Tag Archives: Columbia University

President Obama to Speak at Barnard College

7 Mar

This weekend we were excited to learn that President Obama will be giving the keynote address at Barnard College’s commencement this May. Whether you like the President or not, it’s a coup for the college to land him as speaker. The consensus opinion is that he will be using the occasion to appeal to women and youth voters, two groups that pundits say are necessary to his re-election. Tickets to the graduation have become sizzling hot. For the rest of us, we will have to watch the speech live on Barnard’s website.

The news about President Obama has also publicly exposed simmering tensions between Columbia University and Barnard. I noted in a post from 2010 that some Columbia students believe that Barnard students are inferior to them, either because Barnard ranks lower in national rankings or because Columbia is more difficult to get into (7% acceptance rate for Columbia vs. 25% for Barnard). In reaction to the President choosing to speak at Barnard over Columbia, students have taken to the blogosphere to vent, with many doing so behind the cloak of anonymity.

Some of the comments are downright mean-spirited and have distressed and embarrassed many Columbia and Barnard students and administrators alike. So much so that a Facebook page was formed, calling for all the Columbia schools to come together against the anonymous hurling of insults. The presidents of Barnard and Columbia issued a joint statement saying, “disrespectful comments are not representative of our community.”

It’s heartening to see the Columbia University community speaking out against the nastiness of the exchange and I hope change will occur that addresses the attitudes behind the comments. I always knew that my daughter would receive a fine education at Barnard as she heads there this fall. I just didn’t think that her education would begin right now, as she witnesses this controversy and thinks critically about it for herself.

What’s Next

9 Jan

Last Saturday night we ate dinner at a local restaurant, the kind where the tables are crowded against each another and guests cannot move their chairs without bumping into someone else’s chair.  In such tight quarters, it is hard not to overhear conversations so I heard one woman say, “Oh yes, she got into Villanova University.  Early action.”

My ears perked up right away, like a hound dog that has detected the scent of its quarry.  Her friend gushed her congratulations.

“Thank you.  Unfortunately she didn’t get into Columbia,” the first woman continued, to which her friend mumbled something I couldn’t hear.

I acted nonchalant, slicing my panko-crusted tilapia in a deliberate fashion as if I were loath to rush through the meal.  Hoping that I was being discreet, I turned my head a few degrees to look at their table.  They were a foursome, two middle-aged couples out on a double date.  One woman was a thin blonde with medium length hair that appeared freshly coiffed and styled.  Her friend was a brunette; both were dressed for a casual evening of dining in the suburbs.  They looked at me and I turned my head away.

Even though the college admissions rat race is over for us, I’m still fascinated by this topic because of all that it embodies about what is prized in our culture – competition, achievement, upward mobility, social status, opportunity, economic security, dreams for our children to do better (or, in this faltering economy, for them not to do worse.)  So I will continue to mine this subject for any nuggets of insight, wisdom, or humor.  Since the next several months will see my daughter finish high school and prepare to enter college, I will also write about being the mother bird that is getting ready to ease the baby bird out of the home nest.  So dear faithful readers, I hope you will stick around for the journey.

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.

Waiting for the Postman

15 Dec

My daughter’s First Choice College has mailed out its acceptance and rejection letters so it all falls on the trusty United States Postal Service to deliver good or bad tidings to our house.  Any day now.  The College has been cagey about when it mailed out its notices, only saying that everyone will hear by the end of this week, which could mean Saturday.  Not for the first time I complain to anyone who will listen, “That’s so 20th century.  Why can’t they do it like everyone else, electronically?”  I suppose they are trying to help the Postal Service stay in business.

Since last Thursday December 8, several colleges have notified their early decision applicants, mostly through their websites.  Thursday was Cornell University and Columbia University; Friday was University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College and Washington University in St. Louis.  This week, more students found out their fates: Brown University, Duke University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Vassar College, Georgetown University, Tufts University.  To those who got in, hearty congratulations, and to those who did not, please believe that you will end up where you are supposed to be.

It’s been fascinating to watch how news of acceptances trickle out, or rather, in this social media age, how with one tap of the “Return” button, information gets blasted out into cyberspace for all to see at once.  No more calling up your friends to tell them – that’s so 20th century.  My daughter keeps her Facebook page on while doing homework and refreshes it periodically.  Ever so often she yells out to me: “So-and-So got into Such-and-Such!”  Friends then post their congratulations on the admitted student’s page.  By contrast, the pages of the ones who did not get in are silent.

Meanwhile, we are keeping an eagle eye out for the postman this week.

Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts

8 Oct

It’s irresistible; imagine dropping Bard College, Hampshire College or Bennington College on lower Fifth Avenue and you might get something like Eugene Lang College of The New School.  The New School occupies a special place in New York history as the first college founded to teach adults, especially recent immigrants, who were underserved by traditional universities like Columbia (where the New School’s founders had previously taught).  The New School now comprises seven separate faculties, the largest and best known of which is the Parsons School for Design.

Philanthropist Eugene Lang provided the capital to create a liberal arts college for full-time, traditional-age students in 1985 and his namesake college emerged from the former New School for Social Research.  Its curriculum fosters social engagement and debate, with a strong focus on writing.  Students may design their own majors and curricula, with some core requirements.  The staff and student hosts were good-naturedly clear about the fact that Eugene Lang is not the college for anyone profoundly interested in science, technology or sports.

Although the college is small with approximately 1,500 students, it has a fairly encouraging acceptance rate of 69%.  Standardized test scores are optional, and the admissions representatives indicated that intellectual curiosity and writing ability are the most important criteria for consideration.  Eugene Lang was originally called “The Seminar School,” and classes are almost exclusively symposia requiring universal participation.  They believe that their applicants are somewhat self-selecting because the college will not appeal to everyone.

Eugene Lang students may enroll in electives at other New School faculties and some dual-major opportunities exist for the artistically or musically inclined, but most of the courses relate academic fields of study to the “outside world” and encourage students to apply their interests through civic engagement.  They also have access to library resources at other universities including New York University just down the street, as well as the New York Public Library network.

We were not granted a tour of any student residences, which rankled a bit.  The freshmen accommodations sound somewhat bleak, but the neighborhood is unbeatable for charm and convenience.  It is quieter than NYU’s environs several blocks away and has some beautiful side streets nearby.

Eugene Lang, like other private colleges in Manhattan, is not a cheap date.  Tuition for 2011-2012 will cost about $37,000 and double rooms cost more than $14,000.  It is highly unlikely that most students will find apartments near campus for a comparable price and so they (and their parents) must desire the prime location and be willing to trade off many other creature comforts for this luxury.

Monkey Mama and Monkey Son were both intrigued by Eugene Lang and agreed that it provides a very attractive alternative to the intensely competitive audition-based programs he is applying to elsewhere.  We are almost reluctant to publicize the school, since it still seems to be something of a secret, hidden in plain sight on Fifth Avenue.

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.

Congratulations to the Class of 2011

23 Jun

Today is graduation day for the seniors at our high school and they are to be much congratulated on their accomplishments.  Most of the class of 2011 will be going on to colleges where they will receive a first class education.  From what I could piece together from different sources, here are some highlights of where the students will be going.

Of all the graduating seniors in the class of 2011, 350 of them chose to disclose where they are attending college in the fall, a substantial majority.  Thirty-two of them will be heading to Ivy League colleges, with nine going to Cornell University, six each to the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, four will go to Princeton University, with two each attending Harvard University, Yale University, and Dartmouth College and one going to Brown University.  The co-valedictorians this year will attend Princeton and Georgetown Universities.

By far the largest contingent of students will be heading to Rutgers University, 17 in all.  The University of Michigan also appears to be a popular destination, claiming 15 students.  Other popular colleges include Syracuse University (14), New York University (10), Boston University (8), Colgate University (8), Indiana University (8), Pennsylvania State University (7), the George Washington University (6), Muhlenberg College (6), and Washington University in St. Louis (6).  Two are even heading north to attend McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

By all accounts this was a difficult year for admissions, given the sheer number of applications.  The Common Application folks reported that over 1.8 million applications were filed this past year and the number of applications filed on December 31, 2010 set a one-day record.

As these students leave adolescence and childhood behind and head off into adulthood and bigger horizons, they take with them our hopes and best wishes for a fulfilling, productive, and happy life.  Congratulations to the Class of 2011.

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