• Samridhi Arora

Law at an Ivy League: Cornell's Warm Embrace

When asked to talk about their experience, I am convinced that any Cornellian would start not with Cornell’s academic prowess or the connections one makes by being affiliated to it, but by describing Ithaca, New York. The city is what defines the Cornell experience. Except for a two-kilometer radius or so, which locals cutely call “downtown,” every other part of Ithaca could make you feel like you’re out in the wild west by yourself. On cold days in winters (by cold, I mean minus 30 degree Celsius), I have occasionally been able to hear myself breathe because there are no leaves on the trees, no one on the streets except a brave soul or two maneuvering their way through 4 inches of snow. Any animals that dare visit the place migrate long before the long winter sets in. Ithaca winters are long — with a solid 5 months of snowfall every year.

Depending on what you describe as “winter,” you could extend the period beyond the 5 months of snowfall. As I write this piece on a day in the middle of May, it has been pouring outside for 4 days straight, and the temperature is still 7 degrees Celsius – take that, New Delhi. For a lot of people however, including myself, more bothersome than the cold is the lack of sun. Winter here is marked by pitch-black darkness that sets in at 4pm every day, and a sun that refuses to come out for weeks on end. To add to the experience, Ithaca is a hippie, anti-industry town (and unlike in India, here towns can decide for themselves what they want to be). So, Uber first started functioning here for the first time only a full semester after I had already enrolled. There are a total of two malls in the entire area and they are smaller than probably the smallest one you could find in Delhi. I could hash out the number of restaurants and bars, but I guess you already know what’s coming.

Reading about Ithaca on Cornell’s website would transfix you with the breathtaking beauty of the place – which is not an exaggeration. What might qualify as one is the claim that the town is only 5 hours away from New York City. Any Cornellian figures out soon into their journey that the lack of trains, or pretty much any other public transportation option, except extremely busy buses, makes it impossible to make that journey more than once in a semester. In short, therefore if you hail from a bustling metropolis in any part of the world, adapting to a place like Ithaca may probably fill you with more pride than graduating from the university itself. Or, as in my case, it is certain to instill a lot more resistance, resilience and self-affirmation, than getting through the most difficult university exams.

If you are still reading, though, then that probably means you would consider applying either way, and I am convinced that a level of passion and determination must lie underneath for anyone to even think that. The reason that matters is that passion and determination are what Cornell (and I include Ithaca, the beast, in this) really rewards. When there are no concerts, pubs, movies, hang-out spots that you can frequent, and when you find yourself in a picturesque place, you resort to doing two things: running and exercising outside whenever the sun is out and studying at the beautiful, beautiful campus that Cornell has built for its students. There are no distractions to be had, and thankfully at that, because Cornell pushes its students really hard. So, for instance, as a law student, I have been dealing with grading on a curve, which means that my grades are necessarily a reflection of how everyone else performs and so inevitably, some people end up with Cs no matter how well they performed objectively. In comparison, the higher-ranking Ivies like Yale Law School and Harvard Law School have only an objective pass/fail system. This is partly owing to the fact that Cornell is like the youngest Ivy sibling that is bullied by its older brothers and constantly wants to catch up. So, it pushes its students harder. I guess what I am trying to say is that as a student, you have no option but to give your best here at Cornell and perhaps grow like never before. Cornell gives you great faculty, proximity to New York City, and the connections to be able to make use of that proximity and land yourself a great job (disclaimer on this one: this, of course, varies highly depending on the course you are in). Personally, I am constantly in awe of the quality of faculty that I have the opportunity to learn from every semester.

The last thing I will say about Cornell and Ithaca in general before I give my little spiel about the law school and the application process is that the same feeling of isolation I described above also leads to the most wonderful connections— when you are away from family in a place that looks like no place you could find in India and where seeing a crowd of people is a luxury, again you really have no option but to come to depend on those around you. Roommates who will play trashy Punjabi songs and dance with you, and on your off days will silently offer you a cup of chai; classmates who will lend you their notes regardless of the fact that they are on the same curve as you; friends who would drive you to Rochester in the middle of exams to help you through an emergency. And maybe after you have braved your first year here, you will start falling in love with this quaint little place, a little more each day.

Cornell Law School is one of the best law schools in the country. It has a cache of its own that is recognizable every time you tell someone you study law there. In terms of placement, Cornell Law School beats its own overall ranking, which is already in the top 10. Because of its proximity to New York City (and given that NYC is the legal center of the world), most of the students get placed in New York City. The school has unbelievable diversity— it could improve purely in terms of racial diversity and the like, but the diversity of backgrounds just never ceases to surprise me. You would be learning among the brightest, but more importantly, the most diligent and the most hard-working bunch. Cornell Law has one of the smallest classes— roughly 200 per class compared to Harvard’s 550 students (which is more standard). This gives you the opportunity to really get to know the community you study with and make stronger connections. The application process is simple: you write the LSAT and a statement of purpose after registering with the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), and if they like you, they would more likely than not interview you over Skype before giving you the final word on your application. For preparation, use the Bible Trilogy and the past exams that you can buy from LSAC’s website. The exam is conducted 4 times a year, though two of those times clash with exam season in India (May and December), so decide in advance when you want to take the exam.

You can also take it multiple times to improve your score, but be mindful that law schools check all your scores before letting you in. My decision to apply to US law schools was a bit last minute, so I got only one shot and two weeks to prepare for it. I found just giving practice exams after two days of reading the Bible Trilogy worked for me. Improvement takes place as you take more exams— it’s a test of skill, not knowledge. I heard something about letting GRE scores be counted for law school admissions, but that is a change that came after I got through, so I would recommend the reader to do independent research on that.

I will start my final year of law school at Cornell Law in August 2019. For the past two years at Cornell, I have been a research assistant for a professor who primarily works on and writes about issues at the intersection of gender and law in India, including sex-selective abortions and acid attacks. Other than that, through law school courses, I have forayed into the fields of public international law, American constitutional law and US environmental law. If you are interested in applying to Cornell University or Cornell Law School, I would be happy to help you in any way I can and I wish you good luck. Cornell will be one of the most wonderful experiences of your life.

Views expressed are personal and not those of Polemics and Pedantics. Queries to the author may be directed through our email here.

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About the Author

Samridhi Arora will start her final year of law school at Cornell Law in August 2019. For the past two years at Cornell, she has been a research assistant for a professor who primarily works on and writes about issues at the intersection of gender and law in India, including sex-selective abortions and acid attacks. Other than that, through law school courses she has forayed into the fields of public international law, American constitutional law and US environmental law. Prior to law school, Samridhi studied English literature at LSR, Delhi University, where I also obtained a post-graduate diploma in conflict transformation and peace-building.

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