A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Ithaca

Tips for students entering Cornell

Just been accepted?  We’ve compiled some handy tips to help you prepare for student life in Ithaca. Cornell (and our department in particular) is a very supportive community, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or resources! The Graduate School also has many offices staffed with people ready to help point you in the right direction.


Funding and Finances

The EEB department guarantees five years of funding through Teaching Assistantships to all its graduate students. Many students also find support through fellowships provided by Cornell or programs like NSF’s GRFP. Teaching assistantship salaries are close to the national average for TAships, and Cornell lists current graduate student salaries onlineCornell provides an assessment of the cost of living and learning in Ithaca, but you can also ask current grads about their experience! Keep in mind that TAships include full coverage of tuition; your stipend is in addition to tuition coverage.

If you have children or hope to start a family while in grad school, Cornell offers child care grants and many other services to help you care for yourself and your family. The Big Red Barn frequently hosts social events for students and partners/spouses, where you can connect with others in the community looking for employment, child care options, or just new friends.The international student office has a lot of resources for students arriving from abroad, including free easy to use software and workshops for filing taxes! See http://isso.cornell.edu/financial/taxes

For all students, Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca provides community programs with tax assistance and other financial advising services.

There are several insurance agencies in Ithaca and nearby Syracuse. Tompkins Trust is the local insurance and banking company. As far as banking, local banks and Citizens Bank – a larger bank found throughout the Northeast – are available. Bank of America has just two ATMs in Ithaca, but that may be all you need.

Other links

Seminar series for making the transition to graduate school:





The Search

The housing market in Ithaca is infamously tight and it’s never too early to look for a place to rent. Many off-campus options go online in January and February, but apartments can still usually be found through the spring and summer (see this great site for on-campus options). Most graduate students search Craigslist for apartments, but local landlords also post on Ithacarents.com, the Cornell housing list, and other websites. Cornell also hosts an Off-campus Housing Fair in the Fall. There are several apartment complexes in Ithaca, but less expensive housing close to campus tends to be in multi-unit housing in renovated early 20th century buildings, advertised locally or on Craigslist. Wherever you choose to rent, make sure to review your tenant rights (descriptions here and here)! New students frequently send roommate requests through the graduate student listserv – just contact a student in your new lab to see if they can ask around. And keep in mind that if you’re having trouble finding housing near campus that’s in your budget, rental prices do drop as soon as you get outside of the downtown area. Bus options will be more limited, but you can pay to park on campus.

Cornell has some great resources for on-campus options: http://living.sas.cornell.edu/live/wheretolive/housingoptions/graduate.cfm

The Rent

Ithaca housing is also known to be surprisingly expensive! Many students lease with roommates and divide up rent 1-bed 1-bathrooms near campus are also available. Prices vary with location, square footage, utilities included, and amenities, but $600-750 is a fairly normal price range for renting close to campus if you have roommates. Small one bedrooms can be found for approximately $1000-1100, and larger apartments (1 bed 1 baths or 2 bed 1 baths) usually run from $1200-$1400. Some students rent whole houses with 3 or more bedrooms and share costs.

Deciding Factors

Everyone has different priorities when searching for housing, but listed below are a few things to consider (and ask landlords about!) when searching for housing in Ithaca.

  • Location

Ithaca consists of several neighborhoods surrounding Cornell, Ithaca College, and The Commons, the city’s downtown shopping and community event area (see links below). Walkscore.com can be helpful in determining the “walkability” of essential services near an apartment if you don’t have a car (also see Transportation). The map below provides rough outlines of the geographic area covered by each neighborhood:



Interact with this map of the neighborhoods here! The yellow (Downtown) and Blue (Fall Creek) sections have recently been pooled into one area.

But of course, you don’t have to live in Ithaca proper! If you’d like to live further from campus, Ithaca is surrounded by beautiful rural areas with houses for sale or rent.

  • Parking

Have a car? Housing with off-street parking is more convenient but less common than on-street (parallel) parking. Many students park on-street near their apartments if they live near downtown. Ithaca has a couple on-street parking rules that are important to pay attention to: 24-hr parking and winter odd-even parking (see this site). Thankfully, this user-friendly website takes some of the guesswork out of odd-even parking.

  • Laundry

As most housing in multi-unit homes consists of renovated rooms, “in-unit” laundry is uncommon (and coveted). Many houses have “in building” laundry, usually in the basement. If neither option is available, a quick search on Google Maps will show you nearby laundromats.

  • Utilities

Some landlords include full or partial utilities in their rent, but some do not; look carefully at advertisements online to determine which services will be covered. If utilities are not included they can add up to more than $100 per month. Heat, cold and hot water, and electricity are utilities commonly included, while WiFi (Time Warner is the most common provider) usually is not. Most apartments do not have air conditioning, and heating systems and quality of insulation can vary.

  • Renovation

Many units are partially or fully renovated. Viewing the unit yourself is often the best way to determine its condition, but some landlords may be willing to show the apartment by Skype or send additional photographs if you are renting from a distance.


Other links

Cornell Dean’s office: http://dos.cornell.edu/off-campus-living/housing-search-process

Housing search checklist: http://dos.cornell.edu/sites/dos.cornell.edu/files/ocho/documents/SecureHousingBeforeArrivingInformationChecklist2015.pdf

Cooperative housing on-campus: http://living.sas.cornell.edu/live/wheretolive/co-ops/

Living at Cornell: http://living.sas.cornell.edu/




Getting around town

Ithaca is a small city, but accessing campus from the surrounding neighborhoods can require a long (if beautiful) walk up the gorge from the downtown/Fall Creek area. Parking permits are available for purchase, but many students use the TCAT bus system. First-year students are provided free unlimited bus rides with their Cornell ID card, so definitely take advantage!  Buses run very frequently from to and from the Commons downtown, walkable from nearby neighborhoods. A bus ride to our department building (the stop is “Uris Hall- Across Street”) from the Commons is often less than 15 minutes. Below are some of the routes that run from each neighborhood to and from campus:


The current “Ride Guide” is here!

Want to use a car without buying or renting one? Cornell subsidizes memberships to Ithaca Carshare and also hosts Zimride, two rideshare options.

For more detailed and up-to-date route information, see the current schedule on the TCAT website (http://www.tcatbus.com/ride/).

Other links:

Cornell parking: https://fcs.cornell.edu/content/parking-students

TCAT bus system: http://www.tcatbus.com/ and http://www.tcatbus.com/learn/system-map/

Trails to bike and hike around Ithaca: https://ithacatrails.org/ 


Traveling in and out of Ithaca

Ithaca has its very own, very small airport called Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH). The proximity of ITH is highly convenient, but its small size and small planes often mean delays, particularly in the winter. Other nearby airports include Elmira/Corning Regional Airport (30min away) and Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR), about an hour away.

Cornell Cooperative Extension has a great summary of regional transportation options.

Fancy a trip to the city? Cornell offers a luxurious ride to NYC on the Campus-to-Campus buses, but if you’re strapped for cash then OurBus,  Shortline, and Zimride are more affordable options.

Ithaca is also driving distance to some great places to visit like Toronto, Albany, and the Adirondack Mountains! The topography of upstate New York is very picturesque, so a weekend driving trip is a great idea in the fall, spring and summer. But don’t drive across the state if it’s snowing!


Getting ready to move!

If you’ve been accepted as a new student at Cornell, congratulations! We’re excited to meet you soon. Make sure you complete the items on the “new student checklist” for graduate students. 

If you are an international student moving to Ithaca, this page can help you make the transition.

If you are moving from another state with a car, as a student you don’t need to change your license and vehicle registration.

To vote in New York state you will need to register using the options on this website.

Residency and taxes: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/file/pit_definitions.htm

New York DMV: https://dmv.ny.gov/more-info/moving-new-york