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FAQ about Cornell University

View from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Photo by Shailee Shah, courtesy of The Cornell Daily Sun.

View from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Photo by Shailee Shah, courtesy of The Cornell Daily Sun.

Because of the Lab of Ornithology, many students have questions about studying at Cornell University. Although Cornell doesn’t offer a specific ornithology major, it is easy to integrate related classes into your coursework, get bird-related jobs, and conduct research. The Lab of Ornithology welcomes undergraduate involvement, and an active birding community in the area further increases bird-related opportunities. This page addresses some frequently asked questions about studying at Cornell.

I intend to pursue ornithology. What should I major in?

Depending on your broader interests, there are several potentially relevant majors. These include Biological Sciences, Environmental Science and Sustainability (offered via the Department of Natural Resources), Entomology, Plant Science, Science of Natural and Environmental SystemsAnimal Science, Computer Science, Biological and Environmental Engineering, and Art. If you’re interested in research, Biological Sciences may be the best option. In contrast, Environmental Science and Sustainability focuses more on policy and management. Animal Science is focused toward pre-vet students, but may be relevant to those interested in wildlife rehabilitation.

Which college should I apply to?

Cornell has seven separate undergraduate colleges. These are: Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)Arts and Sciences (A&S)EngineeringArt, Architecture, and PlanningHotel AdministrationHuman Ecology, and Industrial and Labor Relations. Each college offers a unique set of majors. You should apply to the college where your major of interest is housed. For example, Animal Science is offered through CALS, whereas Art is offered through Art, Architecture, and Planning. Please note, however, than you cannot double major across colleges. You can have two majors within a single college, minor across colleges, and take classes across colleges, but you cannot be a double major in both Art and Animal Science.

Biology is offered through both Arts and Sciences and CALS. Explain?!

Students extract a Black-capped Chickadee from a mist net. Photo by Shailee Shah, courtesy of The Cornell Daily Sun.

Students extract a Black-capped Chickadee from a mist net. Photo by Shailee Shah, courtesy of The Cornell Daily Sun.

Yes, you can major in Biological Sciences as either a CALS student, or an A&S student. The major’s course requirements are identical for both colleges, as are the concentration options within the major. However, each college has different requirements for distribution courses. For example, A&S requires you to study a language, whereas CALS does not (see A&S requirements versus CALS requirements). Furthermore, since CALS is partially a state-sponsored land grant institution, the tuition cost is significantly lower for in-state students. However, this does not affect out-of-state or international students. Lastly, as mentioned above, you cannot double major across colleges. If you wish to double-major in Biology and Entomology, you must be in CALS. If you want to double-major in Biology and Spanish, you must be in A&S.

What job positions are available?

The Lab of Ornithology hires many undergraduate students in a variety of capacities during the academic year. These include working for eBird, All About Birds, in the library, for Project FeederWatch, at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds, and other of the lab’s programs. You can also find summer jobs through the Lab of Ornithology, including field work and work at the Lab itself in Ithaca.

How easy is it to get involved in research? 

Several professors do bird-related research, and engage many students in their lab’s research. Furthermore, graduate students also take on undergrads for both lab and field work. Often, students work under a professor or graduate student for their first year or two, then conduct their own research project in a related field for an honors thesis. There are also several fairly recent initiatives for undergraduate expeditions, allowing students to conduct exploratory work in locations with poorly studied avifauna.

Cornell is big. How easy is it to fit in?

It is easy to find a niche on campus, even at a school as large as Cornell. The birding community is fairly tight, giving bird-obsessed students an almost automatic group of friends. There is an active Birding Club, as well as several classes and seminars related to ornithology. More broadly, however (and true at every school), people generally find a group of friends from their dorm within their first few days at school, then rapidly meet others via student organization and classes.

For more information about bird-related opportunities for undergraduates at Cornell, please visit the Birding Club’s Facebook page, or contact us.

Birding Club field trip with Mega Osprey. Photo (and photoshop) by Sarah MacLean.

Birding Club field trip with Mega Osprey. Photo (and photoshop) by Sarah MacLean.