Thursday, April 15, 2010

Orange and Apples: Cornell

Today is the first day of Princeton Preview and the pre-frosh have arrived. Now they have to make their college choices. Today's choices are Cornell and Princeton, which, Evan Magruder '08, a Wilson School major and law student at Cornell, argues are fairly similar.

Cornell and Princeton Are Pretty Much the Same.

In my first year as a law student at Cornell, I often found myself comparing student life at Cornell with my own experience at Princeton. The truth is that both universities, steeped in Ivy League tradition, natural beauty and serious scholarship, are actually quite similar.

Academically, both schools have extremely bright and competitive student bodies. Princeton's professors have fewer students to watch over, and a senior thesis is required. I think it's easier to build a strong bond with a professor at Princeton. Cornell is huge, with 12,000 undergraduates alone. Theses are not required, but many motivated Cornellians find advisers and complete a thesis in the senior year. Cornell’s strength is its breathtaking range of courses, majors and schools (example: Cornell has the No. 1 veterinary school in the country and the world's best hotel school, too). I’ve met students at Cornell who want to run the Bellagio and students who hail from rural farms and are studying animal genetics to literally breed a better cow. Princeton has plenty of courses to choose from, but when comparing the two schools closely examine Cornell's many special programs to see if one really calls your name.

I digress briefly to dispel a common myth about Cornell: Cornell is not a state school. The four state-funded schools at Cornell are the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Ecology, Industrial and Labor Relations, and Vetrinary Medicine. New York state residents get reduced tuition if they major in these schools. Everything else at Cornell is private, and even the state-funded colleges fall under the umbrella of the private university.

Next, geography. Ithaca is four hours from New York City. Cornell sits in Ithaca, right on Cayuga Lake, one of the enormous and beautiful Finger Lakes. Princeton sits in the middle of New Jersey, one hour from New York City on the Northeast Corridor train line. I would say that Cornell is about six degrees colder than Princeton on average, and Ithaca doesn't warm as quickly in the spring. There's more snow at Cornell, but in winter 2008-2009 we only got one 10-inch snowstorm and then a few dustings later on. Cornell also has Greek Peak, a ski hill less than 30 minutes away: it’s no Vail, but very adequate for a small place, and if you love skiing, you can’t beat heading out to Greek Peak after class.

As far as housing, Cornellians move off campus as sophomores or juniors, while Princetonians live on campus all four years. If you're a Harry Potter type, Princeton definitely has more collegiate Gothic dorms, but Cornell has a few of those on West Campus, too.

The rhythms of social life at both schools are quite similar. Princeton has eating clubs; Cornell has a large Greek scene. Princeton has Houseparties and Lawnparties; Cornell has Formals and Slope Day. At either school, parties are nearly indistinguishable, except that the eating clubs use kegs of Milwaukee’s Best and Cornell's fraternities use cans of Keystone Light. Cornell also has a number of bars quite close to campus, which is a nice change to the social scene for the over-21 crowd. At both schools, people tend to stick around on the weekends, and you get to know a surprisingly large number of students very fast.

I’m having a fantastic academic and social experience at Cornell, but as far as undergraduate institutions, I’d choose Princeton again in a heartbeat. The bonds formed among Princetonians from time spent at Old Nassau are indelible and unique (read: Reunions!), and I haven't witnessed such camaraderie anywhere else.