Why I came to Cornell

By Blake Rasmussen '05

Every year, says Jonathan Stroud, dean of admission, approximately 20 percent of prospective students take note of One Course At A Time and decide that that’s how they want to learn, that the block plan is exactly what they need.

I, on the other hand, was a part of the group that makes up nearly half of all recruits: the ones who aren’t quite sold on the calendar. And I wasn’t, even as I unpacked my bags that first fall in Pfeiffer.

As a high school junior and senior, I had a lot going for me. I got straight A’s, participated in a lot of extracurriculars (thanks, Mom!), had exceptional standardized test scores, and a number of strong recommendation letters. It was the high school equivalent of having the world at my feet. Which is another way of saying I was kind of a nerd.

I had no intention of straying too far from my family in Minnesota, but no intention of staying in-state. So I applied to a variety of schools to cover my interests. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was good for a nearby engineering program and the University of Washington at St. Louis for one a bit farther away. Medill at Northwestern University was my journalism program of choice. The University of Minnesota was my safety school, and Cornell College was my liberal arts option.

Quick, which one of those things is not like the others?

Cornell was not and is not a large school or a university. Yet, above every other liberal arts college who flooded me with admissions brochures, I chose Cornell to represent that sector of the education spectrum. The reason why was clear: One Course At A Time made Cornell stand out in a crowded field.

“A significant advantage for Cornell in marketing is that One-Course-At- A-Time is distinctive,” says Stroud. “We attract a lot of initial attention because of curiosity.”

Still, for me, the Cornell calendar was just a calendar. It didn’t excite me, it worried me only a little, and in the end it took a back seat to everything else.

It was everything else Cornell brought to the table that brought me to the Hilltop. Every other program I applied to was on a career track and inflexible. Cornell was flexible, yet allowed me to focus should I so choose.

The spring of my senior year I found out I was accepted to and received scholarships from everywhere I applied. Including Cornell.

I was offered the William Fletcher King Scholarship. I was told I could come in and probably start for the soccer team right away. The newspaper had openings, even for first-years. Programs were flexible, opportunities were abundant, classes were small, and nearly twothirds of the students, like me, had designs on graduate school.

But I still was uneasy about the calendar. If it was so great, why hadn’t I heard about it before?

Sounding positively Kierkegaardian, Stroud speaks of a “leap of faith” many high school students must make in order to move from the familiar semester system to the block plan, and he’s absolutely right. I had to make my own leap of faith, choosing an unfamiliar system to deliver all of the advantages I knew the college could offer me.

But still, I had to trust that the college knew what it was doing.

And it turned out they really did. My first class, Politics 101, was a revelation. Whereas the only truly difficult part of high school was juggling seven classes at once, Cornell had no such issue. We read The Odyssey, we discussed politics, we wrote interesting papers, and I got to hang out with this cute, blonde Republican every single day. It was kind of incredible.

I may not have been sold before I stepped on campus, but it didn’t take long to convince me. My leap of faith was rewarded, and even though I didn’t come for One Course At A Time, I’m glad I was afforded the opportunity to experience this extraordinary system.