Choosing Classes, Finding Books, and assorted Academic Know-How

Let’s face it: I’m a bit of a nerd. And as a nerd, I’m here to impart to you my knowledge of the ins and outs of some of the academic sides of Cornell. During this (rather long) post, we’ll tackle some of the bigger questions about Cornell academics that you may have coming in this fall, such as searching for classes, course requirements, understanding the ‘bidding system’, finding book lists and ordering books, getting support, and a lot more things that are good to be aware of. Browse, read at your own pace, and get excited for the amazing experience ahead of you as a Cornell student! 

Knowing Your Way Around the Course Catalog 
Go to the Cornell main page. (student shortcut: if you type “” in your browser bar, it will go directly to the main page!)
1 cornell main site
Navigate to the Student Portal off the Menu drop down.
2a students highlighted
Say hello to the Student Portal, the most visited site you will see in your time at Cornell. This is the easiest way to access your Cornell Gmail, Moodle pages once classes get started, Self Service, the Library page, Community pages for student orgs, and if need be, where to reset your password. There are also shortcuts to important pages for every aspect of your life at Cornell. But right now–the Registration system! See it highlighted under Academics?
3 registration highlighted
The Registration System’s default screen is a field to search the course catalog. While you could log in on the side and select courses to add to your list (click “Register”), you don’t need to at this point. I would recommend browsing and familiarizing yourself with the system and making a list to take along when you meet with your advisor to schedule classes during NSO. They can help you through any questions with the system and walk you through the bidding system (which we’ll talk about in a bit!) and after your first walk through, you can go through registration in the future adding classes as you go and then conferring with your advisor.
In the Course Selection browser, you can search by Block, Department, Gen Ed, and once you are familiar with them, Instructor.
4 searching in registration system
For example, here’s a search for Writing Courses offered during Block 2.
Speaking of Gen Education Requirements, we should take a look at those! Time to pull up another tab. This page from the Registrar is a comprehensive place to find info on general requirements, and Major/Minor checklists, Add/drop processing, Bidding, and other important info that will be shared with you by your advisor. It can be found from the Registrar page under General Registration.
registration helful info
The most important link to look at right now? General Requirements. You’ll be glad to be familiar with these early on in your time at Cornell and to get them taken care of as soon as possible. Other than an FYS (First Year Seminar) that all first year students participate in, a Writing Course is the only gen ed that needs to be completed by the end of your first year, but taking care of a few others should help in the long run.
You can find Majors/Minors requirements from this site and while it is a good idea to look over them early on, don’t let those requirements be scary! You have 8 blocks a year to get them taken care of, and you will declare a major by your sophomore year (well, at least declare the first time!). Some friends of mine planned out all of their college career freshman year and stuck to that schedule–that worked for them, but that is not necessary or expected of you! Taking a block that just seems interesting to you but is not a part of your intended academic direction is not only possible, it’s encouraged! You may just find something you really love that changes your future plans.
The Search Continues
Now back to the search! As you browse classes, be sure to take a look at the number of open seats, as you may be trying for a class that already has some upperclass students enrolled. If you see a class you’re really interested in that is full, don’t despair! You can always contact the professor and see if there is any possibility of them adding a seat or being added to a waiting list. selection search #sSomething else to look at when picking courses is the course description. Click on the course code and a description like this should appear:
course description!Here you can learn a bit more about the course’s overview and any prerequisites should be listed. (If you are interested in an upperlevel course, you could talk to your advisor and the professor about if it would be feasible for you to take the course as a first year, although the professor may want to know your academic record before signing off on it.) [Keep an eye out for future posts on how to write an email to a professor and establishing a relationship with your advisor!]
The Bidding Process: Going, going…gone.

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about the mysterious “bidding” process for Cornell courses, all I could envision was the Stock Market pit and thinking that I was not cut out for floor trading. I was happy to discover that in actuality, the process is much more civil and in actuality, not too mysterious. While your advisor and the Registrar will have a better understanding of the whole process, I can walk you through my understanding of bidding from my time at Cornell.
The basics: the bidding process helps you to prioritize your course selections and gives you a better shot at getting in to the listings you are really excited about. Every student is given a number of points equating to the number of blocks they are enrolling for (~ 10 points per block); with this total of points, you can divide the points between your course selections. Classes at Cornell max out at 25, while some courses are capped lower purposefully. The highest bids placed on a course are the students that get a seat. Some competitive classes (think gen eds, prerequisites, or very popular courses, like fine arts or certain off campus trips) may need a lot of points, where as some more obscure or upper level courses do not. During the parameters of registration, bidding is not first come first serve thanks to the points system, although waiting to the last minute is not a good idea since you’ll want to bounce ideas off of your advisor.
Fortunately, you don’t need a crystal ball to guess what courses you will need to bid a lot on: we have Lowest Successful Bids! Listed are the lowest points that secured seats in a course title in the past. Keep in mind: these lists may show trends, but are not set in stone and if a course is new, a higher bid is always safe. If your bid is not high enough to secure you a seat, you can list a secondary choice for every block and the points assigned to your first choice transfer, hopefully securing a spot in your second choice. It is possible that you be listed as “no course”, in which case you will go through Accommodations and be able to find a spot in courses that are still open.
For the Registrar’s own description of Bidding, check out this page. My bidding has always been centered around a few courses that I knew would be competitive and putting a lot of points there, then distributing my remaining points between my other courses and I’ve gotten into every course I wanted in my time at Cornell.
Finding Book Lists and Getting Books
While you are viewing a course description is one way to get to a course book list with the handy dandy Textbook link. You can also find the same description and Textbook link through Self Service or once you know a course code, can browse it from the Bookstore website. Don’t be surprised if a professor hasn’t updated the textbook list for a course later in the year yet, especially if it is the first time a course is offered. The book list should be up at least a block before you need them, which is enough time! And you won’t want to buy books too far in advance either: professors may email changes to the list up to a few days before the block starts.
bookstore listing for textbooksthe listing will initially look like this!
“Check Availability” links directly to our official bookstore. Looking at their listings is always helpful, as they regularly try to get used books and you have the option to rent. bookstore listing for textbooks 2
bookstore listing dropdown
If you are set on owning a book, check out Amazon, Abe Books, or another used books site to see if you can get a copy shipped cheaper. Be sure to check on edition or any specifics with the ISBN before ordering! It is great to have the Bookstore on campus if you switch classes at the last minute, a shipment is taking longer than expected, or if you’re more comfortable having a book in hand as soon as possible. There is a campus network of students on Facebook called the Cornell Book Exchange that is a great way to find books from other students at a reduced price, as well. Post that you are looking for a book or reply to someone’s post if they have the title, talk price with them, and you’ve got yourself a book!
Important to keep in mind if you decide to order books: pay attention to timing and shipping charges; you may be saving money ahead on the initial sticker price of a book, but if you don’t order it in advance and need expedited shipping, that may add up to be more than just picking it up in the bookstore. There is nothing more stressful then wondering if your book will make it by the time that reading rolls around..
You’ll learn a lot more about it during NSO and in your first course at Cornell, but Moodle is the online learning platform that you’ll use in most classes to access articles and files that your professor uploads as well as where you can submit assignments and have digital discussions with classmates.
You log on with your Cornell ID and can see your schedule for the year and other class participants. While at times it may feel like a space more like social media, remember that this is an academic tool and your professors are on there too…
Your professor may ask that you log on to Moodle and view assignments or the syllabus before class starts. You can access the Moodle log in off of the Student Portal.
Self Service
Once you are registered in courses, Self Service is possibly the most accessible place to see your schedule and eventually, view your course grades on your Unofficial Transcript. Access Self Service through the student portal and log in with your Cornell username (first initial, last name, grad year) and the same password you’ve established for all Cornell accounts (that’s how you can log on to campus computers, too).
self service from portal

On the Self Service main page, you’ll see that you can browse for classes there, too. Note: the Register button here is the old system, but it will reroute you to the new Registration system. Once you log in to Self Service, you’ll see these options:
self service 2
Under Classes you will find your schedule, course descriptions, textbooks, and classroom assignment for the block. After your first block, you can go to the Grades tab to find your grade for the course and find class rank. If you’re applying for something that asks for a grade report or unofficial transcript, you can access and copy them from here. If you ever forget your ID number, you can find it under My Profile and Account Info.

This has gotten to be a very long post, but I think an important one. Life at Cornell involves so many things and can go in a variety of directions for every individual but one of the things that unites us all is that we’re here to learn. I hope that this post isn’t overwhelming, but helpful! No need to stress about scheduling right now, but now you will be informed and knowledgeable about the process.

Another important point: Cornell has a lot of opportunities for academic support! The Quantitative Reasoning Studio, Writing Studio, and Audio-Visual Studio are great resources for every student, as well as tutoring services in various subjects, including languages and subject areas. If you have any concerns about accommodations of a disability, learning disorder, or just adjusting to college academics, getting in contact with the Office of Academic Support and Advising early on is a good idea to feel more at ease.

We’re so excited for you to join our academic community and to learn along with you! See you this fall! –L