesn't matter too much. In some of the big introductory courses, though, the size difference allows the professors at Princeton to be more accessible to students. If you're someone who wants to have a running dialogue with your professors and wants them all to know you by name, that's something to keep in mind.
Socially, the size difference between Princeton and Cornell means the students at Cornell are a bit more spread out. At Princeton, all of the undergrads live on campus, and quite honestly, there isn't often a good reason to leave campus (though if you're a city kind of person, New York is an easy trip). I personally liked having all of my friends living in neighboring buildings --- it brings about a nice sense of community on the Princeton campus. At Cornell, most undergrads live on campus only for the first year or two, and then live in off-campus apartments around Ithaca. Ithaca is a cool town, albeit in the middle of nowhere, so this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's largely a question of which setup sounds more appealing to you.
In my opinion, those are the most noticeable differences between the two schools. As with all schools, there are plenty of other little quirks that distinguish them --- eating clubs vs. fraternities and sororities, lousy weather vs. lousier weather, etc. --- which you won't have a problem adjusting to regardless of which school you choose. If I seem to be steering you toward Princeton, it's partly because it's the school I went to first, and I hope a Cornell undergrad would do the same for Cornell. They're both great. Best of luck.
Oh, and one more thing. Not that this should influence your decision, but Princeton puts on a much better show at Reunions. Can't wait for my Fifth this spring.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.