Princeton vs. Cornell: Which University is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a female student thinking/studying

Princeton vs. Cornell: Which University is Right for You?

Choosing the right university can be a daunting task, especially when your options include some of the best educational institutions in the United States. In this article, we will compare two of the top Ivy League schools – Princeton vs. Cornell, providing an in-depth analysis to help you decide which university is the better fit for your academic and personal goals.

So join us as we break down the history, location, academics, financial aid, student life, and more at these two amazing institutes of higher learning.

History and Background: A Brief Overview of Princeton and Cornell

Princeton and Cornell are both prestigious private research universities. Princeton was founded in 1746 in New Jersey, and its main campus covers more than 600 acres. It’s known for its undergraduate program – the highest-ranked in the country – with an emphasis on the liberal arts and sciences. Cornell, founded in 1865 in Ithaca, New York, occupies an impressive 2,300-acre campus.

Cornell is a world-class research institution with strengths in the natural sciences, engineering, and architecture.

Princeton has a long and storied history, with many notable alumni including former US Presidents James Madison and Woodrow Wilson. The university is also home to the Princeton University Art Museum, which houses over 100,000 works of art from around the world. In addition, Princeton is known for its strong athletic programs, with 37 varsity teams competing in the Ivy League.

Group of students looking at a piece of book.

Cornell, on the other hand, has a unique founding story – it was the result of a collaboration between Ezra Cornell, a wealthy businessman, and Andrew Dickson White, a scholar and politician. The university has a strong commitment to public service, with many programs focused on improving the lives of people in the surrounding communities.

Cornell is also home to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a world-renowned research center dedicated to the study and conservation of birds.

Location, Location, Location: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Each Campus

Both Princeton and Cornell are set in beautiful, picturesque locations. However, each campus has distinct pros and cons. Princeton University’s campus is located in Southern New Jersey, which is relatively close to New York City and Philadelphia, giving students plenty of access to internships and job opportunities.

However, it’s not as close to major cities compared to Cornell, and many students feel like they’re in a bubble while on campus.

Cornell, on the other hand, is set in the stunning Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and is widely considered one of the most gorgeous college campuses in the country. Students enjoy a rural lifestyle but still have access to cities like Ithaca and Syracuse. However, Ithaca’s remote location means that students will need to travel some distance to get to a major metropolitan area.

Another advantage of Princeton’s location is its proximity to the beach. Students can easily take a day trip to the Jersey Shore and enjoy the sun and sand. Additionally, the campus is located near several state parks and nature reserves, providing students with opportunities for hiking and outdoor activities.

On the other hand, Cornell’s location in upstate New York means that students can experience harsh winters with heavy snowfall. While the campus is equipped to handle the weather, it can be a challenge for students who are not used to such conditions. However, the winter also brings opportunities for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, which many students enjoy.

Academics: Programs Offered, Teaching Styles, and Student Life

When it comes to academics, both universities offer a wide range of programs for students to choose from. Princeton is primarily known for its undergraduate program, which emphasizes the liberal arts and sciences. Students receive an extensive and well-rounded education, with small class sizes and an emphasis on discussions and in-depth analysis.

Students are also encouraged to conduct research alongside professors, which is an incredible opportunity to gain practical experience in a research environment.

Cornell, with its top-ranked graduate programs, is a globally recognized research institution known for its emphasis on practical, experiential learning. Cornell’s academics are tailored to the students’ interests and career goals, and the university provides students with diverse academic offerings, including a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum.

Students also have the opportunity to participate in various research projects, which can be a valuable asset when it comes to pursuing a career.

Aside from the academic programs, both universities have unique teaching styles that cater to different learning preferences. Princeton’s teaching style is centered around small group discussions and debates, which encourages critical thinking and active participation. On the other hand, Cornell’s teaching style is more focused on hands-on learning, with a strong emphasis on research and practical application of knowledge.

When it comes to student life, both universities offer a vibrant and diverse community. Princeton has a strong focus on residential life, with all students required to live on campus for their first two years. This creates a tight-knit community and fosters a sense of belonging among students.

Young people with psychologist at group therapy session

Cornell, on the other hand, has a larger student body and offers a wider range of extracurricular activities, including over 1,000 student organizations. This allows students to explore their interests and passions outside of the classroom and build a strong network of peers.

Faculty and Research: Learning from the Best Professors in the Country

Both Princeton and Cornell have some of the best faculty in the country. Princeton faculty is made up of professors who are experts in their fields, and they are dedicated to teaching, research, and providing students with an intellectually rich and stimulating environment.

At Cornell, professors are known for being researchers and scholars who are actively contributing to their fields. The university places an emphasis on research and encourages students to participate alongside professors. This is a unique opportunity for students to develop practical, relevant skills and work alongside world-class experts in their fields.

Furthermore, both universities have a diverse faculty body, with professors from different backgrounds and experiences. This diversity brings a unique perspective to the classroom and allows for a more inclusive learning environment.

Additionally, both universities offer opportunities for students to work with professors on research projects, providing hands-on experience and the chance to contribute to groundbreaking discoveries in their respective fields.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Admissions Criteria

Applying to either Princeton or Cornell is a highly competitive process. Both institutions have strict admissions criteria for evaluating applicants. As you prepare to apply, it’s essential to understand what each university is looking for in its applicants.

Princeton evaluates candidates based on academic achievement, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, leadership experiences, and essays that detail the student’s motivation for attending Princeton.

Similarly, Cornell looks for ambitious students who have shown academic excellence in high school, as well as demonstrated leadership abilities, extracurricular activities, and unique interests. Both universities weigh extracurricular activities and demonstrated leadership heavily in their application review process, so it’s important to highlight these areas of your experience.

It’s also important to note that both Princeton and Cornell have holistic admissions processes, meaning that they consider the whole applicant and not just their academic achievements. This includes factors such as personal background, life experiences, and potential for contributing to the university community.

Therefore, it’s important to showcase your unique qualities and experiences in your application, and to demonstrate how you will add value to the university if accepted.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Student Population

Diversity is an essential factor to consider when deciding on a university, and both Princeton and Cornell do not disappoint. Princeton’s undergraduate student body represents all 50 states and around 70 countries, with a diverse range of ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

a group of mix race students smiling for the camera

The campus is home to over 300 student organizations, including academic clubs, philanthropic organizations, and recreational clubs.

Cornell’s undergraduate population is even more diverse, with students representing over 80 countries, a wide range of ethnicities and races, and a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. The university offers hundreds of clubs for students, including greek life, cultural and ethnic clubs, and sports teams, making it easy for students to find like-minded peers and explore their interests.

Aside from the diverse student population and extensive extracurricular activities, both Princeton and Cornell offer a vibrant social life for their students. Princeton’s campus is located in the heart of a bustling college town, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, and shops within walking distance.

The university also hosts a variety of social events throughout the year, including concerts, festivals, and cultural celebrations.

Cornell’s campus is situated in a picturesque college town, surrounded by natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities. The university also offers a lively social scene, with numerous bars, restaurants, and cafes in the surrounding area. Additionally, Cornell hosts a variety of social events throughout the year, including concerts, comedy shows, and film screenings.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Cost and Financial Aid

Princeton and Cornell have a significant price tag, and both universities are committed to making scholarships and financial aid available to eligible students. Princeton is renowned for its need-based financial aid program, which ensures that every admitted student can afford to attend the university, regardless of their financial situation.

Cornell also provides need-based financial aid and scholarships to academically talented students. In addition, the university offers work-study programs and on-campus employment opportunities, which can help students offset the cost of tuition.

It is important to note that the cost of attending a university goes beyond just tuition. Students should also consider the cost of housing, textbooks, and other expenses.

Both Princeton and Cornell offer resources and support to help students manage these additional costs. For example, Princeton has a program that provides free textbooks to students with demonstrated financial need, while Cornell offers a textbook lending program. Additionally, both universities have financial literacy programs to help students make informed decisions about managing their finances while in college.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Career Prospects

The reputation of Princeton and Cornell graduates speaks for itself. Both universities’ degrees carry a lot of weight, and graduates are highly sought after by employers in various fields locally, nationally, and internationally. Although both universities are respected, their academic focuses and location impact the industries they attract.

Princeton graduates are known for their exceptional writing, communication, and analytical skills, which makes them highly sought after for jobs in finance, consulting, and journalism, among others. As a result, over 90% of Princeton graduates land a job within six months of graduating.

A woman interviewing a man in an office.

Cornell graduates, on the other hand, are known for their practical and experiential skills, making them highly desired by top firms in engineering, architecture, agriculture, and technology. Graduates from Cornell earn an average of $72,500 annually and frequently land jobs at Fortune 500 companies.

Alumni Network: Staying Connected and Building Relationships for Life

Having a well-established alumni network can be an asset for students and graduates, and both Princeton and Cornell have strong networks. Princeton’s alumni include two U.S. Presidents, Nobel laureates, and Olympic medalists.

Cornell’s alumni network includes over 270,000 graduates in diverse fields, including arts, entertainment, and media. The university has a robust mentorship program, where alumni are connected with students to provide guidance and support as they launch their careers, making it easy for graduates to stay connected and build relationships for life.

One of the benefits of having a strong alumni network is the opportunity for networking and career advancement. Alumni can provide job leads, offer advice on career paths, and even serve as references for job applications. Both Princeton and Cornell have active alumni associations that organize events and networking opportunities for graduates.

In addition to career support, alumni networks can also provide opportunities for social and cultural engagement. Many alumni associations organize reunions, homecoming events, and other social gatherings. These events provide a chance for graduates to reconnect with old friends, make new connections, and stay connected to their alma mater.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Campus Culture

Understanding campus culture can help you determine whether a university is the right fit for you. Princeton has a reputation for being a tightly knit community, with traditions such as eating clubs, which provide students with opportunities to socialize and form bonds outside of the classroom.

Princeton is also a highly political campus, with students often organizing protests and advocacy initiatives on various issues.

Cornell, on the other hand, is known for being a more independent, entrepreneurial-minded community. Students are encouraged to explore their interests outside of the classroom, and the university has a culture of innovation. Cornell students are also politically active, and the university has a tradition of free speech and open discourse.

two young students studying

Another university with a unique campus culture is the University of California, Berkeley. Known for its history of activism and social justice, Berkeley has a strong tradition of student-led protests and movements. The campus is also known for its diverse student body, with a large population of international students and a commitment to promoting inclusivity and diversity.

Additionally, Berkeley has a strong focus on sustainability and environmentalism, with initiatives such as a zero waste program and a commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Campus Safety and Security

Finally, campus safety and security is a significant concern for any student and parent. The safety protocols, policies, and precautions in place at each university can significantly impact students’ academic and social experience.

Princeton has a well-established campus security system, and the safety of students is a top priority. The university provides 24/7 security and emergency services, and students undergo extensive training to prepare for a variety of emergency situations.

Cornell also has an extensive campus security system, and safety is a top priority. The university provides students with safety training and education on sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse, and other issues related to student safety. The university has emergency notification systems in place to alert students to any potential threats on campus.

In addition to the safety measures already mentioned, both Princeton and Cornell have implemented new safety protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These protocols include mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing guidelines, and increased cleaning and sanitation measures.

Both universities have also implemented contact tracing programs to quickly identify and contain any potential outbreaks on campus.

Furthermore, both universities have established partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to enhance campus safety. These partnerships include regular patrols of the campus and surrounding areas, as well as joint training exercises to prepare for emergency situations.

Additionally, both universities have established anonymous reporting systems to encourage students to report any safety concerns or incidents of misconduct.

Princeton vs. Cornell: Campus Housing Options

Finally, housing is an essential consideration for any student, and both universities provide a range of options for their students.

Princeton offers students housing in traditional dormitories as well as upperclassmen in privately-owned eating clubs. Some students opt to live off-campus in surrounding neighborhoods.

Two students working on their dorm room.

Cornell has a range of housing options, with more on-campus options for students. Cornell students can opt to live in traditional dormitories, upperclassman apartments, cooperative houses, or fraternities and sororities.

Additionally, both universities offer housing options for students with families. At Princeton, graduate students and their families can live in university-owned apartments or townhouses. Cornell has family housing options on campus, including apartments and townhouses, as well as off-campus options in the surrounding area.

Furthermore, both universities prioritize creating inclusive and diverse living environments. Princeton has a Gender-Inclusive Housing program, which allows students to live with roommates of any gender identity. Cornell has a variety of Living-Learning Communities, which are themed housing options that bring together students with shared interests or identities.

Conclusion: Making the Decision Between Princeton and Cornell Based on Your Personal Preferences

As we’ve seen, both Princeton and Cornell have their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, the decision between these two top-tier Ivy League universities comes down to individual preferences. Consider your goals, your academic interests, and the type of environment that you thrive in.

By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to making the right choice about where to pursue your education and set yourself up for success in life.

One factor to consider when making your decision is the location of each university. Princeton is located in a small town in New Jersey, while Cornell is situated in a college town in upstate New York. If you prefer a more urban environment with access to a larger city, Princeton may not be the best fit for you.

On the other hand, if you enjoy a more rural setting with outdoor activities and a tight-knit community, Cornell may be the better choice.

Another important consideration is the availability of extracurricular activities and resources.

Both universities offer a wide range of clubs, organizations, and resources for students, but the specific offerings may differ. Take the time to research the opportunities available at each school and consider which ones align with your interests and goals. This can help you make a more informed decision about which university will provide the best overall experience for you.


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