Cornell University
#14 Overall Influence#14 Desirability Rank

Cornell University

Private university in Ithaca

By James Barham, PhD

Cornell University was founded in turbulent times. With the Civil War winding down, and less than two weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Governor of New York signed the school’s official charter in the state capital, Albany, where only the day before Lincoln’s funeral procession had passed through the city’s streets.

Two men were behind the drive to establish a first-class university in upstate New York: wealthy businessman Ezra Cornell, the founder of Western Union, who was originally from Ithaca (where the new school was to be located), and Andrew Dickson White, a prominent historian and educator, who hailed from nearby Syracuse. Later on, White would be best remembered as the author of A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), and from the beginning he envisioned Cornell as a rigorously secular institution with a special emphasis on the natural sciences.

This lack of an original religious orientation, as well as its geographical isolation from the American center of cultural gravity on the East Coast, make Cornell a bit of an odd-man-out among the eight schools that make up the Ivy League. However, the university’s right to a place among that elite grouping is more than justified by the intellectual firepower of its faculty. Moreover, despite its rural setting, Cornell’s sprawling campus and its total university population of over 23,000 (more than twice the size of the town of Ithaca itself) easily make it a rival of the other Ivy League schools in scale.

One of Cornell’s areas of particular strength is medicine. The Weill Cornell Medical School, located in Manhattan, is one of the most selective in the nation. Cornell also runs the Weill Cornell Medical College located in Doha, Qatar.

An astonishing 50 Nobel laureates are connected with Cornell, not to mention many other highly influential thinkers and authors. For example, among Nobel Prize– winners in physics, we many mention:

  • Hans Bethe
  • Richard Feynman
  • Hannes Alfvén
  • Kenneth Wilson
  • Steven Weinberg
  • Sheldon Glashow
  • Pierre-Gilles de Gennes
  • Kip Thorne

Cornell-connected chemistry Nobelists include:

  • Peter Debye
  • Richard Ernst
  • Manfred Eigen
  • Roald Hoffmann

In physiology or medicine, we may mention:

  • George Beadle
  • Fritz Lipmann
  • Barbara McClintock
  • Peter Medawar
  • Harold Varmus
  • Jack Szostak

Four Cornell-connected economists have won the Nobel Prize in their field:

  • Amartya Sen
  • Robert Engle
  • Richard Thaler
  • Robert Fogel

No fewer than four Nobel Prize laureates in literature have studied or taught at Cornell:

  • American novelists, Pearl Buck and Toni Morrison
  • Mexican poet, Octavio Paz
  • Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka

However, perhaps the most distinguished of all Cornell-connected literary figures (and one of the Swedish Academy’s worst oversights) is the great Russian émigré novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, who taught here from 1948 until 1959, when the international succès de scandale of his novel Lolita (1955) permitted him to retire from teaching.

Among other distinguished Cornell-connected individuals (in addition to the above), we may mention:

  • Physicists, Freeman Dyson & Huber Reeves
  • Novelists, Kurt Vonnegut & David Foster Wallace
  • Novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, Junot Díaz
  • E.B. White, author of the beloved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, and co-author of the ubiquitous writer’s manual, The Elements of Style
  • Philosophers, John R. Perry & Thomas Nagel
  • Psychoanalyst, Abraham Maslow
  • Political scientist, Benedict Anderson
  • Journalist, Raj Patel
  • Television personality, Bill Nye
  • Political author and columnist, Ann Coulter
  • Actors, Christopher Reeve & Gillian Anderson
  • Indian industrialist, Ratan Tata
  • Former President of the Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui
  • President of the Republic of China, Tsai Ing-wen
  • US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg


What does this school look for?

Annual Applications




Graduation Rate


Median SAT Score


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How much does it cost to attend?

Tuition (in-state)


Fees (in-state)


IncomeAverage Net Cost

After Graduation

Averages for 10 years after enrolling

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Campus Life

What's it like to attend this school?

The People

Full time on-campus stats

Student Body






The Campus

Where will you be attending?


300 Day Hall, Ithaca NY 14853

On Campus Crime Rates

Property Crime

12 per 100k

Violent Crime

0 per 100k

City Crime Rates

Property Crime

29 per 100k

Violent Crime

2 per 100k

What is Cornell University known for?

Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.

Top areas of influence with degrees offered

#8 World Rank #6 USA Rank
#13 World Rank #7 USA Rank
#12 World Rank #7 USA Rank
#12 World Rank #8 USA Rank
#14 World Rank #8 USA Rank
#9 World Rank #8 USA Rank
Computer Science
#15 World Rank #9 USA Rank
#18 World Rank #10 USA Rank
#15 World Rank #10 USA Rank
#18 World Rank #10 USA Rank
#29 World Rank #10 USA Rank
#21 World Rank #10 USA Rank
Earth Sciences
#17 World Rank #11 USA Rank
#12 World Rank #11 USA Rank
Political Science
#13 World Rank #12 USA Rank
#16 World Rank #12 USA Rank
#21 World Rank #12 USA Rank
#20 World Rank #14 USA Rank
#32 World Rank #15 USA Rank
#20 World Rank #18 USA Rank
#54 World Rank #20 USA Rank
Religious Studies

Other areas of influence

#20 World Rank #17 USA Rank
Social Work
#23 World Rank #19 USA Rank
#25 World Rank #22 USA Rank
Criminal Justice

Influential People

Who are Cornell University's Most influential alumni?

Cornell University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Engineering, Computer Science, and Biology. Cornell University’s most academically influential people include Kurt Vonnegut, Norbert Wiener, and Toni Morrison.

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut

American writer

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Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener

American mathematician, scientist in cybernetics and artificial intelligence

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Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison

Afro-American writer

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Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon

American novelist

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Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom

American literary critic, scholar, and writer

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Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg

American theoretical physicist

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Freeman Dyson
Freeman Dyson

Theoretical physicist and mathematician

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Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow

American psychologist

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Frank Knight

American economist

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David Starr Jordan
David Starr Jordan

American ichthyologist and educator

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Julian Steward
Julian Steward

American anthropologist

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Thomas Nagel
Thomas Nagel

American philosopher

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