February 17, 2013

OH: It’s All Relative: Cornell in a Vacuum

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Cornellians have upheld an odd tradition for decades: bashing their school.

Once admitted through an extremely selective admissions process with an acceptance rate of 15 percent, it seems the initial ecstasy of getting into one’s dream school evaporates within the first few months. The self-hatred for Cornell can stem from anything: its cold winters and hilly campus to its unnecessarily difficult prelims and segregated student body. These “accusations” all contain certain degrees of truth and legitimacy, but I’d like to argue that most of these complaints should have been expected and are exaggerated at best.

The most common grumble you hear on our campus is about how cold and snowy the winter in Ithaca is. No one would refute the fact that Ithaca belongs to humid continental climate zone with extreme temperature fluctuations between the freezing winters and the hot summers. What people forget to acknowledge, out of inconvenience or ignorance, is that Cornell is in the Northeast, just like most other elite schools.

Every single Ivy-League school, as well as MIT, U Chicago, and Northwestern are located in Northern half of the U.S. With average highs of 31°F and lows of 15°F in January, Ithaca is not that far off from Boston’s 39°F/22°F, Hanover’s 29°F/9°F, New York City’s 39°F/27°F, and Providence’s 37°F/21°F. Obviously, schools in the Midwest are no better off with Chicago’s brutal windy Januarys reaching highs in the 30s and lows in mid 10s. If the weather was such an important factor in your college decision, you should have gone to UCLA or The University of Hawaii. But once again, you chose Cornell over USC or U of Florida for some “mysterious” reasons.

Another complaint people constantly vent about is how “hard” Cornell is. Yes, Cornell has always been known for its infamously demanding academics. Nonetheless, our University was no bystander to the grade inflation trend at universities across the country. According to data collected over the past two decades, Cornell’s mean GPA has increased by about 0.3, resulting in a 3.36 average GPA, based on the latest information available. Granted, it is lower than most Ivies, especially those of Brown and Yale (3.6 and 3.5, respectively). However, it is actually not that much lower than the mean GPAs at Harvard, Columbia, UPenn and Dartmouth, as their mean GPAs hover around 3.4-3.5. Surprisingly, Cornell doesn’t even have the lowest GPA among the Ivies, since Princeton’s mean GPA is only around 3.28 due to its strict policy on no As (A+, A, and A-) for more than one third of a class.

Not only is Cornell’s mean GPA not the lowest after all, but our GPAs have huge variations depending on our college. While pre-meds and engineers legitimately struggle to pull off a B, some classes in ILR, HumEc and the Hotel school are known for easy As (or even A+s in certain cases). With the humanities and social sciences claiming the middle ground, the simple generalization that “Cornell is so hard” is inaccurate and hyperbolic. Furthermore, I would argue that your future GPA is predictable depending on your field. Engineering and pre-med programs are always demanding and competitive at any school. Yet, you CHOSE that field because you either want a stable job or just hop on the bandwagon of not knowing what to do, hence pursuing the medical field by default (I never quite understood this logic but apparently many people subscribe to this).

My conclusion? The next time you decide to bitch about Cornell, just realize you’re criticizing your own decision-making skills. As a high school senior, you had to prioritize which schools to apply and which to attend, assuming you’d been offered admissions from multiple schools. You carried out your own version of cost-benefit analysis on the basis of academic strength, financial aid package, school size, location, etc. So if you are still dissatisfied with the school of your choice, at least be honest in the future by saying: “I suck at cost-benefit analysis.”

Don Oh is a junior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He may be reached at doh@cornellsun.com. Bi the Way appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Don Oh

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