Thursday, March 28, 2019

Elite Chicago Universities--similarities and differences

Northwestern University Welcome Center

I just returned from a few days in the Windy City (it was quite chilly and breezy, typical for March in the Midwest), where I enjoyed visiting the Art Institute and seeing “Hamilton,” while also taking in a couple of campus tours: University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

The more campus tours of elite private universities I take, the more I see similarities among schools.  They all offer similar “perks” and emphasize the same educational advantages.  Both information sessions at Chicago and Northwestern featured their tier #1 research opportunities and liberal arts curriculum and both described small class sizes, excellent faculty mentoring, fantastic internships, transformative study abroad experiences, and collaborative learning environments. 

Before I visited the schools, I speculated that one of the main differences between the two would be the urban (Chicago) vs. suburban (Northwestern) campuses, but Chicago’s great public transportation system plus Hyde Park’s less dense urban feel minimized that difference for me.  There is a distinct difference in “vibe” at the two schools—Chicago being more intellectual and quirky compared with Northwestern’s energetic enthusiasm, but in this post I want to delineate the perhaps minor but essential differences in curriculum, career development and social life.

University of Chicago quad
First, the two schools’ curricula are distinct.  Chicago maintains its core curriculum approach to general education (courses outside one’s major).  This is a set series of discussion-based courses covering eight subject areas that all students must take.  Chicago is famous for its “great books” approach to education which has now been adapted to our more multi-cultured society in the form of a series of three courses called “civilizations.” There are a number of choices within each category but overall the university offers a more structured approach to general education.  Northwestern, in contrast, stresses the flexibility and breadth of its curriculum. All students do satisfy general education distribution requirements by taking two courses each in six broad areas such as literature and fine arts, natural sciences and historical studies.  Both Chicago and Northwestern are on the quarter system; however, Northwestern particularly emphasizes the advantages of students taking more courses overall during their four years and encourages students to double and even triple major, as well as add on minors and certificates—which are smaller clusters of courses that demonstrate pre-professional skills. 

University of Chicago Doorway
Northwestern University Arch
Second career development is approached differently at the two universities.  Recently, Chicago decided to “flip” career development on its head by concentrating on freshman instead of seniors.  All freshman are matched with a career as well as an academic advisor and during the first year every freshman takes on some kind of externship or trek to gain direct career experience/observation.  They benefit from special Metcalf Internships arranged reserved for University of Chicago students that offer even more hands-on learning and are all funded. Northwestern, by contrast, is less systematic in career exploration though some schools like Medill (journalism) and the College of Education and Social Policy require internships.  The university makes its large alumni network available to students early in their academic careers and encourages, though doesn’t require, students to explore work opportunities in Chicago and further afield. On campus there is an incubator/maker space called the “Garage” where students and alumni meet to work on entrepreneurial projects.

University of Chicago Library
Finally, social life and the campus vibe at each school is unique.  Both schools have Greek organizations, yet at Northwestern, up to 40% of students participate in Greek life.  That’s a high percentage, which can tend to dominate weekend campus events.  Northwestern is a Big Ten Division #1 school, where sports enthusiasts have free access to all games.  Chicago stresses its campus wide scavenger hunt as a signature event while Northwestern brags about its huge, student-run music festival every spring. 
Northwestern University dorm

Many high achieving and ambitious students would no doubt be happy at either campus, yet it is worth considering how one’s educational and social experience might be distinct.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Annual Advice from this year’s sophomores to this year’s matriculating freshmen

Every year I query my alumni advisees about their college experiences. What were highs and lows freshmen year. How did they struggle? When and how did they thrive?

 Here’s the advice I gleaned from last year’s 2017 freshmen for this year’s 2018 freshmen:

1) Don't expect to have your life figured out going into college. 
2) College offers a lot of niche clubs that students should take advantage of early on in order to find an outlet outside of classes to figure out what you like to do and connect with people also trying to figure out their interests. 
3) Remember the names of new people you meet: this goes a long way when trying to make new friends and study partners. Even if you don't think you're going be life-long friends with the person, it's always nice to have someone in class to talk with and learn the material with. 
 4) Spread homework and studying throughout the week, which will give you more free time on the weekends to hang out with friends and get off campus. The workload definitely piles up in college, especially if you’re on on the quarter system (the UCs). 
 5) Make sure to go to classes even if they are webcasted. 
 6) Leave enough time for yourself to relax. 
 7) Try new things—classes, activities, social interactions--whether or not you enjoy them at first. 

--Develop strong relationships with faculty members. Go to office hours; take on projects and research. Cultivate mentors. 
--Take on a sustained academic project whether research, a thesis or a capstone experience senior year.
 --Participate actively in at least one campus organization. Seek leadership opportunities. 
--Regulate your time on social media. Don’t spend too much time alone. 
--Develop communication and “storytelling” skills. It’s important to be able to persuade an audience whether on a job interview or another situation. 
--Take risks both academically and personally. Try new classes and/or fields of interest. Don’t be too focused on career outcomes. 

 Also, check out previous blog posts on the same topic—advice for incoming freshmen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

College Readiness Redux

I’ve written about “soft” or non-cognitive skills on this blog previously and I’m often emphasizing their importance to my advisees as they are challenged by managing their increasingly complex schedules while completing college applications.  Actually, completing the college application process is a good “test” or practice for adolescents in developing responsibility, time management, resilience and self-advocacy, all skills students need to function independently in college.

Recently, the New York Times published another piece, How to Help a Teenager be College-Ready” on helping your child the skills and qualities needed to live independently and function as a successful student.  It focuses on three areas: self-care, academics and administrative tasks.  Among its recommendations are to allow students to manage their own calendar and deadlines.  I echo this encouragement in asking parents to allow students to make their own appointments with me and follow up on tasks without parental reminders.

It’s a lot about our “letting go” as parents, isn’t it?  Good luck!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Babson College: Not just for Business. . .

Last week in Boston I visited Babson College, a school well known for its business and entrepreneurship programs.  Guided by a very articulate and knowledgeable Latina freshman, I learned that Babson has far more to offer than a standard undergraduate business curriculum. Here are a few highlights of what I learned from my tour :

1)   Every freshman enrolls in a two semester Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship course that gives them hands-on experience in developing and running an actual business. Fall term students meet in small groups to brainstorm ideas and write business plans and spring term, financed by a $3,000 school grant, they execute and run their businesses.

Offering this course as an introductory rather than as a capstone experience, allows students to recognize and develop their particular aptitudes and choose a focus for their subsequent Babson education.

2)   Babson College participates in a consortium with Franklin Olin College of Engineering and Wellesley College, two esteemed neighboring institutions. Students can take one course a semester at either of the other two schools and collaboration among students of all three schools is encouraged.

3)   Study abroad is very popular at Babson; over 50% of Babson students participate.  The most attractive and original of the study abroad options is BRIC:  a semester long study-travel program led by Babson faculty to Russia, India and China to examine the interaction between culture and business practices.
4)   Babson also offers an accelerated degree program, allowing undergraduates the opportunity to graduate in 3 years by following a streamlined path.

While all Babson students graduate with a B.S. in business, 50% of the curriculum requirements are liberal arts, ensuring a well-rounded education.  Faculty interaction with and mentoring of students is a hallmark and as we toured the campus, I noted many groups of students collaborating on projects.  I was impressed by all the activity on campus and in the libraries/business labs. 
If you’re interested in either business or Boston, Babson is definitely a college to check out!