Tag Archives: Ivy League

D-Day 1

1 Apr

April 1st is D-Day 1 in college admissions, the date by which all colleges will have notified their applicants as to whether they have been admitted, wait-listed, or rejected (I’ll get to D-Day 2 later). Last Thursday the 29th the Ivy League universities released their regular decision results. That evening, my daughter trolled Facebook to see who got admitted where. To her surprise, there were few postings on her news feed.

The next day she found out why. Someone in her class called it a Bloodless Massacre. Many of the students in the top 5% of the class were shut out of their top choices. The presumed valedictorian was rejected from Harvard (but no need to feel sorry for her because she got into Yale, MIT, and Princeton). According to my daughter, only one person was admitted into Columbia, one was admitted into Harvard, two got into Brown and two into Dartmouth. Between regular and early decisions, Penn and Cornell have each admitted at least half a dozen students. We will know more in June when the guidance office releases a list of where everyone will be attending college.

The initial impression is that it is more difficult than ever to get into the Ivies, even for those who rank in the top 5% of the class. According to Harvard’s website, there were 3,800 applicants who ranked number one in their class and there are only a little over 1,650 freshmen places. This is a reminder that at the most selective institutions, the colleges can fill their incoming classes at least twice over with qualified candidates.

Other than the low numbers of students from our high school getting into the Ivies, there were other shockers too, of students who got in somewhere that their classmates did not expect them to. In this sense, this year is no different than other years. In the end, we do not know the complete picture of what is in a student’s application and what goes on in the admissions committee. That’s why it makes for a confounding experience each year for everyone on this side of the admissions process.

To be sure, the disappointments will be deeply felt, but the reality is that here in America, we have more choices in quality higher education than in a lot of other countries. In my experience of talking to college students at different universities, most seem happy with where they eventually ended up. And that is no small consolation and hope that we can offer as parents.

Next D-Day is May 1st, when the colleges hear back from their accepted students as to whether they will enroll.

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Views of Brown University

16 Feb

We visited Brown University last April. As you can see, it was a beautiful spring day. I thought I had lost these photos so I’m delighted that they have re-surfaced. Hope you enjoy the views of this Ivy League campus in Providence, Rhode Island.

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.

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.

A Visit to Rutgers University

21 Jul

State universities often lack the aura of prestige that go with the Ivy League and comparable brand name schools.  Hence, many a high-achieving student sees them as safety schools.  But in this day and age, when economic times remain uncertain at best, state universities may offer a better bet over some lower tier private universities for its cost effectiveness and access to resources.

I came to this conclusion when my daughter and I took a tour of our home state university, Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  The university is so large that it spans five campuses and we had to take a bus tour of it.  During the school year, students use the Rutgers bus system – I was told it is the second largest bus system in the state – to get around.  According to one student admissions representative, she never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus.

The campuses are expansive, with lots of open green space, a lake, and even a golf course.  We saw signs of building activity everywhere and were told the construction is mostly for new dorms.  Housing is guaranteed for all freshmen but after that, it is based on a lottery system.

The student body is large, with over 30,000 undergraduates and 8,500 graduate students.  Because of its size, it can support many academic programs so there are over 100 majors across seven schools, including liberal arts, visual and performing arts, engineering, pharmacy, business, nursing, and environmental/biological sciences.  Apparently there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research.

The cost of this education for in-state residents is half of what many private institutions charge: last year tuition and board came out to $23,466 for in-state residents.  Even for out-of-state residents and international students, it compares favorably at $35,222.  The Board of Governors just approved a tuition increase of 1.6% for next year and room and board will likely increase 3.3%.  It is still a bargain.

The admissions rate in 2010 for New Brunswick was 59%, making it an easier college to get into.  Lest one thinks that a higher acceptance rate translates into a less than stellar student body, 81% of freshmen at New Brunswick ranked in the top 25% of their graduating class.  This academic profile is similar to some private universities like Northeastern University or American University.

Other than the cost, Rutgers’ size dwarfs that of many private schools and its sheer size can be daunting, unless one is looking for a large school experience.  It has a football team and by all accounts, school spirit is feisty (this is New Jersey after all).  We passed the football stadium and it looks fairly new.  With such a large student body, students will have to take a pro-active approach to their education.  Faculty advisers are assigned to each student to help with academic planning and course and major selection but this is not a place where they will hold your hand through your four years.  But perhaps that more closely reflects real life.

Rutgers is known for its diverse student body, with students coming from all socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities, the vast majority of whom are from New Jersey (92%).  In New Brunswick, whites constitute less than 50% of the student population.  In what must seem like a bitter ironic twist, the university launched Project Civility to promote civil discourse on campus at the same time that the Tyler Clementi tragedy was unfolding last September.  (Tyler Clementi was a young gay freshman who committed suicide after finding out that his roommate had secretly videotaped him having a tryst with another man.  The case is wending its way through the legal system.)

The application process is fairly straightforward.  Students apply online at the Rutgers website (no Common Application) and self report their grades.  There is an essay; the SAT or the ACT score is required.  No teacher recommendations are needed.

For those students who may not qualify for a lot of financial aid, going to Rutgers may make more sense than going to a higher priced, lower tier, private university.  Besides, I like knowing that my tax dollars are being put to good use.

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.

Guest Blogger: Gigi Collins

25 Apr

If it’s April showers, it must be spring break when hordes of prospective students and their parents descend on universities and colleges on the obligatory “college tour.”  For those of you who have not done this yet, you might enjoy reading about my friend Gigi Collins‘ experience of taking her daughter on her first college trip.

Getting Energized

I have really enjoyed reading this blog about parenting a college bound teen and I have been thinking “Whew! I have a sophomore so I don’t have to freak out just yet.”  Until now.

This spring, as a sophomore, my daughter had to sign up for her junior year classes.  Oh, the stress and tears!  She was told “you must take x number of AP classes to even think about applying to the good schools.”  Next came the alphabet soup of standardized tests: PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, ACT, SAT II, AP.  Last came the advice on writing a killer application essay, to include unique community service credits, extraordinary extracurriculars, and oh, don’t forget, a summer job or two.  I’m only the parent and I could feel a migraine coming on.  But I could see that my daughter was anxious too.  She met with her advisor three times to hammer out her two-year AP class plan and she has already lined up her summer job.

So what did I do?  I decided that we’d go visit some colleges on her spring break.  Yes, you are probably thinking I need my head examined.  I thought so too…until we went on the visits.

I used the excuse of visiting a friend in the Philadelphia suburbs and we picked two colleges “on the way” to “stop by and have a look see.”  Of course, my daughter gave me her best teenage glare and stated that I was ruining her spring break.  She wanted to relax and not think about colleges.

Our first stop was the University of Pennsylvania.  We wanted to see an Ivy League school and a city campus.  We were expecting buildings and streets but were pleasantly surprised to find that Penn has a real campus, with enclosed quads and pedestrian-only walkways.  My daughter was impressed with the beautiful architecture and the collegiate feel.  Our tour guide was a junior at the business school and he was approachable and smart.  We attended the information session where an admissions officer gave an awesome presentation about Penn history, curriculum, as well as the admissions process.  She actually had a calming influence on my daughter as she spoke frankly about what Penn was looking for – top grades, essays that show your personality, and future leadership ability.  She said that the SAT/ACT scores were not as important in the big picture so not to stress over the test or re-take them unnecessarily.

I could see my daughter visibly relax.  She leaned over and whispered to me, “I think college is going to be exciting.”  Whoa, did I hear that right?  Maybe we’ll get through the college search still talking to each other.  I was feeling like I did something right as a parent of a teenager.  Sweet.

At Penn, my daughter saw that a big university with all its amenities like grants for special studies or international opportunities could still have a small intimate college feel.  Yes, she did buy a Penn t-shirt.

Next stop was Villanova University, private Catholic university in the Philadelphia suburbs.  We had high expectations since we thought a mid-sized college with a “real campus” would be a better fit.  My daughter first noticed that the students seemed younger and more casual than at Penn.  An excitable admissions officer ran the information session and he tried to lighten the mood with banter but we felt that he was trying too hard to sell us on Villanova.  Our enthusiastic tour guide was a freshman from Hawaii and he showed us around the impressive campus.  My daughter really liked the engineering building with the exposed beams and ductwork.  She got to see a lecture hall and the labs in the science building.  Most of the students at Villanova come from the Tri-State and New England area, making the college more of a regional school.

Before our college trip, my daughter seemed stressed and unenthusiastic about looking at colleges.  After our trip, she had a big smile on her face and she is now very motivated to look for the best college fit for her.  Ah, relief…until we start filling out the applications!

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