The College Scholar Program

The College Scholar Program represents the pinnacle of the liberal arts experience at Cornell. The program is focused on a small group of stellar students whose interests transcend disciplinary boundaries. These students have demonstrated exceptional promise and maturity to plan and carry out a well-designed individualized program of study and research. 

Students design their own interdisciplinary major, organized around a question or issue of interest, and pursue a course of study that cannot be found in an established major. College Scholars explore subjects with a broader integration of related disciplines than most students would attempt.

They pursue their subjects using advanced, often graduate-level, techniques. As a capstone to their studies, all Scholars undertake an independent senior project, usually culminating in an honors thesis. It is a unique opportunity within the College of Arts & Sciences for engagement and learning, in the classroom and beyond.

The College Scholar Program represents the pinnacle of the liberal arts experience at Cornell. The program is focused on a small group of stellar students whose interests transcend disciplinary boundaries.

Program Structure

Upon acceptance into the program, students are paired with a faculty advisor from the College Scholar Advisory Board.  Students work with their advisors to construct their curriculum and plan their research program. In the spring of sophomore year, students take COLLS 2001, The College Scholar Seminar, to learn methods for finding, evaluating, using, and presenting both qualitative and quantitative information. Students develop skills for presenting complex ideas in written research proposals and oral presentations. The seminar bridges traditional divides between the sciences, humanities, and arts.

During their time at Cornell, College Scholars create their own curriculum and are not required to complete college distribution or foreign language requirements. However, College Scholars are required to complete two first-year writing seminars,120 total credits and 100 credits in Arts & Sciences to graduate, as well as meet the university graduation requirements of two semesters of PE and passing the swim test.  Students may double-major, combining a College Scholar major with other majors or minors in the College.

The main requirement of the College Scholar Program is the completion of an independent project and thesis. Projects vary widely in their scope and content. Some students focus on library-based research, some do laboratory work and others focus on community engagement. Students may design their own empirical studies; others incorporate creative components, and some do both. 

Students become part of a community of scholars and work with faculty advisors who are known for their independent and interdisciplinary studies. Faculty advisors and program staff help College Scholars put together an advisory committee of several faculty who share their research interests. See the student profiles for examples of their innovative and challenging projects.

Student Research and Activity Funding

The Lynne S. Abel ‘62 College Scholar Endowment Fund supports College Scholars' independent research year-round. Students may receive up to $500 per semester, including summer, to support research costs, conference expenses, and travel. This fund memorializes Associate Dean Abel, who through her spirit and actions, supported students in a wide variety of ways, including by directing and expanding the College Scholar Program from 1974-2003.

2022 College Scholar Senior Presentations

The 2022 senior presentations will take place in May. Check back for details.

How to Apply

Students gain entry to the program via a competitive application process in the fall semester of the sophomore year. In the application, students write a research proposal outlining their program of study and why it is appropriate for the College Scholar Program (instead of a traditional major). They also write a personal statement articulating why they are ready to assume responsibility for determining their own program of study. The Scholars are chosen by the faculty advisory board and the director. If you have any questions, contact

The application is due Friday, October 15th. If you have difficulties accessing it, please contact the program at

Program Benefits and Outcomes

Cornell’s College Scholar Program is a crown jewel of the College of Arts & Sciences. The impact on our students is profound and life-long.  College Scholars often go on to advanced study in the arts, medicine, business, and sciences. The maturity, academic rigor, and independence this unique program requires creates students who are highly desirable in a range of contexts. A College Scholar degree from Cornell opens doors to employment with companies like Google, careers in medicine, finance, law, and the arts, and research and faculty positions in the sciences and humanities across the globe. Our graduates include faculty at Cornell and the current chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees. 

"I think that I developed a better understanding about how organizations and political bodies are driven by personalities than I would have had I been a traditional government major."

— Bob Harrison ’76, College Scholar
Chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees
Chief Executive Officer, Clinton Global Initiative

Contact Information


Professor Michael Goldstein
270 Uris Hall


Dean Jim Finlay
KG17 Klarman Hall

For general questions, please email

Give to the College Scholar Program

The College Scholar Program gives students unique opportunities to develop their intellectual interests. The program is continually innovating new ways to better facilitate our students’ lofty goals and create stronger interdisciplinary connections. Your gift to the program will directly benefit our students.

You can support the College Scholar program in two ways:

College Scholar Program Gift Fund: This fund supports programming to benefit the College Scholars, including program-sponsored lectures and workshops.

Lynne S. Abel ’62 College Scholar Endowment Fund: The Lynne S. Abel fund supports students in meeting the costs of their independent research projects. The fund also supports their attendance at professional conferences to present their findings. College Scholars can apply for $500 per semester, including summer. This fund memorializes Associate Dean Abel, who through her spirit and actions, supported students in a wide variety of ways, including by directing and expanding the College Scholar Program from 1974-2003.

Click here to give to the College Scholar Program