A Comprehensive Guide for International Students at Cornell University

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

The Ezra Cornell statue on campus of Cornell University

A Comprehensive Guide for International Students at Cornell University

Choosing to study in a foreign country can be an enriching and transformative experience, immersing oneself in a new culture while pursuing academic goals. However, being an international student also comes with a unique set of challenges. This article aims to explore these challenges and offer guidance to international students at Cornell University.

Admission Process and Requirements for International Students at Cornell

Cornell University’s admission process evaluates international students based on where they are currently attending school, regardless of their citizenship status. Applications from your school will be reviewed alongside those from the same state (U.S.) or country.

Choosing a College

Before filling out your application, you need to decide which undergraduate college or school at Cornell best aligns with your interests and career goals. It’s crucial to make this decision carefully because Cornell allows you to apply to only one college or school, and changes after submission are not permitted. Cornell offers eight colleges and schools, each with its unique focus.

Students talking in the stairs.

Application and Supporting Materials

Cornell uses the Common Application (CA), which you can complete and submit online. In addition to the application, you must provide several forms and writing supplements, all of which can be found and submitted online on the Common App website. These include:

  • School Report
  • Counselor Recommendation
  • Teacher Evaluations (Two
  • Midyear Report
  • Cornell Questions and Writing Supplement (CA)
  • Transcript
  • Standardized Test Scores (SAT/ACT)

For the 2021 and 2022 admissions cycles, SAT or ACT scores are not required for Cornell applicants. However, some colleges within Cornell have “score-free” or “test-optional” policies. The essay section on the SAT or ACT is not considered in the admissions process.

Application Fee

Completing your application will require an $80 application fee. If this poses a financial challenge for your family, you can request a fee waiver.


Cornell’s interview process differs from many other U.S. universities. Only applicants to the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning may be required or encouraged to participate in interviews based on their chosen department.

Additional Submissions

Depending on the college or school you’re applying to, you may need to provide additional materials. Be sure to review the specific requirements for your chosen college or school, especially if you’re interested in majors related to art or architecture.

English Language Proficiency (ELP)

All international students at Cornell must have a strong command of the English language to succeed in their studies. Depending on your background, you may need to submit the results of an English language proficiency test, such as TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test. Cornell has specific minimum score requirements for each test.

Percentage of International Students at Cornell

International students make up approximately 24% of the student body at Cornell, representing 121 countries worldwide. This diverse international community enhances the global learning experience at Cornell.

Financial Aid for International Students at Cornell

Cornell University offers a need-based approach to international admissions and provides financial assistance to admitted students with demonstrated financial need. Undocumented students with financial need are also eligible for financial aid. If you anticipate needing financial support, be sure to submit an aid application along with your admissions application.

Young man smiling at the camera with people behind him walking in the campus.


It’s crucial to adhere to application deadlines, as late applications may not be considered. Cornell has various deadlines depending on the admission cycle you’re applying for. The application timeline for prospective Cornell University students unfolds over several months.

It all begins in August when the Common Application opens, allowing applicants to start working on their submissions. By October 1, the CSS Profile also becomes available for those who need to complete it. An essential date to mark on the calendar is November 1, as it signifies a cluster of crucial deadlines.

On this day, applicants must submit both the Common Application and the Cornell Writing Supplement, pay the $80 application fee (or request a fee waiver if eligible), and provide additional materials, such as portfolios for Architecture, Art, and Landscape Architecture applicants, as well as design supplements for those in Design & Environmental Analysis and Fashion Design & Management.

International applicants must also ensure that their financial aid application materials are submitted by this date. Moving into December, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens, allowing students to apply for federal financial assistance.

Mid-December is a significant milestone as this is when Cornell announces admission decisions and shares financial aid awards with applicants. Finally, prospective students have until January 6 to reply to the offer of admission and confirm their intent to enroll at Cornell University.

Required Information for International Students at Cornell

To complete your financial aid application, you’ll need to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. Cornell’s undergraduate CSS code is 2098. Additionally, you may need to submit separate CSS Profiles for custodial and non-custodial parents if your parents are divorced, separated, or were never wed.

If you have any questions or need assistance with your financial aid application, you can contact the financial aid office. Be prepared to provide supporting documents as requested.

Cornell University values its international student community and strives to make the admission and financial aid process as accessible as possible. With the right information and preparation, international students can embark on a successful academic journey at Cornell.

For more detailed information on specific requirements and deadlines, please refer to Cornell University’s official website.

Understanding the Challenges of International Students at Cornell

The journey of an international student involves adjusting to not just academic demands but also handling social, cultural, and financial challenges. Addressing these can be the key to ensuring a successful and fulfilling collegiate experience.

Students walking around the school campus.

International students face a multitude of unique challenges that can make their educational journey more complex. These challenges include language and communication barriers, cultural differences and adaptation, and financial considerations. By understanding and addressing these challenges, international students can navigate their college experience with confidence and success.

Language and Communication Barriers

Even if English is not a student’s first language, the level of proficiency demanded by American universities can be daunting. Lectures, textbooks, assignments, and everyday conversations require a nuanced understanding and use of the language. Moreover, colloquial phrases, regional accents, and fast-paced speech can be additional layers of difficulty.

Addressing language challenges involves continuous learning and practice, engaging in conversations, reading widely, and seeking assistance from tutoring services provided by the university. Language exchange programs and conversation partners can also be valuable resources for international students looking to improve their language skills.

Cultural Differences and Adaptation

Adapting to American culture can be a rewarding yet complex process. Everything from food and social norms to ways of thinking can be different. International students may find themselves navigating unfamiliar social situations and customs.

One important aspect in overcoming this is to be open-minded and curious. Participate in local events, try new cuisines, and interact with diverse peers. Cornell University also provides different cultural clubs and organizations to ease this transition. These clubs offer opportunities to connect with students from similar cultural backgrounds and engage in activities that celebrate diversity.

It is also important for international students to seek support from the university’s international student services office. These offices often provide resources and programs specifically designed to help international students navigate cultural differences and adapt to their new environment.

Financial Considerations

From tuition fees living expenses, to the varying value of currency, financial issues can be one of the most significant concerns for international students. The cost of studying abroad can be substantial, and international students often face additional financial challenges compared to their domestic counterparts.

One should be proactive in planning their budget exploring work-study options, grants, scholarships, and loans. It is also essential to understand the cost of living in Ithaca and the economic practices in the U.S. International students can seek guidance from the university’s financial aid office to explore available funding options and develop a comprehensive financial plan.

Female student smiling at the camera while her classmates are working on the table.

Additionally, international students at Cornell can consider part-time employment opportunities on or off-campus to supplement their finances. Many universities offer work-study programs that allow students to gain valuable work experience while earning income to support their education.

By being proactive and resourceful, international students can navigate the financial challenges they may encounter during their time in the United States.

Academic Expectations and Adjustments for International Students at Cornell

Beyond the general transition to college life, international students are faced with adapting to new educational systems, which can have distinct methods and expectations.

When it comes to academic expectations, international students may find themselves navigating through unfamiliar territory. American universities often emphasize critical thinking, class participation, and ongoing assessments. This can be different from exam-centered and lecture-based systems prevalent in other countries. It’s important to understand these differences and be prepared to adjust accordingly.

One way to adapt to the new educational system is to learn about the academic culture from advisors, faculty, and peers. They can provide valuable insights and guidance on how to succeed academically. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification and support if needed. Building relationships with professors and seeking their advice can also be beneficial in understanding the expectations and requirements of each course.

Differences in Educational Systems

American universities have a strong emphasis on critical thinking and class participation. Unlike traditional lecture-based systems, students are encouraged to actively engage in discussions, share their opinions, and challenge ideas.

This can be a significant adjustment for international students who are accustomed to a more passive learning environment. However, embracing this new approach can enhance their learning experience and broaden their perspectives.

In addition to class participation, ongoing assessments are also a common practice in American universities. This means that students are evaluated continuously throughout the semester rather than relying solely on final exams. This can be both challenging and rewarding, as it requires consistent effort and dedication.

Developing effective study strategies and time management skills can help international students at Cornell stay on top of their coursework and perform well in these ongoing assessments.

Furthermore, the use of technology in the classroom is prevalent in American universities. Online platforms, such as learning management systems, are often utilized for assignments, discussions, and resource sharing. Familiarizing oneself with these tools and being comfortable with digital learning can greatly facilitate the academic journey.

Managing Academic Pressure

Dealing with rigorous coursework, research, and exams, alongside the pressure of performing well can be taxing. It’s important for international students to prioritize their mental and emotional well-being while striving for academic success.

Group of students talking while walking in the campus.

One way to manage academic pressure is to develop good study habits. Creating a study schedule, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, and setting realistic goals can help students stay organized and reduce stress. Taking regular breaks and engaging in activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation is also crucial in maintaining a healthy balance.

Universities often provide various resources to support students in managing academic stress. These resources may include counseling services, workshops on stress management and time management, and wellness programs. Taking advantage of these resources can provide international students with the necessary tools and strategies to navigate through challenging times.

Utilizing Academic Resources

Cornell University, like many other institutions, provides a plethora of academic resources to support student success. Being aware of and taking advantage of these resources can greatly enhance one’s academic journey.

One valuable resource is academic advising. Advisors can provide guidance on course selection, degree requirements, and academic planning. They can also offer insights on how to make the most of the university’s resources and opportunities.

Tutoring services are another valuable resource available to students. Whether it’s seeking help in a specific subject or improving study skills, tutors can provide individualized support and assistance. Taking advantage of tutoring services can help international students bridge any knowledge gaps and excel academically.

Writing workshops and writing centers are also available to help students improve their writing skills. These workshops provide guidance on various aspects of academic writing, such as structuring essays, citing sources, and developing arguments. Utilizing these resources can enhance the quality of written assignments and boost overall academic performance.

Research opportunities are yet another avenue for international students to explore. Engaging in research projects can deepen their understanding of a subject, foster critical thinking skills, and provide valuable hands-on experience. Universities often have research programs and initiatives that students can participate in, either as assistants or independent researchers.

By utilizing these academic resources, international students can maximize their learning potential and thrive in their academic pursuits at Cornell University.

Social Integration and Building a Support Network

Building a social network, maintaining relationships back home, and battling feelings of homesickness can be fundamental to an international student’s experience. It is important to establish connections and find a support system that can help navigate the challenges of studying abroad.

One way to foster friendships and a sense of belonging is by making connections with both fellow international students and American students. By engaging in social activities, study groups, and online platforms, international students can build relationships that provide a support network throughout their time abroad. These connections can offer a sense of familiarity and understanding, as well as opportunities for cultural exchange.

In addition to maintaining connections with peers, it is equally important for international students to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected, with various communication platforms available. Regular communication with loved ones can help alleviate feelings of homesickness and provide a sense of comfort and support.

Making Connections with Fellow Students

Forming friendships with fellow students, whether they are international or American, can contribute to a fulfilling college experience. Engaging in activities together, such as joining clubs or participating in campus events, can provide opportunities for social interaction and forming lasting connections.

Group of students looking at each other while talking in a table.

By immersing themselves in the campus community, international students can expand their social circle and create a support network that extends beyond the classroom.

Participating in Campus Activities

Getting involved in campus activities and student organizations is not only a great way to meet new people, but it also offers opportunities for personal growth and development. By joining clubs or organizations related to their interests or cultural backgrounds, international students can connect with like-minded individuals and engage in activities that align with their passions.

These extracurricular activities can enhance the overall collegiate experience and provide a sense of belonging within the campus community.

Seeking Support from University Services

Feeling isolated or overwhelmed is not uncommon for international students, especially when adjusting to a new environment. In such circumstances, it is important to know that there are support services available on campus.

Universities often have counseling centers and international student advising offices that provide assistance and guidance. These resources can offer a safe space to express concerns, seek advice, and receive support from professionals who understand the unique challenges faced by international students.

By utilizing these support services, international students can find the help they need to navigate any difficulties they may encounter during their time abroad. Whether it’s homesickness, academic stress, or cultural adjustment, seeking support is a valuable step towards building a strong support network and ensuring a positive and fulfilling experience as an international student.

Practical Matters: Visa, Housing, and Health Care

Handling practical matters in a new country can be daunting and complex. Knowledge and preparedness can ease these processes.

When it comes to studying abroad, one of the most important aspects to consider is the student visa process. Navigating through the intricacies of obtaining a visa can be overwhelming, but with the right guidance and resources, it can become a manageable task. Understanding the student visa process, maintaining status, and adhering to employment regulations are essential for international students.

Group of students walking side by side in the school campus.

At Cornell University, there are dedicated professionals at the International Students and Scholars Office who can provide valuable assistance throughout the visa application process. It is crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest information, attend mandatory information sessions, and consult with the office for any visa-related queries. They can guide you through the paperwork, help you understand the requirements, and ensure that you are well-prepared for your journey to the United States.

Once you have successfully obtained your student visa, another practical matter that requires attention is finding suitable accommodation. The university offers various housing options, including university dorms, cooperative housing, and off-campus rentals. Each option has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to consider your preferences and budget when making a decision.

Living in university dorms can provide a convenient and immersive experience, allowing you to be in close proximity to campus facilities and fellow students. On the other hand, cooperative housing can offer a more independent and community-oriented living environment. Off-campus options provide a wider range of choices but require more effort in terms of finding suitable housing and managing the logistics.

It is advisable to research and explore all available options, considering factors such as location, cost, amenities, and proximity to campus. Additionally, reaching out to current students or utilizing online platforms can provide valuable insights and recommendations to help you make an informed decision.

Another important aspect of settling into a new country is understanding the local healthcare system. The American healthcare system can be complex to navigate, with its insurance policies, coverage options, and out-of-pocket costs. As an international student, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the university health insurance plan and local health care services.

Cornell University provides comprehensive health insurance coverage for its international students, ensuring that you have access to quality medical care during your time at the university. It is important to understand the details of the insurance plan, including coverage limits, deductibles, and the process for seeking medical assistance.

Female student standing in front of a building.

Additionally, familiarize yourself with the local health care services available in the area. Cornell Health, the university’s primary healthcare facility, offers a wide range of services, including preventive care, counseling, and specialized medical care. Understanding the resources available to you will help you navigate any health-related issues that may arise during your studies.

In conclusion, while being an international student is a challenging endeavor, it is also an abundance of opportunities for academic growth, community building, and personal development. With the right mindset, support, and resources, international students at Cornell University can navigate these challenges successfully and have a rewarding experience.

Having all the necessary information is important before choosing any course of action. AdmissionSight is always here to assist you with any questions or concerns. We have more than ten years of expertise assisting students in successfully navigating the challenging admissions process.

Consult with AdmissionSight and find out what we can do to help you get into the school of your choice by ensuring that you are sufficiently aware and well-prepared for the application process.

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