I want to start this comment by stating that I am obviously biased, as my harsh grading of Cornell University would demonstrate. That being said, I am striving to be as objective and impartial as possible, so I will not be going on any tirades against Cornell. Instead, I am going to discuss what happened to me when I was there and let you sort it out for yourself.
I started at Cornell as a straight A student. My high school GPA was 4.0, I had tons of community service, and I was the captain of my rowing team. I was kicking butt and taking names. Big deal, so is everyone at Cornell. I'm writing this not for props or to say I'm a special case. Quite the contrary, I'm establishing that I am a typical Cornellian. I did, however, lack the attitude of elitism that seems to characterize Cornell students (and Ivy League students in general). I have never understood this sense of elitism, because at least while the students are still that--students, not alumni--they certainly haven't earned any exclusive bragging rights. And I suspect that they haven't earned any particular bragging rights by having completed the curricula of their various institutions.
That is, however, neither here nor there. My point is simply that I entered this institution as an A+ student, an athlete, a healthy person, and a social person. What I was confronted with upon getting to Cornell was a very bleak living situation in which people did not want to spend a minute getting to know you if you were not interested in drinking or doing drugs. I met several kids in my later years at who actually bragged about how they used cocaine as a study aide. I don't know what to say to people like that. That's pretty astonishing. I hope they aren't planning to pass a drug screening test at any point in their professional lives.
I suppose it is not altogether surprising to get to a university and see no shortage of drunken revelry. Cornell actually has an entire day dedicated to this very thing, which is vaguely reminiscent of the debacle that is Oktoberfest. Midwesterners, you know what I'm talking about, especially Wisconsonians! This day is called Slope Day, and it is a 'celebration' (read: cheap excuse to consume libations) of the last day of the academic year.
It is understandable that students would want to relax after such a pulverizing workload. Cornell loves to load you up. And I often questioned if it was worthwhile learning. Many times it seemed like reading a lot of books simply for the sake of reading a lot of books. What was the point of studying 20 novels in a writing course if each novel was given a measly one or two classes of individual treatment. What do you really get out of a 15 minute group conversation where every student is mandated via class participation points to say something about the text, nevermind how irrelevant? And what is up with class participation points anyway? Why don't they let Ivy League students wear the big boy pants and sink or swim based on their test scores and essays? I mean most of us didn't have participation points in high school, so why the regression to such juvenile tools of academic fear mongering?
And speaking of regression, that is precisely what shocked me the most about Cornell. Perhaps I'm abnormal here, but as an overachiever in and out of my academic life, I have always been sort of the odd man out in my circles of friends. I'm frequently getting, "Woah, big words, duuuude" comments from my peers. My whole life I was assured by adults that things get better in college, probably because when they went to college that was true. However, in this case it was quite the contrary. Students seemed to be entirely beholden to ethyl alcohol. The same students I saw frequently hung over or high were getting straight A's. At first, I thought "Wow, they're SO much smarter than I am that they can do this stuff and still ace everything." Then I started paying closer attention and I'd notice that the same group of stoners and drunks would always sit a liiiittle too close together come test time. Or that they sure seemed to get a lot of cell phone 'calls' (read: text messages) during tests.
I have my suspicions of cheating for a long time, but then I had it confirmed on two separate occasions. The first was when at a Marketing final exam, the professor (stupidly) handed out 3 tests on 3 different colored papers. A yellow, a pink, and a green. The tests were shuffled so they were handed out in that order...yellow, pink, green. But mysteriously in the midst of all of this, 3 people in a row managed to have yellow, and a little while later 3 had pink, and a little while later 3 had green. Hmmmm.
If that doesn't do it for you, then my senior year, the Student Government at Cornell petitioned the faculty to help them create a special commission for academic integrity to confront the rampant cheating that had been uncovered on campus. It turns out that there are not just individual cheaters at Cornell, but actual cheating cartels. Yes, seriously, it is such a cut-throat learning environment that not only are people cheating to get ahead (and I hope they can sleep well knowing what they have done), they are actually forming entire networks of students who are cooperating to screw over everyone else. I'll give you one example: TakeNote. TakeNote is a professional note taking service that offers you notes taken, typed up, and prepared by graduate students for all of the general education classes like Bio 101, Chem 207, etc. The catch is that of course TakeNote wants to protect its assets, so it prepares all of its notes on red paper with black text. It's still very easy to read, but it's impossible (or at least very difficult) to photocopy it in any sort of legible format.
HOWEVER, TakeNote gives a copy or two of its notes to the libraries (there's 7 or 8 of them, which IS impressive, and I did rate Cornell as top notch for resources for learning), and the libraries allow students to check them out for something like 90 minutes at a time. What the cheating cartels at Cornell University like to do is starting two or three weeks before an exam, check out all of the TakeNote notes, as well as the textbooks for the class and any teacher's manual copies of those texts and any texts that could be relevant for studying the topic in question. They will get as many people as needed to check these resources out and keep them checked out until after the exam.
Now before you claim that I'm being paranoid and mistaking a rush of studious students to get limited resources, let me be clear: the student government did a full expose on this system of cheating and showed irrefutable evidence that it was the same people doing this over and over again with organized, malicious intent.
Can you study your own notes and get an A? Sure! But would it help to see the notes of another person who has graciously made their notes available for the perusal of interested students? Indubitably! And this is just one form of cheating that goes on at Cornell. Cheating is a major part of the system at Cornell.
I could go on and on about the negative things at Cornell, but I'll just finish my story.
So I came in as an A+ student, did alright my first year, making straight A's, but then broke both of my wrists AND contracted mononucleosis within the span of about a month. Well, there went my rowing career. I WAS on the team and was in the A boat at the time, but the coach told me that since I was going to be barred from going to spring training due to my injury, that I would be bumped to the B boat, which meant I wouldn't be racing, basically.
The professors at Cornell were somewhat understanding of my condition, and did allow me some time away from school to recuperate, but as a result of mono, I developed progressive sleep apnea. Long story short, I slogged through 3 more years of school suffering from sleep deprivation and deteriorating health with no sympathy from my dean, no assistance from any of my professors, and little in the way of common ground or fellowship with my fellow students.
I did graduate on time, which was a blessing, but by the time I got out of Cornell, I had become so frustrated by the red tape involved in getting ANYTHING done--you name it, course add, course drop, parking permits, contacting professors, office hours, everything!--that I just wanted to leave. But by the time I was that far in, I wanted my Nike swoosh diploma. Well, I thought I was getting one anyway. Turns out I've only once in 3 years of applying to jobs heard someone say "Oh wow, a Cornell man! Of course you can come for an interview!" I didn't expect the WORLD from a Cornell degree, but I did expect an entry level job at the very least.
AND I expected assistance in finding a job from the alumni association and the career counseling office. The latter has never helped me find any job listing in any city big or small that I've lived in--and I've lived in Oahu, Hawaii, Pittsburgh, PA, and little old La Crosse, WI--and the former gave me one contact once, who grudgingly agreed to give me a job lead that ended up wanting to pay me minimum wage to conduct cancer research. I ended up turning the job down to take another job at a different cancer research lab that at least paid me $8.50.
Perhaps my idea of what Ivy League colleges could do for their alumni was overinflated. If that's the case, then you can discount what I'm saying in this statement. However, if you have a similar idea in mind about your diploma being worth more because it's an Ivy League, forget about it. I've never had medical schools jump at me because I was an Ivy Leaguer. I've never had employers jump at it. I haven't even had graduate schools jump at it. It's humdrum. What they care about is your GPA.
SO, to that end, I recommend that you only go to an Ivy League if you are somewhat of an elitist, are not remotely religious (because Ivy Leagues thrive on crushing the religion out of you, but I feel that is a subject for a different forum!), and know for sure you can get a 4.0. If any of these 3 is not true of you, then for the sake of your own future employability and happiness, will you please consider going to a smaller school where you will get a 4.0 easily and will have access to friendlier staff and faculty who will assist you in getting a phenomenal internship or externship? You'll be glad you did. I know because this is precisely what I did with my graduate education, choosing to go to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA because of its small size and friendly atmosphere. I was placed in two different excellent internships that have lead to employment in the healthcare industry and an interview at a major medical school on November 25th. Cornell has done nothing to help with any of that. It's all been Duquesne. Heck, I should go write a review for Duquesne next!
So in closing, I don't mean to trash everything about . It's a beautiful campus. The bus system is fantastic. If you're into 'partying', College Town is perfect for you. Get an apartment there sophomore year and have a blast. The surrounding area is GORGEOUS, with lots of natural gorges cut out by the rivers in the area.
Ithaca, NY, the locus of Cornell, is a fun town to tool around in, too. They have some EXCELLENT cuisine. Thai Cuisine is the best dog gone Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, hands down. The Wegman's in downtown Ithaca has a great variety of produce, and probably has a huge organic section now, too, since that's begun to be more popular. There are all kinds of cultural events to go to both on and off campus. The athletics is pretty good, except the football team which can't seem to do anything right. The quality of the food is fantastic, and I'm hoping the middlle-aged Asian couple still works at Appel Commons serving up Asian cuisine M-F. They were a constant source of merriment and memories.
But for all the amenities and trappings of a ritzy Ivy League (and it IS ritzy; I was friends with the daughter of the gentleman who owns slightly less of the Hilton franchise than Mr. Hilton himself, Emeril Legassi's daughter was a classmate, and there were rumors that a Dubai oil baron's daughter was attending Cornell incognito), the cut-throat academic spirit and the lack of caring on the part of the professors really puts a damper on this university. I'd rather have high quality relationships with faculty and low quality living conditions than vice versa. Maybe that's just me. If you can handle the latter, then is the place for you, and God bless you on your academic journey.Disclaimer: The author of this commentary, David Stratton, intends this commentary only for his personal use. It is in no way, shape, or form to be construed as advice to persons other than Mr. Stratton, and any use of this information as such is entirely without consequence to Mr. Stratton. Mr. Stratton is, by dint of this disclaimer, hereby indemnified from any claims of libel, slander, or malicious intent from Cornell University, Inc. or any of its affiliates. God bless you, and God bless the Constitution!