I’m sure the Cornell housing system has been given much thought. After all, Cornell has had over 150 years to work it out. And with over 20,000 currently enrolled students, it needs to be a well-oiled machine. Or rather, the administration needs to think it’s a well-oiled machine.
For many students, the housing process kind of sucks. Especially for freshmen. It is in turns opaque, clunky and difficult to coordinate with friends. It needs a renovation.
Admittedly, going into freshman year, the housing process is exactly what you’d expect out of any college. It’s relatively organized, with a little bit of confusion thrown in for good measure, but only because no one really knows what to expect out of the dorms.
Besides the few people who have existing friends also going to Cornell or reached out to someone via Facebook or other social media, everyone is in the same boat: living with strangers for a year. In some cases, that works out well and the roommates become good friends. Other times, to which I’m sure many of you reading can attest, random roommate assignments don’t work out very well. Regardless, by the end of freshman year most people will have made friends and have a desire to live with them. I’m just a freshman myself, I know I don’t want to live with a stranger next year. In my experience so far, however, the housing system here makes it difficult to do that.
Freshman have several options if they don’t want to live with a stranger their sophomore year. Firstly, they can enter the housing lottery for on-campus housing. Because time slots are assigned randomly, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to live in a house of your choice, or that there will be availability for the number of friends you were planning to live with. If you want to live in a program house or a co-op, there’s a separate process, which further complicates the process.
The next option is fraternity or sorority housing. If you want to live with friends in this setting, you have a lot to do. Firstly, you have to wait until January to even get the chance to rush. Then even if you make it through rush, you and your friends may end up getting accepted into different organizations, or getting denied altogether. Then you’re stuck living with people you don’t know, or relegated to the general housing lottery. But even if you do make it into a fraternity or sorority, some houses don’t have guaranteed housing, and you’re back at square one. To be fair, many students don’t mind living in the Greek system without their friends because they look forward to establishing relationships with their newfound brothers or sisters. Still, though, it can be intimidating getting accepted into a Greek House at which you don’t really know anyone.
The third major option is off-campus housing. Many freshmen don’t choose this type of housing for a number of reasons, which I’ll get into a little later. Personally, this seems to me to be the best option. As opposed to on-campus housing, which appears to me a bit like a crapshoot, off-campus housing provides students with an opportunity to control where they live, who they live with, and their rent. If someone wants to live cheaply, there are apartments in Ithaca listed at significantly lower prices than the sticker price of on-campus living. If someone wants to live in downtown Ithaca, or even farther from Cornell for some reason, they have a chance to do so with off-campus housing. And, of course, you have perfect control of whom you’ll be living with.
Personally, I’m pursuing off-campus housing for the reasons listed in the last paragraph. And the process has been kind of lousy. First of all, no one really spreads the word that most of the good housing for the next year is already leased by early fall of the previous year. Even in mid-October, almost all of the desirable properties my group has found have been, to our great dismay, already leased. Secondly, it’s become starkly obvious that landlords don’t trust sophomores very much. I’ve had several conversations with landlords that have become markedly less promising after I told them that my group consists of sophomores.
Lastly, it’s been hard for us to navigate the world of off-campus housing without guidelines from the Cornell community. While resources from Cornell exist, it seems to me they are rarely accessed or discussed, and the information often isn’t reaching all that many students. The only direction we’ve been given has been from upperclassmen that are currently living off-campus. And frankly, although they certainly tried to be helpful, a lot of their tips have been wrong. For instance, one junior told me that the best housing could be found on Craigslist. After hours of searching on Craigslist, I happened upon several real estate websites that had much better options. I mentally kicked myself.
Sophomores and upperclassmen have all been through the housing process at least twice, and probably don’t need much help. But freshman are new to the game, and we need guidance. If I am any representation of my class, most of us didn’t even think about housing for next year until we were inundated with emails about it in early October. I honestly don’t have many critiques of Cornell so far. Maybe I’ve been too busy to notice the problems. But I have noticed this one.
The good news is, there’s an easy fix.
Cornell should simply have all first-years go through a mandatory housing information session during Orientation Week. That way, we would all at least know what’s going on from the start. Until that type of program is established…freshmen: good luck to you.