I just returned from the spring break college road trip ritual. My reluctant travel companion was my 16- year old daughter who is quite frankly, tired of visiting colleges. Despite her reluctance, she has terrific observations about schools and students and she allows me to truly see colleges through the eyes of a regular sixteen-year-old girl.
On our trip, we visited 6 colleges in 3 days. It was exhausting. I use the term “visit” loosely since with limited time available, on some college campuses we did the official campus tour while on others we did a detailed but unguided “drive-by”. We started and ended our 3 -day journey in New York City. (I saved official visits to New York City schools for my next visit if only so that I could plan a return to my favorite city sometime soon). With so many schools in upstate New York, it was difficult deciding which schools to visit. Our final itinerary included: Cornell, Ithaca, Colgate, Union, Bard and Vassar. All of these schools seem like unique and wonderful places to go to college. My reflections on each of these schools follow.
Situated in the small but picturesque “city” of Ithaca, New York, Cornell is a bit isolated. Ithaca has a population of approximately 30,000 people and includes two colleges (the other is Ithaca). It is almost exactly a four -hour drive from New York City. Cornell’s Ithaca campus (there are satellite campuses) has over 13,000 undergraduates and over 7,000 graduate students. Cornell is unique in that it both a private Ivy League school and also a federal land grant research university. The state-supported colleges include agriculture and the veterinary college. Although the campus is 745 acres, the unique Cornell Plantations take up an additional 4300 acres. The plantation consists of botanical gardens and an arboretum that are beautiful and also offer classes for academic credit.
Cornell’s acceptance rate is less than 14%. Programs for which Cornell is especially noted include: the School of Hotel Administration; Architecture; Business, Engineering; International Relations, and Veterinary medicine. Cornell has a 4-1-4 academic schedule with a 3 -week winter session in January. Its academics are known to be rigorous. Greek life is a big part of the social scene at Cornell involving over 30 % of the men and 24% of the women on campus.
Located on the tip of Lake Cayuga in the Finger Lakes area of New York, Cornell is a wonderful destination for an outdoor enthusiast. There is plenty of kayaking, hiking, biking and even skiing nearby. For those students who prefer urban settings or at least proximity to a city, Cornell may not be for you. Cornell is legendary for its long, dark and dreary winter days. Cornell is a stunning campus and the academics are top notch. Nevertheless, there are some students who become overwhelmed by the academic pressure and isolation of Cornell. Ithaca is small (although it does have an Urban Outfitters) and the campus town of Cornell is almost non-existent. While I always recommend college visits before deciding on a particular college if at all possible, I particularly recommend visiting Ithaca if Cornell is on your list. Full disclosure: Cornell was on spring break and we were unable to take a formal tour.
With a campus population of just over 6,000 undergraduates, Ithaca is in the small but ideal category of medium sized liberal arts colleges. Its strongest programs are communications, therapy, theater and music. The campus is beautiful and set amid the hills near lake Cayuga, a short distance from downtown Ithaca. As with Cornell, we were not able to take a formal tour of the campus. I was very impressed by the scenic beauty of the campus and by the overwhelming friendliness of the students I met there. Although the town of Ithaca is a bit disappointing, the spectacular scenery more than makes up for the relative isolation of Ithaca. And while one of my children’s high school more cynical high school counselors told me that the students at Ithaca all feel like stepchildren to the Cornell students across town, I was very impressed by the more laid back and friendly atmosphere at Ithaca. I think students with looking for a mid -sized liberal arts college in the northeast should take a second look at Ithaca, particularly if they are looking for music, theater or physical therapy. Ithaca has one other great thing going for it and its students – it is test optional.