Friday, June 24, 2011

A Different Brand of University

Yesterday I was very pleasantly surprised with the tour of Penn. Although I was skeptical at first, I ended up loving the campus and placing it close to the top of my list of college choices. Naturally, I was expecting similar results from our tours of Bard and Vassar. I was rather disappointed.

Bard had a large, soothing campus that attracted me to the school upon our arrival. It was downhill from here. Our small group of 6 students and one chaperone was lucky enough to have a private information session with a representative from Bard. I liked most of what I heard:
  • Bard is a very small school; they are expecting an incoming freshmen class of around 500
  • Bard provides does not have students specialize too early in their college careers, rather Bard students take a wide variety of classes in order to discover what they are passionate about.
  • Bard professors spend an inordinate amount of time meeting and developing close, lasting relationships with their students.

I had just begun to picture myself as a member of the Bard student body when the admissions rep told us “A lot of people at Bard didn’t have that many friends in high school.”

That in itself was not the end of the world but it raised the red flag that there might not be a social setting at Bard that I would enjoy; it just seemed unlikely that a friendly student body could be formed from largely less friendly students. I confirmed this in my mind when tour guide explained that on weekends students are very active in seeing each other’s performances and that Bard is a fairly isolated campus. I am all for supporting your friends and having space to think, but this was not a place I wanted to spend the best 4 years of my life.

It was tough to give Vassar a fair shout given my newly developed anti-liberal arts bias. At the information session the two schools seemed to have a lot in common: highly selective admission processes, readily available financial aid, diverse student bodies, and a variety of casual and competitive athletic opportunities. Now this is all very impressive, but almost all of the schools I have been considering also make those claims.

Also like Bard, Vassar had a beautiful, serene campus. Vassar’s most impressive trait was that of the three schools we have toured, it was the only one with tour guides brave enough to give information while walking backwards. Besides this, Vassar seemed to me to be a slightly larger version of Bard, and I was largely uninterested.

Tonight, we were lucky enough to sit down to dinner with two current Columbia students. Both of the students, Andrea and Matt sharply increased my interest in Columbia. Something that stuck out was Andrea’s seemingly comprehensive explanation of the nightlife and fitness center of Columbia. It is shocking to think that in less than a week I will have the privilege of living on the exact campus that they spoke so fondly of.


  1. Masao,

    Had you read about Bard on their website or even attended an informational session here at home, do you think you would have learned the same information you learned today?

    You're never going to learn of the negatives about a school from a site or a salesman whose purpose is to convince you that the school is the best thing since sliced bread.

    If Bard was a bad school people wouldn't be fighting to attend. As you've learned from a first hand exposure to Bard, what's good for some may not be good for others.

  2. Mark Twain felt that the hardest thing for a writer to do was to express himself with 100% honesty. He was so afraid of negative backlash in writing his autobiography that he required it not be published until 100 years after his death.
    It appears to me you are expressing yourself honestly and yet diplomatically I am glad. Will, too, did not find Bard and Vassar to be good fits for him. He craves the urban setting.
    You are entitled to your own opinions and conclusions and the decision of which college to attend will largely be yours, because this is your life. It will be interesting to see your reaction to Yale, the #2 university in the country.

    Also, I had a thought. Maybe BARD students are MORE friendly than other places, because students who did not have many friends in high school were accepted socially at Bard, feel comfortable at Bard, and have friends at Bard??? Whatever the truth is, that's another take on what the tour guide meant. It's too bad you didn't get a chance to meet some actual students and experience the student body vibe more. But also, it could be that the smaller colleges are not the best fit for you. You are acquiring valuable information. It's all good.