Archive | April, 2011

Guest Blogger: Gigi Collins

25 Apr

If it’s April showers, it must be spring break when hordes of prospective students and their parents descend on universities and colleges on the obligatory “college tour.”  For those of you who have not done this yet, you might enjoy reading about my friend Gigi Collins‘ experience of taking her daughter on her first college trip.

Getting Energized

I have really enjoyed reading this blog about parenting a college bound teen and I have been thinking “Whew! I have a sophomore so I don’t have to freak out just yet.”  Until now.

This spring, as a sophomore, my daughter had to sign up for her junior year classes.  Oh, the stress and tears!  She was told “you must take x number of AP classes to even think about applying to the good schools.”  Next came the alphabet soup of standardized tests: PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, ACT, SAT II, AP.  Last came the advice on writing a killer application essay, to include unique community service credits, extraordinary extracurriculars, and oh, don’t forget, a summer job or two.  I’m only the parent and I could feel a migraine coming on.  But I could see that my daughter was anxious too.  She met with her advisor three times to hammer out her two-year AP class plan and she has already lined up her summer job.

So what did I do?  I decided that we’d go visit some colleges on her spring break.  Yes, you are probably thinking I need my head examined.  I thought so too…until we went on the visits.

I used the excuse of visiting a friend in the Philadelphia suburbs and we picked two colleges “on the way” to “stop by and have a look see.”  Of course, my daughter gave me her best teenage glare and stated that I was ruining her spring break.  She wanted to relax and not think about colleges.

Our first stop was the University of Pennsylvania.  We wanted to see an Ivy League school and a city campus.  We were expecting buildings and streets but were pleasantly surprised to find that Penn has a real campus, with enclosed quads and pedestrian-only walkways.  My daughter was impressed with the beautiful architecture and the collegiate feel.  Our tour guide was a junior at the business school and he was approachable and smart.  We attended the information session where an admissions officer gave an awesome presentation about Penn history, curriculum, as well as the admissions process.  She actually had a calming influence on my daughter as she spoke frankly about what Penn was looking for – top grades, essays that show your personality, and future leadership ability.  She said that the SAT/ACT scores were not as important in the big picture so not to stress over the test or re-take them unnecessarily.

I could see my daughter visibly relax.  She leaned over and whispered to me, “I think college is going to be exciting.”  Whoa, did I hear that right?  Maybe we’ll get through the college search still talking to each other.  I was feeling like I did something right as a parent of a teenager.  Sweet.

At Penn, my daughter saw that a big university with all its amenities like grants for special studies or international opportunities could still have a small intimate college feel.  Yes, she did buy a Penn t-shirt.

Next stop was Villanova University, private Catholic university in the Philadelphia suburbs.  We had high expectations since we thought a mid-sized college with a “real campus” would be a better fit.  My daughter first noticed that the students seemed younger and more casual than at Penn.  An excitable admissions officer ran the information session and he tried to lighten the mood with banter but we felt that he was trying too hard to sell us on Villanova.  Our enthusiastic tour guide was a freshman from Hawaii and he showed us around the impressive campus.  My daughter really liked the engineering building with the exposed beams and ductwork.  She got to see a lecture hall and the labs in the science building.  Most of the students at Villanova come from the Tri-State and New England area, making the college more of a regional school.

Before our college trip, my daughter seemed stressed and unenthusiastic about looking at colleges.  After our trip, she had a big smile on her face and she is now very motivated to look for the best college fit for her.  Ah, relief…until we start filling out the applications!

Views of Georgetown University

20 Apr

Inside the Georgetown international relations building

Long hallway at Georgetown

Georgetown Intercultural Center

A Visit to Georgetown University

13 Apr

When we visited Georgetown University in February, a gentle sprinkling of snow dusted the grounds and buildings of this prestigious Catholic university, rendering an entrancing effect to its traditional campus of collegiate Gothic and Georgian redbrick.  Located in the tony Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. overlooking the Potomac River, this university has become one of the most selective schools in the country.  It seems to combine all the desirable elements of top-notch academics, a nationally ranked basketball team, and a location in the nation’s capitol.

That morning, my daughter ventured into her first college class in elementary Chinese.  Georgetown offers prospective students opportunities to sit in on classes, a list of which can be found on its website.  As we waited for her to get out of class, I eavesdropped on two students sitting next to us.  They were discussing the on-going turmoil in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and American policy.  The earnestness of their conversation sparked a memory of listening to similar discussions thirty years ago at college: the on-going turmoil in the Middle East (Iran-Iraq war), Afghanistan (the Soviet invasion), and American policy.  Plus ça change…

Unfortunately, my daughter could not get a good feel for the Chinese class because it was too easy.  The professor conducted the class in Chinese and according to my daughter, she was funny and made jokes.  But since my daughter was the only one who understood the professor, she was the only one who laughed at the jokes.  Later, the professor said that she should have sat in on a third year class instead.  The professor also questioned whether my daughter should pursue a Chinese major because she already knew a lot of Chinese.  This confused and discouraged my daughter and I wished I had been present to ask follow up questions.  But we were trying to let her approach professors on her own.

Afterwards we met up with a friend’s daughter who attends Georgetown.  She brought us to a popular Georgetown hangout, The Tombs, for lunch.  Bright and articulate, Amy is a senior majoring in Russian with a minor in Chinese.  Over hamburgers and pasta, Amy shared the highs and lows of her Georgetown experiences with us.  She told my daughter not to worry about what the Chinese professor said because when she came to Georgetown, she had had a few years of Russian language instruction already.  She was able to take graduate level courses in Russian as well as advanced language courses in Chinese.  Overall she praised Georgetown’s language programs where class sizes are capped and everyone quickly gets to know one another.  Because of its location, she has taken advantage of internships in the Washington D.C. area and has received a job offer.  Georgetown was the right choice for her.

She warns though that the medium sized university of 6,400 undergraduates can be bureaucratic and because of the expensive tuition – about $39,768 for the 2010-2011 academic year – it attracts students mostly from upper middle-income families.  Room and board costs average $13,000 or more.  Because the University’s endowment is smaller than similarly ranked universities, it is less able to offer generous financial aid than its peers.

The university is better known for its international relations, language, business, and government and political science programs than its science and math programs.  A new science building is scheduled to open in 2012.  There are four undergraduate schools: arts and sciences, foreign service, business, and nursing and public health.  Each school has core curriculum requirements and in arts and sciences this amounts to taking English, theology, and philosophy courses.  In addition, the university offers early admission into its law and medical schools for qualified Georgetown undergraduates, an attractive option for pre-med and pre-law students.

As one of the highly selective colleges in the country, Georgetown admitted less than 18% of applicants this year.  It has a non-binding early action program but according to an admissions officer, the admission rate for early action is the same as regular decision.  The University requires either the SAT I reasoning test or the ACT test (writing portion optional) and three SAT II subject tests.

Check back for photos.

Views of George Washington University

10 Apr

Statue on campus

One street view of GWU

 

Rest in Peace

4 Apr

Last week my husband and I took a quick trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia.  Unfortunately we weren’t there to visit the university or do a campus tour or take in an information session.  It was to attend a memorial service for our friends’ 19-year-old son who died suddenly in a freak accident.  Tommy was a freshman at the university and his family has long roots in the Charlottesville area.

Since reading the email almost a week ago about Tommy’s untimely passing, my heart has been gripped with intense sadness and anguish for his family.  We know the Gilliams from our time in Ireland.  They are an American missionary family who were instrumental in helping to establish the Maynooth Community Church, a small, vibrant Christian community, in County Kildare.  Last November we met for lunch with his parents, Tom and Vicki, when they were in the area.  During that lunch they were telling us about how Tommy was settling well into UVA and how he was enthusiastically embracing college life.  He was making lots of new friends, exploring new areas of academic interest and joining every club on campus.  His parents could not have been more delighted and proud of him and his adjustment to UVA.  In January when I came back from my visit to Dublin, I brought back a care package from his mother to mail to him.  I remember taking a peek inside and it was filled with all his favorite things, delicious goodies that had been carefully selected by loving hands.

My strongest memories of Tommy date back three years ago when his family invited my family over to lunch after church services.  It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we lingered for a long while after the meal of baked ham and roasted vegetables and potatoes was over.  Our conversations touched many subjects, from the differences between Irish culture and Northern Irish culture, to faith matters, to European travels, to colleges.  Tommy and my daughter attended the same Irish school and he was two years ahead of her and getting ready to think about applying to colleges.  Throughout the lunch he sat with us, listened and participated in the conversation.  I remember being impressed with him then, thinking that he displayed great patience as he sat there with us because I couldn’t imagine that everything we talked about was all that interesting to a teenager.  Either he was obediently sitting there because his parents had told him to, or he was genuinely interested in our company.  Either way, at age 16, he comported himself with maturity.

The memorial service in Charlottesville was standing room only and the local news estimated that there were over 800 people in attendance, a testimony to how beloved Tommy and his family were.  At the very same time that the Charlottesville service was occurring, another memorial service was taking place simultaneously at Lucan Presbyterian Church in Dublin to remember Tommy.  I was told that that service was also standing room only too.

As friends and family members shared their memories of this funny, smart, talented young man who loved life and his God, the Charlottesville service was at once a celebration of his life and an expression of profound sorrow over his sudden death.  Even in his short life Tommy had managed to touch so many people.  We are grateful to have known him.

Rest in peace, Tommy.

 

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