Why I Chose Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences

This week, Ambassador Eugene writes about how he made the decision to attend the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell.

By Eugene Kim ’21, Biological Sciences major

While applying to college, it never really occurred to me that the hardest part came after getting all your acceptances and rejections.

Average class size. Dorm life. Credentialed faculty. State-of-the-art facilities. The campus itself, and its geographic location. It seemed like every email, pamphlet, and webpage wanted to advertise their own set of “things you should consider” — which was really just code for what their school was good at, wasn’t it? — and it was hard not to get overwhelmed. For most schools, I couldn’t really afford a visit; I was in Wisconsin, and I had insisted on applying to farther, out-of-state schools. To visit several of them felt like a significant expenditure of time and money, and I wasn’t confident that seeing campuses in-person would help me narrow down my decision either.

Cornell’s Clock Tower

So there I was, faced with what could be the hardest multiple-choice question of my life, lamenting the fact that as a not-yet-18-year-old, this seemingly life-altering decision came barreling way too fast, inexplicably landing somewhere between “learning to drive a 2-ton metal machine” and “being allowed to contribute to American democracy.”

In the end, what I had to do was take a step back and think about what I wanted out of my college experience. It took way too long for me to realize this, but once I stopped comparing different schools relative to each other and trying to sort out the hundreds of what-ifs cropping up in my mind, the decision seemed to simplify.

The first thing that I realized but didn’t really want to admit was that I didn’t really know what I wanted to study. I didn’t have my heart set on a major, other than “science,” and even then I was somewhat flexible about that. College for me, then, was a chance to explore what I wanted to do, without feeling the time pressure of choosing a major immediately. Rushing into a course of study on a whim and then spending one or two valuable semesters trying to escape the pigeonhole was not exactly the college experience I had in mind.

At the same time, though, I didn’t want to have to compromise on depth for breadth. Sure, it may have seemed a bit like a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too kind of thing. But this was something I had always felt strongly about, and I had faith that there was an institution out there that had that careful balance. Wherever I ended up, I wanted to have the opportunities to delve deep into my choice of study and make the most out of my undergrad years. For me, a big part of that was doing research in a university lab, which I had been looking forward to while in high school.

After some more deliberation, I decided that these two points were what I should be prioritizing above all. Other miscellaneous items would have to come a distant third, as tiebreakers if necessary.

With new parameters held in mind, I began re-evaluating my options. The first point, flexibility in field of study, narrowed down my list considerably, and Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences already stood out as a top contender in that regard. When I took into consideration the second point, however, Cornell absolutely won out, offering cutting-edge research alongside award-winning faculty in a well-funded institution. So, as April came to a close, my mind was settled.

The beautiful view from the Arts Quad on Cornell’s campus

Of course, that’s not the end of that story. I spent most of my first year here just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was in correspondence with at least three different academic departments, and even briefly considered switching to a different college because of the options it presented. But at every step along the way, I found help, not only from the formal advising offices, but also from various professors and even other students. The Cornell community proved to be vibrant, intellectually stimulating, passionate, and supportive, which was one of the biggest clues that I had made the right decision.

Cornell proved itself beyond my expectations, with broad-range academic options, a dynamic and vigorous student body, honest and supportive staff, and a beautiful campus with plenty of greenery and its own waterfalls. In the end, if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.