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Duke or Cornell?


iowaguy
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In my sub-field these programs are similarly ranked, and I have a good fit with POI's from each university.  Funding is similar.

 

With program strength, POI fit, and funding being relatively equal; what are the pros/cons of Duke vs Cornell?  Struggling to make a tough decision...  Thanks in advance!!!

 

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I have no experience with Duke, so I can't offer you a comparison... but I did my undergrad at Cornell and have nothing but great things to say about the university and Ithaca in general.

 

Cornell is a great university. I think that, to the "average ear," it has more name recognition than Duke. It might be different in your department, and of course both schools are well known in academia. But I'd bet that, if the rankings really are similar in your field, that "Cornell" might look slightly better on your resume... it just has that Ivy "wow factor." But, prestige is pretty trivial in the long run. Cornell is a great place to study... it has an incredible library system and tons of other resources. You'll definitely have everything you need to excel there.

 

People will likely tell you that you shouldn't go to Cornell because it's cold, but honestly it's not that bad. If you have a good coat and remember to layer, you'll be fine. Honestly, it doesn't even snow as much as people might expect... it has a pretty average climate by central New York standards. If you head a few hours north towards upstate NY, that's where it's uncomfortably freezing and way too snowy. But Ithaca's fine... it's chilly from November-March, but the summers are wonderful.

 

Ithaca's relatively small (at least from my perspective... I'm used to large urban areas like NYC), but it has a lot of character. It's an especially great place to live if you're socially/politically liberal (it's a very liberal town). The music scene is also pretty good, and there's a ton of good food (many great ethnic restaurants and loads of places to buy organic/vegan/gluten-free/etc. foods if you're into that). If you enjoy nature, you'll also love Ithaca... there are tons of gorges and hiking trails around, and some other really nice natural areas (many owned by the Cornell Plantations). Many of the people that I met there were very outdoorsy, so if you have an outdoors hobby you'll likely be able to find activity partners there.

 

Ithaca's also only 5 hours from NYC, and not much further from several other major metropolitan areas in the Northeast. I don't know if that will really matter to you, but I know people who have active collaborations going on with professors at institutions in those areas... if that's something you might be interested in, then Cornell's central location might be a perk!

 

That said, one thing that I noticed about Cornell is that it does seem to attract a large number of overly-competitive students. This probably depends on the department, and I have no idea what the dynamic is in Environmental Sciences. My home department (Entomology) was fantastic-- very supportive and collegial. But I did know people in several other departments who complained about the competitive atmosphere. It might be more pronounced among undergrads, though... pre-medical students can be vicious! I do know of a grad student in a humanities department who said it was too competitive for him too, though. Ask current students in your program what they think!

 

Again, I know nothing about Duke... but I can say that Cornell is fantastic. If the fit is there and the program is good, then I think it would be a fantastic choice. But, Duke might be too. My advice would be to visit both (if you haven't already) to get a taste for the atmosphere of each, then go with your gut feeling. It sounds like either way, you'll end up somewhere nice! :-)

 

Also, for what it's worth... I did my master's at a different school in North Carolina (about 4 hours away from Duke), and I'd never live in the south again. The area and culture just weren't a good fit for me... too hot, too rural, and too conservative. Those are just my preferences, though, and I'd bet that Durham is a lot nicer than where I was living. You might also find those qualities (hot, conservative, etc.) desirable for all I know! I really can't say. That's why I think you should go with your gut after visiting... pick the school that's giving you better vibes.

 

I hope this helps!

Edited by zabius
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I would argue that Duke certainly does have quite a ring of prestige to most ears. Quite a few non-Ivies have a wow-factor (Berkeley, Stanford, MIT) and I would count Duke among those, but it could be my impression is skewed because I'm from the south where the name is more familiar. Around here UVA, UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke are the door-openers. To get away from heavy conservative vibe, you can take a trip west to Asheville, but of course that's not the same as living in the city of your preferred political inclination (and like the above poster said you may be conservative in which case that's a non-issue). The climate is shitty, but only during the summer. So, if weather is important to you, then you basically have to decide between a difficult summer vs. a difficult winter.

Another thing, and I could be wrong, is that Cornell may have more $$$, connections, and resources for your field, what with being an original land-grant university (the only Ivy in that category) with a tradition of teaching and research in ag-sci and natural resources.

Edited by wanderingalbatross
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I would argue that Duke certainly does have quite a ring of prestige to most ears. Quite a few non-Ivies have a wow-factor (Berkeley, Stanford, MIT) and I would count Duke among those, but it could be my impression is skewed because I'm from the south where the name is more familiar.

 

Ah, didn't mean to suggest that non-Ivies are somehow less prestigious. :-) Duke's definitely a good school (or so I've been told). I'm just biased too... Duke's not quite as big of a name in NY, at least in some non-academic circles. I remember talking to people when I was applying to undergrad (one of my friends was applying to Duke but didn't end up going) and people kept confusing it with Dartmouth. :-P I guess it's because they both begin with "D?"

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Duke

 

Pros:

 

Good weather (hot summers, as noted), great basketball team if you like sports, 4 hours from Asheville or Boone (for hiking/skiing), 1.5-2 hours from the beach, 2.5 hours from Charlotte, 25 minutes from Raleigh, 10 from Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill is a great college town, Raleigh gets big names in music, lots of good dive bars, etc.

 

Really not very conservative in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, the population is chock full of academic types. Chapel Hill is known for being very liberal, while Raleigh is probably the most conservative. Many people in the area come from all over the country, and moved there because there is alot of great science and research happening in Research Triangle Park. If you are at all interested in going into Industry, RTP is a great area to be in. I'm not sure Cornell can beat the connections you would make there.

 

Durham is very affordable. If diversity is a concern to you Durham is extremely diverse, I don't know anything about Ithaca but most places I've been to in upstate NY are not so much. GREAT FOOD.

 

Cons:

 

Can be dangerous if you're not careful. Hot summers, as noted above.

 

@ zabius- there are alot of "non-academics" who forget dartmouth, cornell, upenn are Ivy league, and think MIT, Stanford, etc are. I don't think it's a big deal. Depending on where you want to work, regional recognition may matter. But with schools like Duke and Cornell, it's really a non-issue as your guaranteed national, if not international, recognition.

Edited by epsilon
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If diversity is a concern to you Durham is extremely diverse, I don't know anything about Ithaca but most places I've been to in upstate NY are not so much. GREAT FOOD.

 

Ithaca's incredibly diverse (largely due to Cornell's very diverse student body). If you venture outside of Ithaca into one of the smaller surrounding towns, then yeah... not so diverse. :-) But I think that's true of many schools. Cornell's campus is probably one of the most diverse campuses I've been to outside of a major city.

 

Also, I agree that name recognition is pretty much a "non-issue." Iowaguy has two great, prestigious schools to choose from. And, in more general terms, the "name" of the school usually doesn't matter much at all. I was just noting that (at least in my experience), Cornell seems to get a bit more of a reaction. That said, I've spent most of my life in New York, so that may not mean much! :-) I'm sure the opposite is true in other places. And in academia (and probably to industry/government employers too), both Cornell and Duke are likely to be instantly recognized. So yeah, it's probably the least important factor here.

 

I still think you should go with your gut feeling. If you're really torn, pick the city (Ithaca vs. Durham) which appeals to you most... both sound great, and probably differ mostly in climate.

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