Archive | November, 2011

Montclair State University – Public Option Part I

30 Nov

Monkey Mama is willing to risk an onslaught of vituperation from the Tea Party movement when she avers that the United States of America owes a great deal of its success to its early commitment to public education.  Montclair State University (MSU) began life as a “normal school,” in 1908, dedicated to training teachers.

Today MSU is a full fledged university located on 252 acres in Essex County, New Jersey, 14 miles west of New York City.  Those miles may be traversed aboard New Jersey Transit directly into New York Penn Station.  The original architects balked at the ivy-clad traditions of other northeastern colleges and opted in favor of whitewashed, Spanish Mission-style buildings.  Some newer buildings, including University Hall and the Student Recreation Center, mimic the older architecture, and even the imposing Alexander Kasser Theater, host to many concerts and performances by world-class artists, attempts to meld the Mission motifs with its modern design elements.

Although traditional pedagogical training is still prominent within the university, there are undergraduate colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, Business, the Arts, and Education and Human Services.  MSU is in the process of remodeling several dormitories and constructing a new residence hall.  The main campus is small and students can easily walk around.  There are many dining options, including a traditional-style diner with 24-hour service during the school year.  Tuition and fees for New Jersey residents in 2011-2012 is $10,646 with room rates ranging from $6,802 for a triple in the irresistibly-named Frank Sinatra Hall, to $10,140 for a single.  Meal plan options range from several hundred dollars to about $4,000.

Monkey Mama and Son had arranged for a personal meeting with a representative of the theater department following our campus tour.  She showed us the main theater, “black box,” and rehearsal spaces, and shared some insights regarding the audition and application process.  MSU’s overall acceptance rate is about 50%, with roughly one-third of its accepted students enrolling.  The average composite SAT score for admitted students is 1500 out of 2400, and the average unweighted G.P.A. was listed as 3.2.

The acting B.F.A. program, on the other hand, only accepts 14 to 16 students each year, and is considered highly desirable.  MSU holds some auditions on campus and also participates in the regional Unified Auditions.  The Unified Auditions give the university an opportunity to view a wider pool of the most talented candidates but as a state-funded college, it is not able to offer generous financial aid packages to out-of-state applicants, thus giving an advantage to private conservatories.

Optional or Not?

23 Nov

Just a quick, short post before Thanksgiving.  Hope that everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday celebration with friends, family, and loved ones.  After this four-day weekend, it is crunch time for preparing college applications as we roll inexorably towards the January deadline.

We’ve been discussing this question in our household lately: when is optional really optional?  Or, put another way, when is the optional not optional?

Many colleges have one or more required essays or short answers in their supplements, usually asking why an applicant is applying to their school.  Then there are colleges that list optional essays, like Tufts University.  On their website, it says, “We invite you to choose one of these topics and to prepare an essay of 250 to 500 words.”  Of course, when they put it like that, as an invitation, it’s hard to refuse them.

When it comes to writing optional college essays, it may not really be optional (sorry kids).  I have this from independent sources: my daughter’s guidance counselor and college discussion forums like www.collegeconfidential.com.  The reasoning behind this is to show the college or university that an applicant is really interested in the school, that he or she has made the extra effort.  As for how colleges regard candidates who do not answer the optional question, I wish that I had asked about that at the information sessions.  This is something to think about for those of you with younger children.

When it comes to applying to colleges, nothing is ever what it seems.

Tisch School of the Arts – New York University

17 Nov

Monkey Son has expressed a desire to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University ever since middle school.  Tisch’s roster of celebrity graduates, and its panoply of resources buttress its worldwide reputation in the performing and film arts.  The undergraduate film school is said to have the lowest freshman acceptance rate of any college in the country.  Thousands audition for the roughly 250 to 300 slots available in the acting B.F.A. program.  Those figures indicate that Tisch has a somewhat higher acceptance rate than some other acting schools, but that the competition is fierce, and it is the first choice for many applicants.

Theater majors do not receive most of their training on the NYU campus.  They are assigned to one of seven outside studios by the admissions committee.  Students may attempt to transfer out, but most are confined to their designated studios for three days a week throughout their freshman and sophomore years at Tisch.  Those studios include the renowned Meisner Studio, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, the Atlantic Acting School (founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy to promote “Practical Aesthetics”), Experimental Theatre Wing, Playwrights Horizons, New Studio on Broadway (for musical theater majors) and Production and Design Studio (for those focusing on other stagecraft areas).  The other two days are spent fulfilling general studies requirements at the university.

NYU is an undeniably exciting and attractive institution, but we never had an opportunity to hear from undergraduates at Tisch, to gain their perspectives, nor were we given an actual Tisch tour.  We had a general campus tour, but left feeling that it would not provide the intimate, ensemble environment that other college theater departments carefully cultivate.  For Monkey Son, Tisch is the equivalent of the long-time, remote object of a crush, whom he discovered to be less-than-scintillating in person, but whom he’d happily date just because she’s crazy hot.

We were not shown any residence halls at NYU but our tour guide rhapsodized about some of his lucky lottery assignments and fortunate roommate choices.  For all of Greenwich Village’s culinary sophistication, the guide took particular pride in boasting that NYU hosts New York City’s only Chick-A-Fil franchise.

Tisch is a 50/50 theater school, meaning that it gives equal consideration to a student’s audition and academic record.  Monkey Son’s grades fall well below the norm, and his board scores are close to average for NYU undergraduates, which means his audition would have to dazzle the auditors for them to push for his acceptance.  The university professes to practice holistic admissions, considering the applicant’s entire profile, but they also like to post impressive numbers.  Their current university-wide acceptance rate is somewhere between 35% to 40% with a similar percentage of accepted students enrolling.  Those rates vary among divisions, as do the average GPA and SAT scores.

Monkey Son will apply and audition for the Tisch School, but it has descended from the top of his list to somewhere in the middle of the top ten.

 

Alma Mater: Not Penn State

14 Nov

Ok, the title of this post is a cheap shot.  I admit it.  When I attended the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980’s, there was a popular T-shirt on campus that read: “Not Penn State.”  Apparently people often got my alma mater confused with Penn State, much to our annoyance.  Back then many Penn students like myself had an inferiority complex, having been shut out of the Ivy League Big Three (Harvard, Princeton, Yale).  So for people to think that we attended Penn State felt like they were pouring salt on wound.

Those days are long gone.  In fact, I probably can’t get admitted today.  As for that “Not Penn State” T-shirt, I didn’t see any on my recent visit to campus.  Judging from the early decision statistics, many students now make Penn their first choice and half the entering class is filled through early decision.  It’s no wonder our high school guidance department advises students to apply early if they want to go to Penn.  In 2011, the overall admission rate was 12% but 26% of early applicants were admitted.  (It will be interesting to see whether Harvard and Princeton’s re-institution of early action will siphon off candidates from Penn’s early decision pool).

Penn also likes to admit children and grandchildren of alumni.  Whether you believe legacy preference is fair or not, Penn wants to attract legacy students.  It created the Alumni Council on Admissions to help alumni families determine whether Penn is the right college, and to advise legacy applicants how best to present themselves.  In early decision, 38% to 42% of legacy applicants are admitted.  But the legacy advantage only seems to matter in early decision and is less of a factor in regular decision.  Penn is a popular choice at our high school and each year over two-dozen seniors apply.  Penn usually accepts about half a dozen students, almost all through early decision.

When we visited the campus, it was on a beautiful early spring day.  The lovely weather brought the students outside in full force and they thronged Locust Walk, the main pedestrian thoroughfare through Penn’s campus.  Tables were set up along the Walk and students were loudly hawking tickets to dances, shows, and other campus happenings.  The atmosphere felt festive.  Maybe it was the bright sunshine but the buildings seemed spiffier than I remembered.  The Wharton undergraduate business school is housed in a new building, Huntsman Hall, named after its benefactor, Jon M. Huntsman, father of the Republican presidential candidate and former ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.  The building inside is gorgeous, with polished wood interiors and state-of-the-art teaching equipment.  Thanks to its many successful alumni, the Wharton School has always received out-sized alumni donations.

Penn has four undergraduate colleges – liberal arts, business, engineering and nursing – and is the second largest Ivy League university.  Total enrollment numbers around 9,700 undergraduates.  An interdisciplinary approach to academics is highly encouraged, reflecting founder Benjamin Franklin’s belief in an education that is strong in the professions and the liberal arts.  So regardless of which college students are enrolled in, they may take classes in any of the four schools.  There are more opportunities than in my day to pursue dual degrees such as international studies and business, management and technology, nursing and health care management, life sciences and management, computers and cognitive science.  Some unusual majors that I remember from thirty years ago, like history and sociology of science or biological basis of behavior, are still being offered.

As a heavily pre-professional university, many of my classmates went on to pursue graduate degrees in business, law, and medicine.  I suspect that this has not changed.  It is a university that has only gotten better with time.

Ten Tips on Preparing College Applications

10 Nov

As my daughter works on her college applications this fall, we have already learned some important lessons.  Here’s hoping that some of these tips below will help other college applicants with their applications.

  1. Do not wait until the last minute to submit applications because as this October snowstorm has taught us, something may go wrong.  Give yourself some extra time.
  2. Start working on essays the summer before senior year, as soon as the Common Application becomes available, usually August 1.  Do not wait until the last minute (see #1 above).
  3. Make a list of each college with all the essays and supplements for each.  Sometimes the essays may overlap and you can revise one essay and use it for another college.  Be sure you are sending the right essays to the right schools (see #7 and #8 below).
  4. Create a file folder for each college that you will be applying to.  Each folder can have a cover sheet with all the information for that college, including deadlines, emails, phone numbers, codes, contacts, scores sent, transcript sent etc.  Brochures, copies of correspondences and filed applications should be put into the pertinent folder.
  5. When working on the computer, be sure to back up your work into a flash drive in case something happens to the computer.
  6. Print out and read your essays out loud to hear how it sounds.  Often times you can hear if a sentence or phrase is awkwardly worded.
  7. Print out a copy of the entire application and have someone proofread everything.
  8. Have another person proofread everything.
  9. If you submit an early decision or early action application, keep working on your regular decision applications so if in the unfortunate event that you are denied admission, the other applications are ready to go.  Do not wait until the last minute (see #1 above).
  10. Have faith that you will end up at the right college for you.

October Storm

7 Nov

The sound of buzzing chainsaws could be heard throughout our neighborhood this weekend.  The clean up after the freaky pre-Halloween storm has begun.  We lost power early Saturday afternoon as large, wet flakes descended from the skies and landed on trees that had yet to shed their leaves.  Unable to bear the additional weight, tree limbs and branches cracked, snapped and thudded to the ground.  This was repeated throughout the storm, a strangely jarring sound – snap, crack, thud.  I involuntarily winced each time I heard it.  Our backyard was littered with fallen limbs and leaves, some branches as thick as a grown man’s arm or thigh.

With the electricity out, there was no heat and the temperature in the house dipped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius.  Based on what we saw with Hurricane Irene, I knew that it could be days before power would be restored.  Schools were closed Monday so my daughter and I packed up the laptop and college application materials and headed for the nearest open public library.  After navigating through road closures and detours, we got to the library and it was already swarming with folks seeking warmth and a place to charge cell phones.  We managed to find two empty seats next to each other and she began working on her college essays right away.

As if high school seniors needed more stress, this snowstorm occurred a few days before many early action and early decision applications were due.  The power outage set back my daughter’s plans to work on her essays that weekend, causing her much stress and anxiety.  With more than three million people affected by the storm, I wondered whether colleges were going to move the deadline.  Sure enough, when my daughter logged onto the Common Application website, there was this note:

“The Common Application Board of Directors has asked all member colleges with imminent deadlines to be sensitive to the adverse conditions affecting schools and students in the northeast.”

It was up to individual colleges to decide whether to extend deadlines.  Some colleges moved their deadlines by one day (Yale University) and some as long as two weeks (Loyola University Maryland and Drew University).

Although there is no competitive advantage to submitting an application well ahead of a deadline, there is something to be said about not waiting until the very last moment to submit.  All kinds of weird things can happen, like this bizarre snowstorm or technical difficulties.  Nobody needs that extra stress and agitation, certainly not parents (speaking for myself).

The next day, a kind friend offered to have our family stay at her place until our power was restored.  We took her up on her gracious offer and this gave my daughter the ability and fast Internet connection to continue working on her application.  There are few things more blessed in life than to have such good friends.  And electricity and heat.

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