What is Cornell University Known For?

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Are you on the fence about whether or not to add Cornell University to your list of prospective schools? Look no further! 

In this article, we’ll cover everything that makes this popular Ivy League school unique. By the end, you should know whether or not you want to add it to your short list or cross it off entirely. Let’s dive in!

The History of Cornell University

New York Senator Ezra Cornell made it his mission to “found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The New York State Legislature authorized the university as a land-grant institution in 1865, and Ezra Cornell offered up a piece of farmland and half a million dollars as the university’s initial endowment. The first students began their studies there in 1868.

Cornell has always been an innovative institution, at the forefront of modern technology. It was one of the first university campuses to use electricity, starting with the use of a water-powered electrical generator called a dynamo in 1883. Today, Cornell is leading the way in making its campus as environmentally friendly as possible. 

Cornell University Today

Cornell is a statutory land-grant research university, which means that Cornell University is a private school that receives state funding. The cost of tuition is over sixty thousand dollars per year, but nearly all students who apply for need-based financial aid receive the funds they require. Roughly half of Cornell’s students receive financial aid. 


Cornell’s undergraduate program is divided into eight colleges:

  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Human Ecology
  • Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy
  • School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Cornell University offers over four thousand different courses. The eight colleges offer nearly 80 unique majors and a choice of over 120 possible minors. 

Over fifteen thousand undergraduates attend Cornell University each year, and the student-faculty ratio is nine to one. The majority of its classes have fewer than twenty students each, with only about thirteen percent of courses having more than fifty students per class.

Cornell’s Ithaca Campus

Undergraduate studies take place at Cornell’s main campus in Ithaca, New York. Ithaca is located in the Finger Lakes region, with Cornell being set above the 38-mile-long Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful area, and students love to make use of nearby swimming holes and hiking trails in the State Parks. 

The East Hill campus has a view of the city and Cayuga Lake. Central Campus houses the academic buildings and laboratories, while most of the residence halls are located on the university’s West Campus. 

The sprawling campus as a whole spans over two thousand acres and boasts some truly astonishing architecture. Building styles range from collegiate gothic to Victorian to modernist. Sage Chapel, a non-denominational chapel with an unexceptional exterior and a richly decorated interior, was built in 1874.

First-year and second-year students are guaranteed campus housing at one of the beautiful residence halls. The main campus offers over thirty dining facilities (with food that has been ranked in the top ten among U.S. colleges) and twenty libraries, including one of the largest research libraries in the United States. 

In addition to the main campus, the university also owns 2,800 acres nearby that house the Cornell Botanical Gardens. This beautiful outdoor space includes an arboretum, herb gardens, ponds, flower gardens, and even waterfalls.

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New York City Campuses

The university’s medical campus, Weill Cornell, is located on the bank of the East River in New York City. This medical school, one of the most selective in the country, is also a major biomedical research facility. 

Cornell Tech is located on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. It focuses on technology, law, design, and business. Cornell Tech began operating at this location in 2012 and is still being expanded. 

New York City also houses the Cornell Urban Scholars Program, which gives students the opportunity to pursue careers in public service. They work in conjunction with local nonprofits to help communities within the city.

Green Initiatives

Cornell University has earned higher sustainability rankings than any other Ivy League school. It offers 87 majors, minors, and concentrations focused on sustainability, and there are over 40 student-founded sustainability clubs.

In 2007, Cornell University set out to become carbon neutral by the year 2035. It was the first Ivy League university to set such a lofty goal. 

The Ithaca campus is powered by six solar farms. Lake-source cooling uses nearby Cayuga Lake to regulate indoor temperatures during the summer months, and the university is developing its own geothermal system to heat the campus buildings. The campus composts over 4500 tons of food waste each year. 

Student Life

In addition to having a huge, beautiful campus, Cornell University has over 1200 active student organizations and 35 varsity sports teams. Student organizations include dance troupes, bakers, brewers, gamers, and of course academic and career-focused groups as well. The Cornell University Mock Trial Association is one of the best in the nation, as is its Model United Nations team.

There are also ample volunteer opportunities available, both through student organizations and through the recently created David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement. The Einhorn Center offers programs, workshops, consultations, and even funding for community service projects. Established programs include the Cornell Deaf Awareness Project, the Cornell Elderly Partnership, and Cornell Hunger Relief. There are also opportunities to tutor and mentor younger students. 

Cornell University is a great choice for students who love to stay active and spend time outdoors. It has one of the largest outdoor education programs in the country. Participants in the Outdoor Odyssey program can backpack in the Adirondacks and canoe across lakes. In inclement weather, students can scale the university’s eight-thousand-square-foot climbing wall. 

Cornell Outdoor Education offers the following physical education courses:

  • Backpacking and Camping
  • Biking
  • Caving
  • Circus Arts
  • Hiking
  • Outdoor Yoga
  • Paddling
  • Rock Climbing
  • Ropes Course
  • Snow Sports
  • Trail Running
  • Tree Climbing
  • Wilderness Medicine

All first-year students have the opportunity to live on campus,and there are Program Houses available for students who want to live in communities that share their interests or backgrounds. Program houses open to first-year students include the Ecology House, Just About Music, and the Multicultural Living Learning Unit.

Admission to Cornell University

Cornell is a highly competitive university. In 2022, the acceptance rate was 10.6 percent and the admittance rate was just under seven percent. In 2021, fewer than nine percent of applicants were accepted. The acceptance rate in 2020 was eleven percent. Most admitted students scored over 700 on both sections of their SAT tests. The average GPA of accepted students is 3.9 on a four-point scale. 

Which Programs is Cornell Known For?

A school’s overall ranking is less important than a student’s compatibility with the school in question. So, which students would be wise to take a closer look at Cornell?


Students considering architecture as a potential career path would do well to consider Cornell University. Their Bachelor of Architecture program is considered by many to be the best in the country. Students looking to pursue a career in architecture can apply to Cornell APP: College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Students in the undergraduate architecture program undergo an immersive curriculum focused on design studios in which they create their own graphics and models. Additional classes include architectural history, drawing, theory, representation ,and technology. Students can also study Landscape Architecture with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

High school students who want to study architecture at Cornell can also apply to an intensive six-week summer program called Introduction to Architecture. There, they’ll have the chance to explore various architectural principles and methods in a studio setting. 


Cornell Engineering is considered to be one of the top ten engineering programs in the country. It is the largest and highest-ranked engineering program in the Ivy League. Roughly fifteen percent of undergraduates at Cornell study engineering, making it the most popular major at the university. Half of the undergraduates who study engineering are female, making Cornell Engineering the first engineering college of its size to reach gender parity. 

High school students will need four years of mathematics – including one year of calculus – to apply to Cornell Engineering. They will also need one unit of physics and one unit of chemistry. Computer science and biology are recommended but not required; the same goes for AP courses.

The College of Engineering offers 14 majors and 22 minors. For students uncertain about which branch of engineering they want to pursue, Cornell offers a number of resources: career exploration workbooks, post graduate career surveys, peer advisors, and more. 

Agriculture and Life Sciences

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell offers 22 undergraduate majors and over 40 minors, plus graduate degrees in over 30 fields of study. Their cross-disciplinary approach prepares students to put their knowledge to work out in the world. 

Undergraduate programs include Agricultural Sciences, Animal Science, Biological Engineering, Community Food Systems, Entomology, Food and Agricultural Business, Horticulture, Microbial Science, Nutrition and Health, Plant Breeding, and Soil Science.

Other Popular Majors

After engineering, the three most popular majors at Cornell are business, computer sciences, and biological sciences. Each field makes up about thirteen percent of the undergraduate student body each year.

There are nearly 80 majors to choose from at Cornell, and 122 minors available. Lesser-known majors include Cognitive Studies, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, and Human Development. Unique minors include Astrobiology, Community Food Systems, Demography, Fashion Studies, Fungal Biology, Leadership, Moral Psychology, Real Estate, and Viking Studies. 

Students whose interests “transcend disciplinary boundaries” can join the Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program and design their own interdisciplinary program of study and research. These students are paired with a faculty advisor who helps them to create their own curriculum. Applications to this program are not accepted until the fall semester of a student’s sophomore year.

With four thousand courses to choose from, any student accepted to Cornell will be able to find a path that suits their interests. Unique courses on offer include Physics of Musical Sound, Magical Mushrooms, and Introduction to Wines. 

Final Thoughts: What Is Cornell University Known For

Cornell University is a highly competitive school, with an admissions rate that sometimes drops below ten percent. Students with high SAT scores and a GPA higher than 3.9 have a good chance of acceptance if they also have a well-rounded application that sets them apart from others.

Cornell University is a great school for any sort of undergraduate degree. It’s especially worth considering for students who are interested in architecture, engineering, or agriculture and life sciences. Students who enjoy spending time outdoors are sure to enjoy an active campus culture and the beautiful surrounding area.

Are you still wondering whether or not Cornell is a good fit for you? Or whether you have a chance at admittance? Our dedicated mentors can help you prepare for college, research schools, and successfully navigate the application process.

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