New York College Road Trip: Cornell University

Want to know what it's like to attend this school in Ithaca, N.Y.? Read on.

By + More

In 1865, Ezra Cornell founded "an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." Today, although its Ivy League academic standards make it highly selective, that motto remains Cornell University's guiding force, and the university offers students a broad range of intellectual and practical subjects to pursue.

Cornell's campus is minutes away, but a steep climb up, from downtown Ithaca, N.Y., a town in the Finger Lakes region, which residents say has more restaurants per capita than New York City. The scenic Ithaca Falls are located just north of campus, and throughout the school grounds—which include sprawling plantations, orchards, and a golf course—bridges cross over the area's striking gorges. The long winters that blanket the campus in snow for much of the school year top students' lists of complaints, but also help the community bond, Cornellians say.

[See photos of the New York college road trip.]

Besides the well-rated dining halls, the Willard Straight Hall Student Union serves as a popular meeting place and houses some of the school's more than 800 clubs and organizations. Collegetown, a residential area just south of the main campus, is another social hub, as is the school's active Greek community. Students say their social circles are often determined by their academic concentration as well.

The university has land-grant status, which means the state of New York provides funding for three of the seven undergraduate schools: Agriculture and Life Sciences; Human Ecology; and Industrial and Labor Relations. These contract colleges, which New Yorkers can attend for discounted fees—$40,985 compared with $57,125 in the 2011-12 school year—are commissioned to benefit the "economic and social well-being" of New York State.

[Get tips and expert advice on how to pay for college.]

They also emphasize practical, career-based learning. In the Ag school, as Cornellians call it, students can choose majors like food science and study dairy production in the university's on-site commercial creamery. Similarly, information science majors can apply to work in the school's Human Computer Interaction Lab, where they can help design a lifestyle-tracking iPhone app, for example.

The university's four privately endowed schools—Arts and Sciences; Engineering; Architecture, Art, and Planning; and Hotel Administration—also offer programs emphasizing practical scholarship, from psychology to civil engineering.

The "hotelies," that is, undergrads in the School of Hotel Administration, epitomize the hands-on aspect of the Cornell curriculum. During the day, they take traditional business courses, like accounting and business computing, along with hospitality essentials, like introductory courses on food service operations and wine.

In the evenings, they work at the campus's fully operational and almost entirely student-run Statler Hotel, progressing through the ranks from housekeeping or the bell stand to the highest levels of management. "Even though we have different interests and subjects of study, we all have the opportunity to practice what we learn," says Lauren Wan, a 2011 hotel school graduate from Singapore.

[Read more about finding the right school for you.]

More From the New York College Road Trip:

Bard College

Colgate University

New York University

State University of New York–Geneseo

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.