Tag Archives: admissions

The Postman Cometh

16 Dec

I heard her running down the hall, her slippered feet slapping against the wooden floor.

“Is the postman here?” I inquired.  But I already knew the answer.

She nodded, her face tense, and we both race to get the mail.  Stuck amongst my copy of Poets & Writers, our local newspaper and junk mail was a priority mail envelope with Barnard College’s return address.  This was it.

She tore open the envelope, took out a black folder with the name of the college printed in large, white letters on the front.  With nervous fingers, she opened the folder and her eyes anxiously scanned the letter:

“Congratulations!  On behalf of the Committee on Admissions, I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to the Barnard College Class of 2016.”   

Screams.  Hugs.  Jumping up and down.  Phone calls to family.  Phone calls to friends who have walked alongside us through this long process.  Email to guidance counselor.  Texts to friends.  No dinner.  Takeout night.  Facebook.  Accepting everyone’s good wishes.  Savoring the moment.

From the start she was attracted to Barnard.  In the middle of the campus tour in August of 2010, she leaned over to me and whispered, “I like this school.”  From then on, every college we visited was compared against Barnard.  She likes the small liberal arts atmosphere of a women’s college with access to Columbia University’s classes, professors, and resources.  The curriculum allows her flexibility to explore different disciplines without having to take required core courses.  The New York City location allows for plenty of opportunities for internships and volunteering.  Columbia University’s Chinese language courses are known to be rigorous and thorough.  For her, it made complete sense to apply early decision.

In case anyone is wondering, I plan to continue with this blog in the new year and write about the rest of the journey from acceptance to matriculation from the point of view of a parent.  I remain fascinated by college admissions and all things higher education, so I hope that you will continue to walk alongside me on this journey.

Thanks, and have a merry Christmas, a happy holiday, and a joyful new year.

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Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University – Public Option Part 2

13 Dec

If NYU was the “hot chick” whom Monkey Son had long admired from afar, Rutgers was the girl Monkey Mama kept nudging Son to meet, and just “give her a chance.”  That chance came with a visit in early fall.

Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers has one of the most prestigious and selective Acting B.F.A. programs in the nation, among its numerous degree programs in visual and performing arts.  This program includes a mandatory junior year at the Globe Theatre in London.  Some famous alumni include Kristin Davis and Calista Flockhart.

The program is rigorous and intense, as Michael our graduate student guide, explained: “No time for football games.”  Monkey Son’s appetite was whetted by the news that Mason Gross students did not have to fulfill a math or science requirement, and that, in Michael’s words, “we don’t care about your grades” for admissions.  Admissions are almost exclusively determined by auditions, which entail two monologues, one classical (Shakespeare is recommended) and one modern (i.e. post-1911).  Both monologues cannot exceed four minutes combined.  Close to 800 aspirants audition for about 16 places in the program.

Although they do not have an explicit “cut” system, only 10 students are expected to complete the training.  Most students leave voluntarily, after determining that they want a more varied, less grueling, schedule.  Sometimes students may be nudged in a different direction if they show insufficient dedication to their craft.  The final year at Mason Gross focuses on the practical aspects of life as a professional actor, including acting for film, auditioning techniques, and a showcase performance in New York.  Almost all students have agents by the time they graduate.

Monkey Son’s theater mentor received her M.F.A. from Mason Gross, after studying with Sanford Meisner in New York.  Mason Gross utilizes Meisner’s techniques in their conservatory, which might give Monkey Son a partial boost since he is familiar with basic Meisner principles.  Nevertheless, the competition is fierce and his prospects remain slim.  Monkey Mama remains optimistic that any school whose representative shrugs and says “we don’t care about your grades” has to be a decent fit for her cherished first-born son.

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.

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.

Northern Exposure: Dartmouth, Middlebury and Hamilton Colleges

5 Oct

This summer we visited three colleges located north of the 38th parallel – Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Middlebury College in Vermont and Hamilton College in upstate New York.  They share many similarities – all offer a liberal arts education surrounded by mountains (Green, White, or Adirondacks) and have beautiful, traditional campuses with elegant brick or stone buildings.  Being so far north, winters can seem interminable.  When we visited in midsummer, the weather was so pleasant and mild that it was hard to imagine these campuses blanketed under thick snow and ice, assailed by bitter winds and frigid temperatures.  Tuition and board are expensive, costing more than $50,000; to soften the sticker shock, they all offer need-blind admissions and a commitment to meeting a student’s financial need.

Because of their remote locations, students going to any of these schools must love the great outdoors because there is little else around.  Sure, Hanover, New Hampshire is a charming historic town whose sole purpose seems to be supporting the college community with restaurants, stores, and hotels (I highly recommend staying at Six South Street) but it is a small town nevertheless.  The same can be said of Middlebury Vermont, and Clinton, New York.  Students who enjoy winter sports will find lots to do.

Some key differences stand out.  Dartmouth’s academic calendar is divided into 12-week quarters instead of semesters so there is little or no easing into the workload.  Most students take three courses per quarter.  All sophomores are required to spend their second summer on campus at Dartmouth.  Dartmouth also offers an engineering degree in addition to liberal arts.

The presence of sophomores, numbering about 1,100, on campus made the campus seem livelier and less deserted when we were there.  The students we saw were fit looking so it should be no surprise to learn that fifty percent of the student body is involved in varsity sports and another 25% plays intramural or club sports.  A friend who is a Dartmouth alumnus recalls being surrounded by athletes when he attended 30 years ago and that has not changed.  Sixty percent of Dartmouth students are also involved with fraternities or sororities.

An hour and half away on the other side of the Green Mountains, Middlebury College has no fraternities or sororities.  It is a smaller liberal arts college with only 2,450 students and is most known for its foreign languages, English, and environmental studies programs, among others.  It also offers 5-year dual-degree engineering programs with Dartmouth College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Columbia University.

For students contemplating time off before college, each year Middlebury offers deferred admission to 90 to 100 students who enroll in February.  In case anyone wonders whether admission standards are looser for February admits, the admission representative was quick to note that a disproportionate percentage of “Febs” take on leadership roles in campus life.

To our disappointment, none of the tour guides were studying any foreign languages, which is what my daughter was most interested in.  As we walked around campus, we could see that there is on-going construction and renovation of campus facilities.  The tour guide raved about the food, which is supposed to be quite good, with local farmers supplying the college with organic, fresh produce and raw ingredients.

Hamilton College is the smallest college on our visit, with only 1,850 undergraduates.  Its academic program features an open curriculum that allows students to take whatever courses they want without needing to fulfill any distributional requirements.  Depending on your perspective, this could be good or bad; if a student enters college with a well-developed and strong focus, an open curriculum could be liberating (e.g., no more pesky math or science courses, ever).  But, if students are undecided about what to study, requiring them to sample different discipline areas may help them to decide.  The college is not completely without requirements though; students have to take three writing intensive courses.  The college was quick to tout its strong alumni network with over 50% of alumni donating to the college.

Of the three colleges, Dartmouth College is the most selective, being in the Ivy League.  Last year its admission rate was 10%, Middlebury’s was 18% and Hamilton’s was 27%.  For students interested in going to college in rural areas, play sports, and enjoy nature and the outdoors, these three schools offer all that in descending order of selectivity.

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
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