campus encounters

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Archive for the category “Massachusetts”

Emerson College

Emerson College (visited 9/15/17)

Emerson 1“We take a lot of joy and pride in our work,” said one of the students. “If you’re applying, we hope you’ll want to bring that here.”

There’s a unique vibe about the place, the students, and the faculty. “Folks are dedicated, but in a collaborative way that’s atypical of some of the industries they go into. These fields can be very competitive. The focus here is learning the skills needed to be successful but it’s about collaboration, pulling in the people to be successful: they need to work together. Filmmakers need writers and actors and tech people,” said the rep. “Students have to be proactive,” said a student running one of their Roundtables – an info session for Performing Arts applicants. “It’s up to us to take advantage of things. Sometimes opportunities fall into your hands, but you have to recognize them and surround yourself with the right people.”

Emerson 2Out of this collaboration comes a great deal of trust in the students. Students manage many things on campus such as staffing the visitor center, including supervising other students. “They let us run with things,” said one student. “We get to plan orientation, for example. It’s our task to communicate the values and expectations of the place. We have help, but it’s our job.”

Students get involved in a lot outside of the classroom, as well. About 8% of the students go Greek; timing of Rush depends on the organization. They have 14 DIII teams, “but nothing involving water, ice, horses, or a sword,” said the rep. They have the only subterranean gym in the city. Lots of freshmen came in who want to play hockey, but “we need enough people to pay for ice time. Right now, we don’t really have a critical mass,” said the rep. Students interested in particular activities not currently offered do try to fill gaps in activities when they see the need.

Emerson alleyStudents who come here must really want the big city feel. This is very much an urban campus right in the heart of Boston. There is no central campus; most of the campus buildings sit right on Boylston and Tremont Streets along Boston Common with 90% of buildings within about two blocks. Buildings have good security, and students need IDs to get in. A couple alleyways bisect the campus; there’s a res hall and the dining hall on one of the alleyways. “I’ve heard good things about the new dining,” said the rep. Many local vendors also work with the EC cash system: students can load money and use it like a debit card. Campus is walkable to the North End, the financial district, Boston Public Library, and downtown. A green line T stop is right across the street on Boston Common. There are other lines within a few blocks.

Emerson diningFreshmen and Sophomores must live on campus, and when renovations at 80 Boylston (buildings are usually referred to by their address) are complete, juniors will also be required. Finding off-campus housing “is a process and takes some looking around. The housing office will help them, do roommate speed-dating, provide tips on realtors and rentals, etc. They’re responsible, but we’ll help teach them. Housing they find isn’t necessarily downtown, but definitely in the nearby neighborhoods. It can be an adventure, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gotten housing,” said the admissions representative. Sometimes they can accommodate older students under a lottery.

However, students are not “stuck” in Boston … Emerson runs 2 other campuses as well!

  • Kasteel Well in the Netherlands can hold 85 students at a time who are chosen at random, and applications are due a year in advance. This program is meant for sophomores since much of the coursework fulfills the GenEd requirements, but others can attend if their schedules permit. BFA Acting and Musical Theater students may only go in the summer.
  • Los Angeles: juniors and seniors can spend a semester in LA interning and taking classes.

The curriculum is highly experiential, and the degrees are oriented towards Communications and Arts. Because the academics are relatively unique, they’re worth spending some time looking into. Majors are always evolving and new majors are created because they recognize a need. Their newest programs include:

  • Comedic Arts BFA, a truly unique program (the only one in the country!) which draws from performing arts, creative writing, and visual media arts and then adds the comedy. There is an internship semester option in LA, typically for seniors. They have a partnership with Citizens Upright Brigade, but they’re allowed to do internships with anything.!
  • Business of Creative Enterprises BA, a mash-up of communication classes with the arts. This is meant for students who want to do business but in a creative environment. This is the only type of business degree Emerson offers.
  • Writing, Literature, and Publishing
  • Sports Communication: PR, journalism, sports diplomacy (engaging through sports with organizations, community, etc).

Other noteworthy programs include:

  • Political Communication, marketing,
  • Media Art Production BFA: film, sound, animation, photo, tv, writing for film and tv, etc.
  • Visual Arts: they can start right away as freshmen.
  • Stage and Scene Design/Technology, Stage and Production Management, and Theater Design/Technology.
  • Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Theater: “We’re pretty multifaceted. We’re actors but we’re a lot more.”
    • Students must audition: Early Admission applicants audition in November. “Don’t try to confuse your auditioner! Do what YOU love, even if it’s overdone. You do it differently than anyone else.”
    • Musical Theater applicants perform 2 contrasting monologues, 2 contrasting 32-bar cuts, and dance. Because the acting portion is the same as the acting audition, they can express interest in either if they don’t make it into Musical Theater.
    • Theater and Performance
  • There are productions organized by the school and directed by professionals/ professors but are designed, stage managed, and acted by students. This provides and Artistic Training Lab. Freshmen can’t audition because they all do stage crew assignments that first year. Everyone gets the experience and interacts in a professional environment to get a feel for how things run.
  • The other productions are through the Student Theater organizations: there are 5 main ones and others that pop up occasionally. There are 7 comedy groups, 2 dance companies, 5 a capella groups, etc. “Everything is student run and we get our hands dirty. We fail sometimes and have spectacular comebacks. You’re really doing it,” said one of the students.

Students must fulfill liberal arts components, and classes involve a lot of writing/communication components regardless of what major students are in. Students can complete a BFA in some areas, but these are not considered Conservatory Style with the exception of Musical Theater and Acting (in Theater & Performance): these are only conservatory style for the 3rd and 4th years after completing the liberal arts requirements. They have learning support for students who need it.

There is an Honors College which allows students to substitute LA classes. Instead of history or science, for example, they have interdisciplinary classes that will fulfill these. This is highly writing focused and students must complete a thesis at the end as part of their program! A merit scholarship is attached to being in the program; this is the largest merit opportunity. It is a “very small and very competitive program,” said the rep. From the 900 incoming freshmen, the Honors program takes a maximum of 50 students; they only consider academics in deciding who is selected, including grades and a specific honors recommendation if not submitting test scores.

After submitting the Common App (including the Honors Supplement should they choose to do this), applicants get access to their Portal, and they absolutely have to log into this. The writing supplements get submitted separately. This is where they’ll upload their Test Optional Supplements and Financial Aid documents.

Some majors are a little more competitive. Performing Arts is “super rigid.” Students can opt to go test-optional buy submitting a portfolio piece or essay if that represents them better. The Performing Arts have to audition, Design Tech/Management submits a portfolio review/interview, and Comedic Arts submits a writing or performance piece.

© 2017

 

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Williams College

~Williams sign 2Williams College (visited 7/29/15)

This is one of the few information sessions I’ve attended where the presenter gave more than just lip-service to the concept of fit. For example, she asked if classes of 13 seemed too big (no one) or too small (1 student) – and then told him that this might not be the right place for him.

~Williams env cntr

Williams’ entirely sustainable Environmental Center

Williams provides a great deal of opportunity for students to pursue what they’re curious about. Students must take 3 classes in each of 3 divisions but what they take is up within those areas is up to them. Majors are mostly fairly straightforward, but Concentrations (minors) are more interdisciplinary such as Justice and Law, Cognitive Science, and Public Health.

~Williams 2This is one of a few places that offers Oxford-like Tutorials: students are initially placed in groups of 10 then split into pairs. Students alternate between writing a 5-7 page paper (sent to the professor and partner 24 hours in advance) and responding to the peer’s paper (with a 24 hour turnaround). At Tutorial, they discuss it, usually with the professor simply observing. Students get really good at developing and defending a point of view. Half the students take at least 1 Tutorial (which are offered in all subject areas); most will take more than one.

~Williams 4Williams operates on a 4-1-4 schedule: 4 classes in fall and spring and 1 class in January (yes, it’s required every year). All freshmen stay on campus; after that, students can stay, do an internship, or study-away. Class offerings range from academic to experiential; all are Pass/Fail to encourage students to try something new or focus on a passion.

For the same reason, Study Abroad classes also come back as pass/fail with the exception of 3 Williams-specific programs that are graded:

  • Oxford where they’re considered full Oxford students and participate in tutorials
  • Mystic Seaport, CT focusing on oceanography. Part of the experience includes 10 days at sea on a tall ship.
  • South Africa: students study at the University of Cape Town and complete an internship.

~Williams sci cntr int

Intro science lectures can have up to 100 students (but smaller labs). One student’s largest class was “Chemistry of AIDS” with 75. Another student’s biggest class had 30 (Intro to Econ) and smallest was 7 (an English Seminar). APs can’t replace credits (ie, they must still earn a certain number of credits at Williams), but the scores can place students into a higher level and out of some of the biggest classes.

Most research funding (including Room and Board during the summer) goes to science and math but students can research anywhere. Our tour guide did research on Bilateral Relations with Russia and China. One math professor is a leading researcher on knots of all things. He took on 14 students to research knots. About 40% of those doing research will co-author a paper by graduation.

~Williams theater

The campus theater building

Williamstown is small (population: 7,000), nestled squarely in the northwestern Massachusetts Arts “corridor” with MASS MoCA just down the street. Arts are a huge deal here. The local theater is nationally known and draws big-name actors like Kyra Sedgewick, Kevin Bacon, and Bradley Cooper. “Here we are in this little town bumping into the Hollywood people.” William’s music, fine arts, theater, and art history programs are all excellent. The directors of MOMA, the National Gallery, the Gugenheim, and more are Williams grads: “It’s like we’re producing the Art History Mafia here.”

If small-town New England starts feeling too isolated, students can hop on a regional bus that stops on campus and head to Albany or Boston. The school runs shuttles to Albany and Grand Central (which may be subsidized for students on financial aid) at breaks.

~Williams Hillel

The Hillel building

There is lots of schools spirit here. About 1/3 of students play varsity sports, and stands fill up at games. Amherst is their big rival and has been since 1820 when Williams’ president took half of everything – faculty, library books, the money – and started Amherst. Several years ago, Amherst pulled a prank on Williams by carving an A into one of their fields. Williams retaliated by carving a B+ on theirs.

Most students (85%) live on campus. Up to 125 seniors can move off campus, but they didn’t have that many petition to do so this year.

~Williams dorm quad

Freshman quad

Entry Program groups together 25ish first-year students and 2 Junior Advisors to give them a “home base” and a family-feel to what is otherwise a fairly typical dorm situation. For example, they’ll do Entry Snacks on Sunday night for a “catch-up.” It is unique that they freshmen have 2 JAs grouped with them – but the tour guide bragged incessantly about how Williams mixes dorm-mates so they get to meet a variety of people – without realizing that many other places do this, too!

~Williams student cntr int

The “Main Living Room” in the Student Center

The main dining hall in the student center can get busy; at peak rush, “the wait can be 10 or 15 minutes, but there are other places to eat if you’re in a hurry.” Sunday “Kids Night” dinner (mac and cheese, chicken fingers, etc.) gets rave reviews, but the food is good overall. “This place has the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had,” said the tour guide.

The Outdoor Club is one of the biggest clubs; a $10 fee gets students access to everything they offer. Mountain Day (a surprise day-off from classes with picnics, hiking, etc) is a huge deal like at many other colleges. There’s also a day in the winter when classes are canceled for a day of skiing, sledding, and more, but students know about that in advance.

Admissions is highly selective, but they do accept about 40% of ED applicants “because it’s self-selecting and they often have a previous relationship with the college.” Applicants need 2 subject tests on addition to the SAT or ACT. “Don’t take both math tests, but other than that, choose whatever you want.” The Optional Supplement “really is optional. Use it if you feel like there’s something you need to add to the application.” Admissions is need-blind, and students need to submit both the FAFSA and CSS Profile. They do not offer merit scholarships; average debt at graduation is $13,000.

(c) 2015

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (visited 7/28/15)

Once known as North Adams State, this 1800-student college is nestled in the small but bustling town of North Adams in the Berkshires. The students rave about town: “There’s so much to do! Mass MoCA is free, the ice rink is free on Tuesdays, there are movies, pubs, restaurants. We saw Lady Gaga last week at Tanglewood [about 45 minutes away]. If we want to get out of town, there’s any outdoor activity you can think of.”

√MCLA acad bldg 1Campus architecture ranges from beautiful old houses to almost-ugly 60’s and 70s buildings to a brand-new environmentally friendly science center that has solar panels and a wind turbine on top. Many of the central buildings are connected or only steps apart. For example, one of the gyms and the theater are both attached to the student center. Campus is not huge: “You can get across it in about 5 minutes.”

√MCLA quadEnglish, Business, and Psychology are some of the biggest majors, and (not surprisingly given its history as a Normal College), Education is strong. They also have Arts Management, unusual for a school of this size. MCLA offers 2 “Jump Start” summer programs. The first is a week-long leadership initiative for approximately 30 students each year called LEAD (Leadership, Education, Action, and Development). The Second is STEM Academy which takes about 16-20 students.

√MCLA outdoor class

Outdoor classroom

The tour guide could not say enough about the teachers. “I know it sounds really cliché, but they do care.” This is one thing that really surprised her about MCLA. She had been told in high school that college professors wouldn’t care about how she did, and yet the do. She went on to say that even the librarians care about the students. One of the traditions she loves is that at the end of each semester during finals, they order food for students and will go through the library to tell them that the food has arrived so the kids can take a break.

New tower dorms

New tower dorms

Townhouses on campus

Townhouses on campus

MCLA has a 3-year on-campus residency requirement, and 95% of traditional aged students live on campus. Dorms range from traditional hall-style double rooms to suites and townhouses, both of which have singles and double bedrooms and which can be coed by suite. Townhouses have full kitchens and house only upperclassmen (MCLA defines this as sophomore and up). The new towers have suites which will usually have 4 doubles and a single.

√MCLA gates

The infamous gates

Another popular tradition/superstition revolves around the gates. At the beginning of the year, freshman will enter the gates from the main road, meet the president and their peers, and then have a party. The seniors will walk out of the gates at graduation. Rumor has it that walking between the gates before then means they won’t graduate – at least on time. “I know someone who walked through them accidentally. He graduated a semester late. I like to think it’s because it wasn’t intentional . . . otherwise he’d never get out of here!”

√MCLA sci cntr 2

Science Center

The tour guide’s largest class was Intro to Bio with 45 students. “We met for 2 hours twice a week. Usually we’d have a lecture for half and a lab for half.” Her smallest, College Writing 2, had 8 “which is weird because that’s a core class.” Her favorite has been Behavioral Analysis because the professor would tell them real stories from the field.

In terms of admissions, MCLA is a state school so they generally have to follow the Department of Education regulations which include 4 units of math, one of which has to be taken in the senior year. “We have a tiny bit of wiggle room to admit a few students to don’t immediately meet the requirements but who we think will be successful,” said a rep. Usually this is saved for out-of-state students who may have graduated under other requirements. They will superscore both the ACT and the SAT.

√MCLA walkwayVery few students come from out-of-state: probably only about 10% come from outside of MA or the Capital Region of NY (technically OOS, but only an hour away – closer than Boston). These students make up about another 10% of the student body. Transportation can be a little bit of an issue, but certainly doable. “We have a student from Colorado who just grabs a ride with a friend to Albany and gets a plane from there.” There’s also a bus that will stop at Williams College only a few miles down the road. Amtrak also goes through Pittsfield which is about 25-30 miles away.

“Students who are looking for a small liberal-arts, New England campus in a great cultural center and who have a sense of community service or activism will do really well here,” said the rep.

(c) 2015

Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock

Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock (visited 8/11/14)

Simon's Rock town

Great Barrington

~Simon's Rock bridgeLike “Big Bard” (aka Bard Annandale), Bard College at Simon’s Rock looks a bit like a camp. It’s in an idyllic setting on the outskirts of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a “destination town” in the Berkshires

After checking in for the counselor event, a student walked me to the dorms. Andre, a sophomore from Seattle majoring in Psych and Cross-Cultural Studies, started here after his sophomore year in high school, a “normal time for students to come,” he said. He, like everyone else, dropped out of high school to attend; they will not get a high school diploma along the way. We asked an admissions rep later if they saw any problems with students not receiving a diploma. He said there were rarely problems but did show up on occasion, particularly in two areas: if students ever wants to take any enrichment programs at a community college, or if they transfer and want to play a DIII sport.

~Simon's Rock dino skull 1

Dino Skull replica in the Science Building

At Simon’s Rock, students find the rigor, support, and independence that they don’t find anywhere else. “No one has to go to college early. People who are here are really delighted to be here!” Students are “kindred spirits.” They aren’t all geniuses, but they are curious and are looking for an academic program. People don’t come here if they don’t want to dig in, to ask questions. “This is an Early College. It’s not College Lite,” said one of the Creative Writing professors. The classes are as rigorous as any other place.

~Simon's Rock dorms

Upperclassmen dorms

The admissions office, like the rest of the college, works to make sure that students are treated as a whole person. Decisions are made on a rolling basis (they will accept a small number to start in January), and they are test optional because most students just don’t have test scores yet. However, at TOEFL is required for students whose first language is not English and who have not been in an English-Instruction school for the two years prior to enrolling. They require a score of 100, but will take students in the 80-99 range if they are willing to take an extra year to complete the AA.

The application requires both an interview and a parental supplement. “If the parent isn’t comfortable with this, it isn’t going to happen.” The reps work hard to develop a good relationship with the family. The school prefers that students interview in person (“Anything can look good on in a shiny brochure; we want them to see the school and students in action.”). About 80% of students come to campus for this, but they recognize that not all the students can, so they do skype interviews as well. They want to make sure that applicants will be able to fit into the community. They will counsel students out if it’s not a fit. Their admit rate is in the 80% range and yield is about 70%. “It’s a very self-selecting population.” About 5% of students leave after first year; some transfer to a 4-year school or finish the AA at a community college. Very rarely do they go back to high school.

~Simon's Rock study lounge

Study area in an academic building.

An academic building

An academic building

About 50% of students transfer after the AA. “Big Bard” gets the highest number of transfers, but students go to lots of different places, including many of the “big name” schools. Simon’s Rock has quite a few articulated agreements, including a 3-2 with Columbia and Dartmouth (“When our students go to Columbia, their GPA goes up,” said one of the reps), a 3-1 with Vermont Law (students get a BA from Bard and a BA in Environmental Policy and Legal Studies from Vermont), Munich School of Business, the University of Manchester (Creative Writing), and more. However, students have all the resources of Bard at their disposal, and juniors and seniors can take the shuttle over to take classes there as they wish. All students end up with both Bard and Simon’s Rock degrees.

Transitioning can be a bit rough, but students have a lot of support. They meet at least once a week with their advisor, they meet with residential staff, etc. Freshmen are allowed to drop classes as late as the November of their first semester. All students are given narratives in addition to grades; students sign releases so that these are sent to parents as well, and the staff is in close contact with the family, especially the first year. “It’s the best of a college with best of a prep school.”

~Simon's Rock acad bldgStudents must have a primary and secondary concentration (or they can double major). Creative Writing, PoliSci, the natural sciences, and Psych are particularly strong. Only 10 classes have more than 25 students – and those barely go over that number (“they may have 27 or 28,” said the rep). Most classes have fewer than 15 students. There are 3 core classes that all students take, and everyone completes a senior thesis. Jody, our tour guide (a senior Math/Comp Sci double major from MD) said that his largest classes had about 15; his upper level classes were all around 3-6 students. He showed us the lecture lab in the science building that holds the biggest classes, and even that was fairly small. “We use it a lot more for things like Super Bowl parties and other fun things when we want a big screen.”

Simon’s Rock is a dry campus since all students are underage. Like most places, though, if people want alcohol or drugs, they can get them. However, the students said that usage is low, and alums have reported that they ran into far less peer pressure about drugs and alcohol than in their high schools.

During the student panel, these were some of the questions asked:

Why did you choose to come here??

  • I was taking really hard classes, not trying very hard, and getting As. I just went to school because I had to but wasn’t passionate about it. SR turned that upside down.
  • I was stuck in the HS track and studying things because that’s what was expected. Here I can choose.
  • I’ve been passionate about music, and if I had stayed, my exposure would have been band class once a week.
  • I was under-performing and there wasn’t any system of support. Coming here is an opportunity to get more out of academics and get support. There’s more expectation for my future. I’m excited about graduate school.
  • I was having a lot of trouble in school socially and academically. Classes weren’t hard, but I had trouble working in the bigger classes. I was originally going to come after my freshman year but wanted to try IP and AP classes first – but they still felt like HS classes and weren’t working.”

What’s been your biggest academic or social challenge?

  • Going into freshman seminar. We read 4 books and were told to write a paper — without a prompt. In HS, they ask a question and you answer it. Here, you don’t and it tore down my world! It took awhile to work through that.
  • I came after 9th grade so I was a little younger. As excited as I was to have the freedom, I wasn’t used to being away from home and not having the overarching supervision of parents.
  • Dealing with people in HS was like a business relationship. I showed up, said hi, and never saw them again. At first, I was always in my room, went to bed at 9, and now I seek out common areas.

I want to thank SR for ___ :

  • Teaching me how to be part of a community. I’m on a first-name basis with faculty, students can participate in student government, be active in how the community is developed. I’m living here and sharing this space. I’ve learned how I can contribute.
  • Exposing me to issues that are larger than myself. I came from a small white town, and we never talked about sexism or racism, or any of these larger things.
  • Allow me to explore my passions and find out who I am. I thought I was going to be an architect, and then a computer science until I took a class for 3 weeks and found out I hated it. I loved my psych class, though, and in my second semester, I enrolled in 3 psych classes and love it!

Describe a meaningful academic experience:

  • I took a theoretical math class and had to do a final paper. I could combine the math and computer science stuff that I loved. I did research for weeks ahead of time. I ended up getting a B+. Before, I would have been upset at getting a low grade for so much effort, but now I’m proud that I produced something that was so intrinsically meaningful for me.
  • The first was my study abroad in China. The other was more recent: One of my professors sought me out after a concert to see what I thought because he wanted to put me into his review. They genuinely care about our opinions.

© 2014

Olin College of Engineering

Olin College of Engineering (visited 4/14/14)

Collaborative lab space with stickies as students work through problems

Collaborative lab space with stickies as students work through problems

“Olin in a nutshell: students take ideas, develop them, share them, and improve the community.” Group work is highly valued here, and all students complete a minimum of 10 major group projects tackling real-life problems. It’s a creative, collaborative place. “You can learn anywhere, but if you want to be in control of that learning, come here! You can go into Boston, India, wherever and put things into place.” Twenty percent of students study away at some point. There are Direct Exchanges in South Korea, Belgium Germany, France, Thailand, Chile, and across the US.

The academic complex

The academic complex

The university was chartered in 1997 by the Olin Foundation (which has built landmark buildings on 74 campuses across the country) after a study came out that said that engineers were not being educated in a way to be competitive in the work-place. The first 30 students, dubbed the “Olin Partners,” came in 2001 and graduated in 2006 when the school also became accredited. Now with a full-time enrollment of 350 students (with a gender balanced student population!), Olin has redefined engineering as a profession of innovation with an education based on 1) a curriculum that emphasizes teamwork, project-based learning, practical skills, business knowledge, and a multidisciplinary approach to engineering; 2) developing leadership and communication skills; 3) emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning in a small supportive community. They offer majors in Mechanical, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Engineering with concentrations in Bioengineering, Design, Systems, Computing, Materials Science, and a self-designed option.

Student projects

Student projects

Olin has been ranked #2 for “Students who Study the Most” and #11 for “Best Quality of Life” – a good combo! Students are doing what they love. Students can complete research and self-study topics that interest them. One of the tour guides is working in a group to develop a Rubiks cube that solves itself. “It’s completely ridiculous and probably impossible, but we’re doing it anyways because it’s awesome!” The Robotics team is creating an underwater robot that mimics the tuna. They also have a Robotic Sailing Team. “The Hopper” is one class project in which students have to design a plastic toy that hops – and kids judge the results.

SCOPE (Senior Capstone, Program in Engineering) put teams of 4 or 5 students to work on a project for a company like Bose, DePuy Mitek, Facebook, Intuit, Harley-Davidson, Trip Advisor, Raytheon, HP, IBM, Boeing, AGCO, or Army Research Lab. They have to figure out what the problem is, how to fix it, and implement the solution. Projects could be anything from designing a lighter airplane seat or a better vending machine for Pepsi to figuring out how to use the revving on motorcycles for better power.

Students must take a year of Calc and a year of Physics before coming to Olin. They do not take any AP, IB, or transfer credits. Olin has a unique and rigorous program; because of that, the first year is graded on a Pass/No Record system; starting sophomore year, they get traditional grades. “Sometimes that first C is hard to swallow,” said the rep. The lack of grades in the first year gives students a cushion to adjust to the Olin way and to take some risks. They graduate 96% in 4 years and 99% in 6 years.

The 2 dorm buildings

The 2 dorm buildings

Accepted students have a 2190 median SAT or 34 median ACT. Applicants attend a Candidates’ Weekend if they want to come to Olin. Group exercises and individual interviews are evaluated – everything else is for fun. Parents are welcome, but not required. Of the 998 applications last year, 220 were invited to Candidates’ Weekend; 102 were admitted and 30 placed on waitlist. Waitlisted students can opt to enroll at Olin the following year. They enrolled a class of 84, 20 of whom deferred from the year before. Students can also defer for military service or religious missions.

campus map.  Babson is in the upper right corner.

campus map. Babson is in the upper right corner.

The campus is small and runs right into Babson’s campus which whom they share athletic and health services (the health service building is closer to Olin dorms than to Babson dorms). There are only two residence halls on Olin’s campus: West Hall houses freshmen and sophomores; East Hall has juniors, seniors, and exchange students. There are fully stocked kitchens in both dorms. Students can cross-register at Brandeis, Wellesley, or Babson, and shuttles run between these campuses every 20-30 minutes. One student created a solar-powered trash compactor with a student from Babson. Olin also owns a van that students can use for any academic reason (or other school-sponsored event). There are 71 clubs on campus and they can also join clubs at the other two universities. Olin has club-level sports, soccer and Frisbee, and they can play on Babson’s teams (and women can play at Wellesley).

Students are quirky, funny, and think outside the box. As we started the tour, one of the guides said, “Please don’t feed the students, and keep your hands and feet inside the tour at all times!” Olin is home to the only collegiate level conductor-less orchestra. “It’s the only varsity sport on campus,” said the tour guide, and students have to try out, but there are other musical groups to join and even sound-proof practice rooms. The culture on campus allows the students to pursue passions, even if it isn’t dealing with engineering. For example, one student loves making truffles and can see going into chocolate-making. They even have a Fire Arts Club!

Teachers see it as coaching rather than teaching. They ask questions. Students ask questions, build relationships, etc . Students have the skills to start a business or go into a field that’s not exactly engineering. Some go into MBA programs. Top Grad schools are Harvard, MIT, CMU, Babson, Stanford, and Cornell. They’ve had 41 NSF Fellows, 11 Fulbrights (one of the top producing universities in the country), 2 National Defense, and many more major scholarships and competitions.

© 2014

Clark University

CLARK UNIVERSITY, Worcester, MA (visited 3/23 – 3/24/14)

~Clark main bdng“Challenge Convention, Change the World” is a hallmark of who they are, not just a marketing campaign. Kids know the motto – and really live by it, but they may have different ways of defining it. “Sometimes people joke – they put mustard on the fries and say ‘I’m challenging convention!’” said one of the tour guides, “but it’s really more an outlook. People are interested in making a difference.” They recognize that problems can’t be solved in the abstract, so they connect classroom experiences with the outside world, in the community, even on the other side of the world.

~Clark painting

Combining science and art

One of Clark’s distinctive programs is LEEP, Liberal Education and Effective Practice. They connect the traditional Liberal Arts with the new skills that employers want. The new president took office three years ago (after being Provost for many years), he visited a lot of CEOs and other business people to ask what they were looking for in hires. They wanted people who had the skills to cut across fields – communication, writing, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and resiliency (“Who here has never failed?” he asked).

~Clark study areaClark is deliberately student-centered. They want to know what students are passionate about, and then validate those and make it a driving force. When people talk about Clarkies, that’s what they’re talking about. One of our tour guides, a junior from RI, is a biology and art-history double major who plans on going to med school. Another tour guide is majoring in PoliSci and will ultimately go onto law school, but plans on staying at Clark to take advantage of the 5th year Masters Program to get his MBA before that. Clark grants students a scholarship for a free 5th year to complete a Masters degree, provided they have a 3.4 GPA from their last 3 years (they do NOT count freshman year grades!) This is a draw for high schoolers who are also looking forward towards a Masters.

~CLark statueWith 2200 undergraduates, Clark is one of the larger CTCL schools, but “it’s the smallest research university in an urban setting in the country,” said an admissions rep. “No once comes to Clark for Worcester . . . but it grows on you. There are cultural opportunities, good ethnic restaurants.” The 13 colleges in the greater Worcester area are connected by a shuttle. One student said that there seems to be more kids coming to Clark rather than Clark kids going out.

~Clark bikesThe university has seen a 70% increase in applications in 3 years; correspondingly, the admit rate went from 70% to 52%. At the same time, they have taken great strides to increase student involvement and retention. First Year Intensive (FYI) classes have “funky, slightly offbeat topics” of interest to the professors such as “The Role of Baseball in American History,” “9/11 in Popular Culture,” or “Kitchen Chemistry.” The professor serves as advisor for the 15-17 students in the section until they declare majors. The largest classes are the Intro to Psych and Bio classes with about 100. The smallest classes our tour guides have taken have had 6 (“Temple Builders,” an art history class), and 9 (First Year Intensive on Socrates and Nietzsche).

~Clark intercultural cntr

Intercultural Center

Some of the FYI classes can fulfill the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS); this program requires that at some point, students take at least 1 class in each of 8 thematic areas designed to build competencies. No two classes can be taken in the same field.

  • Foundations:
  • o Verbal expression (good communication skills – English, theater, public speaking, etc).
  • o Formal Analysis (typically math, but could be stats, even philosophy focusing on logic).
  • Perspectives: allows students to see things from other people’s majors.
  • o Aesthetic (Art, music, theater)
  • o Historical (one Envi Sci teaches an Evolution class looking at why Darwin developed his theory when he did, looking at the colliding forces of religion and other things)
  • o Global (African lit, Asian studies, history, etc)
  • o Values (ethics, religion, philosophy)
  • o Foreign language and Culture (2 semesters if they’re starting new, 1 semester if they continue from HS

 

~Clark Bioscience bldg

Bioscience building

The student panelists were open and gave us a good sense of who the students were. A couple interesting questions and their answers are as follows:

1) What surprised you? What challenges did you find?

  • “The gap in my education and being able to keep up in classes.”
  • “Research and using multiple sources for papers.”
  • “The Food. It’s not bad, it just gets boring.”
  • “It’s hard to get my work done because there are so many people are around; I was used to alone time.”

2) When asked to complete this sentence: “I want to thank Clark for giving me ________,” their answers were:

  • “An Ivy League education without knowing it. Geography is #1 in the country.”
  • “The opportunity to grow as a student. My understanding of how to be a successful student has developed.”
  • “For being open. People are accepting.”
  • “The professors. They aren’t just teachers. I even play racquetball with one of mine.

3) Who won’t be successful here?

  • “Students who aren’t driven. People here have passion for something.”
  • “Students are grade-competitive rather than interested in actually learning.”

4) What are your favorite traditions?

  • Gallo – Dance recitals to represent different cultures
  • Spree – bingo in the morning, jello wrestling, mechanical bull, color war

© 2014

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

~WPI bridgeWorcester Polytechnic Institute (visited 3/22/14)

Like other Polytechnics, WPI offers strong STEM programs, but is hardly limited to these. Why come here rather than a different polytechnic or a larger university? The students enthusiastically said, “Interaction between disciplines!” The flexible curriculum means that it’s not uncommon for cross-disciplinary majors and minors. Sarah, a senior who spoke at the info session, is a robotics major and history minor. She came here because of the flexibility and for the humanities and arts component. One of our tour guides was a Biochem major and Spanish minor. The other tour guide was a Civil Engineer doing his BS/MS in Fire Protection.

~WPI projectsWPI prides itself on its curriculum that combines theory and practice, traditional classroom education with laboratory and hands-on experiences. Benefits include understanding global issues, developing teamwork skills, and communicating with others. Flexibility also comes into play in the distribution requirements. It’s recommended that students complete certain things, but how they get there is up to them. Students decide which classes to take and when (under the guidance of faculty advisors). Classes have “Recommended Backgrounds” but if they come in with that knowledge already (perhaps with AP or IB credit), they can skip the prereq.

~WPI engo lab

One of the many labs

The university’s non-punitive grading policy means that students earn grades of A, B, C, or No Record. Students retake classes to get rid of NRs so they actually learn the material. Additionally, there are no + or – in the grading system. A 92 and a 98 are both As. Students worry less about GPA, are more likely to work collaboratively, and are encouraged to take risks and challenge themselves. They help each other to learn as much as possible in labs, projects, or whatever they’re working on. Grades are heavily based on projects and presentations. Students can request a GPA when they graduate, but it’s not normally given out.

The school year is divided into four 7-week terms with an optional summer term; students take 3 classes per term. Forty-five classes are needed to graduate, but most students take 48. With that buffer, students take classes for fun or redo a class. One of the tour guides said that it did take some time to adjust to the quarter system but now she loves it.

~WPI campus centerThe educational program has several components:

  • Great Problems Seminar, a first-year project addressing real-world problems: How do you break down issues into solvable pieces? This is optional, but most students complete it.
  • Humanities and Arts is required, but has flexibility: students select courses in an area of interest culminating in a seminar or practicum.
  • The Interactive Project: students study the impact of science and technology on society, looking at the larger picture. Students work interdisciplinarily with people outside the major.
  • Major project.
  • Team projects, often sponsored by companies, non-profits, or government agencies such as Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, London’s Museum of Science, Puerto Rico Tourism, UNESCO, US Patent and Trademark Office, Coast Guard, Gillette, Fidelity Investments, EPA, eBay, Deutsche Bank, Namibia’s Desert Research Foundation, Thailand’s Bureau of the Royal Household, or Children’s Hospital Costa Rica. This is the equivalent of 3 courses completed full-time in one term or part time over 3 terms. 60% of students complete this off campus; 50% go overseas. Study-Abroad locations are vetted for safety, housing, and academic standards.~WPI bridge and bldg
    • One project involved accompanying faculty to start a new site.
    • One on-campus project was building a fountain. It sits flush with the ground; a sensor on a nearby roof reads wind speeds, and the height of the water adjusts based on the readings. Students like these sorts of projects and will do them for fun. The rep said, “You can build your own computer for all we care. That happens a lot . . . .”

~WPI quad 3Co-op programs are available but are underutilized compared to other universities. They usually last for 6-8 months, running through the summer and 1-2 terms. Students completing these usually come in with AP or IB credits. Even those students who don’t complete co-ops feel like they have solid resumes. They’re used to working in groups, in a tight time frame, and out of their comfort zone so employers like hiring them. Hundreds of career and grad-school recruiters come to campus every year. 90% of graduates are working in their chosen profession or in full-time Grad Programs (the rep said that “the career services person is stingy with that number”). Princeton Review ranks WPI’s career services 17th, and Payscale.com ranks WPI 15th for Return on Investment and 5th highest starting salaries among national universities.

~WPI quad 2Applicants must complete Pre-Calc in high school since WPI doesn’t offer that class. Admissions requires a math or science teacher rec in addition to the counselor letter. They are test-optional; students not wishing to submit scores submit something that shows organizational skills and commitment such as having completed extensive research, etc. Valedictorians, salutatorians, National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Recognition Finalists are guaranteed at least $20,000. They are need-blind for domestic applicants but need-aware for international students. 20% of the students come in as undecided (less than other schools).

First year housing is guaranteed. 97% of first-year students and 62% of total students live on campus (including on-campus apartments and suites). They had a wait-list of 24 students this year; they all got rooms. Many off-campus students live within 2-3 blocks (close enough for the school wireless). There are over 180 clubs including music and theater, community service, Greek life, art and lit, professional and honor societies, and ROTC (Army and Air Force at WPI, Navy at Holy Cross through the consortium). The T stop is a mile away; students can be in Boston in an hour.

WPI has developed the Insight Program as part of the First Year Experience. Every student gets assigned to a team during freshman orientation. The team gets a faculty advisor, resident advisors, and a peer advisor to help them be successful transitioning to college. 97% of freshmen return for sophomore year.

© 2014

Wellesley College

WELLESLEY COLLEGE (visited 4/11/14)

~Wellesley  field and dorms

One of the fields with upperclass dorms seen through the trees.

I was surprised at what a sprawling campus this is. There is a lot of open space filled with fields, ponds, and wooded areas. I asked one of the students if she ever felt unsafe walking around, since parts of the campus actually have a very rural feel to it; she said it’s relatively well lit, but it can be a bit creepy at times. The rep added that the campus is located in a “very quintessential New England town with a lot of money; the town has small boutiques, Starbucks, and more. Although that certainly doesn’t preclude things from happening, it’s a safe area in general.”

There were lots of students walking around; I think partially because of the expansive nature of the campus, I didn’t see too many people interacting with each other. Most people were walking alone or with one other person, and it was rare to see anyone greeting others as they passed. I did see small groups of people in the student center talking and socializing, but mostly people seemed to just be going about their business.

Wellesley main dorm

The Tower as seen from the lake.

Lounge in The Tower dorm.

Lounge in The Tower dorm.

This is a highly residential campus. 98% of students live on campus all four years. The largest dorm of the 19 options on campus is The Tower with 650 residents. All residence halls are integrated across grades; there are no freshmen-only or solely upperclassmen halls, although juniors and seniors do tend to have singles. Our tour guide said that there was a real sense of passing information down through the years; older students give advice about classes, clubs, and more.

Atrium of the Science library

Atrium of the Science library

Many of the buildings retain their original character, but they’ve built, added, and renovated as necessary. The Science and Math library is in the modern extension of the Science building. From a distance, it looks like they’re doing renovations on it, but as we got closer, I realized that the architecture just looks that way. They built onto the old building so the open, multi-level atrium is light and open with a wall of exposed brick. They also have an astronomy and physics library is attached to the observatory, a fine arts library, and a main library.

Science library

Science library

~Wellesley observatoryWellesley has instituted a Shadow Grading policy for the students’ first semester. Although they get grades internally, the transcript just says P/F. They recognize that there’s an adjustment period, and they wanted to take the pressure off as well as encourage risk-taking. They also see that it creates a broad foundation of learning in which they gain skills and tools that help regardless of the field (how to research and write a compelling paper, present in class, argue or debate a point, thoughtfully participate, think critically about an issue from different angles). I asked if Grad Schools have a problem with this; because it’s a school policy rather than a choice on the student’s part, there isn’t an issue (and several other schools like Swarthmore, Olin, and MIT do this as well). Grad schools will know that it’s a standard process and not that the student has elected to do that.

Theater house.

Theater house.

About 40% of students double major. They have the option to cross-register at Babson, Olin, and MIT. The bus to MIT is free on weekdays, but there’s a small fee on weekends so they can use it for recreation purposes as well. The tour guide believes that their location and relationship with partner schools changes who they are and helps them stand out among other women’s colleges (although certainly there are other schools that have similar profiles). She doesn’t feel that there’s any sense of cloistering. Overall, it’s been a very positive experience for her. She said that people there just expect that women are in leadership positions (including 65% of tenured faculty).

Student Center

Student Center

The First Year Experience program includes seminars in which college-level writing is stressed. Our tour guide’s writing class was about women and gender studies; her seminar was “Play, Electricity, and Democracy” about Pre-K education in the US. Overall, classes usually run with 17-25 students. Some intro level lectures are 45-50, but often these are broken down to labs or discussions. Students strive to do well, but it’s a “self-competitive environment” rather than one in which students compete with each other. “It’s supportive in academics and socially, as well. It’s the nicest relationship I’ve had with other women my own age.” With a 96% retention rate, I imagine that others would agree.

Athletic Center

Athletic Center

Our guide said that “we love our traditions here! Lake Day is a secret celebration until you’re here. Dorms also often come up with their own traditions.” Flower Sunday is one tradition that several students brought up. Every first-year student is assigned a big sister, and on Flower Sunday, her older sister is introduced to her and gives flowers to the first year.

© 2014

Tufts University

TUFTS UNIVERSITY (visited 4/10/14)

~Tufts student and skyline

Boston skyline from Tuft’s campus

Tufts’s traditional campus, located in Medford, Mass, has an open, well-used with brick buildings that are attractive and well-maintained. Several areas overlook the Boston skyline. This is a residential community with most people living on campus.

~Tufts quad and studentsWith 5000 undergrads (making them a bit of an outlier in the NESCAC conference with arguably the strongest DIII conference in the country), they can keep classes small with an average of 15-18 students. Even in the bigger Intro classes, professors go out of their way to make it personable. One professor tells the class that if he doesn’t learn their names by the end of the first week, he buys pizza for the whole class. The school also gives students incentives for getting to know their professors; for example, if they bring a professor to the Tower Café, both drink for free. Some professors hold office hours there just to get the coffee.

~Tufts quad 2Interdisciplinary work is valued at Tufts. The Experimental College has some of the more unique programs. Usually, these are taught by Juniors and Seniors who propose a class to the Board based on what they’re interested in (Lobstering or Deconstructing Rap, for example). EC classes are graded as P/F so it won’t affect GPA. Some professors, often one in the trade or from another university, will also teach these classes. One of them used to be the GM of the Boston Celtics and he teaches a class about the legal issues of owning/running a professional sports franchise. The admissions rep doing the info session majored in Community Health in which he combined biology, math, and politics. Don’t even get him started on Greek Yogurt, which he say is horrible for the environment! Yes, we asked why: for 4 ounces of milk used, only 1 ounce ends up as yogurt. The other 3 ounces is poison whey (not to us but to the environment). They’re doing work with enzymes to break this down so it won’t be harmful anymore.

~Tufts bridgeAnother example of interdisciplinary work includes the two 5-year dual degree programs that Tufts students can earn either with the New England Conservatory or the Museum of Fine Arts. Students spend half their time at each institution and will earn both n BA and a BFA at the end. Students do need to be accepted to both institutions. The rep said, “A lot of electives get cut out if you choose to do this: you still have to fulfill a major and do the distribution requirements for both degrees.”

~Tufts chapel 3When applying to Tufts, students choose to apply Arts & Sciences OR Engineering but it’s possible to transfer from one to the other once they’re enrolled. The engineering students’ classes are a little more tracked with 38 required credits in the major and at least 6 classes in the Humanities, but they are exempt from the language requirement. A&S students take ten core distribution requirements including 6 semesters of Language and Culture if they don’t have a strong language background.

During the admissions process, they look at 3 things in depth:

1) Numbers (GPA, test scores)

  1. Students must submit the SAT and 2 subject tests OR the ACT with writing. They even superscore the ACT. Students applying to the engineering department should submit Math 2 and Physics or Chem subject tests.
  2. 80% of the 17,000 applicants were qualified to do the work; 50% were “overly qualified. However, they have a 20% acceptance rate. They narrow down the qualified applicants by looking at the 2 sections other than numbers.

2) Extra-curricular profile

3) Applicant’s voice (the essay and the recommendations).

  1. Why Tufts? Don’t make it about Boston. Boston has 54 universities!
  2. Let Your Light Speak: Make it about you! College apps are different from other essay – you can start with “I think” or “I believe.” They want to know who you are, where you stand, what you’ve done, what you want to do.
  3. They give students the option to send a YouTube video or a link to artwork.
  4. What makes you happy? Pick one or two things and explain why; don’t just give a list.

~Tufts arch and bldgThe students I spoke to on campus were friendly and wanted to brag about their school. I asked them what they were surprised about when they got on campus. One said, “the willingness of students to get into discussions with others. There’s so much to learn here, and people want to know more. A couple weeks ago, there was a big presentation about Palestine, and it was full.” I asked if he felt that issues were balance here and if they heard multiple sides to issues – like in this case, were there both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine sides? “Absolutely. People are still talking about it, and they’re willing to learn about the other side of the issue.”

~Tufts acad bldg 2The other student said he loved that there was so much going on both on and off campus. “We’re close enough to downtown to take advantage of the city, but we don’t have to do there to have fun. The activities board also runs trips to destinations further away. They actually own a lodge in NH, and students can take trips up there for $5 which covers all costs: transportation, lodging, etc. Once they’re there, they can hike, kayak, climb Mount Washington, etc. Trips aren’t even limited to the US – several students took a mountain-climbing trip to Kyrgyzstan; they got to name the mountain because they were the first to summit it.

© 2014

Brandeis University

BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY (visited 4/10/14)

~Brandeis acad bldg 2

Freshman quad

Freshman quad

The best way I can describe campus is “eclectic.” Scattered over a hillside, the buildings seem to reflect whatever style was in vogue when it was built. The Student Center, for example, is a large building covered in sheets of copper (now green). Except for the two freshmen dorm quads, nothing really goes together. The two quads look like they came out of a traditional campus; one has a pond in the middle, the other has a large lawn.

I appreciated that they had a senior speak during the info session. Rayna was able to put a bit of personal perspective on what was otherwise a fairly bland discussion.

Science building

Science building

Classes average about 15 students and are designed to be discussion based. About half of the students double major and/or minor, and it’s easy to be part of multiple academic departments. There’s a great deal of interdisciplinary work, so students could be taking a class in their major that’s taught by someone in another area. Although they have a strong Liberal Arts focus, it’s also a major research institution, recently being awarded $20 million in NIH grants. There’s a big push to help students get to know professors, although they’re already accessible, according to Rayna. One of the programs that Brandeis has instituted is “Take your professor to lunch;” the university will pay for the food.

~Brandeis statueLouis Brandeis was “the people’s justice.” He gave back to the community in various ways; this is where the university gets its mission. They sell themselves as thinking outside the box. They send several students to do study abroad and internships abroad (including in places Rwanda). There are a few ways to travel. First is through CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts. Students needed to be fluent in the language for this. The senior who talked to us went to Barcelona; she had a Homestay and enrolled directly at University of Barcelona where she took 3 classes. She had an additional class in the Study Abroad program with the 27 students in the program. She volunteered at the Red Cross there and got to travel. For students who are not fluent and therefore don’t qualify for CIEE, they can take part in one of 350 approved programs and have no trouble transferring their credits back to Brandeis.

~Brandeis statue and observatory

The Castle (now a dorm)

The Castle (now a dorm)

Brandeis is now test-optional, giving students three options during the application process: 1) submit scores (they’ll superscore both exams); 2) Submit a combination of SATII and AP scores from 3 different subject areas; or 3) Submit a graded paper from Junior or Senior year, usually English or History. Students have to make a decision about which of these three options they want and indicate their choice on the application; they can’t submit everything and hope for the best. The optional supplement is, of course, encouraged, and hey do want to see demonstrated interest. Interviews are available but not required; they give a lot of options, including by a rep during a high school visit or by the Senior student interviewers.

Sign in a window of the Castle

Sign in a window of the Castle

Student Center

Student Center

Students seem fairly happy on campus. Several small groups of students were hanging out in the student center, but many more were simply walking alone on with one other person around campus. There was some interaction as people passed each other. Our tour guide said that there was lots of school spirit and involvement. Students enjoy going to athletic games (the mascot is the Judge and fans are called the Jury). Shuttles are easy to catch into Boston, but there’s plenty to do on campus. One of the favorite yearly traditions is the 24-Hour Musical. Students show up to audition for an unknown production about a week ahead of time; on Saturday morning, everyone shows up and are told what the musical is, what the roles are, etc. They have to learn lines, put a set together, gather costumes, etc. by Sunday when they put on the production. They do plenty of other regularly run productions throughout the year which anyone can get involved in. Students are highly involved in music, as well, here. There are plenty of practice rooms that individuals or groups can use. This is also only the 2nd university I’ve heard of who will allow students to rent art from the art museum on campus for $5 per semester (the other being Oberlin).

© 2014

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