Monday, April 1, 2013

Back to Boston: Tufts and Harvard—Final Stops on College Tour

Full disclosure: my husband Peter is a Tufts alum and a member of the a cappella group the Beezlebubs, so our impressions of Tufts are already biased. . .

We visited Tufts on Good Friday when many Boston area schools were on holiday, so there were a record number of visitors attending the admissions session (over 1500 in one day!) The admissions officer gave a non-traditional presentation, asking the audience to solve engineering problems and emphasizing the many kinds of diversity at the University that help create a lively and inter-disciplinary learning environment.  The underlying message that came across was that Tufts is a place where it’s “cool to be smart”: in other words, intellectual curiosity thrives but students also like to have fun.
Abby, Lily, Sami and Rebecca visiting Tufts
Our tour guide took us around campus highlighting both Tufts’ academic and social advantages such as: a nicely renovated library, great IR major with access to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, a suburban campus with easy access to Boston, an “experimental” college where visiting professors and even students teach unusual courses on topics like the physics of race car driving, and a whole host of campus traditions like painting the cannon to announce events.
Tufts' painted cannon
Harvard, only two stops away on the red line of the T, and the most prestigious and selective of all the Ivies, has a very different feel.  Because it’s in the middle of Cambridge, the campus overall is more bustling and busy.  It also feels intense.  We took a “private” tour with my nephew Jonathan who is a sophomore science major.  He explained to us some of Harvard’s quirky history and traditions: Eleanor Elkins, the donor who established Widener library for instance, decreed that ice cream must be served at every campus dining hall for which the library will pay.  Consequently, Jonathan told us, you can even eat ice cream for breakfast at Harvard.  He showed us around the impressive facilities, including the Hogwarts-style freshman dining hall and the freshman dorms in the Yard, the giant science complex, and a new arts building. 
Harvard's freshman dining hall
Jonathan told us about the upper level research he’s doing already as a sophomore and how he enrolled in a course that has nine pre-requisites.  Harvard is clearly not for the faint hearted.  Still, like all the colleges and universities we visited this past week, it’s a place where students can combine a life of rich academic exploration with a rewarding and enjoyable social life.
Jonathan in his dorm room, part of a 5 person suite

Overall, we visited ten campuses in a week’s time, a rather whirwind tour of New England.  I think Lily got a good picture of different types of schools and programs, from large universities to small liberal arts colleges, from urban to rural to suburban.  She will now sort through her impressions and work on creating a short list of schools she will actually apply to.  This will also include schools from California, of course, as well as perhaps some schools she won’t have a chance to visit before applying to—in the northwest and Midwest.

*Answer to the Seven Sisters question:  The Seven Sisters are Barnard, Bryn Mawyr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. All were founded between 1837 and 1889.

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