Cornell College is a nationally acclaimed private liberal arts college in scenic Mount Vernon, Iowa. Founded in 1853, the college operates on a distinctive block plan calendar, known as One Course At A Time, that allows students to devote themselves to just one academic discipline during each of nine blocks.

Colleges That Change Lives

Cornell is one of only 40 liberal arts colleges featured in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives. In this book Pope wrote:

"Every person I talked with was glad that he or she had come and wouldn’t attend any other place…Both students and faculty are enthusiastic about the Block Plan." 

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Colleges That Change Lives

"Best Buy" School

For the second year in a row, Cornell College was named one of the 24 "Best Buy Schools” among private colleges in the 2011 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges.  The “Best Buy Schools” are based on the quality of academic offerings in relation to the cost of attendance.  Learn more about Cornell's national rankings and recognition...

Fiske Best Buy School

Campus: The Hilltop

The college is located on a wooded, 129-acre hilltop in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Cornell's was the first college campus to be listed entirely on the National Register of Historic Places, but the campus's architectural styles reflect the best of both the old and the new. Recent renovations have turned an old gymnasium into an award-winning home for the art department and married a state-of-the-art theatre to historic Armstrong Hall. Meanwhile, recently built Clocktower Hall provides modern residential space. Take an aerial tour of campus...

Cornell Campus

One of America's Coolest Small Towns

Mount Vernon's blend of historic charms, cosmopolitan flair, and local arts scene earned it one of ten spots on Budget Travel's 2010 list of America's Coolest Small Towns. Mount Vernon lies in the midst of Eastern Iowa's thriving Cultural Corridor and is less than 20 minutes from both Iowa's second largest city (Cedar Rapids) and a major university town (Iowa City). It is also less than four hours from Chicago -- perfect for block plan courses and block break getaways. Learn more about Mount Vernon and the region...

Coolest Towns Mount Vernon

Majors and academic structure

The college offers more than 40 academic majors, and students also may design their own major. Under the unique One Course At A Time system, Cornell students immerse themselves in just one academic discipline per three-and-a-half-week academic block. Each block students choose from about 60 course offerings, each worth four credits.  OCAAT allows professors to teach a number of courses off campus, and students also frequently pursue internships or other independent study.  Learn more about One Course At A Time...

Class Size

The average class has 17 students, though many upper-level courses are significantly smaller. The vast majority of classes are capped at 25 students.

Special academic opportunities

Several innovative programs bolster our liberal arts foundation with applied learning opportunities and pre-professional support, particularly in the health fields, applied economics and public policy, and pre-law. In addition, the Cornell Fellows program provides high-level experiences in a wide range of professional and academic settings.

Phi Beta Kappa

Cornell is one of only 270 colleges in the United States to host an active chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest scholastic honorary society.


Cornell professors are accomplished researchers, scholars, and above all, mentors. Ninety-seven percent of the college's tenure-track faculty hold the highest degree in their field. The student-faculty ratio is 11:1, and many students work closely with faculty members on research or other projects.


Cornell's diverse student body includes nearly 1,200 men and women from almost all 50 states and two dozen nations. Nearly two-thirds of our 2010 incoming class are students of color, while more than 70 percent come from somewhere other than Iowa. Ninety percent of students live on campus. Of those students who graduate from Cornell, 92 percent do so in four years or less, and almost two-thirds have a double major or a major and a minor.  More about our student body...


While the entire campus is listed on the National Historic Register, Cornell's facilities range from conveniently functional to cutting edge. Science facilities include a cadaver lab, a geographic information systems lab, and a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. A new theater boasts the most current production technology. And the campus is fully wired, with Internet access from every residence hall room and dozens of "smart" classrooms. 

Methodist affiliation

Cornell is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but the college welcomes people from all religious traditions and from all non-religious perspectives. Cornell values spiritual diversity as an integral component of preparing students for global citizenship and provides many avenues for students to explore their own spirituality.

Campus Life

Life at Cornell is active and diverse. Students participate in more than 100 clubs, organizations, and special-interest groups ranging from the Film Club to the Mountaineering Club. About one-third of students join non-national Greek groups. Housing options include first-year theme floors, Living & Learning communities, and suite-style halls.


Cornell competes in 19 sports as part of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference of NCAA Division III. Cornell ranks among the top 15 Division III schools for the number of Postgraduate Scholars, a scholarship for academic and athletic achievement. Students also participate in nearly 40 intramural sports.


Admission to Cornell is very selective and based on academic ability and preparedness, personal character, and meaningful extracurricular involvement. The 2009 incoming class had an average high school GPA of 3.5, average ACT score of 26.5, and average SAT combined score of 1240.

Costs & Financial Aid

Tuition, fees, room, and board charges for 2009-2010 total $37,080. Cornell is committed to helping students afford a great education, and a majority of our students receive need-based financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, and jobs. Scholarships are awarded, regardless of need, to students with high academic ability or special talents in music, theatre or art.

More About Cornell on U-CAN

Learn more about Cornell College on the University & College Accountability Network (U-CAN), a Web-based project launched in 2007 to help prospective students and their families judge the quality of higher education institutions. As of September 2008, U-CAN included information and comparison data on more than 700 colleges and universities and had received more than 350,000 visits.