Archive for April, 2014

College Logos

Quick Itinerary: B.U. > Emerson > Harvard > Brown > Amherst > Wesleyan > Yale > Princeton > Columbia > NYU.

Literary note: Please note that I have deliberately inculcated this essay with logorrhea in an attempt to improve Diego’s vocabulary. Do not misconstrue this circumlocutory writing style as a reflection of my normal loquacious tendencies but rather a surreptitious attempt to improve Diego’s verbal score in the SAT. 🙂

This year, Diego’s one-week break did not coincide with any of Sophia’s three weeks off. So we decided to divide and conquer; I would take Diego to visit colleges back East and Marcella would take Sophia to Cabo the following week.

Spring Break began for Diego at 3:15 pm on Friday, March 28th. Six hours later, he and I were on a JetBlue redeye to Boston. Deprived of sleep, we overcame our physical lassitude after picking up our Dollar rental car and driving to downtown Boston. The weather was brumal and drizzly for most of our time in New England which Diego actually relished. In addition to visiting campuses, an open question was whether West Coast Diego could brook East Coast chill. I am comforted to discover that Diego did not inherit my anemic weather genes.

We couldn’t check into the Boston Park Plaza yet so we noshed bagel sandwiches at a neoteric bakery across the street from Boston University, MLK’s alma mater. After sauntering around campus, we enjoyed a quick jaunt at Fenway Park before valeting our car back at our hotel, which is only a few blocks west of Emerson College, our next stop.

Emerson’s tour began promptly at 10:00 am when three affable student guides greeted and escorted us around four dorms and buildings, all located on Boylston St. across from Boston Commons. Emerson is a college specializing in the performing arts, theater, and film. They housed impressive facilities but in the end, Diego did not feel that the quality of education or caliber of students were sufficiently rigorous. “Too Florence,” he dismissed, comparing Emerson to the HHS house known for its languid academic regimen.

Back at the hotel, we took a quick nap and then headed to Cambridge. The rain was falling heavier now and our Harvard tour was set to begin promptly at 3:00 pm. Impressively, our tour guide–a Latino guy from LA–wore only a thin jacket and a tee shirt while he recanted an hour’s worth of information and history of the Harvard campus. The lore and old brick buildings entranced Diego, who appreciated the rich history of our oldest university.

We concluded our Cambridge experience with an early dinner at Mr. Bartley’s burger joint, a hole-in-the wall institution across the street from Harvard yard. Back in our warm hotel room, we called it a night, falling asleep to the Return of the King on TNT.

Sunday was our only college-free day. After checking out, we parked our car in the Financial District and began our Freedom Trail walking tour. Saw the usual sites such as Paul Revere’s grave stone, Faneuil Hall, and Quincy Market. But the highlight was a visit to the U.S.S. Constitution, aka “Old Ironsides.” This famous battleship remained undefeated in 33 battles, the most famous of which took place in 1812 against the British. Diego and I agreed that back then, men were men.

Now back in our car, we headed south towards Brown University in Rhode Island. After checking into the Hilltop Hotel in Seekonk around dusk, we drove into Providence to see “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at the Avon Theater. Little did we know, but the theater sits at the doorstep of Brown. The neighborhood struck me as working class meets New England academia. After the movie, we sauntered around the Brown campus, sneaking into the student lounge areas. Brown exhibited a uniform combination of modern architecture housed in venerable and well-kept brick buildings.

Brown building. (Get it?)

Brown building. (Get it?)

The official Brown tour began promptly at 9:00 am Monday morning. Our guide was JD, a handsome sophomore from Seattle who enjoyed piano and theater in addition to his pre-med academic regimen. He walked backwards while speaking to the ~15 or so fellow tourists. He explained how Brown has an “open curriculum,” meaning that there are no required classes outside of your majors. That means students can literally take whatever classes they wanted. This structure, along with the observed bounty of resplendent women, appealed to Diego’s sensibilities. As Diego described Brown, “Now this is how I envisioned college to be.”

After the tour, a Japanese-American admissions officer (or, as some described, a rejection officer) essentially explained that our probability of matriculation was statistically tenuous. But if accepted, it’s Nirvana and everyone loves it. Good luck. That insight seemed to be the common theme for the week.

We departed Providence around 11:00 am to head up to Amherst College, located west of Worchester in Massachusetts. The rain was falling harder and the temperature was dropping, causing ice films to form across the windshield with each swipe of the wiper. The two-hour drive was perilous but by the time we arrived at Amherst, the precipitation had arrested.



We arrived just in time to catch the 1:00 pm tour, led by Kirk, another curly blonde guy who looked eerily similar to JD at Brown. Kirk was a cordial fellow who explained how Amherst is a small liberal arts college, meaning that it’s 100% undergrads. The total school only has 1,800 students and, like Brown, they employ an open curriculum academic structure. Amherst is also part of the five sisters (Holyoke, UMass, Smith, Hampshire) where you can take classes at those campuses as well. It was also clear that its intimate size meant that students enjoy very close relationships with their professors and peers. The town of Amherst is quintessential small town, with a single strip mall surrounded by agriculture. It’s a trek to get there, which is something to consider.

We departed Amherst about 4:00 pm and headed south to Middletown, CT, the home of Wesleyan University. The drive took a little more than an hour and when we checked into the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell, CT, the sides of the roads were still covered with snow. Diego called his HHS friend and current Wesleyan freshman Riordan for some dinner suggestions. The Thai Garden, located just off campus, was some of the best Thai food I’ve had in a while. After dinner, we explored the campus before the sun had a chance to set.

Church at Wesleyan

Church at Wesleyan

Tuesday, April 1st involved an ambitious itinerary which we executed with Seal Team Six precision. It was a sunny and clear day that began promptly at 8:00 am with a breakfast meeting with Riordan at the Usdan Center at Wesleyan, or “Wes” as the locals call it. Riordan expressed his fondness for the college, which he praised effusively.

The official tour began a little after 9:00 am as Cassandra, an enthusiastic freshman, arrived late. The walking tour was quite extensive, lasting almost two hours. We headed back to the Admissions Office where an officer and a recent Wes grad gave their respective spiels. Like many of the Ivies, Wes offers an open curriculum and small class sizes. We cut short the discussion and left Wes promptly at 11:30 to make the drive down to New Haven.

With the help of my iPhone’s GPS, I secured a great parking spot directly in front of the Yale Admissions Office at 11:57 am, giving us a few minutes before Diego’s student-only discussion with Yale undergrads at noon. In this session, he learned–among other things–that Yale is looking for authentic and focused students.

Yale library of ancient texts.

Yale library of ancient texts.

A deluge of prospective students overwhelmed the office space at 1:00 so Grace, an Elizabeth Shue-looking senior, shepherded us to a large seminar room. She then proceeded to give a phenomenal explanation of the Yale way. Among her many jewels were that Yale values diversity of thought; that their curriculum is a balance between open and closed systems; and that Yale’s 12 residential colleges largely define students’ experience at Yale. A comprehensive walking tour followed where we navigated the monumental Gothic buildings in Yale’s deceptively-large campus. It gave the feeling of attending school at the Smithsonian. The importance of the residential college experience was reiterated several times by our guide.

Upon completing the tour, we hopped onto I-95 South towards New York City. We dropped off our trusty car at the Dollar rental near LaGuardia and caught the bus into Manhattan. From there, we took the subway down to my cousin’s pied-a-terre near Chinatown, dropped off our luggage, and caught a cab to the Mighty Quinn, a great BBQ restaurant on 2nd Ave and E 6th where we met our friends Sandra and Amar for dinner. Whew! What a day!

Wednesday morning started early because the NJTransit train down to Princeton departed Penn Station at 7:53 am. Arriving in Princeton, we meandered our way to the Frist student center for a quick breakfast before the touring began. Rain started falling by the time our 10:00 am info session began. It was hosted by Sarah, an attractive and articulate ’12 Princeton alum. Like Yale, Princeton has a combination of an open curriculum and core requirements. They also emphasized that Princeton is decidedly more focused on undergraduate education. They offer no law, business, or medical schools. Unique at Princeton is their requirement for every student to complete a senior thesis. Students also have guaranteed four year housing and their unique eating club system. As for financial aid, Princeton is a need blind university where their aid comes completely in grants; no student loans are needed or offered.



Our walking tour was hosted by Brian, a good-looking English major from Charlotte. He showed us all the famous sites including a quick glimpse of Professor Cornell West. After the tour, Diego and I enjoyed some Italian food at a Nassau St. eatery and then we toured the Princeton Art Museum. Our Princeton day ended when the 3:10 train departed the station heading north to Penn Station. Wednesday night concluded with dinner at Cha Chan Tang.

Thursday morning involved taking the B and 1 trains uptown to 116th and Broadway for our 10:00 am Columbia campus visit. The sky was blue and the weather warm. We were surprised to see how Columbia was in a defined campus space, replete with green lawns and gated walls. An ebullient admissions officer escorted our large group into a cavernous lecture hall where he proceeded to extoll the virtues of a Columbia education. Chief among them is their emphasis on a core curriculum. Unlike most of the liberal arts schools we visited, Columbia requires all undergrads to complete a set of required classes as part of their graduation requirements. The other emphasis was the relationship Columbia had with the city of New York. The balance of the pitch was similar to other schools: need blind financial aid, lots of extra-curricular opportunities, and four years of guaranteed housing. Applicants should be very thoughtful why they want to go to Columbia in particular.

Columbia's Low Library

Columbia’s Low Library

Following the information session, Mark led our campus tour. Mark was a spectacled astro-physics and math major from a small town near Charlotte, NC. He pointed out the overseas program and other various campus landmarks Columbia offered. I did not get the impression, however, that Columbia students exuded the tribal connectedness that a Yale or Princeton seemed to foster.

We grabbed a cab to travel east towards Sandra’s Hot Bread Kitchen bakery. Diego and I enjoyed seeing real people work on real equipment to produce real food. After a sumptuous lunch, we said our goodbyes and headed south to the Guggenheim, only to discover that they were closed on Thursdays. So we hiked across Central Park and ended up spending the afternoon at the Museum of Natural History. The exhibits were sublime. Our planetarium show was both educational and relaxing, representing a break from our day of walking.

In front on Dino.

In front on Dino.

For dinner, we went to the Burger Joint at Le ParkerMeridien on 56th St. From there, we headed down to the Al Hirschfield Theater for a fabulous performance of Kinky Boots.

Friday was our last day of the college tour which we spent at NYU. We were underdressed for the cold and drizzly weather. Kaitlin was the young admissions officer emceeing the info session. It started off with a well-produced 15-minute video that stressed the global diversity of the university and its urbane setting. NYU is huge, with an undergraduate population of 21,000 students. They do guarantee four years of housing and excellent extensions abroad.

By now, we were experienced with the script and cadence of the college information session: speak about its excellent academics and unique attributes; its extra-curricular offerings; and then admissions and financial aid. NYU was no different. Unique to NYU was the need for applicants to apply to one of the ten colleges.

Tommy, a North Carolinian Sophomore in Media Studies, led our walking tour. While NYU is in the heart of Greenwich Village, most of the buildings surrounding Washington Square Park make up the NYU campus.

Having completed our last tour, Diego ranked the colleges we visited: 1. Princeton, 2. Yale, 3. NYU, 4. Brown, 5. Wesleyan, 6. Harvard, 7. Amherst, 8. Columbia, 9. Emerson. We’ll see how this list changes after we complete the West Coast swing.

After the tour, we visited the Museum of Chinese in America located in Chinatown where we saw the immigrant story of our ancestors documented on the walls. Later that evening, we headed back to the Theater District to see Bryan Cranston in a brilliant performance of LBJ in All the Way.

In summary, we are extremely glad that we took this tour. Seeing these campuses in person helped Diego visualize an East Coast college experience and encouraged him to “step up his game.”

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