Making the Grade

Education systems differ from country to country. If you are new to the US, you may be unfamiliar with the educational process here. You may have questions regarding the courses that are offered, the grading mechanisms or papers. It is normal to feel a little lost as you adjust to a different system of education. The following information is designed to help you familiarize yourself with various aspects of academics at Cornell. Students should visit their college's registrar's office or website, to better understand the academic curriculum policies and graduation requirements administered by the individual colleges or schools.

  • Getting Started

    Be sure to read the syllabus given by Professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) on the first day of class. The syllabus contains important information on texts to be used for the class, test dates, project due dates etc. Most professors and TAs have office hours that are open to all students in the class. Utilize this time to get to know the instructor, and discuss anything you don't understand. You can also make appointments to see your professors outside of their office hours.

    Generally each class has frequent tests and exams. Most of the tests/quizzes and reports count toward your final grade. The final examination may count for up to 40-50% of the total grade. Class participation is an integral part of most courses in the US. Questions, comments, and peer critiques are expected and encouraged of all students, and active class participation constitutes a significant determinant of the grade. If you are uncomfortable speaking English at first, practice casual conversation to increase your confidence and ability.

  • Understanding Credits & Advanced Placement

    Each college has a required number of academic credits that students must earn to graduate. Students should visit their college's registrar's office or website, for college-specific details. Students typically take an average of 15 credits per semester. In theory each credit involves one hour of in-class instruction and two hours of outside study per week. This is only a guideline, however; you may find one course more challenging than another with the same number of credit hours.

    If you have taken Advanced Placement exams and are wondering what kind of placement or credit you might receive at Cornell, refer to the chart about AP and International Credentials sent to you. If you have not received this chart, inquire at your college's registrar's office. If you think you deserve credit for qualifications other than those recognized by Cornell, take the placement exams (offered only in some subjects) during Orientation Week. Dates, times and places for these are listed in the Orientation Handbook, mailed to each new undergraduate student during the summer.

  • Changing Classes

    Students may adjust their schedules during add/drop/change periods using the add/drop forms obtained from your college registrar or via Student Center. Professional schools, Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, and the Department of Physical Education and Athletics have different course enrollment and add-drop policies. See the Course Catalog for more information. You have three weeks each semester to officially ADD, CHANGE GRADING OPTIONS, AND CHANGE VARIABLE CREDITS. You have seven weeks to drop. Because final add/drop dates vary for different colleges, check with your college registrar. Changes after these dates will have to be authorized by your advisor, and a fee will be charged. Also, many courses are sequential, so some classes may be necessary pre-requisites for others. Consult with your academic advisor for details.

  • Using the Library

    Most Courses require extensive use of the library facilities. A great deal of information about Cornell's Library System is available online. Here you may look for books and articles, renew loans, recall books, and much more.

    The library also offers tours at the start of each academic year to familiarize students with the facilities available for research. International students are encouraged to attend one of these sessions to learn how to make optimal use of the excellent resources Cornell's libraries offer. For details regarding the orientation sessions, check with the Library Reference Desk or the Information Assistant on duty. 

  • Looking for Help

    If you find yourself having trouble in some classes, don't panic. It is usually difficult for professors to seek out students especially in large classes. Hence you must take the initiative. Seek assistance from Teaching Assistants (TAs), professors, friends or other resource centers on campus.

    In addition, each college has a registrar and a Student Service Office where you may seek assistance. Your advisor is here to advise you, so keep her/him informed of your academic situation and feel free to seek them out whenever you need assistance.

  • On-Campus Resources

    The Learning Strategies Center is the central academic support unit at Cornell University that provides undergraduate students with tutoring, supplemental courses, and facilitated study groups for Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Mathematics and Physics. Assistance in improving general study skills is available through semester long courses, workshops, individual consultations, and web site resources.

    John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines supports writing seminars and writing intensive courses in a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and at all levels of undergraduate education; it also engages in a variety of outreach activities.

    Center for Teaching Excellence acts as a resource for the academic community by offering a wide array of research-based programs and services that support teaching and reflective practice. We encourage instructional practices that focus on student learning and develop critical thinking skills.

    Mathematics Support Center operates on the premise that you will learn mathematical concepts best by doing problems and practicing regularly. Study capsules and tutoring assist in refreshing your memory, filling gaps in your math background, reinforcing class work, helping on difficult topics, or reviewing for exams. MSC services are available weekdays and Sundays throughout the semester.

    Cornell Information Technologies

    Biology Learning Strategies Center

    Library help for International Students

The Office of Internal Transfer and Concurrent Degrees assists undergraduate students who are considering transfer between colleges within Cornell. Students who are contemplating this option and want more information can contact OITCD or the admissions office of their intended college. OITCD also assists students who want to pursue majors in two different colleges (i.e., concurrent degrees); these students are encouraged to meet with an OITCD advisor early on.