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Studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell: My Experience

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The School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell has exposed me to so many different disciplines surrounding the complicated and fascinating world of work. As a senior, I cannot believe that in 7 short weeks, I’m going to be graduating. Next year, I’ll be in New York City advising clients on workforce issues at a large consulting firm. After a few years of work, I hope to attend graduate school. In this post, you’ll learn about my background, the mission, academics, and career opportunities that the ILR School has to offer.


Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, known as the ILR School and located in Ithaca, New York, is one of the only colleges with a focus on workplace issues in the United States. The school itself was founded in 1944, as leaders in business and labor relations believed that there needed to be a program at universities that taught labor-management relations. The school is a “land grant” university and technically part of the SUNY system, meaning that New York state residents pay in-state tuition and the school is funded by New York State. 


Cornell students interested in a variety of subjectslaw, government, and businessmajor in ILR. Within the ILR School there are six academic departments: Labor Economics, Human Resource Studies, International and Comparative Labor, Labor Relations, Law & History, Organizational Behavior, and Social Statistics.


Admissions is competitive; in 2020, the undergraduate acceptance rate for the ILR School was 16.5%.

My Background and Academic Interests 


In high school, I was interested in business, law, and political science. I found government, policy, and international relations to be fascinating. I was involved in debate and Model UN at my high school, and was also a statewide 4H leader who helped young people become involved in local politics.


I applied to many colleges with political science, government or international relations as my intended major, but deep down I knew that it wasn’t the right fit. First of all, many programs in these major focus on political theories, which I was not very interested in. I had absolutely no intention of going into politics or government. I also found that a lot of students in those types of majors immediately attended graduate programs right after school. 


While I was still in high school, I was confident that I wanted to work directly after undergrad, so I looked for programs with stellar on-campus recruiting services. I also applied to some colleges as an intended business major, but I found myself drawn to the “people issues” within business rather than finance, accounting, marketing. I felt like I did not find a major that suited me until I heard about the ILR School at Cornell.


Declaring the ILR Major at Cornell University


The Cornell Common App requires that students apply to a specific college when they apply. Then, applications are sent directly to admissions officers at that certain college who make the admissions decisions. 


When applying to Cornell ILR, you’ll need to answer a supplement about how your interests align with the ILR School. This application is your way of “declaring” your major, as the ILR School has only the ILR major within it. The Common App supplement is a great way to show your passion for the various disciplines within the school and show that you would be a good fit at the university. 


There are also a number of students who change majors while at Cornell. The process for transferring is mandated by each individual college. There are also a substantial number of transfer students at ILR from universities other than Cornell. These students must submit required materials by October 15 (spring transfer) or March 15 (fall transfer).


Requirements for the ILR Major at Cornell University 


As a student in the ILR School, there are certain “core” course req uirements you must complete for your first two years. These courses are:


  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Introductory statistics
  • Human resource management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Labor relations
  • Labor economics
  • Labor and employment law
  • Advanced writing
  • First-year colloquium


I personally really enjoyed the required courses, and none of them were particularly difficult. The economics classes tend to be huge lectures (around 500 students), but the rest of the classes sizes range from about 20-50 students per section.


After completing those classes, students have more freedom in their curriculum. There are distribution and elective requirements to complete, but many different classes can be taken to fill these requirements. 


Distribution requirements are less specific to ILR as classes across the university can be counted towards these requirements. Students must take at least 1 class in each of the following categories: Cultural Perspectives, Science & Technology, and Western Intellectual Tradition.


Elective requirements fall into the categories of economic policy electives, international and comparative labor, or labor history. Students must take 1 class in each of those categories and 40 additional credits in the ILR School. That means that a student could take literally any ILR class and it would count towards these requirements. At least 24 of these credits must be taken within the ILR School, but it is also possible to take up to 16 of those credits outside the ILR School in other approved classes.


This may seem like a lot of requirements, but in reality, students have a lot of time to take the classes they want. In fact, ILR students tend to complete 2 or even 3 minors. Many distribution and elective requirements overlap with various minors. In fact, one of my friends “accidentally” completed a minor through the distribution and elective requirements and did not even find out until senior year! A lot of students pursue the Business minor and the Law and Society minor as it doesn’t take many classes to fill beyond the basic ILR requirements. Keep in mind, however, that students aren’t allowed to double-major outside of ILR.


The distribution and elective requirements exposed me to classes that I would never have taken otherwise. I took a class in the music department about an instrument called the Indonesian gamelan, and it counted as one of my distribution requirements. In the class, students learned the history of the gamelan and performed in a concert at the end of the semester! It was certainly memorable, and a great learning experience.


At the end of junior year, students find out if they are eligible for Graduation with Honors. The ILR School doesn’t award Latin honors, but instead, students who have a 3.7 GPA or higher are eligible to complete a 2-semester thesis project with an advisor of their choice. Around 20% of graduating ILR seniors are eligible for the thesis, and around 20-30 students complete the thesis each year. I would highly recommend completing the thesis project. I’m currently writing my thesis about the disconnect between the labor market and stock market, and I’ve loved having the freedom to create my own project and work with my advisor in the labor economics department.

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ILR School Professors and Advising at Cornell University 


Typically, classes within ILR are structured so that students will have either 2 “prelims” (that is the Cornell term for midterms) and a final exam, or some classes have papers instead or in addition to prelims.


Cultivating relationships is crucial to the success of students in the ILR School. One of the best parts of the ILR major is that professors are very accessible and willing to help outside of class or be a sounding board for career advising. 


In every ILR class I’ve taken, office hours were readily available and it was not difficult to schedule time to meet with a professor. Some ILR courses also have TAs who host discussion sections, and these are almost always master’s or PhD students. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know my TAs, as they can provide good career advice as well and often have interesting and diverse backgrounds.


Studying Abroad as an ILR Major at Cornell University 


Studying abroad as an ILR student is much easier than other majors at Cornell due to the flexibility of the major. To study abroad, students must have completed the basic ILR core requirements and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. ILR students can complete specific ILR exchange programs across the world, or participate in a different exchange program available to all Cornell students. Attending an ILR sponsored program specifically can be a great decision for New York state residents as they continue to pay ILR tuition for the program. Non-residents pay their normal tuition rate. There is also a wide variety of opportunities that are not Cornell sponsored, which may be cheaper than Cornell programs. 


I attended a study abroad program in Milan, Italy during the spring semester of 2020. While in Milan, I took classes in economics, fashion, and politics and also interned at one of the most prestigious labor and employment law firms in Milan. Although my experience was cut short due to COVID, I was able to complete my schoolwork and internship remotely. I loved learning Italian and gaining a new cultural perspective. My coursework in labor relations and employment law was crucial for completing the internship, as I was able to compare U.S. and Italian laws. I even had the chance to publish a few articles about labor and employment regarding expats through the British consulate in Italy.


In terms of academics, students receive 9 ILR advanced elective credits for one semester of study abroad, and 15 for a full year. However, it is important to note that these classes do not factor into your Cornell GPA on your transcript. It is also totally possible to study abroad for a full year if you wish. One of my ILR friends studied abroad in Munich for an entire year and still had the chance to complete the rest of her distribution requirements senior year and graduate on time.


Career Advising as and ILR Major


The ILR School has a fantastic career services team that helps students find jobs in a variety of industries. Many students go on to find jobs in investment banking, consulting, human resources, and labor relations. A smaller percentage of students go onto jobs in the non-profit, education, or government sectors. 


ILR is special in the fact that it has its own recruiting only for students within the college. On-campus recruiting services (OCR) brings employers to campus to interview students directly for jobs, and hosts hundreds of employers at the annual ILR Career Fair. Additionally, students have access to Cornell’s general career services office. 80% of students go directly into the workforce after graduation, 11% into law school, and 3% into other graduate programs. In 2019, the average starting salary for undergraduates was $65,000.


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at Cornell University?


Do you think you would be a good fit at the ILR School? Admissions officers within ILR tend to focus mostly on a students resume, extracurricular activities, academics and standardized test scores when admitting students. Being “a good fit” is something that admissions officers take very seriously, so be sure to spend an ample amount of time writing your “Why ILR” essay. Each Cornell college has its own acceptance rate, and in 2020, the ILR acceptance rate was 16.5%.


If you want to check out your personal chances of acceptance, check out our free chancing calculator! You can input your GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities to find out your chances at being accepted to Cornell University. Even better, the calculator will give you tips on what you can improve before applying.


You can also search other universities based on size, location, majors and more. This tool can help you create a strong strategy when it comes to admissions.



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Short Bio
Juliette is a senior at Cornell University studying Industrial & Labor Relations. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, running, drinking coffee, and exploring different hiking trails in Ithaca.