Archive | August, 2010

Views of Barnard and Columbia

26 Aug


Trip Report: Barnard and Columbia (Part 2)

26 Aug

Last week I wondered out loud whether the wide disparity in admission rate between Columbia and Barnard Colleges causes any tension between their students.  In other words, does unequal admission rate lead to unequal treatment?

On our Barnard tour, one parent asked the student tour guide this question.  The tour guide, a rising sophomore from New Jersey, acknowledged that initially, she was a little concerned about this.  Barnard and Columbia students participate in the same first year orientation activities and she felt that some Columbia female students regarded her with less respect and prestige.  (She noticed that the male students didn’t seem to care whether she was from Barnard or Columbia).  However, as soon as classes started, any differences disappeared because usually no one can tell whether you are a Barnard or Columbia student.  This issue is also discussed widely online in some of the college forums.

So it appears that Barnard students have to learn how to handle or ignore disparaging remarks or loss of prestige from their Columbia compatriots.  This in itself is an education about life.  One Barnard alumni notes that Barnard successfully turns out women who are confident and who feel that they can accomplish anything.  Those who attend Barnard are usually seeking the experience and value of a women’s college and those who attend Columbia’s liberal arts college are attracted to its strengths like the Core Curriculum.

Differences aside, tuition for either school is expensive.  A year of Barnard tuition, room and board can run you at least $53,496 depending on the type of housing and meal plan selected.  At Columbia, tuition, room and board for 2010-2011 will cost about $53,876.  Housing is guaranteed for all four years at both places.  Both institutions conduct “need-blind” admissions, which means that an applicant’s financial ability to pay is not considered in determining admissions.  In addition, the Columbia admissions officer indicated that they provide financial assistance to foreign students, one of the few universities that do.

Some famous Barnard alumni:

  • Martha Stewart
  • Anna Quindlen
  • Twyla Tharp
  • Joan Rivers
  • Margaret Mead

Some famous Columbia alumni:

  • Barack Obama
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Emanuel Ax
  • George Stephanopoulos

Trip Report: Barnard and Columbia (Part I)

19 Aug

Living so close to New York City, we had to visit Columbia University in the City of New York (that’s the full name of the university) and its affiliated sister school Barnard College, in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.

Both colleges are literally across the street from each other, the street being Broadway. Architecturally both campuses look similar to each other with neoclassical brick buildings with copper green roofs.  Barnard College occupies four acres on the west side of Broadway starting at 116th Street and Columbia is on the east side, their physical proximity reflecting the yin and yang nature of their relationship.  In the past, women applied only to Barnard, a women’s college and member of the erstwhile Seven Sisters (Vassar became co-ed and Radcliffe merged with Harvard, leaving only five Sisters).  Then Columbia opened its doors to women in the 1980s and now women can apply to either Barnard or Columbia.

I was surprised to learn that Columbia and Barnard are separate entities, each with its own faculty, endowment, and trustees.  Each administers its own admissions process and financial aid.  A long-standing affiliation agreement and historical relationship binds both institutions together to the benefit of students on both sides of Broadway.  Students can cross-register and take classes at either college, eat in each other’s cafeterias, even live in each other’s dorms (although our Barnard guide told us that Barnard has nicer dorms).  Barnard students graduate with a Columbia University degree.

Columbia’s three undergraduate colleges are Columbia College, the liberal arts school, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and for nontraditional students such as returning veterans or older students, the School of General Studies (the average age of a General Studies student is 29).

Each of these schools has its own general education requirements.  Columbia College is best known for its rigorous “Core Curriculum,” a series of required courses like Contemporary Civilization, Literature Humanities, Art Humanities, or Music Humanities.  These courses introduce students to foundational texts in each area.  In Contemporary Civilization for example, students read the Bible, the Greek philosophers, the Koran, the French Enlightenment writers, Marx, Darwin and others.  In Literature Humanities they start with the Greek writers and end with Dostoevsky and Woolf.  The School of General Studies and engineering students take a modified version of the Core Curriculum.

In contrast, Barnard requires its students to select courses arranged around different themes.  For example, to satisfy the “Reason and Value” theme, students can choose from over 90 courses in 15 departments.  Some of these courses can also be used to satisfy a requirement for their major or minor.

Differences in curriculum aside, both Barnard and Columbia are difficult to get into.  Last year Barnard received the most applications in its history and admitted 28%, making it the most popular women’s college.  Columbia’s admission rate dipped to 9% for its class of 2014.  Does the difference in admission rates have any impact on the students on both sides of Broadway?

Stay tuned for Part II of my trip report.

Trip Report: Cornell University

12 Aug

Nestled in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York, Cornell University is the largest Ivy League university with 13,500 undergraduates and 6,000 graduate students.  Statistically it is the easiest Ivy League school to get into with an admission rate of 18% for 2010 (compare to Brown University at 9% or University of Pennsylvania at 14%).

With seven undergraduate colleges offering degrees in traditional liberal arts, hotel administration, engineering, human ecology, industrial and labor relations, agriculture and life sciences, and art, planning and architecture, you should be able to find something interesting to study.

Each undergraduate college conducts its own admissions process and prospective students can select two college choices on their application.  If they don’t get into their first choice, then they get another chance with the second college.  For some areas of study, this gives an applicant two chances to gain admission.  For example, if a student is interested in studying biology, she can apply to the arts and sciences college and to the agriculture-life sciences college.  Both offer opportunities to study biology but each college has different graduation requirements.

This can lead to applicants trying to “game” the system by applying to a college that has a higher rate of admission and then getting into another college through the backdoor.  The admissions officer at the arts and sciences information session acknowledged that this happens and says that students can apply for an internal transfer.  Usually it is not a problem if that student has maintained a good academic record.

Cornell has a reputation for being a pressure cooker, in part probably because of the rigorous academics.  My cousin, a professor in the engineering school, confirmed that “The workload is heavy here.”  Last year there were half a dozen student suicides, two of which occurred within a two-day period.  Three of those suicides took place at the bridges spanning the gorges around the campus.  The administration has since erected ugly chain link fences to prevent further attempts (see my photos).

It is no surprise then that our student tour guide specifically talked about the mental health services available to students, with easy-to-remember acronyms like CAPS and EARS.  The suicides were never brought up but it was clear she was trying to assure prospective students and parents that the university was doing everything it could.

The campus is quite large and hilly and one can easily stay in shape criss-crossing it.  There are trails into wooded areas with views of waterfalls, streams and gorges.  One can even glimpse Lake Cayuga in the distance.

Three of the undergraduate colleges are publicly funded by New York State, meaning that a New York state resident pays only $36,176 for tuition, room and board to attend the agriculture and life sciences, human ecology, or industrial and labor relations college.  This is a bargain compared to the $52,316 price tag to attend the other four colleges.

Some interesting facts about Cornell University:

  • Some famous alumni: Dr. Joyce Brothers, E.B. White, Christopher Reeve, Jimmy Smits, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Abby Joseph Cohen, Janet Reno, Paul Wolfowitz
  • Students need to pass a swim test to graduate
  • The largest class is Psych 101 which has 1,300 students and is taught by a popular professor
  • The university received 36,338 applications for the class of 2014 and 17,000 applications were for the College of Arts and Sciences

Views of Cornell University

12 Aug

GPS Saves Marriages

5 Aug

Driving around and visiting colleges, my husband and I have discovered that having a global positioning navigational system (GPS) in the car is good for marital harmony.  No, it can’t arrange a date night for you or help with household chores but it can eliminate arguments in the car about how to get from point A to point B.

Back in the good ole days before GPS became popular, you planned your route carefully with the aid of maps and written directions.  But even with the best preparation you can still get lost.  Once lost, all bets are off.  Couples may find themselves squabbling about the best way to proceed.  Should we turn back?  Should we go ahead and see where this leads us?  Should we ask for directions?  No, I know where I’m going.  Do you, do you really?  I’m speaking hypothetically, of course, since this has never happened to us.

Anyway, the GPS takes care of all that.  If you miss a turn, a voice resembling a well-trained English butler politely tells you “Recalculating.”  He all but adds, “Sir” or “Madam.”  No attitude, no recriminations, no baleful looks.  If you tire of your butler, you can switch to an American man or woman with a made-for-primetime TV accent.  Just to mix it up, you can ask for directions in French, German, Spanish, Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese dialect) and a laundry list of other tongues.

Although the GPS is not without some flaws (sometimes it takes a long time to find a nearby satellite), it has helped us get around unfamiliar places when looking at colleges.  We just plug in the address and the GPS will plot a route for us, tell us the estimated time of arrival, and even the speed limit (beware, this last function is sometimes inaccurate so best check the posted speed limit).  It also takes the guesswork out of finding local restaurants and gas stations.  This is especially helpful if you’re running low on food or fuel and tempers are starting to rise.  Again, I’m speaking hypothetically.

So if there’s a lot of driving to new places in your future, I highly suggest you get a GPS for the car.  It will be a worthwhile investment in your marriage.

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