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Views of Tufts University

2 Mar

Last April we visited Tufts University in Somerville, Massachusetts. The school mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

“What Are You Going to Study?”

4 Feb

Hands down that’s the most commonly asked question of my daughter after learning where she is attending college this fall.  It’s a logical follow-up question and it also signals a shift of attention to the next stage in her young life.  That question is just as important as where one goes to college; some would argue it is more important.

Right now when asked, she just shrugs; she doesn’t know.  Recently, the value of a liberal arts education has come under scrutiny (see articles like this), especially in a struggling economy.  But for someone who doesn’t know what she wants to study, a liberal arts education makes sense.  It will give her a well-rounded foundation of knowledge from which she can discover and pursue her interests while developing critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills (if that sounds like it came from a college brochure, I think I have internalized all that marketing spiel; I didn’t plagiarize, honest.)  Seriously though, the choice of major is frequently intertwined with later career choices and these days, what parents of college students, even the most relaxed ones, do not fret just an iota, about whether their children will be able to find meaningful employment?

When it comes to our children, there’s always something over which to wring our hands.  One mother recently related how her college-aged son talked about perhaps becoming a musician: “We’re going to need a talk with him about that.”  From the roll of her eyes and the skeptical tone in her voice, I can tell that there will be many “talks” in that family.  I suspect there may be such “talks” with my daughter in future about career choices and I suppose I could worry about that now.  But I will fight that urge.  I believe a liberal arts education will help her uncover her strengths and passions almost as much as I believe in a God that has created her for purposes the discovery of which will be her life journey.  So I will trust and not worry.

Growing Up

15 Jan

Our local high school is known for its competitiveness, having been ranked twice as the top public high school in New Jersey.  The academic workload is heavy and close to half of the student body takes Advanced Placement courses.  The average SAT score is about 300 points above the state’s average.  No doubt the reputation of the high school has kept real estate prices from nose-diving as young families continue to move in for the schools.

Since freshmen year the students have understood the academic stakes involved.  Some underclassmen feel no compunction asking seniors about their grades and coursework as if to benchmark their own progress.  A junior boy whom my daughter didn’t know had asked her once point blank where she was applying.  After recovering from shock at his audacity, she brushed him off with her usual song-and-dance routine about not talking about colleges.  He threw up his hands as if offended and channeled Steve Martin: “Well, excuuuse me!”

It’s not just the kids either.  On Back to School night in late September, my daughter was approached by an unknown Chinese man in the school hallway who asked her where she was applying to college.  She wasn’t going to discuss her college choices with friends, let alone strangers, so she mumbled something about not having decided yet.  Since she is not an artful dissembler, I don’t know whether he believed her or not but he remarked that it was getting late in the application process, shouldn’t she have decided by now?  She felt awkward and uncomfortable.  The next day, a friend said to her, “So I see you met my father.”

So with this striving, achievement-oriented profile in mind, I didn’t know what to expect when early college notifications came in last month.  I have been pleasantly surprised and gratified by the supportiveness the seniors have shown each other, at least on Facebook.  When someone posts about a college acceptance, the congratulations usually roll in within minutes.  (Shows how often and how long they stay on FB).  They may use a combination of exclamation marks, all-cap lettering, or emoticons to emphasize their excitement:




After all the competing and achieving, it’s heartening to see the students come together, cheer on one another’s successes, and to feel happiness for others.  For those who got deferred or rejected, students offer support and encouragement, which is usually done in person.  In four years they have grown up and matured, no longer little boys and girls.

Views of Fairleigh Dickinson University, College at Florham

5 Jul

Hennessy Hall

Inside Hennessy Hall

A Classroom in Hennessy Hall


Almost There…

16 Jun

“Yay!” my daughter shouts gleefully and pumps her arms over her head, “junior year is almost over!”

We were looking at the calendar recently and marveling that junior year is about to come to an end.  For my daughter, it’s not soon enough.  It’s been a busy, full year – lots of late nights staying up tackling homework, lots of juggling of academic and extracurricular commitments, lots of preparing for and stressing over standardized tests.  It was akin to running a marathon and in early spring, when the weather did not yet show signs of turning, it seemed as if we were hitting the wall and the year would never end.  I worried that she was not getting enough sleep, as I would find her dozing off in the car even for short rides.

After finals end next week, she and her classmates will be seniors, at the top of the high school food chain.  Already she is looking forward to exercising her “senior privileges,” which include having a whole hour for lunch instead of 25 minutes to wolf down her food, being able to leave the school and go into town for lunch like an adult, and not having to take finals.  And then there’s much anticipation that after three and a half years of really hard work, pressure, and fierce competition, she and her classmates can finally relax and enjoy their last days of high school.  From the looks of it, there are all sorts of parties and celebrations going on for seniors.

At this time of year people say the same thing, how fast time has flown, how they can’t believe it, where has the time gone?  Someone once likened the passage of time to the rewinding of a VHS tape – remember those?  It starts out slowly, but then begins to gather speed and momentum, the machine whirring fast, faster and faster as the rewinding hurtles toward the end and the tape is spit out.  Trying to hold on to moments is like trying to hold on to the wind.

Soon and very soon, the new school year will arrive and the process of actually applying to college, putting words to paper, will begin in earnest.  Until then, I exhale a long held breath, and say a prayer of thanks and gratitude that the year is behind us.

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.


The Johns Hopkins University – a trip report

11 Mar

That’s the official name of the university, with a “The” at the beginning of its name and an “s” in Johns.  The student admissions representative who presented the information session jokingly told the audience visiting on President’s Day that if applicants wrote “John Hopkins,” they will be rejected.  This elicited nervous laughter from the crowd of parents and prospective students.  Students and alumni refer to the university as Hopkins; my husband is a graduate and he can attest to the numerous ways people have butchered the school name.  It’s a pet peeve.

The University is best known for its world-class medical school and hospital, located in downtown Baltimore, Maryland.  We were visiting the Homewood campus in northern Baltimore, which houses the undergraduate colleges of arts and sciences and engineering.  Because of the reputation of the medical school, Hopkins attracts many pre-meds who make up 25% of the class.  Contrary to popular belief though, attending Hopkins as an undergraduate does not confer any special advantages when it comes to being admitted to the Johns Hopkins medical school.  Nevertheless, at least 85% of pre-meds are accepted into medical schools.  Our student representative was a case in point – she was a public health major going on to medical school.

Given Hopkins’ strong pre-med reputation, it surprised us to learn that one of the most popular undergraduate majors is international studies.  For students wishing to pursue serious study in international studies, Hopkins offers a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program in international studies where students spend one year in Washington D.C. at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), another Hopkins graduate school.

In addition to the engineering and arts and science school, the university also created a new undergraduate business school in 2007, located in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore.  Students can also pursue a dual degree with Peabody Institute of Music. Except for biomedical engineering where applicants must be admitted specifically to that major, prospective students do not need to state a major on their application.  The biomedical engineering program is ranked number one in the country and is highly competitive.  A student can be admitted to Hopkins but not to the major.

There are about 5,000 undergraduates and the entering class has doubled in size since my husband attended thirty years ago.  The admission rate in 2010 was 21% but the admission rate for early decision stands higher at 39% in 2011.  The student representative said one-third of the class is filled through early decision but in 2011 that percentage rose to 42%.

The campus consists of a series of redbrick buildings in the Federal style of architecture, organized around various quadrangles with green open spaces.  We decided to skip the campus tour and wandered around on our own.  The area seems safe enough in broad daylight but there have been incidences over the years as the campus borders a poorer section of Baltimore.

American readers of this blog will not be too surprised by the high cost of tuition at Hopkins but international readers should take a breath.  It costs $40,680 for tuition for the 2010-2011 academic year and room and board will add another $12,510 for a total of $53,190.

My overall impression is that Hopkins may be a good fit for students who are interested in international studies, the sciences, engineering, and medical related fields.  Hopkins students work very hard, frequently taking more than the standard four courses per semester.  Their men’s and women’s lacrosse team competes in Division I and matches are popular on campus.


A Word of Thanks

23 Dec

On January 1, this blog will be six months old.  When I started, I didn’t know how long I could sustain the blog, whether I would find enough to write about, or even if anyone was interested in reading it.  So this seems as good a time as any to say thank you to those of you who read this blog regularly.  It is your responses, both in private emails and public comments, that encourage and inspire me to be a better writer/blogger, a better parent, and to offer thoughtful, meaningful material.  I will return in early January with more about a parent’s perspective of the college search and admissions process.  Then in February we plan to visit more colleges on the East Coast so stay tuned for more road trip reports.  In the meantime, I wish you all

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

Happy New Year!


Pressure, a follow-up

9 Sep

Last week’s post generated a fair amount of reaction from readers who either commented publicly on the blog or privately by email.  Thank you all for your responses and know that I appreciate them and please keep them coming.  Many encouraged me to have a follow-up conversation with my daughter when the chance came up again; some reminded me that silence can be golden.  An experienced parent noted that this will be an on-going dialogue.

A friend, M, who recently shepherded her son through his college admissions and is about to do it again with her daughter, wrote the following observation:

“Going through this process again, I can tell you that the pressure they feel this year will not only come from their peers, but most of all from parents.  Parents seem to measure how successful they’ve been by what schools their child gets into and eventually goes to.”

The uncomfortable truth of her statement pierces me.

It’s too easy to believe that my child’s success reflects well on me.  I remember my mother telling me as a youngster to behave lest it made my parents look bad.  This method of using shame to control behavior (popular in the Chinese culture) worked; the idea of bringing embarrassment to my parents held my childish shenanigans in check.  And the converse also worked – years later my aspirations to attend an Ivy League school was fueled in part by a desire to bring pride and honor to my parents, to give them bragging rights.

M continues:

“I think it’s how you respond and treat this process, how you come to accept your child’s grades, . . . their SAT scores and how you help them through it will determine how difficult this year is for them.  They are taking cues from us and as parents we have to help our children see that . . . if they’re less than perfect, it really is ok.  Our success in raising our children is not in the college sticker people post on their car window, but how we raise our kids to be happy, independent, kind and decent people.”

I’m grateful to friends who can keep me honest through this process.


2 Sep

“Next year there is going to be lots of pressure.”

My daughter sits on my bed as she says this, her long hair damp from the evening shower she just took.  She’s talking about the upcoming academic year.  Her profile is blurry because I don’t have my glasses on.  I put down the book I’m reading – Lit by Mary Karr, an engrossing memoir about overcoming alcoholism and finding God – and squint at her.  I’m too tired to get my glasses on my bedside table so I continue to look at her features made fuzzy by extreme myopia.

There is silence as my mind ineptly casts about what to say.  If this were a sit-com, the mother would say something witty and wise, the daughter would look up and smile, they will both laugh, maybe share a hug, and the camera will fade to a cheery back-to-school commercial.  But here a long silence hangs between us because I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to handle that kind of pressure.  Things were different in my day.

She’s right about junior year.  From all accounts it’s going to be hard.  AP classes, PSAT testing, SAT I testing, SAT II subject testing, the pressure to bring up or maintain grades, excel in extracurriculars, these components collectively gather force to bear down on any 16-year-old with dreams of attending a competitive college.

Then there is peer pressure.  Because few adolescents know how to handle stress, they salve their own insecurities by gossiping and making derogatory remarks about each other’s academic abilities.  Or they play mental games to puff up their own talents to “psych out” rivals (some are surprisingly sophisticated players at this).  In an ideal world my daughter can ignore all this but even that takes tough mental fortifications.  No one wants to be a target.

Maybe because I am tired and I’m mourning the passage of summer, but wise and comforting words elude me.  I just stare at her as the silence rolls on between us.  It’s not an uncomfortable silence but as a mother, I feel compelled to help her or “fix it” for her.  Tonight I’m all out.

Finally I open my mouth and say lamely, “It’s late.  Maybe you should go to bed.”  She shuffles off to bed and I lean over to turn off the light.  A sneaky suspicion that I’ve bypassed some opportunity sits uneasily with me.

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