April 14, 2010

With Cornell Days Underway, Prospectives Flock to Campus

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The tables have turned: after months spent proving worthiness for admission to Cornell, prospective students will now decide if Cornell is worthy of their matriculation. From Apr. 8 to 19, more than 500 newly-admitted prospective students will travel to the Hill for Cornell Days.

Cornell Days gives prospective students a taste of Cornell, allowing them to decide whether Cornell is the right fit and provides prospective students with numerous opportunities to experience Cornell. There are tours of the general campus as well as tours of the libraries, residence halls, the Schwartz Center and specific quads.

Not only does each college within Cornell offer its own information session, but there are also information sessions related to specific academic interests, such as the biological sciences. Other information sessions topics include financial aid and pre-orientation programs. Some student groups, such as the Society of Women Engineers, hold events tailored towards specific students.

But Cornell Days is not just informative. From bowling at Helen Newman to climbing at Lindseth,  prospective students will also experience Cornell’s social and recreational offerings. These include tours of the Johnson Museum, LGBTQ Salsa dance classes, and karaoke nights. None of these activities are mandatory. Instead, prospective students are free to pick and choose among activities.

“[The prospective students] can tailor their own experience to what they’re interested in,” said Alina O’Brien ’10, Cornell Days chair for the steering committee of C.U. Ambassadors. “It’s important that whatever it is that’s important to them, they get that information … and experience Cornell however they want to experience it.”

One of the most important aspects of Cornell Days is the chance for prospective students to interact with current students. Individual colleges  hold student panels, where prospectives can ask current students questions. Through C.U. Ambassadors, prospective students have the opportunity to eat lunch with current students in their college. Through the Red Carpet Society, students have the option to spend the night in a residence hall with a current student.

“[These events] give the [prospective] students the opportunity to hear from current students … and I think the students are really relatable,” O’Brien said.

In the past, Cornell Days has had a high yield: about seventy percent of prospectives who attend end up enrolling at Cornell. In one sense, these students are “pre-selected” to enroll at Cornell, according to Reba McCutcheon ’96, associate director for undergraduate admissions. They would not attend Cornell Days if they had already ruled Cornell out, and some have already committed to Cornell through a binding early decision, she said.

“I’ve basically already decided on Cornell, but I wanted to come to Cornell Days just to make sure,” said Nisha Mulay, a prospective ILR student from Lexington, Ky.

Still, Cornell Days is often a deciding factor for prospective students.

“[Cornell Days] is going to be a pretty important factor because you can’t get a good impression from a school from just reading about it or hearing about it from other people,” said Allison Theveny, a prospective Arts and Sciences student from Media, Penn.

Since Cornell Days is so important for attracting new students, its planning starts well before April, according to Deborah Feld ’10, co-chair of the Red Carpet Society. After Cornell Days ends, members of the Cornell Days Planning Committee meet to discuss feedback. This committee is comprised of student leaders from the Red Carpet Society and C.U. Ambassadors as well as staff from transportation, the Carol Tatkon Center, admissions, financial aid, and campus information. As early as September, they begin planning for the coming spring’s Cornell Days.

The event is funded by and overseen by the undergraduate admissions office, but, as McCutcheon acknowledged, is largely staffed by students. According to Feld, the events offered at Cornell Days do not change much from year to year.

“Structure-wise, we probably know in September what’s going in the schedule,” said Feld. “There’s no need to change [the events] because the questions [from prospective students] don’t change much.”

Still, there are slight changes from year to year. This year, for example, Cornell Days expects about two-hundred fewer students than the previous year, when the dates overlapped with Easter and Passover holidays. The partnering of C.U. Ambassadors with Community Center Programs and CUIMAGE also makes the social events offered more extensive than in previous years. In addition, those involved with Cornell Days have faced new challenges related to the recent campus tragedies and consequent media attention.

According to Feld, the best way to address the issue is to be open but stress the positive. At all information sessions, mental health packets advertise the University’s numerous mental health resources. In addition, both C.U. Ambassadors and Red Carpet Society hosts are given tips and advice for handling difficult questions related to the recent tragedies. As tour guide Alma Aldrich ’10 told The Sun last week, tour guides have also been trained to deal with such questions and to highlight the positive measures that the University has taken.

“We are confident in all our tour guides to speak their minds about what’s going on and say it in an appropriate way,” Aldrich said.

“We want students to be open but to also highlight the positive aspects of what’s been done,” added Feld. “It hasn’t been a challenge. More people just have questions … We haven’t had to change our program or what we do.”

According to Theveny, the recent tragedies and media attention will have little impact on whether she attends Cornell. Instead, she emphasized the interactions with both current and prospective students, the opportunity to sit in on classes, and whether she can see herself “living and learning here” as the most crucial factors to her decision.

“I don’t think [the recent tragedies] area reflection of the school but of the individuals who it happened to,” Theveny said. “You can’t really base your  opinion of a school on the terrible psychological or emotional experience that a few people were having because it’s not really [representative].”

While the recent campus tragedies are perhaps an inescapable component of this year’s Cornell Days, McCutcheon remains confident that the goals of Cornell Days have been achieved: providing a “realistic and positive picture of what Cornell offers.”

As McCutcheon explained, the goal is not to force undecided students to enroll, but to provide the information necessary for them to make an informed decision.

Original Author: Emily Greenberg