Duke vs Cornell for CS

I am struggling to make a decision and would be grateful for any knowledgeable perspectives. Planning to go to Cornell Arts & Sciences for Computer Science. However I’ve now been admitted to Duke from the waitlist and trying to determine what is best for me, and finding it a very tough decision. Definitely want CS major. I know both schools are great and I could study other areas which interest me too (I like foreign languages, econ, etc.) I am introverted but friendly and get along with people, and I’m assuming I can find a friend group at either. Can’t address financial aid because I don’t know offer yet. Here are the main pros and concerns in my mind:

Cornell pros:

  1. only a few hours from home and a few hours from my sibling in Boston, my parents could visit easily but it’s far enough to feel independent
  2. top CS program - I want a really great CS education with solid foundation in all the fundamentals, and I also want to have good prospects for jobs and internships - even though I’m not sure what I’ll want to do for a career
  3. beauty of campus, and also I like Ithaca and CollegeTown - seem nice with enough things to do
  4. they awarded me a community-service based fellowship which is a selective honor

Concerns about Cornell:

  1. winters…not looking forward to dreary depressing weather, my toes and fingers white with cold, and taking the bus to morning class in bitter cold
  2. not great housing on campus after second year, I’d prefer to stay on campus
  3. My biggest concern - I’ve heard about the stress culture and that concerns me. I don’t mind working hard and expect to have a high workload. But I’ve heard that at Cornell CS the workload is insanely over the top, so people have periods of no sleep and intense pressure, with a lot of competition and difficulty getting good grades. I’m prone to high anxiety anticipating exams and so the idea of a high-stress culture does concern me. Are Cornell CS students unhappy?
  4. Is it true that it can be difficult to get into the classes you want?

Duke - pros

  1. warmer climate, easier more relaxed lifestyle because of the weather
  2. maybe a happier student body? Is Duke a happier place for CS undergrads - I would love to know the answer to this question! Is there less of a high-stress-culture for CS students? I can enjoy watching Duke BB games but I’m not a huge sports fan.

Duke - concerns

  1. I read a post that the CS education at Duke is a bit lightweight compared to more top-ranked CS schools. This would concern me but I’m not sure if it’s true.
  2. Do Duke CS majors get as many job/internship offers?

In summary, I think I could be ok at either school but my biggest questions are:

  1. Is Cornell CS a very high pressure stress culture, with unhappy students?
  2. Are students at Duke CS happier and less stressed?
  3. But does Cornell provide a more solid, thorough CS education with better job and internship prospects?

CS grads from both schools do very well but they’re both challenging (the top schools all are). Maybe humanities at Duke wouldn’t be terribly stressful but I expect STEM to be challenging.

If you can’t visit, go with your gut, or what you would regret least. They are peer schools that offer the same opportunities.

Thank you for the comment! Not sure where sushiritto’s comment came from since it seems to be from another thread. But I have visited Cornell and will be visiting Duke this weekend. I’ve seen both before also. Definitely appreciate that suggestion. Both campuses are beautiful, when I’ve been to Duke it’s sunny and warm, when I’ve been to Ithaca it’s colder and damper, so I’m not sure how to weigh that or if it’s best not paid too much attention to.

I do expect either of these schools to be challenging for CS. I know it won’t be easy, and that there will be periods of stress, etc. I guess somehow I’m wondering if the Cornell CS stress-culture is over the top, with a really insane workload and constant stress, and if Duke is a little bit less so. At least that’s my impression and I’m not sure where it comes from and if it’s true or not. So I guess that’s my main question for the thread. Also, I don’t know what grading is like at either, and I wonder about grade deflation/inflation, or whether one is harder than the other to get good grades in tough CS courses.

Thank you !

Talk of stress culture in Cornell is overdone.
You’re clearly a very capable student.
If you keep up with the coursework, you won’t be stressed.

Also fewer distractions at Cornell :slight_smile:

Hmm, what do you mean? Do you mean sports?

Any idea about the grading policies of either?

If the weather affects you, that’s a legitimate reason to pick one school over another, IMO.

(yes I meant sports et al, Cornell has some but not to the extend Duke has’em)
I though grading was fair, no inflation, no deflation.
Econ students used to hate when Engineers took their courses for electives and
to prop up their GPAs (I hear the same happens at Dyson these days :slight_smile: )

I can imagine they’d hate that, ha ha!

The weather is a factor but it’s hard to know how much weight to give it. I assume I could manage fine in Ithaca with a good coat and boots, but it’s true that Duke’s sunny warmth can help.

Sports and school spirit are not a big factor for me. I like watching sports but I’m not a huge fan, or huge partier, I kind of like doing my own thing with my group of friends.

I’m mostly wondering about the relative stress level etc.

Because if you search CC, you’ll find a few threads pertaining to the Duke vs. Cornell CS comparison. Yours is not the first time its been discussed here.

Ok, no problem, I didn’t realize that “cross-threading” would happen. Glad to help each other.

I think the most important thing you have mentioned is that you are going to be in Cornell’s A&S college and not the School of Engineering for your CS degree. That could be a big difference as far as stress goes. The engineering program path is much more structured and can be more stressful.

One of my sons is graduating from Cornell in CS later this month and he approached his degree from the A&S side of the school. I think he had an amazing experience. He, like you does not care at all about sports, or school spirit, but he likes to rock climb and has many friends with common academic and extra curricular interests (and had fun in Ithaca despite the weather).

While he did not take advantage of any internships or career counseling in his four years there, he has always wanted to pursue an academic path, and he found the research opportunities to be very good (he has a few published papers). He was admitted to his first choice PhD program (higher ranked than Cornell) and we are thrilled that we (his parents) do not have to pay for anything after May 30th.

It is worth noting that our son consciously choose to study CS from the A&S side of Cornell rather than the Engineering side. Some of the high stress you may be hearing about may be from that side. Not that CS from the School of Engineering is a bad way to go, but the engineering program has many more requirements and fewer non-major electives available for their 4 year undergraduate program.

Don’t know anything about Duke for CS. It is good school that is known for many things. I don’t think CS is one of them.


Compare the CS course catalogs.

Duke Computer Science Courses (Make sure to view all terms).

Cornell Computer Science Courses

Duke has just one course on Databases, Cornell has several. Cornell has a course on Deep Learning, Duke has none. Cornell has several courses on Distributed Systems. Duke appears to have a couple but when you look at the details it is more about networking. Of the two, Cornell appears to offer a stronger program based on the course catalogs.


Both schools will offer you great opportunities in CS. Cornell might have the edge if you are planning on doing a ton of/a niche section of CS research or really care for theory, but both schools will give you access to the top CS gigs.

Ok so very interesting things raised. Here are my conclusions (and simultaneous questions):

  1. No question that Cornell’s offerings are much broader than Duke’s…just the number of courses is majorly different. So this leads toward Cornell and is actually pretty compelling. BUT: there are people who say that both schools will prepare you well, and my Dad (not really a CS person but has a doctorate so pretty higher-ed savvy) believes that at the undergraduate level the differences aren’t so important…so hard to know…

  2. very interesting to me to speculate about whether Cornell CS is less stressful in A&S than Engineering. Since I’m in A&S I hope you’re right. I would love to know if your son felt that his Engineering CS peers were much more stressed than he was! I know the actual CS major curriculum is the same in both, but it does seem very true that curriculum other than the major classes is tougher, and more rigid, in Engineering. I assume that career opportunities are the same for either…right? And congrats to your son on the highly ranked PhD program - that’s amazing!

  3. I’m going to visit Duke in next couple of days so hopefully that will shed some light…I’m looking for that gut feeling!

Thank you all.

I have another son who got his CS undergraduate from another school but from the engineering side of the university. He would tell you the higher stress does not come from any sort of cut throat environment, but just the the course requirements for an engineering degree all have a lot of homework/problem sets so there is less time for other things (he was also a varsity athlete).

Heavily recruited by all the top tech firms, now two years out of college and living in a tech city, he often laments that all his post-college friends are at the same six companies, and everyone graduated from the same six schools. Cornell is easily one of the six…Duke isn’t even close.

Duke is a great school with nice weather. But you asked about CS.

I would have been more stressed in CAS … bring on those engineering courses over anything involving an essay please …

Ok. I’m returning to this thread. I’m literally writing from a hotel room in Durham. I drove down here with one of my parents to spend the day on the Duke campus and just see how it felt. Undergrads are mostly gone for the summer, but athletes and some summer students are here and I was able to talk to a few people. I think my gut feeling is that Duke would be a happier place for me. It didn’t feel like a high-stress culture like Cornell did. The people I met all said they love it. They talked about hard work but also finding study-life balance. I also think the warmth and climate are better for me - I met one student from Buffalo who said she literally wanted to go to college in the south because of upstate NY winters. Everyone I met (mostly science students) also said that getting As is doable, whereas at Cornell people said it’s difficult and to come prepared to get Bs and Cs. That is tough for me. I loved the campus and I think I felt more comfortable.

But petilon, superdomestique, and dimkin - you all (or y’all, since I’m in the south) make a pretty strong case for Cornell as the clear leader for CS, and I did go over the cs course offerings for both. That was definitely sobering - Cornell has much greater breadth of topics. I just can’t tell if that means I’d be significantly better-educated or more career-prepared. I’m afraid to give up Cornell’s clear leadership in cs education - partly for the career prep, but even more because I want my education to be deep and thorough. The schools are probably similarly prestigious, but the CS programs aren’t and I just don’t know how much weight to give that.

Aargh. Not good at tough decisions.

Duke CS grads still do very well. Take a look at College Scorecard. Maybe not as well, on average, as Cornell CS grads, but

  1. It’s hard to tell how much of that is attributable to entering student quality. Typically, the top CS programs attract the best CS talent.
  2. You don’t know whether you would do worse/better/same at Duke vs. Cornell.

Evidently, Duke CS does care about instruction quality.

1 Like

When my son was applying to grad school in CS, I had one parent option. I narrowed it down to Duke or Emory. Climate is perfect, cost of living is great. If you do well at either school, you’ll have a good job. Go with fit. Oh yes, forgot to say that Cornell was never on list for UG or grad, because of the flight plans. All schools had to be a direct flight. That may seem silly to you, but it was one of those idiosyncratic factors. So, take my words with a big grain of salt