Tag Archives: engineering

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: Yale University

23 Sep

Yale University is one of the most selective universities in America, routinely rejecting 93% of candidates.  Last year over 25,000 high school seniors vied for a chance to attend this prestigious institution, whose name is often invoked in the same breath with its two peers as “HarvardPrincetonYale,” an incantation that represents the ultimate in higher education’s brand name exclusivity.

For those fortunate enough to win admission, Yale offers its 5,275 undergraduates a choice of 2,000 courses each year in either the liberal arts or engineering.  In case students have a hard time deciding what to take, a two-week “shopping period” at the beginning of each semester allows them to test-drive several classes before committing to a schedule.  The purpose of this is to encourage students to take risks and explore new intellectual areas.

Students live in residential colleges, a system modeled after universities Oxford and Cambridge and popularized by Hogwarts.  Freshmen are assigned to one of twelve residential colleges where they will live for the duration of their time at Yale.  Like Hogwarts, students become fiercely loyal to their residential college.  As our tour guides introduced themselves, they yelled out the name of their residential college and each claimed that it was the best.  Not being familiar with the colleges, the information was meaningless but illustrated the concept at work.

The tour led us through Yale’s campus, where its stately collegiate gothic-style buildings, grassy quads and courtyards grace New Haven’s streets.  The interior of one library is cathedral-like, easily inspiring awe and involuntary genuflection.  Normally, college tour groups ask few questions of their guide but the surroundings seemed to loosen everyone’s tongue and our group peppered the guide with questions until the tour ran late.  Our guide, a genial junior studying international relations, patiently answered everyone.  Because of time constraints, we reluctantly broke away from the last part of the tour that covered the old campus.  If our daughter decided to apply here and was lucky enough to get in, we could always come back and ask questions then.

Yale has an early action program where prospective students apply by November 1 and receive a response by mid-December.  Unlike early decision programs where acceptances are binding on the applicant, Yale does not require a decision until May 1 so students are free to apply elsewhere under regular decision.

Tuition, room and board costs $49,800 for the 2010-2011 academic year.  Financial aid is need-based and Yale has a generous financial aid budget of $100 million.  Its goal is to graduate students without loans so even though it is an expensive school, depending on family income, a Yale education may represent a better value than some public universities.  But first you have to get in.

Throughout its storied history, Yale has produced many renowned alumni, including Nobel laureates Sinclair Lewis and Paul Krugman, Pulitzer Prize winners Garry Trudeau and Thornton Wilder, former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman, actors Jodie Foster, Angela Bassett, Edward Norton and Sam Waterston.  As the admissions numbers attest, even after three hundred years, Yale remains a highly desirable place to attend college.

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
%d bloggers like this: