College Tour III: Intermission

We capped off our February vacation week visits with tours at Yale and Wesleyan last Friday. Our drive down Thursday afternoon was nice, an unseasonably warm and sunny day. Dinner was at the Parthenon Diner in Branford, a local place with good food (including Greek specialties, as you might expect), great service, and reasonable prices.

By Friday morning it had turned gray and cold with a couple inches of slushy snow covering everything. Still, the trip down was good and the tours worthwhile. Quick impressions:

  • Yale University:¬†Go ahead, snicker, roll your eyes, whatever. I know, you’re thinking upper-yuppy snooty Ivy League school. Nice if you’re part of the 1% but, seriously, what about a school for us mere mortals? That might be one reaction, sure, but I have to tell you we all came away from our visits impressed with how unpretentious the place was for all its cachet and how much it truly seems to offer the fortunate 8% of applicants to its undergraduate class. We especially liked the residential college structure to university housing, combining academic advising and social life. I’m sure it’s common to many private (or in Great Britain, the counter-intuitively names “public”) schools, but the concept is even more familiar to readers of the Harry Potter series. Think Gryffindor at Hogwarts without so much the flowing robes and magic wands. Ticker: +2
  • Wesleyan University: After our visit at Yale, even without a side trip to Louis’ Lunch or Modern Apizza (next time!), any school was going to have a hard time measuring up. Still, the short drive from New Haven to Middletown gave us time to move on mentally and be prepared for as fair an evaluation as we have given any of the schools so far. And, truthfully, Wesleyan fared well as a smaller institution, quite similar to Brandeis and Clark (at the same time being neither as quirky as Brandeis nor saddled with – fair or not – being in Worcester like Clark). The information session at Wesleyan could have been better but, at least in my case, I was suffering from some serious college visit fatigue. In the end, this one seemed to be a keeper on the list. Ticker: +1

So what does all this “ticker” stuff mean, anyway? As we’ve been going through these visits our daughter has been putting schools into one of three application categories – yes, maybe, and no. Simple and effective as a way of working through a list of 30-plus. Another way of measuring the success of a particular school in appealing to her would be the t-shirt index. So far, Johns Hopkins and Yale have merited t-shirts, with Brown only being the victim of a cash flow issue, otherwise she’d have one of those, too.

Catching Our Breath

Last fall we started visiting colleges with our youngest. Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania were on our itinerary over the Columbus Day weekend. With softball season and its time demands rapidly approaching we were left with February vacation, incorporating the Presidents Day holiday weekend, as the best option. So far we’ve added Brandeis, Tufts, Clark, and Brown to our list of schools we’ve visited.

It’s still a little early to rule any school definitely in or our, but we’re building a basis for comparison. Quick impressions:

  • Brandeis – liberal arts and research university, perhaps a little too quirky for her to find a good “fit.” Strong emphasis on openness and diversity, consistent with the university’s founding principles in 1948. High degree of undergraduate involvement in research, interaction with faculty. Students were on spring (February is spring? Not in New England. Anyway.) Unfortunately we had to bail out of the tour not even quite halfway through to get to our next info session. Ticker: -1
  • Tufts – more emphasis on research university but still providing a more open, interdisciplinary approach through distribution requirements. Also spoke of significant undergraduate involvement in research Enjoyed the campus setting, though it was a clear, cold, and windy day. Did get to see the library a little bit but much of the campus was closed due to the holiday. Seemed to make a more favorable impression. Ticker: +1
  • Clark – as the admissions officer said at Brandeis, most of what you hear in college information sessions is the same, using the 80/20 rule. As at Brandeis the emphasis at Clark was on answering the question “what makes us different?” One of the “Colleges That Change Lives,” Clark uses a description of itself as the “smallest liberal arts research university in the nation.” Stressed community, student-faculty interaction, research involvement, work in the community and larger world (“Challenge Convention. Change Our World.“). Students also addressed the question about going to school in Worcester which, from my limited knowledge, has had a reputation as kind of a rough town. Ticker: -1
  • Brown – another campus on a hill, College Hill to be exact. The warm, sunny day we had experienced walking around Clark disappeared behind cloud and the wind became cold by the time our tour started at Brown. The info session was okay, but somewhat disorganized and didn’t leave much time for discussion of admissions. That said, the info session was still mostly like the others except for Brown’s open curriculum and graduation requirements. The tour was windy, cold, and but for our enthusiastic (and sometimes silly) tour guides, disappointing. We saw nothing of the library, classroom buildings, residence halls, dining venues, athletic or other facilities. On a cold, breezy afternoon in Providence, these all would have been much appreciated, but we really didn’t get anything out of the tour and info session that we couldn’t have gotten from the web site, except for the physical experience of walking around campus. Still, we spent at least half an hour in the university bookstore mulling over sweatshirts and t-shirts, so it must still be pretty high on the list. Ticker: +1

Up next it’s Yale and Wesleyan. We’ll have to wait until fall, or after acceptance, to visit some of the others still on “the list.”

A ‘Possum’s Tale

The only contact I had with opossums when I was a kid growing up in Maine was in books. Children’s books, Life Nature Library, and novels set in the American South. In recent years they have become increasingly common in southern Maine and make up almost as much roadkill as gray squirrels.

Combine the presence of opossums (including the dead one I found in one of our outbuildings) and milder winters (riding my motorcycle in January and February? in Maine?) and I see evidence of it in my personal experience. Evidence of what? Climate change, coming soon to a wildlife habitat near you.

The List

American, Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Brown, Bucknell, Carleton, Clark, Colorado, Emory, Franklin & Marshall, Georgetown, Hamilton, Harvard, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Macalester, Middlebury, Princeton, Swarthmore, Tufts, Tulane, Union, University of Chicago, University of Miami, University of Richmond, University of Rochester, Vassar, Washington, Wesleyan, Williams, and Yale.

That’s the list. Certainly we can, and will, pare it down, and could also add to it but it’s a starting point. Stay tuned as College Tour III: The Final Countdown continues to unfold.