April 10, 2018

LEE | A Note to Soon-to-Be Freshmen

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This semester seems to have gone by faster than I would have ever imagined. The last day of classes is in a month and before I even know it, I will be done with half of my college career. It only seems like a couple of months ago that I received my acceptance letter from Cornell and was frantically searching through Youtube videos to see what Cornell’s campus and dorms look like.

While the plethora of videos and pamphlets provided a basic sense of what Cornell University is like — its stunning gorges, amazing dining hall food, diverse student population, freezing cold winters — very few described the student experience. I didn’t know what to expect from the high school-to-university transition or how students discover themselves through Cornell’s often academically and socially overwhelming climate. Here are some of the things that I have realized as a Cornell student and Ithaca resident of two years, as well as pointers I wish I had received before I began this journey.

Cornell really is as beautiful and full of life as the Glorious to View video conveys. The scenery is breathtaking (although it’s easy to forget when walking back from Uris Library after a long day of studying), the weather is amazing (only for the first couple of weeks), students are compassionate and zealous (before recruiting or prelim season begins), alumni are tremendously dedicated and willing to help (in all of my encounters). Students, faculty and staff really do come from all backgrounds — from students who have lived in Ithaca their entire life to professors who have travelled all over the world for research.

Cornell’s name value is important. While it definitely shouldn’t be the deciding factor, you should know that a Cornell degree brings a great degree of trust to an employer or even someone you meet in a social setting. Some people even treat you differently if they know you’re a student at an Ivy League institution. I’m not telling you to develop some sort of elitist mindset. Just know that Cornell’s name value is something you simply can’t ignore for your life ahead.

Don’t expect to be provided with resources here; you need to earn them yourself. One striking difference between Cornell and other universities based upon tight-knit residential systems is that Cornell can seem neglectful at times. Unlike Harvard where 98 percent of the entire undergraduate population lives on-campus, you will soon realize that finding housing for the next school year is one of the most gruesome tasks you will face at Cornell. You could try praying to the West campus gods to bestow upon you a good time slot for the housing lottery. If not, best of luck in finding a decent place near campus, since most of the reasonably priced (by Ithaca standards, $1,000 per month is a pretty great deal for two bedrooms in Collegetown) apartments for the next school year are already taken by upperclassmen in September. However, for most concerns, you will probably be able to find the right resources if you go to the right people and search at the right places. You’ll be expected to do the search on your own, but once you go through all of the hassle, you will be provided with what you need in almost all cases.

Don’t buy into the myth of “finding your passion.” Not that it isn’t a good idea to do what you love, but almost all of the people I’ve met aren’t able to find what they’re passionate about in just a couple of years. I’ve even seen people who’ve wanted to become an investment banker since middle school change their minds in college. It’s ok to alter direction and experience as many things as you can, since you will never know what’s right if you don’t try it out. Instead of spending too much time ruminating on what path to choose, act upon it. Just try it out even if you don’t think it’s “your passion”; you never know what might suit you.

Most importantly, don’t let others overwhelm you. The hundreds of corporate or club informational, networking or interview sessions can be intimidating and could even make you feel second-tier, but there lies no value in comparing yourself with others, really. In all honesty, I am also a culprit of having bought into the belief that I may be lesser than those who seem to excel at everything. Yet I have learned over the past few months that as hard as it is to keep ground and do my own thing, you just have to keep yourself busy with your own work and don’t let others overthrow your sense of being. Meet as many people as you can — only then will you realize that not everyone hopes to launch a career in finance, tech or consulting.
DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a sophomore in the ILR school. She can be reached at [email protected]. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays.