COLLEGE PROFILE SPOTLIGHT:
of the IVY LEAGUEThe following profile is based on research and actual interviews with enrolled African-American students. The viewpoints expressed are Black Excel's and should be used as a supplemental reference only.
-Isaac J. Black, Founder
CORNELL UNIVERSITY(Ithaca, New York 14853)
Cornell is a highly selective member of the Ivy League, and consistently ranks as one of the premier colleges in the United States in independent surveys.
The school is located in Ithaca, New York, where there are relatively few people of color "visible" besides our students. Collegetown, a district adjoining the college is "nice"--with little shops, restaurants, bars. Yes, there's a part of the community called Southside where you'll find a lot of middle-to-lower-class Black folk. Southside (some say) has a few Urban problems--high dropout rate, for example, and teen pregnancy. Of course, Southside is never referred to in catalogues, and "regular" students rarely head that way. Still, AA students interested in mentoring and "community" support visit there. "Nobody seems to know," one student of color informed us, "when was the last time a Southside student made it to Cornell!"
The Cornell campus is huge and breathtaking when compared with the size and scenic view of most other schools. The campus is hilly, with waterfalls and gorges, and it even overlooks Lake Cayuga. Many students say "This is too big!" when they first visit. They think it will be impersonal, overwhelming, but this feeling seems to give way to a fondness for the place (even when it rains or snows and you must trek to class in mud or through slopes of white stuff).
Approximately 5% of the students at Cornell are African Americans. It's Black Excel's opinion that the school will try to maintain that percentage by taking the "best" students of color that it can find (or recruit). To get in you should be a top student, preferably with grades at the 90 and above level and "presentable" SAT's. Scores near the 1100 range and higher are desirable. You should be in the most demanding academic programs at your high school: Honors, Advanced Placement, those "enhancement" goodies that are sometimes connected to college enrollment/training in your senior year. Do not relax or take easy courses. Your transcript should include Physics, Chemistry, a foreign language, Calculus.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Whatever else happens in the Admissions process, you must hurdle that first almighty question: "Can he or she do the work?" If the reviewer doubts or questions that, your application will be passed over. Cornell does not want any student, particularly their African-Americans, failing out. Your grades and class standing will say a lot about your ability and motivation. Although nobody at Cornell is going to tell you this, in many ways you are competing not only with the overall student body--the school wants diversity--but more importantly, with the African-American pool of applicants. Let's say Cornell wants 250 freshman of color: they will take the 250 people they think are the most academically competent, resourceful, talented, etc. Your extracurricular activities, special skills, and other positive traits will come into play, and a subjective decision will be made. Needless to say, you should make your application stand out in any way you can. Black Excel's guess, is that out of every ten students of color that apply, only three are accepted. That's Cornell's usual 32 percent, plus or minus.
The academic climate at Cornell is usually described as "intense" or "rigorous" in discussions with educators. One guidebook says the apmosphere is more demanding than most in the Ivy League, "with the possible exception of Yale." The concensus of African-American students we've talked to is that Cornell lives up to its reputation as a "high pressure" school. Competition in all classes is strong, and your classmates are all honors and top students from their respective high schools (many with prep backgrounds). One smiling student told us this telling story: "In one freshman Bio class I sat down and a valedictorian was sitting to my right, a salutatorian to my left, and a Westinghouse Science winner was behind me." Indeed, it is not unusual to be sitting next to a student with stratospheric SAT scores: 650,700, or even higher on the math and verbal sections.
Some African-American students, it seems to Black Excel, have trouble adjusting. The situation is similar to a great college basketball player graduating to the pros. Suddenly the shots you once made with ease are being blocked, and you can't score at will. Still, it is Black Excel's opinion that all the African-American students at Cornell are capable, many obviously brilliant. Most prevail. Students who major in ngineering, to just name one major, should prepare for a demanding, academic roller-coaster ride. Swimming, on the other hand is said to be the "only easy course," and all students are required to take it and swim two laps in a long pool.
Perhaps the most frightening thing African-American students must face in some crowded classes (200-plus in a technical courses) is the "curve." For example, if you're in a class of ten and one student gets a 100, eight get 90, and you get 80, you could get an "F." The irony is that your 80--if measured against the test knowledge of students elsewhere-- would probably get you an "A" or honors score.
A Cornell plus: there's an Africana Studies department, with a sizable number of Black courses with well-known teachers of color. Generally, the professors and TA's really care about their students and often act as mentors, giving advice and help beyond their core/teaching roles. At Cornell, you will have well over 4,000 courses you can generally pick from. There's no course you can't find or, evem, create if you are so inclined.
BLACK EXCEL'S RECOMMENDATION:
In your freshman year don't get side-tracked with socializing, dating, parties, and all the other distractions. Hit the books hard, and get an early edge.
Don't fret over the moon-high scores you generally see in guidebooks. Your grades, class rank, and overall ability will be assessed. If you can get close to 1100, you can place yourself "in the ballpark." Higher scores, and you will undoubtedly get "consider us" letters from most of the super schools, Stanford, Brown, and so forth. Of course, you must also deal with three achievement tests (your choice), and it would be nice if you could get respectable scores. Here's a Black Excel story we think you should consider. An African American who was accepted to Cornell went to take his SAT's at a local high school. He sat down, laid his pencils out, and placed his wristwatch on the desk. He noticed that an Asian and many of the white students did the same. When the test began he moved quickly through the test and answered questions at a certain pace, never mulling over anything to difficult. The students with the watches did the same. When the test was over, he found that many of his fellow African Americans said that they did not finish. They didn't pace themselves, were unfamiliar with certain English and mathematical problems, and weren't prepared. If you have the money, take the same training courses that you see students of other races taking.
Many of the African-American students we have talked to (from New York) had their interviews at the preppy Cornell Club in Manhattan. Most had to chit-chat with young, liberal, happy-go-lucky graduates. Remember: you want to give the impression that you're intelligent, well-read, and a nice character who will be a friend-to-everybody on campus. And if you could give the impression, also, that you might be a future resource to the nation, it would be a definite plus. Yes, it's about PR! If you leave a "sour" or threatening feeling, you might as well forget it. TIPS: leave your humongous earrings home; you can where them later. Also, be ready to talk about your favorite book and how, for example, you've taken it upon yourself to help kids in the community. See below.
Again, the Admissions team wants to see that I am very special kind of quality here. For example, it's not enough to say you're a member of the NAACP. It's better to write about how you coordinated some program that had impact somewhere. If you worked with voter registration, that's good. If you were the person who sent out the troops, chose the sign-in locations, etc., then that's a definite plus. Several students we know have worked in hospitals. One who was accepted comforted AIDS patients on the wards. And remember: Don't list so many things that you seem unfocused. "Quality" is what will prevail.
We saw a recent essay by a young woman named Karen who wanted to get into Cornell. The essay was about her cat. The piece was well-written, and "cute" with a creative flare. For most colleges, Black Excel would have said "A-okay." But for Cornell we thought Karen needed a piece that would show conclusively that she was very special. She finally wrote about a drug workshop she ran for a group of peers, and how one drug abuser was affected. It worked.
Be very careful here. At least two students we know (who have worked in grade-advisor offices) have "peeked" at teacher recommendations written for African-American students. Unfortunately, there are teachers who approach out future carelessly and have forwarded material that will not enhance a student's chances. To Black Excel it appears that the private schools do a far greater job in this regard and seem to realize that the letter of recommendation can be pivotal. With schools like Cornell you can't take chances. Pick people who will help you, and always meet with such a person to discuss your objectives. Black Excel thinks it is wise to hand out a package or resume for the teacher tolook at. Make it easy for the writer--very easy--to see and digest how smart/wonderful you are.
THE CAMPUS VISIT and CAMPUS LIFE (including Ujamaa Residential College):
Interested (or accepted students) should visit the school during one of its "Open House Minority" weekends. Your host, an enrolled student, will familiarize you will the school and campus life. You will be your host's roommate, eat meals in several dinning halls, go to classes, parties, and follow an itinerary that your host and tour guide will set up for you. You will be kept busy. Most likely your host will be an African American or Latino and will probably live on North Campus at the Ujamaa residence (a Swahili term meaning, "familyhood") where a majority of students of color reside. Ujamaa, as far as Black Excel is concerned, is where "things Black" are happening. If you stay at Ujamaa during your stay you will experience the comraderie. You'll probably also attend a student fashion show, hear one or two lectures by some famous/ controversial guests (like Betty Shabazz, Jawanza Kunjufu, or Alton Maddox) and will undoubtedly see a Greek Step Show at one of the weekend frat or sorority parties. Aside: there's also an all-women's dorm, Balch Hall, that has a sizable Black community.
UJAMAA and Beyond:
Like some schools--Dartmouth, to name one--most Black Cornellians will remain (out of the classroom) somewhat segregated. Few, it seems to Black Excel, are complaining. The students at Ujamaa are involved in Big Brother/Big Sister programs, a Prison Outreach Project, a newspaper (Umoja Sasa), a gospel choir (Pasmoji- Ni), a spectacular dance group (Uhuru Kuamka), and numerous other cultural efforts. To gain admission to Ujamaa (many apply and a committee selects) you must write an essay about yourself. It should be noted, however, that there are many African Americans who, for whatever reason, live in other residences, "hang" with whomever they please, and are happy. The option is yours to make. Cornellians have over 700 extracurricular and social clubs they can join, not to mention the pleasure of a full range of sports: basketball, hockey, football, and so forth. Every night, if you dare to take your head out of the books, you can find something to do. And yes, there's an African-American worship service held on campus, but most Black students prefer Calvary, a "jumping" Baptist Church in town.
Cornell, with its visiting chefs and Hotel School, is said to have food as good as any in the nation. Black Excel has only heard raves from students who have all gained weight. At meals there are all kinds of entrees.
January 1st; Early decision--November 1st.
Get accepted to one of the three schools that are state supported: the College of Human Ecology, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, or the College of Industrial and Labor Relationships. If you do this, tuition will be approximately 25% less, and over 50% lower if you're a New York resident. Remember: you can (and will) take courses in the other schools. Why empty your pocketbook if you can maneuver and still get what you want? Study your options closely. Other endowed schools: College of Engineering, Hotel-Administration College; Arts & Sciences; and Architecture, Art, and Planning.
Black Excel profiles are created under the direction of founder and writer, Isaac J. Black.
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