Where should I go to college? Student stories, Cornell University

September 1, 2015
A view of Cornell University's campus from the top of McGraw Tower. (Courtesy of Julian Sorel via Flicker/Creative Commons)

A view of Cornell University’s campus from the top of McGraw Tower. (Courtesy of Julian Sorel via Flicker/Creative Commons)

Elizabeth Han Wang graduated from Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

Elizabeth Han Wang graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

By Elizabeth Han Wang

I went to a college preparatory private high school in Los Angeles during the late 90s where the norm was to go to an elite college on the east coast. If someone stayed in Los Angeles or even California, it wasn’t uncommon to hear questions like, “What happened?” or “You only got into your safety school?”

The lofty expectations placed unusual amounts of pressure on myself and the students around me. It forced my focus to be on one goal and that was getting into a good college. It was difficult at the time to look beyond that.

By all means, I am average. I went to school with some extremely smart people. I learned to work harder and study longer in order to compete. I toted around my textbooks to weekend dinners and family functions.

High school was the hardest time in my life, but I learned that you can separate yourself from the rest with work ethic and discipline. I ended up graduating cum laude, something that I am extremely proud of, as only 10% of each class receives that honor.

Strong academics aside, in order to build a strong application, I pursued extracurricular activities. I played cello in the school orchestra, softball and basketball. I also volunteered a bunch. Through those experiences, I realized that I liked working in a team, an aspect that I look for in my work now. Depending on others can be scary, but the satisfaction from a win or concert was really rewarding. It also helped me to be more mindful and grateful for my family, friends and education.

With these two foundations, I applied to about 20 schools, 15 of them on the east coast. I chose these 20, not thinking about what I wanted to study and whether the schools had programs of interest to me, but rather thinking about each school’s reputation.

When acceptance/rejection letters came and school visits were made, I ultimately made my decision to go to Cornell University.

Its founder, Ezra Cornell wrote: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” For someone who had no idea what she wanted to study or what kind of career to pursue, I thought if there was any place I would find what I was looking for, Cornell was it.

Fast forward to my first upstate New York winter. I realized I may not have thought about all the facets of the biggest decision of my life so far. I didn’t think about how far away or remote Ithaca, NY was from California. I didn’t think about how much I’d miss my family, but looking back, I don’t think I’d want to go anywhere else.

First, I found what I wanted to study. I started in the College of Arts & Sciences with an undecided major. I transferred to Cornell’s famous School of Hospitality Administration because I was drawn to it’s practicality.

The hotel school, as it’s commonly called, taught business skills that I could apply when I graduated. I received an undergraduate business education, which prepared me for the workplace. We were taught to be professional, think sharply about business problems, and apply our training of customer service.

Secondly, Cornell’s reputation helped me land a job at a big tech company. I may not work in the hospitality industry, but business skills are universal. My experience in providing service to clients was a big selling factor that other college grads may not have had.

Last, but not least, I met my husband at Cornell. When my tour guide said something like 30 percent of Cornellians marry other Cornellians, I didn’t believe him, but 10 years after graduation, I still work for the same company, I’m married to the same guy and we have two kids.

Looking back, I have to admit that Cornell played a big part in shaping me and my life.

If I were to give advice on college, I’d say, think about location, think about what you want to study and what programs schools offer, but don’t overthink it. It’s okay if you don’t know what career you want to pursue or what you want to study. Regardless of where you go, study hard, get involved in what interests you, and build your network. With a little luck, things should fall into place.


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