Frequently asked questions

Q. What are the typical living expenses in Ithaca?

Depends on your lifestyle and what facilities you share. On average, rent is roughly $500- $900, food and miscellaneous $150 -$300, utilities $50-$150 (heating and electricity can be high in winter). These are all monthly variable costs, but there will be initial costs such as books, utensils, etc.

Q. How much do utilities (electricity and heating) cost?

Heating is often taken care of by the apartment. If it is not provided free by the apartment, it can often cost up to $200 per month in winter,at an average of $60 or more per year. Electricity alone (if heating is provided may cost between $30 and $50 per month.

Q. What about laundry?

Apartment buildings usually have a set of washers and dryers. Typically costs $1.25 for washing and $1.00 for drying. You will have to buy your own detergent.

Q. Is shopping difficult? How often would I need to do my groceries?

All grocery stores and malls are well connected by buses. 2 - 3 trips a month will comfortably carry you through.

Q. What about banks in Ithaca? What is the best way to transfer money to/from India?

Banks are available downtown, on campus and near the malls. During the orientation week they usually have some stalls which will help you set up an account. Money can be sent to and from India by wire transfers (there may be a fee for the service depending on the bank.)

Q. What about health insurance?

Health insurance is compulsory. Starting academic year 2014-15, all international students are required to be enrolled in Cornell's Student Health Insurance Program (SHIP). It costs something like $2000 per year, and it is included in the first fee payment you make to the bursar (fee office). Note that this is just an estimate, and rates for the year 2014-15 will be available on the SHIP (rates) website. For more details, refer to the Cornell's policy for SHIP, and the SHIP website.

Q. Vaccination: Is it necessary to get the MENINGOCOCCAL vaccine?

Typically the meningococcal vaccines are packaged in a bivalent or polyvalent form, so one injection would cover the range. In the US a common brand for the vaccine is Menomune which covers 4 of the 5 sub groups of meningococcus. There is a polyvalent vaccine available in India. Contact a local pharmacy or physician for details on cost. For your information 

  • You can get the shot in Cornell - it costs $80 (significantly more expensive than India)

  • It is not compulsory, but only recommended. It's really up to you whether to get it or not.

  • It is mandatory, however, that you receive information about the disease and vaccine, and you will have to sign a form stating that you have read about it.

  • Look up this site for further questions:

  • For clarifications, write to

Q. Money transfer: What are the options to transfer money from India to US?

Outgoing transfer: Thomas Cook, HSBC, Citibank, and pretty much any nationalized bank which does international transfers. 
Incoming: Practically any bank here. 
Starting a student account with HSBC helps, since they don't charge for incoming transfers. Most banks charge a small fee (the exact amount varies from bank to bank) for a transfer. For speed, a global bank such as HSBC is ideal.

Q. Is a bank account in Ithaca necessary for a transfer?

That depends on whether you want the money for your checking account or to pay the bursar bill. If you need wire transfers only to pay your tuition, you can wire it straight to them. Checking the bursar FAQ webpage or writing to the bursar will clarify that.

Q. Laptop: Is it necessary? Is it cheaper to buy one in India or in the US?

An expeditious search on or will help you solve that.

In addition, before you decide to buy a new computer, you should know that:

  • Computers are freely available all over campus - in your department, all libraries, etc.

  • You may be able to get a deal for a used PC - either a desktop or a laptop - from other students on the ISSO mailing list. A one year old system will cost maybe slightly more than half the price of a new one (just to give you an idea)

  • Not all students require a laptop. Ask someone from your program whether they really found it useful. You could always buy a used desktop for now and postpone the decision to buy a laptop.

Q. Can you tell me something about getting a visa?

We suggest that you contact the branch of the United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI) closest to you to answer your visa related questions. You will, no doubt, have already received loads of advice regarding DOs and DON'Ts for visa applications. We cannot provide any definite guidelines. However, you might find the following web site useful:

Q. I've heard it gets pretty cold in winter, what winter clothing should I get? I've heard terrible stories about Ithaca winters....

Winters can get really cold in Ithaca. But snow can be fun if you are properly protected. I would suggest buying warm winter clothing here in the U.S. The key to staying warm is layering yourself up- so that you are properly protected when you walk out, and can peel it off when you are indoors. All apartments/buildings are equipped with heating, and you won't notice the cold inside any building Try to get a couple of good sweaters and sweatshirts, with a cap that covers your ears, along with lots of socks and a couple of gloves from home. A couple of light jackets would also help. You would need special boots for winter that keep out the water- we would suggest that you buy them here. Polo-necks can keep you warm. Try to pack variety in your suitcases- it is cold for quite a long time, and wearing the same stuff can get boring.

Q. Do I need to get formal clothes for school? How many pairs of formal clothes should I carry?

At least one pair of good formal clothes is recommended. You would need to give some presentation somewhere in your academic life at Cornell, but the requirement may depend on your program. If you are in a program where you need to give a lot of presentations/ interviews, getting more than one pair is advised. Formal clothes are pretty expensive here, besides, you would get a limited variety. Black/ grey/ blue and beige are the standard and safe colors. Girls could also get formal skirts, but should not leave the trousers behind ( it is cold in winter). A good pair of closed formal shoes is also helpful, with ties for guys and scarves for girls (if you use them).You may want to pack in a bag that goes with your formal attire; something that holds a folder and a pen. A formal coat is highly recommended.

Q. Do I really need to get Indian clothes (kurtas/ sarees?) How often do we get to wear them?

It is always a good idea to carry a couple of traditional clothes. The CIA has a big Diwali celebration. There are other occasions on campus where you can wear traditional Indian outfits. Getting 2-3 pairs of kurtas/ 2 pairs of salwar khameez & a saree is a good idea. There would also be times when you would visit your relatives or friends here. Besides, you may be asked to walk on a ramp at Cornell! (Yes, there are fashion shows and stage events!)

Q. When should I arrive in Ithaca?

Look at your school schedule and then decide. One week prior to school starts is good if you have your accommodation arranged for. If you are planning to come here and look for housing, it is recommended you come in about 2-3 weeks earlier. However, keep in mind that temporary housing is quite difficult to find, and that you would be spending more if you come in early.

Also, your I-20 specifies the date by which you are expected to arrive at the University. We suggest that you arrive by that date. Keep in mind that it is good to have at least a week to settle down before classes begin. Coming earlier could be helpful if you are interested in meeting with faculty beforehand. If you decide to arrive early, keep in mind that

  • some professors might be vacation (yes, they take breaks too)

  • you will have to budget for your longer stay in the US

If you want to arrive later than the date specified on your I-20, please confirm with your department if it will be alright to do so. If you would like CIA to arrange a pick up for you please try to arrive during the day/evening on a weekend.

Q. I don't have any aid. Can I come to the University and arrange some kind of scholarship?

It is possible to arrive at the University and then find either a TA (teaching assistant) or RA (research assistant) position. However, you should NOT assume that you will definitely be able to secure funding once you arrive.

Securing an RA position depends on finding a professor who is:

  • willing (would be willing if research interests match yours); and

  • able (would be able if has enough research grants) to fund your study. It is not necessary you find a professor who meets both conditions. You are more likely to get an RA if you are enrolled in a PhD program, since you would be able to make a substantial contribution to your professor's research. Note that it is possible to get an RA with a professor outside your department (however, your interests should be related to his work).

TA positions are handled by departments, not professors. You need to apply for a TA once you arrive in the University. The first priority for TA positions goes to students whom the department has committed financial support. TA positions are decided before the start of the semester. It is unlikely that you'll be able to get a TA position in your first semester here. Note that you can apply for a TA in a department other than yours.

Q. Is it possible to arrange a TA before I get to the University?

No, not unless you've already been offered one by the University in your letter of admission.

Q. Is it possible to arrange an RA before I get to the University?

It is possible that a professor needs students to work on a project and is willing to consider you for an RA position. We suggest you write to professors who are working in your area of interest, asking about chances of an assistantship. (Note that most professors probably get dozens of such mails daily, so don't be surprised if you don't receive a reply). Contacting graduate students in your department could be useful as they could tell you about the current funding situation in your department.

Q. Will it help if I come in early and talk to the professors?

Sure it could help. However, if there is no match with a professor's interests, or if he/she has no funding to offer, you won't be able to get an RA. Remember, there is NO GUARANTEE that you'll be able to secure funding even if you arrive early (For example, it is possible that there are no professors in your area who have funding available and need students).

Q. Can I work on-campus or off-campus?

If you're on an F-1 visa, you can work on-campus during the semester (up to 20 hours per week). You cannot work off-campus during the semester. There are a number of on-campus jobs available. You could earn up to $600 per month, which would cover your living expenses. On-campus jobs do not cover tuition, which will probably be your single biggest expense.

Q. How much money should I carry with me?

You should carry enough to meet the first month's expenses (more if you're arriving here early). Monthly expenses per head are around $600. You will need to spend slightly more in the first month; to set up services, buy textbooks, buy furniture etc. $1400 should be sufficient to meet your first month's expenses. Depending upon the rent and deposit for your permanent accommodation, you may have to carry more money. If you do not have aid, please keep the above in mind and budget accordingly

If you have aid, you will receive your stipend/salary at the end of each month (and no, you can't reason with the Department to give you a part of that early). So you will not be paid till the end of September.

Q. Should I carry cash/TCs/DDs?

For personal expenses, carry TCs - they are accepted almost everywhere. Try not to get TCs of $500; $100 (and lower) are more easily acceptable. You do not need to carry much cash, $150 should be more than enough. If you don't have aid, you can carry your tuition as DDs made out to yourself. These can be deposited into a bank account here (you'll have to open one), and you can pay the University from that account.

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