Cornell University: A truly life-changing experience


When I applied to Cornell University five years ago to pursue my undergraduate studies, I really did not know what to expect. All I knew was that this was an Ivy League institution located in a small city in the state of New York, well known for its top-tier engineering, business, hospitality and architecture programs. Five years and a Bachelor’s degree later, I now look back at my experience in Cornell with fondness and satisfaction. With the diversity of the people and never-ending academic, self-enrichment and career opportunities, together with the stunning beauty of the campus, studying at Cornell was a fulfilling and truly life-changing experience.

Cornell would not be a world-class Ivy League institution without its people – incredibly smart and driven individuals carefully curated from across the United States and world. Prior to Cornell, I never thought I would ever be friends with a Haitian studying international agriculture and rural development passionate about helping poor farmers get a better living, or many others with their own unique and special interests and backgrounds. With 37% of the 14,000 undergraduates being minority (non-White) and 9% being international, one is often able to hear different languages spoken around campus, as well as experience the many cultures that the students bring and express. The diversity of the campus also lie in the academic disciplines that the students choose to concentrate on. Cornell undergraduates study in 100 academic departments, enrolling in 70 majors and taking over 4,000 courses. Students are welcome to double major, take minors and even take double degrees, which speaks about the flexibility that students have at Cornell.

Another major feature of my Cornell education was the seemingly never-ending opportunities available on and off-campus. Apart from the course offerings on campus, international and off-campus programs add a different color and value to the broad range of academic programs that Cornell already has. Cornell Abroad, Cornell’s study abroad programs, partners with universities in over 40 countries to offer undergraduates the opportunities to have a breadth of academic and non-academic experience in different settings. Cornell also offers other exciting programs such as Cornell in Washington, which provides students the opportunity to be fully immersed in the fabric of America’s center of policy decision-making and non-profits, and Cornell in Rome, which takes design, architecture and planning students to one of the world’s most recognized and historical design hubs for a semester. Beyond the classroom, one can choose to participate in the buzzing campus life, which includes 900+ student organizations (professional and non-professional), the famed greek life (fraternities and sororities), volunteer opportunities and on-going events. Finally, trust the Cornell career center to provide on-campus recruiting opportunities with American and international employers, as well as access to jobs via the alumni network or a more general portal. While it is particularly difficult for international students to get a job in the United States, Cornell’s standing with employers makes it slightly easier to any of you looking to start a career in finance, consulting, engineering and technology to be employed in the U.S.

Set in the laid-back city of Ithaca with just over 100,000 residents, Cornell boasts a sprawling campus that is 745 acres (3.0 square km) large, dotted with 260 buildings. Overlooking Cayuga Lake, the longest of New York States’ glacial Finger Lakes, Cornell’s campus radiates remarkable natural beauty. Two sides of the campus are bound by gorges, created during the last 12,000 years. The campus is a seamless interconnection of nature and the built environment. Four state parks are within 10 miles (16 km) of Cornell’s campus. In the summer and parts of fall and spring, popular outdoor activities include biking, hiking, sailing, wind surfing, swimming, golfing and skiing. Ithaca, while absolutely beautiful in the summer months, can change into a harsh and bitter place in the wintertime. Get ready for four months of negative 5 to 20-degree celsius weather, full of snow, and more snow. While winter inevitably affects the overall mood among many of the Cornellians (some of whom, like me, are not used to it), there is time for interesting activities such as skiing or snowboarding. A nice steamboat or hotpot with friends is also always welcomed.

“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” – Ezra Cornell

Founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White had very progressive beliefs about what Cornell should be, and I’m sure they would be very pleased with how the university has turned out since 1865. As for myself, I had four amazing years nothing short of life-changing, and would definitely pick Cornell a second time if I have to choose again.

Photo Credit: Cornell University by Matt Hintsa

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Iwan Kurniawan is an alumnus of Cornell University, where he recently graduated from with a Bachelor of Science (Cum Laude) in Applied Economics and Management. During his time at Cornell Iwan earned the Gary and Marilyn Hellinger Outstanding Business Plan Award from the Charles H. Dyson School and started a microinsurance agency serving the urban poor of Jakarta. Also active in the venture capital space, he has interned at Sequoia Capital and New York state venture fund Excell Partners. Iwan now works as a strategy consultant and entrepreneur, and is based in Jakarta.


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