February 2, 2020

JONES | The Price of Honesty for Cornellians

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Last Spring, a graduating senior from my former high school in Los Angeles reached out to me for advice. He was torn between two college choices: University of California, Los Angeles and Cornell. He told me that as a California resident, he most fears the difficult adjustment  to Cornell’s frigid winters. When he asked me about my experience, I told him, truthfully, that I still have trouble with Ithaca’s cold weather and went on to discuss Cornell’s other pros and cons. He ended up picking UCLA.

This experience is in marked contrast to one I had with another prospective student, this time from Santa Cruz, California. I met her through the Arts and Sciences Ambassadors program, and constructed my answers to her questions differently, because I was formally representing Cornell. Like the first student, she expressed concern for Ithaca’s winters, asking if I had ever encountered seasonal depression or know anyone that has. I fibbed, responding “no” to both questions, although I have had bouts of seasonal depression and know plenty of people who also have.

When the first student told me he chose UCLA, I was slightly disappointed, but now faced with a dilemma. I love Cornell and want every prospective student to matriculate here, regardless of Cornell’s flaws. But at the same time, I would feel horrible if I aggrandized Cornell, sugarcoating its flaws for the sake of recruiting someone who may not even be a great fit.

My initial disappointment later turned into remorse. I began asking myself — did my honest answers completely sway him away from Cornell? Or did they confirm a predisposed belief of Cornell that he already had? And for the Santa Cruz student, did my dishonest answers help inform her decision? Were these lies inconsequential and ultimately useless?

I’ve recently reminisced on when I was in their shoes, an eager prospective student, maybe traveling from one college’s info session to another, asking my interviewers and alumni what they thought about their alma maters. Like the first student, I was torn between UCLA and Cornell at one point, but chose the latter because I wanted a different experience by living on the East Coast. I was very well aware of Cornell’s apparent “faults”; no Cornell alumnus I’ve talked to has failed to mention how cold its winters are.

But for some reason, I was never swayed by their opinions or recollections of their college experience. Cornell just always seemed right to me. I paid my enrollment deposit without even knowing my financial aid package, a generally risky move. And the first time I visited Cornell was the day I moved in; again, a reckless choice.

As a senior now, I hold no regret in my decision, and I know I made the right choice in picking Cornell — I love this place. From the Dairy Bar ice cream to the scenic gorges scattered throughout the town, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Cornell and Ithaca. Cornell’s motto “any person, any study” is hardly a motto but rather an approach to life, and a reality. All Cornellians are passionate about something, whether that be their major, the people around them, the school they attend, or just learning and meeting people in general. There’s just too much love here to not partake in.

However, while I believe Cornell is a good fit for me, it is not a perfect one. I’ve internally hated the cold winters on many more occasions than found comfort in them, and I have never appreciated the large introductory STEM class sizes.

But that’s okay. Cornell, like all other universities, has its pros and cons. And a student’s college experience, like many other life experiences, has its ups and downs. So is there any student that was truly a perfect fit at their college? And is there any college that is a perfect fit for a particular student?

It is likely that if I had not chosen Cornell, I would have had a similarly fulfilling experience at another university. Ultimately, regardless if I am dishonest or honest about the school, a perfect fit may not exist for the student I am talking to, so it doesn’t hurt to be honest.

At any rate, if I can’t convince you to become a student here, I’ll make sure you know I love this place, despite its flaws.

Nile Jones is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nnj9@cornell.edu. Rivers of Consciousness runs every other Monday this semester.