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Cornell University

Before You Arrive

The transition from high school to college is both exciting and a bit daunting. These feelings are normal, and every incoming class of students has shared that they are both excited and nervous about the classes they will be taking, the people they will be meeting, and their new environment away from home. If this is something you are feeling, you are not alone. 

"My pre-major advisor made the transition to college so smooth and I felt fully supported by her throughout my first year at Cornell."

There is a lot to learn in your first year at Cornell. Success isn’t a destination: it’s an evolving, iterative, life long journey, and the most important person in shaping your path is you. And, you are not alone. There are many people at Cornell to help and support you. You need to reach out, ask questions, and take advantage of the various opportunities to help you uncover your interests. As you continue your life journey here at Cornell, what are a few things first-year college students should keep in mind?

As you get ready to enroll in classes

Even before you come to campus, you can begin to learn more about academics at Cornell and start thinking more about your academic plan. 

What are you interested in studying? 

Start by looking at the different majors and academic paths in your college. In some colleges, you come in with a set major, in others, you declare a major or affiliation in your second year.  You may have a clear academic focus in mind, or you may plan to spend some time in your first semester exploring what interests you. As you think about your first semester, look at your college requirements and identify a few classes you might want to take. You should also take a look at the Class Roster and Courses of Study. Think about a few questions you might want to ask your advisor about courses, the transition to college, your academic goals, etc.

How do I select classes?

At Cornell, we have something called "pre-enroll," which is when you can request courses for the upcoming semester. For new first-year students, this happens during the summer before you come to campus. You should follow the guidelines sent by your college about choosing classes. Remember that you will be able to meet with your advisor when you come to campus. You can always make changes to your schedule before classes start. This is done during the "add" period. Some helpful tools to keep in mind as you enroll in courses are Student Center (where you will actually enroll in class), Course Scheduler (which is in the course roster and can help you plan classes), and Student Essentials (a collection of useful links for students).

What are "credits" and a "full course load"?

Being a college student is like having a full-time job. You will typically enroll in about 15 credits per semester, which is what you need to stay on track to an on-time graduation in most majors. One college credit represents approximately 1 hour spent in a classroom and 2-3 hours spent outside of class in a week. So for 15 credits, you should expect 30-45 hours of work outside of class, so managing your time and focus is critical!

What are some important dates to know about?

You can view all the important academic dates, including pre-enroll, the add period, class start and end dates, and breaks, in the academic calendar and key academic dates. Cornell is on a semester system. The academic year begins in August and ends in May, with the fall semester running from August to December and the Spring semester running from January to May. Cornell offers a three-week academic session in the winter and a variety of summer sessions as well. Keep in mind that the final exam schedule isn't posted until after the semester starts.