Tag Archives: Core Curriculum

A Visit to Georgetown University

13 Apr

When we visited Georgetown University in February, a gentle sprinkling of snow dusted the grounds and buildings of this prestigious Catholic university, rendering an entrancing effect to its traditional campus of collegiate Gothic and Georgian redbrick.  Located in the tony Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. overlooking the Potomac River, this university has become one of the most selective schools in the country.  It seems to combine all the desirable elements of top-notch academics, a nationally ranked basketball team, and a location in the nation’s capitol.

That morning, my daughter ventured into her first college class in elementary Chinese.  Georgetown offers prospective students opportunities to sit in on classes, a list of which can be found on its website.  As we waited for her to get out of class, I eavesdropped on two students sitting next to us.  They were discussing the on-going turmoil in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and American policy.  The earnestness of their conversation sparked a memory of listening to similar discussions thirty years ago at college: the on-going turmoil in the Middle East (Iran-Iraq war), Afghanistan (the Soviet invasion), and American policy.  Plus ça change…

Unfortunately, my daughter could not get a good feel for the Chinese class because it was too easy.  The professor conducted the class in Chinese and according to my daughter, she was funny and made jokes.  But since my daughter was the only one who understood the professor, she was the only one who laughed at the jokes.  Later, the professor said that she should have sat in on a third year class instead.  The professor also questioned whether my daughter should pursue a Chinese major because she already knew a lot of Chinese.  This confused and discouraged my daughter and I wished I had been present to ask follow up questions.  But we were trying to let her approach professors on her own.

Afterwards we met up with a friend’s daughter who attends Georgetown.  She brought us to a popular Georgetown hangout, The Tombs, for lunch.  Bright and articulate, Amy is a senior majoring in Russian with a minor in Chinese.  Over hamburgers and pasta, Amy shared the highs and lows of her Georgetown experiences with us.  She told my daughter not to worry about what the Chinese professor said because when she came to Georgetown, she had had a few years of Russian language instruction already.  She was able to take graduate level courses in Russian as well as advanced language courses in Chinese.  Overall she praised Georgetown’s language programs where class sizes are capped and everyone quickly gets to know one another.  Because of its location, she has taken advantage of internships in the Washington D.C. area and has received a job offer.  Georgetown was the right choice for her.

She warns though that the medium sized university of 6,400 undergraduates can be bureaucratic and because of the expensive tuition – about $39,768 for the 2010-2011 academic year – it attracts students mostly from upper middle-income families.  Room and board costs average $13,000 or more.  Because the University’s endowment is smaller than similarly ranked universities, it is less able to offer generous financial aid than its peers.

The university is better known for its international relations, language, business, and government and political science programs than its science and math programs.  A new science building is scheduled to open in 2012.  There are four undergraduate schools: arts and sciences, foreign service, business, and nursing and public health.  Each school has core curriculum requirements and in arts and sciences this amounts to taking English, theology, and philosophy courses.  In addition, the university offers early admission into its law and medical schools for qualified Georgetown undergraduates, an attractive option for pre-med and pre-law students.

As one of the highly selective colleges in the country, Georgetown admitted less than 18% of applicants this year.  It has a non-binding early action program but according to an admissions officer, the admission rate for early action is the same as regular decision.  The University requires either the SAT I reasoning test or the ACT test (writing portion optional) and three SAT II subject tests.

Check back for photos.


Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

19 Jan

For this week, a change of pace.  Some of you know that I love to read and write book reviews.  I stumbled upon this appealing memoir by Kevin Roose who wanted to experience Christian college “with as little prejudgement as possible.”  So he went undercover as a transfer student at Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, controversial leader of the Moral Majority.  From his experiences at Liberty, he penned The Unlikely Disciple-A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (Grand Central Publishing 2009).

It is a journey into the heart of the southern, mostly white, conservative evangelical sub-culture, a culture almost as foreign to Mr. Roose as another country.  Then a sophomore attending Brown University, Mr. Roose could not have picked a college more different than Brown, a liberal Ivy League university.  Liberty bills itself as the world’s largest Christian university with 29,000 undergraduates with strict rules prohibiting drinking, dancing, and physical contact between the sexes: “Liberty was founded as a conservative Christian utopia, and by those standards, Brown, with its free-spirited student body, its grades-optional academic scene…is a notch or two above Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Throwing himself completely into Liberty’s academic and campus life, he joins a 300-person church choir and takes Liberty’s core curriculum classes like Evangelism 101, Old Testament Survey, and History of Life, a creation studies course.  He gives up cursing – “Without cynicism and cursing, what will I say to people?” – and drinking – “My mind is razor sharp, and my eyelids are defying gravity” – to fit in.  He prays and adopts the evangelical jargon.  He even ventures on a mission trip to evangelize to beach-going, hard-partying college students in Florida during spring break.

What emerges is an entertaining, thoughtful and even-handed chronicle of his semester on the other side of the God Divide.  He befriends his fellow students and dorm-mates, many of whom he finds to be warm, genuine, funny, and intelligent.  While he admires them, he laments that “Liberty is a place where professors aren’t allowed to take chances with their course material…where academic rigor is sacrificed on the altar of uninterrupted piety, where the skills of exploration, deconstruction, and doubt…are systematically silenced in favor of presenting a clear, unambiguous political and spiritual agenda.”  For the sake of its students, he’s “praying for a turnaround.”  His prayers may be answered, as the new leadership at Liberty appears to loosen up some rules.

In the end, the friendships Mr. Roose formed from his time on campus left the deepest impressions: “…I had experienced immense spiritual growth at Liberty…the warmth of my…Liberty friends had been a better apologetic device” than any sermons or class lectures.  His maturity and skillfulness as an engaging writer are evident as he portrays Liberty students, faculty and administrators as complex, multifaceted human beings and not one-dimensional caricatures of fire and brimstone Bible-thumpers.  Even his views of Rev. Falwell undergo fine-tuning as he conducted the last print interview of Mr. Falwell and witnessed the outpouring of grief on campus upon the death of the Liberty founder.

While he does not buy into every aspect of the Liberty ethos, Mr. Roose’s book offers hope that personal relationships can bridge over troubled waters of any cultural divide.  The Unlikely Disciple is a fun read and the author’s capers on campus will suitably amuse readers.


Trip Report: Barnard and Columbia (Part 2)

26 Aug

Last week I wondered out loud whether the wide disparity in admission rate between Columbia and Barnard Colleges causes any tension between their students.  In other words, does unequal admission rate lead to unequal treatment?

On our Barnard tour, one parent asked the student tour guide this question.  The tour guide, a rising sophomore from New Jersey, acknowledged that initially, she was a little concerned about this.  Barnard and Columbia students participate in the same first year orientation activities and she felt that some Columbia female students regarded her with less respect and prestige.  (She noticed that the male students didn’t seem to care whether she was from Barnard or Columbia).  However, as soon as classes started, any differences disappeared because usually no one can tell whether you are a Barnard or Columbia student.  This issue is also discussed widely online in some of the college forums.

So it appears that Barnard students have to learn how to handle or ignore disparaging remarks or loss of prestige from their Columbia compatriots.  This in itself is an education about life.  One Barnard alumni notes that Barnard successfully turns out women who are confident and who feel that they can accomplish anything.  Those who attend Barnard are usually seeking the experience and value of a women’s college and those who attend Columbia’s liberal arts college are attracted to its strengths like the Core Curriculum.

Differences aside, tuition for either school is expensive.  A year of Barnard tuition, room and board can run you at least $53,496 depending on the type of housing and meal plan selected.  At Columbia, tuition, room and board for 2010-2011 will cost about $53,876.  Housing is guaranteed for all four years at both places.  Both institutions conduct “need-blind” admissions, which means that an applicant’s financial ability to pay is not considered in determining admissions.  In addition, the Columbia admissions officer indicated that they provide financial assistance to foreign students, one of the few universities that do.

Some famous Barnard alumni:

  • Martha Stewart
  • Anna Quindlen
  • Twyla Tharp
  • Joan Rivers
  • Margaret Mead

Some famous Columbia alumni:

  • Barack Obama
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Emanuel Ax
  • George Stephanopoulos

Trip Report: Barnard and Columbia (Part I)

19 Aug

Living so close to New York City, we had to visit Columbia University in the City of New York (that’s the full name of the university) and its affiliated sister school Barnard College, in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.

Both colleges are literally across the street from each other, the street being Broadway. Architecturally both campuses look similar to each other with neoclassical brick buildings with copper green roofs.  Barnard College occupies four acres on the west side of Broadway starting at 116th Street and Columbia is on the east side, their physical proximity reflecting the yin and yang nature of their relationship.  In the past, women applied only to Barnard, a women’s college and member of the erstwhile Seven Sisters (Vassar became co-ed and Radcliffe merged with Harvard, leaving only five Sisters).  Then Columbia opened its doors to women in the 1980s and now women can apply to either Barnard or Columbia.

I was surprised to learn that Columbia and Barnard are separate entities, each with its own faculty, endowment, and trustees.  Each administers its own admissions process and financial aid.  A long-standing affiliation agreement and historical relationship binds both institutions together to the benefit of students on both sides of Broadway.  Students can cross-register and take classes at either college, eat in each other’s cafeterias, even live in each other’s dorms (although our Barnard guide told us that Barnard has nicer dorms).  Barnard students graduate with a Columbia University degree.

Columbia’s three undergraduate colleges are Columbia College, the liberal arts school, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and for nontraditional students such as returning veterans or older students, the School of General Studies (the average age of a General Studies student is 29).

Each of these schools has its own general education requirements.  Columbia College is best known for its rigorous “Core Curriculum,” a series of required courses like Contemporary Civilization, Literature Humanities, Art Humanities, or Music Humanities.  These courses introduce students to foundational texts in each area.  In Contemporary Civilization for example, students read the Bible, the Greek philosophers, the Koran, the French Enlightenment writers, Marx, Darwin and others.  In Literature Humanities they start with the Greek writers and end with Dostoevsky and Woolf.  The School of General Studies and engineering students take a modified version of the Core Curriculum.

In contrast, Barnard requires its students to select courses arranged around different themes.  For example, to satisfy the “Reason and Value” theme, students can choose from over 90 courses in 15 departments.  Some of these courses can also be used to satisfy a requirement for their major or minor.

Differences in curriculum aside, both Barnard and Columbia are difficult to get into.  Last year Barnard received the most applications in its history and admitted 28%, making it the most popular women’s college.  Columbia’s admission rate dipped to 9% for its class of 2014.  Does the difference in admission rates have any impact on the students on both sides of Broadway?

Stay tuned for Part II of my trip report.

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