Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Break College Tour First Stops: Boston and Brown

I’m taking my daughters Lily (high school junior) and Abby (high school freshman) on a trip through New England this week visiting different college and university campuses, especially to give Lily a better idea of characteristics of schools she’s interested in as well as the differences between research universities and liberal arts colleges, urban and rural campuses.
Abby and Lily in the Boston T

Our first stops have been Boston University (BU) and Northeastern University in Boston and Brown University in Providence.

Since our first day to tour Boston was Sunday, we weren’t able to take any official campus tours so our visit to BU in particular was pretty superficial.  It’s one of the largest private universities, its most famous graduate perhaps being Martin Luther King, Jr., and it is located in the heart of the city across from MIT in Cambridge and slightly northwest of Northeastern.  Lily noticed that it doesn’t have much of a campus feel as the buildings seem to be located along pretty major thoroughfares, not separated in any way from the rest of the city.  There are a lot of new buildings; the new Student Services Center is quite nice with a very attractive cafeteria offering all kinds of healthy food and other floors devoted to special tutoring and advising.  Other than reading about academic departments and the many colleges within the university—the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Communications are the ones most interesting to Lily—we didn’t have a chance to find out anything else about its programs.

Luckily, one of my Berkeley classmate’s daughters is a student at Northeastern so we were given our own custom tour there. Asha, a freshman from Palo Alto High School, seems very happy with her experience at Northeastern, which although almost as large as BU in size, definitely provides more of a traditional campus setting.  Northeastern offers a well-respected co-op program that distinguishes it from other urban and large universities.  Asha explained that every student has a chance to do paid internships for two semesters, and often these work experiences lead to post-graduation job offers as well as career trajectories.  She is going to Jordan this summer on a six week “Dialogue” to learn the language and immerse herself in the culture. She also told us that the majority of her classes have fewer than 50 students, her Arabic class only a handful.  Lily asked her about how she made friends and she recommended joining clubs.  She is a member of the “Good Vibes” club, which helps students deal with stress through meditation and other activities.
Aisha, Lily, Abby

We left Boston last night (well our departure was protracted due to our GPS taking us on a roller coaster ride through tunnels and over bridges before we learned not to trust its directions) feeling that we’d had a good picture of two urban campuses.  Riding the “T” Boston’s subway/overground train was also quite easy making the city’s many attractions, museums and entertainment simple to access.

Monday morning we took an official campus tour and attended an admissions session at Brown University.  Both Lily and Abby were immediately attracted to the red brick architecture on campus, the Oxford-feel of the enclosed commons and the good natured, almost irreverent tour guide.  We soon realized that Brown’s main difference from the other “Ivies” is its open curriculum program in which students can choose virtually all their own classes except for a writing requirement and, of course, the courses for their “concentration” (Brown’s euphemism for “major”).  Many of the other people on the tour seemed interested in the university’s collaboration   With only 1,500 graduate students vs. the 6,000 undergraduates, Brown definitely has a focus on undergraduate teaching and research opportunities.  The admissions session at Brown was particularly good.  The admissions officer took a lot of questions throughout his presentation and then walked students through the importance of each aspect of the application.  He stressed that the single most significant factor is a student’s high school transcript, which shows effort and development over time.  Still, successful applicants to Brown need to attain superior test scores and prepare rigorously for admission.  All three of us were impressed by our visit to Brown—and by how selective admission there must be.
Modern Arts building at Brown
with RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design) where students can take courses and where a very select few can enroll in a dual degree program.
Traditional classroom building at Brown

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