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Roundtable II: Best Places for New Cornell Students to Live

Roundtable II: Best Places for New Cornell Students to Live

In the second installment of our series,  international students discuss the best  rental apartments near Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. (See part 1: Best places to rent an apartment in Syracuse).

Cornell’s alma mater begins with the verse “High above Cayuga’s waters” and students looking for housing should listen carefully. The campus sits atop some steep hills, and in the winter the walk can be…challenging. Generally, houses cost less than apartments in complexes, and rents for houses are determined by their altitude.  Any house on the bottom of a hill is going to be significantly cheaper than one closer to the top, sometimes by as much as 50%.

In our discussion with current graduate students, we found apartment complexes are the first choice for many international students because of their comprehensiveness and convenience. According to our panelists, the average rental price for each one, two and three bedroom apartment is $800, $1100 and $1500 respectively. Price is only one of the many factors our panelists considered.

Other factors often mentioned were distance to campus, availability of public transportation, proximity to markets and restaurants, the natural surroundings, room sizes, furnishings, quietness, safety, the quality of neighbors, and parking.

Given our panelist’s discussion, we’ve ranked the top housing options below:

A. Gun Hill Apartments With between one-third to one-half of all the tenants from China, Gun Hill is unquestionably one of the most popular apartments among Chinese student body. The average rent for one room in a three to four bedroom apartment is $600-$750, which is about 30% less than a bedroom in a small house in Collegetown. To serve the tenants (i.e. to deal with the uphill trip to campus), Gun Hill offers a private free shuttle between the complex and main campus. “Every weekday morning I took the free shuttle bus to Cornell,” says Lee, an alumnus who still lives in the complex two years after graduating. Since Gun Hill is located on the steepest slope in Ithaca, the free bus is a key amenity. “This bus service provided by the apartment makes traveling to school a lot easier.  No one here wants to deal with that walk, especially in winter.”

B. Collegetown. Collegetown is the most popular and crowded area, and is located on the south edge of campus. From a student’s perspective, Collegetown is to Cornell is what Time’s Square is to Manhattan—the place where everyone hangs out after work. “It has everything you need” says says Yabang Liu,  a graduate student in mechanical engineering. “Whether you are rushing to class and want to grab a quick bite, or you have no plans for a Friday night and just want to have some fun in a bar, Collegetown is the one and only place to go.” Apartments  here have the advantage of convenience. Students living here save time walking between home and school or restaurants. “Before I moved into Ravenwood, my original target was the complex at 312 College Avenue,” says Zhe Ye. “There was a $400 Collegetown room available last year, which was super rare. I got up 7 o’clock in the morning and ran there to be the first one to sign up and pay. I was shocked when I got there and found a huge line outside the office. Someone told me the first guy got here at 4 am!”

Photo of 407 College Avenue.

An apartment complex at 407 College Avenue. Developers are building more and more of these high-rise buildings, but demand still outstrips supply in Collegetown. Photo by Xiaoxiao Liu.

Collegetown’s extreme convenience also has a negative. Being in the commercial center, apartments in Collegetown are mostly small and pricy. The average price for each one, two and three bedroom apartment is around $800, $900, and $1200 per month. The noise can be problem too, due to the density of bars. Tenants here say the noise is bad and the nighttime crowds can get rowdy. The noise is enough of a concern  that 407 College Ave Apartments, located in the busiest part of College Avenue, uses terms like ‘Sound Suppression Construction’ on their website as a way to address students’ concerns about the noise problem.

C. Ravenwood. One block from Cornell’s West Campus border, Ravenwood is another apartment comple that has a lot of positive word-of-mouth between current and incoming students every summer. Zhe Ye, a junior pre-med student who has been living here for a year, particularly enjoys the social opportunities in Ravenwood. “I personally know about 20 Chinese students living here. It’s quite easy to make new friends just through friends’ introductions or spontaneous visits. Making dumplings during spring festival makes me feel I have a home away from home.”

Ravenwood apartment complex.

Ravenwood apartments near Cornell University is a regular stop on the TCAT line, and offers free parking to residents. Photo by Xiaoxioa Liu.

One concern our panelists expressed was about the safety of University Ave, where Ravenwood is located. “Some people think it’s the worst in terms of security, but I actually lived on University Ave for my junior and senior years, and I never saw anything suspicious,” says Robert Guo, a Cornell Master’s student in Computer Science. Considering its moderate rent, close distance to campus and the buses running every 5-10 minutes, International students still put Ravenwood near the top of their lists.

D. Maple Wood Park. Maple wood Park is very popular among PhD students and Post Docs who need to find a quiet place with enough room for their families. Close to the Belle Sherman Elementary School, parents here don’t have to worry about their children while they are studying or working in the university. Benefiting from an active community center, residents have a place to hang out on weekends. Information on various social events and movie nights are also listed on the Maplewood Facebook page.

E. Lansing West Apartments. Located on the north of campus, only one bus line, TCAT No.30, goes to the campus and it stops running early at 9 pm. Most residents here own private cars or frequently share rides with friends. Without a car, it can take as long as one hour walking, or fifteen minutes by bus to get to the main campus. Rooms are relatively spacious and comfortable.  “I looked at the apartments here, and they were pretty big.” said Dong Meilin. “A two-bedroom apartment was big enough for three people. That could reduce the total rent from $600+ to $400+.” For those who value personal space more than a short commute, Lansing West is definitely a place to consider. However if you don’t have your own transportation and want to a night life, you’re better off looking closer to campus.

F. Hasbrouck. Hasbrouck is probably Cornell’s largest graduate and professional student community. Its good reputation is the result of its moderate price ($400-$600), adjacency to campus, frequent TCAT buses and a walkable distance to university sports facilities. By living close to campus, students not only save valuable time in the morning but also avoid the headache of parking. “Driving to class was never my first option,” says Huang Zan, an ILR graduate alumna. “Parking on campus is always a problem when you have a class to catch. It seems like the university is trying to discourage private transportation by intentionally building parking areas away from schools.”

Summary Early application on Cornell University’s housing service website is an absolute requirement if you want to get a room. Space rents out quickly. If an apartment is owned by the university, slots typically fill before the opening term begins each Fall. If you don’t have accommodations sorted shortly after acceptance, you probably have to go to the open market in Gun Hill or Collegetown.

About The Author

Xiaoxiao Liu

Master of Science in New Media Management


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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