Archive | July, 2011

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

28 Jul

It’s late July and I’ve already seen my first back-to-school ad on TV.  I’m reminded of one of the more memorable ads for back-to-school sales, featuring a father gleefully pushing a shopping cart through an office supply store while singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  Meanwhile, his school-age children look on with glum faces, dragging their feet after him.  It’s clever and seems to strike a chord with many parents, at least until the tune begins to drive you insane.

I’m enjoying the summer too much to wish for back to school but time tyrannically presses on.  In a few more days – August 1 to be precise – the Common Application for 2011 will be released online, signaling the official start of a new college application year for the Class of 2016.  It’s not an occasion that most Americans will observe or note except for the 1.5 million or so rising seniors and their parents.  This will be it, the moment when seniors can take to their computers and begin to fill out their college applications.  This is when they present the best of themselves from the last three years to colleges in the hopes of gaining admission.  Out of this long and arduous process, we pray that they will all end up at the right schools for them.

After a year of writing this blog, I can hardly believe that we have arrived at this point.  Last year this event was a distant destination along life’s highway, seemingly far, far away.  We were focused on getting through the rigorous demands of junior year – I remember telling my daughter to take one day at a time, one step at a time.  But the proverbial journey of a thousand miles that began with the first day of freshman year high school has now arrived at signpost mile 800.

The last 200 miles will be a push.  We still have some schools to visit this summer and a couple to re-visit this fall; there are essays to write, grades to keep up, and interviews to prepare for.  A lot still needs to be done before we can all sing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” this December.

But how I look forward to singing it, loud and off-key.

A Visit to Rutgers University

21 Jul

State universities often lack the aura of prestige that go with the Ivy League and comparable brand name schools.  Hence, many a high-achieving student sees them as safety schools.  But in this day and age, when economic times remain uncertain at best, state universities may offer a better bet over some lower tier private universities for its cost effectiveness and access to resources.

I came to this conclusion when my daughter and I took a tour of our home state university, Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  The university is so large that it spans five campuses and we had to take a bus tour of it.  During the school year, students use the Rutgers bus system – I was told it is the second largest bus system in the state – to get around.  According to one student admissions representative, she never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus.

The campuses are expansive, with lots of open green space, a lake, and even a golf course.  We saw signs of building activity everywhere and were told the construction is mostly for new dorms.  Housing is guaranteed for all freshmen but after that, it is based on a lottery system.

The student body is large, with over 30,000 undergraduates and 8,500 graduate students.  Because of its size, it can support many academic programs so there are over 100 majors across seven schools, including liberal arts, visual and performing arts, engineering, pharmacy, business, nursing, and environmental/biological sciences.  Apparently there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.

The cost of this education for in-state residents is half of what many private institutions charge: last year tuition and board came out to $23,466 for in-state residents.  Even for out-of-state residents and international students, it compares favorably at $35,222.  The Board of Governors just approved a tuition increase of 1.6% for next year and room and board will likely increase 3.3%.  It is still a bargain.

The admissions rate in 2010 for New Brunswick was 59%, making it an easier college to get into.  Lest one thinks that a higher acceptance rate translates into a less than stellar student body, 81% of freshmen at New Brunswick ranked in the top 25% of their graduating class.  This academic profile is similar to some private universities like Northeastern University or American University.

Other than the cost, Rutgers’ size dwarfs that of many private schools and its sheer size can be daunting, unless one is looking for a large school experience.  It has a football team and by all accounts, school spirit is feisty (this is New Jersey after all).  We passed the football stadium and it looks fairly new.  With such a large student body, students will have to take a pro-active approach to their education.  Faculty advisers are assigned to each student to help with academic planning and course and major selection but this is not a place where they will hold your hand through your four years.  But perhaps that more closely reflects real life.

Rutgers is known for its diverse student body, with students coming from all socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities, the vast majority of whom are from New Jersey (92%).  In New Brunswick, whites constitute less than 50% of the student population.  In what must seem like a bitter ironic twist, the university launched Project Civility to promote civil discourse on campus at the same time that the Tyler Clementi tragedy was unfolding last September.  (Tyler Clementi was a young gay freshman who committed suicide after finding out that his roommate had secretly videotaped him having a tryst with another man.  The case is wending its way through the legal system.)

The application process is fairly straightforward.  Students apply online at the Rutgers website (no Common Application) and self report their grades.  There is an essay; the SAT or the ACT score is required.  No teacher recommendations are needed.

For those students who may not qualify for a lot of financial aid, going to Rutgers may make more sense than going to a higher priced, lower tier, private university.  Besides, I like knowing that my tax dollars are being put to good use.


14 Jul

“I didn’t get pep band conductor,” my daughter said when I came into the room.  I looked at her and my heart sank.

“I’m so sorry.  I know you really wanted to be picked.  How do you feel?”  I gently put my hand on her shoulder.

She burst into tears.  Aghast, I put my arm around her and tried to console her; my words of comfort sounded empty and ineffectual to my own ears, like worn-out platitudes and tired clichés.

“You can audition again next year.”

“You tried your best.”

“I’m proud of you for putting in the effort.”

The sound of her sobbing was tearing my insides apart.  In time she would get over this disappointment, the depth of which was only commensurate with how much she wanted the position.  For now though, it was painful to watch.

When we moved into our leafy suburban town, we had heard of the high school’s reputation for academic excellence, which translated into a premium on the town’s real estate values.  What we didn’t understand then was how fiercely competitive it would be, even for minor leadership positions like football pep band conductor.  More than a dozen students had signed up to audition and there was some jockeying for position amongst the students.  One boy told my daughter that the music teacher had specifically told him to apply.  This remark, thrown out casually, made her wonder whether he was trying to psych her out, messing with her mind.

The selection process consisted of conducting the Star Spangled Banner with the freshman band and being interviewed by the music teachers.  With only one opening, the odds of being selected were less than 10%.  Still, she went all out to prepare for the audition.  She practiced conducting every day.  Passing by in the hallway, I would see her standing in front of the mirror, moving her hands and arms in fluid and sweeping motions, keeping tempo to music only she could hear.  She went after school to ask her music teachers for help on the finer points.  And like any other upper-middle class parent programmed to do anything to help her child succeed, I even sought out a local professional conductor to help her.

The audition went well and she received positive feedback from the musicians.  So her spirits were buoyed as she went into the interview.  During the interview though, a couple of unexpected questions stumped her; she blurted out answers that caused the teachers to laugh. Unclear whether they were laughing at her or with her, she came out of the interview feeling less sure.  Still, she was hoping for the best.

I was tempted to email the teacher – to what purpose I didn’t even know, only feeling the need to do something, to “fix” it.  But I refrained because as difficult as this was, she needed to learn how to overcome disappointments on her own.  I didn’t know how to help her except to offer lots of empathy, since I was never very good at handling disappointments.  In my youth, I would ruminate moodily, feeling like an utter failure, and console myself with a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

Soon the demands of junior year left her no time to brood as she plunged into its hectic pace.  Later, she found out she had gotten into the wind ensemble after trying out twice for it and this helped ease the sting.  This year when they announced auditions for pep band conductor again, she decided not to audition, and there was no bitterness on her part.  She said,

“You know, the conductors didn’t look like they were having much fun.  Maybe it’s ok I didn’t get it.”

She had gotten over her disappointment.  Perhaps she had something to teach me about overcoming failure.  One thing is for sure, don’t eat a pint of Haagen-Dazs.


I want to thank my daughter for allowing me to write this.



5 Jul

My husband got a brand spanking new digital camera for Father’s Day, a Nikon SLR, complete with two snazzy lenses.  All the photos in this blog have been taken by him although up to now he has just used a lowly Canon point-and-shoot.

So of course we had to go out and shoot some photos of nearby colleges.  Someone told us that the Madison campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University is quite lovely and used to be the home of a Vanderbilt granddaughter.  The mansion, now known as Hennessy Hall, is an example of a Gilded Age residence.

From time to time we will be posting more photos of colleges and universities.  Hope you will enjoy these photos.

Views of Fairleigh Dickinson University, College at Florham

5 Jul

Hennessy Hall

Inside Hennessy Hall

A Classroom in Hennessy Hall


%d bloggers like this: