Tag Archives: Yale University

October Storm

7 Nov

The sound of buzzing chainsaws could be heard throughout our neighborhood this weekend.  The clean up after the freaky pre-Halloween storm has begun.  We lost power early Saturday afternoon as large, wet flakes descended from the skies and landed on trees that had yet to shed their leaves.  Unable to bear the additional weight, tree limbs and branches cracked, snapped and thudded to the ground.  This was repeated throughout the storm, a strangely jarring sound – snap, crack, thud.  I involuntarily winced each time I heard it.  Our backyard was littered with fallen limbs and leaves, some branches as thick as a grown man’s arm or thigh.

With the electricity out, there was no heat and the temperature in the house dipped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius.  Based on what we saw with Hurricane Irene, I knew that it could be days before power would be restored.  Schools were closed Monday so my daughter and I packed up the laptop and college application materials and headed for the nearest open public library.  After navigating through road closures and detours, we got to the library and it was already swarming with folks seeking warmth and a place to charge cell phones.  We managed to find two empty seats next to each other and she began working on her college essays right away.

As if high school seniors needed more stress, this snowstorm occurred a few days before many early action and early decision applications were due.  The power outage set back my daughter’s plans to work on her essays that weekend, causing her much stress and anxiety.  With more than three million people affected by the storm, I wondered whether colleges were going to move the deadline.  Sure enough, when my daughter logged onto the Common Application website, there was this note:

“The Common Application Board of Directors has asked all member colleges with imminent deadlines to be sensitive to the adverse conditions affecting schools and students in the northeast.”

It was up to individual colleges to decide whether to extend deadlines.  Some colleges moved their deadlines by one day (Yale University) and some as long as two weeks (Loyola University Maryland and Drew University).

Although there is no competitive advantage to submitting an application well ahead of a deadline, there is something to be said about not waiting until the very last moment to submit.  All kinds of weird things can happen, like this bizarre snowstorm or technical difficulties.  Nobody needs that extra stress and agitation, certainly not parents (speaking for myself).

The next day, a kind friend offered to have our family stay at her place until our power was restored.  We took her up on her gracious offer and this gave my daughter the ability and fast Internet connection to continue working on her application.  There are few things more blessed in life than to have such good friends.  And electricity and heat.

Monkey Mama Learns the Lay of the Land

13 Sep

Monkey Mama has picked up the new language pretty quickly.  She can now drop terms like “unifieds,” and discuss “audition vs. non-audition” programs as if she were a native speaker.  It is a little more difficult to persuade Monkey Son to stop somersaulting and walk upright though.

An aspiring actor has to decide between pure “conservatory” programs that lead to the bachelor of fine arts degree (B.F.A.) or academic theater departments that offer a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) within their general liberal arts faculties.  Yale University’s undergraduate theater studies department is probably the most prestigious B.A. program but many other traditional colleges have strong performing arts divisions.

Some of the most desirable programs are combinations: B.F.A. conservatory programs under the aegis of larger colleges or universities, often within their own schools.  Leading examples of this include Tisch School of the Arts at New York University; Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University; The Theatre School at DePaul University; the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University; and the University of North Carolina’s School of the ArtsThe University of Minnesota hosts a unique conservatory program with Minneapolis’ legendary Guthrie Theater.  Some large universities offer B.F.A. programs within the general college, with an audition required: Brooklyn College, Pace University, and Montclair State University fall into that category.  Northwestern University has a highly regarded theater program within its School of Communications.

The Juilliard School is probably the most illustrious conservatory but many of the lesser known programs admit just as small a group of actors each year.  Brooklyn College, for example, has a moderately competitive selection rate for freshmen admissions but only accepts eleven students into its Acting B.F.A. program each year.  Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts has a very high acceptance rate and provides college opportunities to urban students whose prospects might not be very strong otherwise.  The Chicago College of Performing Arts is not an open admissions school, however, and auditions many more students than it accepts.

Montclair State, Pace, and numerous others operate on a rolling admissions basis for general applicants but once accepted as regular undergraduates, aspiring actors will have to wait until March at least to know whether they have been admitted into the Theater B.F.A. program.  Acceptance rates for individual students are usually higher for men than for women but they still compare roughly with ratios at the most selective colleges.

Monkey Mama soon learns that the smorgasbord of prospective schools is only one labyrinth to negotiate.  Many, if not most, Acting or Theater B.F.A. programs have another ugly surprise awaiting their applicants: they “cut” up to one-third of the class from the program after the first or second year.  Ouch.  Those students can still remain at the school, but will be unable to participate in the more intensive acting workshops, and are unlikely to be cast in leading roles in department productions.

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.

For Hire: Private College Consultants

17 Feb

Since my daughter’s sophomore year, we’ve been receiving mailings from various private college admissions consultants, offering to help us apply to colleges.  Some have specific angles and pitches, like maximizing financial aid and scholarships.  They take on clients as young as sophomores and assist with class, extracurricular and summer activity selections, advice on which standardized tests to take, recommendations on private tutors, compiling a list of colleges to apply to, helping with essays, interviews, and staying on top of the process.

Thirty years ago, retaining a private college admissions consultant was unheard of, at least in my middle-class public school circle.  My immigrant parents were not as involved in my college search as we are with our daughter’s although my father did review my essay.  I was a good student so it was expected that I would aim for the Ivies with a smattering of state schools as back-ups.  There was no thought given to considerations such as, the right fit, my learning style, my strengths.  I was brought up to be flexible, to adjust to changing circumstances, so the expectation was that I would learn to adjust to whatever college I ended up at.

Times have changed dramatically and now parents in well-heeled communities hire college consultants to help navigate the increasingly murky and competitive waters of college admissions.  With rising numbers of applications, declining rates of admission and overloaded guidance counselors, a cottage industry of college consultants has sprung up, with names that are any combination of the words College, Admissions, Service, Counseling, Planning, Solutions, Advisors and variations thereof.  Even my blog shares a similar name to a college consulting service in California.

My unscientific, very informal research indicates that fees for services range from expensive to more expensive.  In our area, some charge a flat rate starting at $1200 and up for comprehensive services, and $175 an hour and above for a la carte services.  Many offer free teaser workshops in the evenings to attract potential clients.

Predictably, these consultants are somewhat controversial in college admissions circles.  Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale was quoted in a Businessweek article in 2007: “I believe that most of the funds expended on independent counselors are simply wasted…we do not believe they have much, if any, effect on who we accept.”  Some believe it turns college admissions into an arms race benefitting the wealthy who are willing to spend to give their children every advantage.

So should you hire a college consultant?  (Full disclosure: I have friends who do this for a living and I do want to keep them as friends.)  Like all personal decisions, it depends on individual circumstances and finances.  Many, many families do very well without any assistance from consultants.  Nevertheless there are parents who credit college consultants for getting their family through an arduous and stressful process.  Especially if the parent and child are at loggerheads with each other, it may be useful to bring in an outside third party to defuse tensions and move the process forward.  Sometimes it’s easier for children to listen to and follow the same advice given by someone else.  In our geographical area, hiring college consultants appears to be popular.

So long as applications continue to climb, admission rates continue to fall and the college admissions process is perceived as random and opaque, private college consultants will have their work cut out for them.

An Early Decision Acceptance

9 Dec

The phone rang, shattering the quiet air.  I picked it up.  It was my mother-in-law.

“Katy got into Brown!”  She announced excitedly.  Katy (not her real name) is my niece, who had applied early decision to Brown University.

“That’s great!  Wow!” I exclaimed and covering the mouthpiece, I turned to my daughter and told her the news.  She nodded and went back to her homework on the computer.  Something flitted across her face but as quickly as it appeared it was gone.

After I hung up the phone, I couldn’t stop marveling about my niece’s accomplishment.  She is the first in my daughter’s generation in my husband’s family to apply to college and she had done very well for herself.

“Isn’t that fantastic that Katy got into Brown?”  I gushed to my daughter.  She turned to me and said,

“I’m very happy for her, Mom, but now the pressure is on.”  I frowned a little, uncertain of what she meant until the import of her words dawned on me.  My daughter is the next to go to college and now her cousin had set a very high bar.

“You don’t have to go to Brown, you know, or an Ivy League school,” I tried to assure her.  She nodded and said,

“I know.  But still…” Her voice trailed off and she continued working on the computer.  I fell silent, not knowing what else to say.  (I’m finding that more often than not these days, I don’t have an adequate response).

Several days later, I was with another sister-in-law who had a daughter in middle school at the time (I’ll call the daughter Emily) and the subject of conversation turned to Katy’s acceptance at Brown.  I casually mentioned my own daughter’s response and she immediately said that Emily had reacted similarly.  Both girls apparently felt the pressure to have to live up to the standard that their cousin Katy had set.

Some of the pressure is self-imposed and personality-driven; both girls want to do well in school because that’s who they are.  But I strongly suspect some of the pressure comes from family, however subtle or unintentional.  My mother-in-law once remarked that among her children, their spouses and now the grandchildren, we had collectively attended all the Ivy League schools except for Dartmouth College and Yale University.  And however much has been written about rebellious teens, most teens still seek their family’s approval.  For my daughter’s generation to get into the Ivy League is pressure indeed, especially since these schools are more competitive than 30 years ago.

Of course, this kind of familial pressure is not unique.  My husband can still recall growing up in the shadow of his brilliant older sister who, incidentally, is Katy’s mother.  His teachers often reminded him that they had taught his sister and he inevitably felt himself being compared to her.  It wasn’t until he realized that as much as he admired his sister’s accomplishments, he didn’t want to be her, that he felt free to chart his own course in life.

It’s been two years since Katy got into Brown and my daughter is now looking at colleges, trying to figure out what she wants.  While life is never without pressure, my hope as a parent is that she, like her father before her, will eventually find her own way.  Isn’t that what we all want for our children?

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.

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