This Ivy League academy has educated a staggeringly impressive roster of people, including eight NASA astronauts, Bill Nye (the science guy), and Henry Heimlich, who developed the life-saving maneuver. With such luminaries for professors as Carl Sagan and Jane Goodall, it’s no wonder students here have gone on to do great things.
Ithaca itself can be pretty great: It’s a central New York town 26 miles from Finger Lakes National Forest, near glacier-carved gorges made the more beautiful by cascading waterfalls. Cornell’s outdoor-ed program offers an impressive array of activities to take advantage of these natural surroundings—and while the full spectrum of options is far too long to list here, a sampling might include backpacking, caving, cycling, climbing, skiing, or paddling. Many of these classes can be taken for credit, and for free.
Also quite affordable is a good selection of equipment to rent: A set of camping utensils costs just 50 cents, while telemark skis run $20 per day. Certifications, however, can get rather expensive: You can become expert at scuba, rescue diving, or belaying, but it’ll set you back anywhere between $200 and $600.
For incoming students, the Outdoor Odyssey program puts on four-, six-, and eight-day trips (ranging in cost from free to $500) to backpack, bike, canoe, and climb the Catskills, Adirondacks, and the Green and White mountains.
Back on campus, the Lindseth climbing wall is the continent’s biggest indoor natural-surface rock wall, offering more than 4,800 square feet to scramble upward on. There’s also the Kay 2 bouldering wall and two challenge courses (one indoors, one outdoors in the woods) that incorporate all kinds of elements, including a 400-foot zipline. Cornell also has a tree-climbing institute, which’ll teach you how to ascend and descend a trunk, or how best to move about a canopy.
Lots of academic courses can get you into fresh air too, especially if your major is agriculture, environmental engineering, or plant sciences. One class, in the department of International Agriculture and Rural Development, is called “Agriculture in Developing Nations.” After a semester of lectures and discussions, the capstone lesson is a two-week trip to see India’s cultures and ecology.
CONTACT: (607) 255-2000, cornell.edu
STUDENT BODY: 13,935 undergraduates, 7,004 graduates
TUITION: $41,541, room and board $13,160