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Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration

Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration is a powerhouse. It is consistently ranked as America’s top hospitality management school and attracts many international students.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   17-11-2011
 

Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration is a powerhouse. It is consistently ranked as America’s top hospitality management school and attracts many international students.

A reputation as the best hotel administration program in the country makes Cornell one of the top prizes in the hospitality management admissions sweepstakes.

The quality of admitted students and the 60 full-time faculty members is, unsurprisingly, exceptional. Cornell’s strength resides in the excellence of its professors, some of whom are internationally respected in their field.     

“We have maintained our first-mover advantage by tailoring our program and course requirements to suit what we see as the future of the industry,” said Steven Carvell, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Hotel Administration, in Cornell University, at Ithaca.

Carvell is the co-author of "In the Shadows of Wall Street” and has taught finance courses at the school since 1986. Carvell’s research is directed toward new approaches to hotel valuation and investment decisions.Carvell talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about how academic ability, leadership experience, people skills and personality characteristics gauged through the interview all figure predominantly in the admissions process. Of course, graduates from Cornell are in high demand and have the pick of top hospitality industry jobs.  

Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration started in 1922 is acknowledged as the first collegiate program in hospitality management. Can you talk about the things that have made your program one the finest in the world?

Throughout our history we have seen a landscape of hospitality leadership and our program has changed through the years in order to keep pace with it and lead it. If you look at what we did in the 1920s, 30s and 40s; it is not the same as what we do now, but we have continued to do what prepares our students to be leaders in the industry. The requirements for that kind of leadership have changed as the world has become smaller and more complex.

“We have maintained our first-mover advantage by tailoring our program and course requirements to suit what we see as the future of the industry.”

Our students continue to find themselves well prepared to take on leadership roles around the world. We have maintained our first-mover advantage by tailoring our program and course requirements to suit what we see as the future of the industry.  

Cornell’s undergraduate degree in Hotel Administration is a four-year program that spans all aspects of hospitality management. Our students spend time on advanced business modeling, Internet marketing, finance, supply chain management, real estate and operations management. All students graduate from the program having worked 800 hours in a hospitality-related field. This Practice Credit requirement ensures a balance between classroom learning and real-world practice.

We also have a very effective alliance with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Students who are enrolled at the School of Hotel Administration can during their time here take semesters and course at the CIA and if they are diligent they can complete their Associates degree at the CIA over the course of the four years they are students here at Cornell. On the other side, we have students who have finished their Associates degree from the Culinary Institute who then transfer to our school and finish up their Bachelors degree. It is a very valuable program that we are very happy with.

Over the course of a working life, can your hotel management graduates expect to recoup the cost of their education?

“The thing that we are most proud of is that even within the financial situation that we have found ourselves…our students are in high demand and they are still finding jobs in the career path of their choice.”

I certainly would hope so. As a private Ivy League university, Cornell is much more expensive than many other state programs that also have hospitality programs within them but I think by far our students recover the costs. Our Office of Student Affairs has very specific statistics on starting salaries after graduation. The field you are in makes a difference but I think the starting salaries are well in excess of $40,000 a year, maybe $45,000 a year now. Those are averages, some starting salaries are higher. It goes up on average by three to four percent a year.

The thing that we are most proud of is that even within the financial situation that we have found ourselves where nationally employment rates of recent college grads are in the mid-20 percent, last year we were in excess of 75 percent. Our students are in high demand and they are still finding jobs in the career path of their choice. We are very proud of that.      

Does Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration have a strong desire and commitment to enrolling international students? 

Oh, yes! First of all hospitality in general is the largest global industry and it includes tourism and airlines, cruise lines, gaming. In addition it is the precursor to development in many developing countries so our international focus is incredibly important to us. We have been global since our beginning. We have alums in their sixties and seventies actively running large global corporations. We are not only proud of it but we are committed to continuing our global presence. Our challenge of course is that international students need to bring with them their tuition requirements but we spend a lot of effort recruiting. We are also now engaged with working with institutions on collaborations internationally.

If a visa is denied would your school defer admission and hold the student’s spot until the visa is obtained?

If an international student didn’t have a visa yet and had been admitted, I would imagine that it would be quite rare for us not to defer the admission. We defer admissions for many reasons military service. We have individuals in countries around the world who after their high school applied but they have mandatory military service. We defer admissions for them.  I don’t know how many years we would defer it for. I imagine that one year is an easy deferral three years probably gets a little bit harder.

“We have reasonably high expectations —our SAT scores are about 1,280 for the math and verbal (and)…we have almost 1,000 applicants for about 170 slots.”

Unless you are in a defined military program and we know that it is typically two years. Let’s just say that we have had students who have been caught up in political situations with visas which is very sad. One kid was coming from Pakistan and his great uncle was on some list and he didn’t come to the US because of it. Of course, that is outside of our control but to the extent that we see that a visa issue can be resolved in short order, I would imagine that we would be more than happy to defer admissions.         

Does the School of Administration have any financial aid for international students enrolled in the bachelors and graduate programs?

We have a few scholarships that are set up specifically for international students. They are typically set by international alumni who have done well and want to support students from their home countries get to Cornell. It is not like we don’t have any, but not nearly enough to support the number of international students who come to us. Often it is very country-specific.  

What does an international student have to do to get admission into your four-year Bachelor in Science in Hotel Administration program? Do you all look at SAT scores, or rely on the ACT results? Do admission requirements for international students also include TOEFL or IELTS scores?

We look at SAT scores. Generally, of course ACTs are the same thing. We have TOEFL requirements. The issue with all these things is not to eliminate someone from coming to Cornell but simply to say that the expectations of the faculty and the cohort of other students who are enrolled are highly competitive. At least 80% of our students come from the top 10% of their graduating high school class.

“We get brilliant applicants because we have a very strong national and international reputation. It is a focused degree so the students who come to us really want to come here.”

We have reasonably high expectations our SAT scores are about 1,280 for the math and verbal. I could share another statistic we have almost 1,000 applicants for about 170 slots. Honestly almost half of those applicants are really not competitive, but that still leaves us with 500 very highly competitive applicants for 170 spots.

Those are people who all fit the description of having 1,500 SATs or higher, GPA scores of A- at least so we have one difficult time differentiating between these excellent students who are applying. We do get brilliant applicants because we have a very strong national and international reputation. It is a focused degree so the students who come to us really want to come here.

I have met students here who have told me that it has been their dream to come to our school since they were 12. We have kids who have written cookbooks, kids who have curriculum vitas that show their involvement not just with the industry, but also their leadership work in running charities, student organizations and student government.    

Are all applicants required to have an admissions interview?

Yes, we are among the few programs that have an admission requirement of an interview but it is not to say that applicants have to come to Cornell to interview. We have alumni in almost every country in the world who regularly and readily serve as interviewers for our students. Actually, there are plenty of students even here in the United States that just can’t manage to come to Ithaca easily because of how busy they are or financial concerns that their parents have about coming all the way to Ithaca from the West Cost and we just have our alumni interview them.

“As we are making the selection among the thousands of students that are applying for the small number of spots that we have, it is very important for us to find the right type of people to come here.”

The interview drives our admission process. Numbers will tell me about your IQ, we are very much interested in your EQ which is your emotional quotient. This is an industry that requires individuals who love to interact with other people. You really have to be a people person because you are working in teams and groups. This is not computer science engineering where you can sit on a computer and do your work and be great at it.

As we are making the selection among the thousands of students that are applying for the small number of spots that we have, it is very important for us to find the right type of people to come here. The interview for us is critical. We will not accept students who don’t convince us that this is where they want to be.

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