Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Haven Adventure

In our final day of college tours before we begin our classes at Columbia, our cohort arrived at New Haven, Connecticut to tour Yale University. Admittedly I didn't have much prior knowledge about Yale besides that it was an Ivy League institution and was rivals with Harvard. Prior to our tour I always pictured New Haven as a sleepy town with nothing but Yale, which really wasn't the college environment what I’m looking for. I always thought that I would want to study at an urban or suburban environment rather than a rural town. I was pleasantly surprised to find that New Haven was more than a sleepy college town in the middle of nowhere, it was a nice combination of New York City and Bard College, and it is such a historical city. Just on the walk to lunch we passed several historical buildings in addition to a green where French troops from the Revolutionary War camped on their way to Yorktown.
Yale library designed as a church.
Residence College
"I regret I have but one life to give for my country."

I found the tour very interesting because it was unorthodox. The first part o the tour was unique in that Yale showed us a 15 minute video about Yale students and why they chose Yale. However, the video was more than a boring list of reasons, what made it interesting was that the video was done in song – almost like something one would expect on a show like Glee. I found it more than just an interesting video because it showed that Yale took that time to make a creative way to attract prospective students. It showed that they truly cared about new students.

Another interesting part of our visit was the tour itself because it was geared towards one who was interested in the history of the both Yale and New Haven instead of how to get admitted to Yale. I was shocked to learn that while some buildings were genuinely old, others were built in the 1900s and appeared as if it was made in the 1600-1700s. How did the architect achieve the old look? Well, according to our tour guide, the architect poured acid down the walls and chipped Y’s into the windows. However, the most interesting story regarded the tiles on the roof. Apparently he put up brand new tiles and decided they weren't providing the look he wanted so he had all the tiles token down, hand chipped each tile, and put the tiles back up…only to take it back down for the same reason as the first time. In order to achieve the old look he wanted he buried the tiles underground for eight years before finally putting them back on the roof, for good.

Entrance to Yale
WWII Memorial
Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts
View from the Yale WWII Memorial


After our tour, we took the Amtrak for the last time and headed back to get ready for dinner with two UPENN alumni, Carlin and Ben, Anne Moss and My Luu. Ben offered insight into what made UPENN such a great school, stressing the relationship that students develop with their advisor. My Luu and Anne Moss told us that while grades and scores were important, it was key to understand that everyone applying has the scores and grades. Both told us to make sure that we portrayed what makes us unique. All in all, I believe that this was the most interesting dinner.

The Ivy League Aura

Ivy League schools have a different presence that can be felt after one step onto their campuses. Whereas Bard, Cal, Vassar, Stanford and other top institutions all provide their students with exceptional schooling and opportunity, they lack the vibe that can be immediately felt at Yale and the other Ivy League schools. But before I get to the story of the tour, I should clarify any confusion surrounding our controversial lunch order.

It was delicious.

Now to the tour, Yale has a tranquil courtyard with an overabundance of history inside.

According to our guide, The College of Connecticut changed its name to Yale to sap more contributions from an already generous donor. Before the donor got word of the name change, he died on a ship. Unfortunately, he left 500 pounds, an incredible amount of money in the early 1700’s to The College of Connecticut and Yale never saw the money. (They have weathered the storm nonetheless; today Yale has the world’s second largest endowment to Harvard.)

The tour guide also to us took us to a statue of Nathan Hill, our nation’s first and worst spy. Hill drank too much and confessed to a British Officer that he was a spy on his first night on the job. Hill then authored the quote “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.” Allegedly, after being denied permission to have a copy of Yale’s statue, they snuck in at night and copied it without Yale’s knowledge. Yale got the last laugh however, because the statue was not actually of Hill. There was no record of what he looked like so Yale just based the statue off of their “most patriotic student” in the class of 1914.

Then we made our way to an artificially aged dorm, erected in the 1920's but made to look centuries older. Yale also has programs where students can sign up to see a variety of shows in New York City for free. They have the 2nd largest library of an academic institution, 2nd to Harvard. As a whole, touring Yale was a fantastic experience and I look forward to learning more and ultimately applying to this fine university.

A Day in New Haven

So today was our Yale adventure.

It began a little later than the last two days, with a 7 AM start as opposed to 6 or even, on Wednesday, 5 in the morning. Tomorrow involves no trains so we do not have to leave until 10:30, which will be a great opportunity to catch up on the massive amount of sleep I've missed the past few days. We've all become quite the veterans of Amtrak, I can tell you.

A duo of taxis took us from the train station in New Haven to Yale's visitor center, where we checked in for our tour at 1:30 PM and went off to get lunch in the city. I've heard that joke before (“How many Yalies does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None, New Haven looks better in the dark.) about New Haven being not the nicest college city ever, but I found that to be not the case at all. The area where Yale was had some great buildings and a very lively atmosphere, as well as a very large park that spanned the area outside the visitors center; as we walked past it on our way to a pizza lunch we noticed an outdoor festival being set up. Lunch was yummy and, well, eventful. Because the place we ate was so popular, we had to sit and separate tables, and somehow it worked out that Mrs. L, Milani, Beilul, and I sat at one table while the three boys sat at another. The four of us girls ordered a medium pizza to share, which was plenty, but the boys (being, well, boys) had ordered a large with every single meat topping on it (even shrimp!) that had just come out of the oven by the time we were finished with our smaller pizza and were in the midst of paying the bill. Because of the late hour, Will, Eric, and Masao had to pack up their pizza to go, and ate much of it on the way back to Yale for the tour.

The tour at Yale was very different from the previous tours we had attended, as it was a historic tour not specifically designed for prospective students but more for anyone generally interested in Yale's history as a university. It opened with a video, which I only caught glimpses of as the room was incredibly packed and I was content to let more committed potential Yalies get a front-row seat. Our tour guide was more than willing to answer any specific questions we had about student life and other such questions, but was full of interesting and quirky facts about the University, such as the rubbing of the toe of a statue while dashing to a final or that the cobblestones in one specific courtyard came all the way to New Haven from Ireland. The Yale campus is exquisitely beautiful, with stately gothic building and central courtyards for each dorm, which they call residential colleges there. The atmosphere there is a little intimidating, frankly; it feels more like a museum or even a wealthy estate than a home for four years. I understand the attraction and pull Yale has on most students, but I think their graduate programs, such as their law school or their extensive graduate theatre program, would be more worth my effort later than attempting to be in that 5% of applicants who get accepted into the undergraduate schools; once I am more focused and knowledgeable about what I really want to do with my life, I think then would be a better time to attend academically rigorous and prestigious schools such as Yale.

After the train took us back to New York and we all said goodbye to Penn station for the rest of the trip (we hope), it was time for dinner at a delicious seafood restaurant with two Penn alums and two Yale alums. I had invited the Yale alums to the dinner, President of the New York Yale Alumni Associate My Luu as well as fellow Yalie Anne Moss, but because of the way the table was oriented I ended up sitting next to recent Penn alum Carlin Yuen, who was incredibly engaging to talk to, be it answering questions about Penn or discussing the delicious food or sharing anecdotes to make the other laugh. He was very helpful, and I know that my interest in the University of Pennsylvania has definitely been piqued thanks to him. Additionally there was another Penn alum named Ben, who graciously offered to take all six of us out to a museum after he said he wished he was teaching a whole class full of students like us, high praise from a (according to Carlin) spoken word poetry genius capable of moving audiences to tears while speaking about his difficult upbringing. Towards the end of the evening, conversation moved from smaller discussions spread about the table to one larger discussion about what Yale and other schools are looking for on the application; both My and Anne were very adamant that uniqueness is an important factor and that conveying a sense of personality through your essays is important (this is advice we have heard from all the schools we have visited), while Ben added that, while uniqueness was indeed important, showing yourself as a match for the school you are applying to is something that will make the admissions officers confident that you will do well at their university. Everyone left the restaurant in good spirits, with great conversation and delicious food making it quite the splendid evening for all.

A New Perspective of New Haven

Yale is magnificent. I was in awe of the beautiful architecture and the amazing history of the campus. The tour began with an entertaining admissions video about Yale entitled, “That's Why I Chose Yale.” The video was very well produced and gave a great overview of the college experience Yale offers.
The tour of Yale included much of the history of the institution such as the fact that Yale graduate Nathan Hale was the first (and worst) spy in American history, a Yale football coach invented modern American football and the architect that created many of Yale’s buildings poured acid on the walls to make them look older.
Yale is known to be one of the best institutions in the world – and it showed. The city of New Haven was quite nice to walk around in and boasts the largest number of restaurants per square mile of any city in the US.
Our dinner at Milo’s tonight was spectacular. Our guests, including two University of Pennsylvania and two Yale University alums, were incredibly engaging. My Luu, a Yale graduate and president of the Yale Alumni Association in New York City, spoke a lot about her experience at Yale and the reasons why she loved her alma mater. She stressed the importance of presenting an application that differentiated you from the thousands of other students applying and recommended applying to a limited number of schools (3-5) in order to turn in a high quality application.
Ben, a graduate from Penn and a Teach for America teacher, was also very engaging. He is also from Northern California. He advised us to consider having a theme for our college application. Ben has been working as a high school teacher in the Bronx and is going to leave in a month or two for South Africa. He is a Fulbright Scholar who plans to work in a university in South Africa and research how education works in a country that has about 7 official languages. I thought the premise of his research was incredibly interesting and I am curious to hear what he finds.

Just the Beginning

For God, for country, and for Yale
Tonight's blog is definitely worth reading. I guarantee.

My opinions of Yale before visiting were very certain. Yale is not the college for me. It is too old and way too uptight for me. These were just opinions of course. Yes, I was so wrong it wasn’t even funny. I am thankful I got to visit Yale because I would have missed out on an opportunity.
Not only is Yale the number one school in the nation, it is in my opinion also one of the most beautiful. Its architecture is amazing! It was home of the first American spy Nathan Hale and probably one of the most historic colleges out there. It is so rich in history and culture.

Before you read more, I would recommend going watching this video. If you are not convinced that Yale is the school for you, then I can’t imagine what you’re looking for in the school.

For me, this video set the school over the edge as far as tours. It was a catchy but truthful video on what Yale is all about. I mean, if you’re already having fun before you actually get accepted and attend, you’re in for a whole load of fun when you actually become a student.

The most memorable parts of the campus for me were the Church of Knowledge and the Beinnecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Museum. The Church of Knowledge is actually a library that looks like a really old cathedral like on the outside and even a little on the inside. That was the best architecture I saw on campus. The Museum we walked through on the tour was breath taking. It has over 1.5 million rare books and original manuscripts. You can actually read the books and look at them, when they’re taken outside of the glass surrounding the entire library of course. Can you imagine writing a report using the resources from that library?!
Rare books and manuscripts
Church of Knowledge
Yale definitely proved my first opinions wrong. I was a little harsh on liberal arts schools, but with Yale being one of them I had to change my mind. At first I wasn’t considering applying to the college because of the fact that the acceptance rate is 9%, but now that I got to feel the atmosphere and see the college I might just change my mind. Who knows? They say that first impressions are everything. Yale definitely can make a good first impression!

Dinner followed with 2 alums from UPENN and 2 alums from Yale. I sat closest to My Luu, a Yale graduate, and Carlin, a UPENN graduate. My Luu is probably one of the people I will remember in my life, not meaning to sound sarcastic or anything. She was so passionate about Yale and everything it had to offer it was amazing. She is president of the alum association in New York and told me about all of the networking opportunities that Yale has to offer its students and alums. It almost felt like everyone went to Yale and that they were all one connected group. She encouraged us to make sure we have something to set ourselves apart when applying. The more original and unique you can be the better chance you have of being accepted.

My Luu also encouraged us that if we were interested in applying to Yale and if we really really really wanted to go there, to apply early decision. It is not binding, but you can only apply early decision to Yale if you chose to apply early. Most students get accepted that way because Yale looks at those applicants as people who really want to go to Yale and have their school as their number one choice. The acceptance rate is about 20%.

For me what stood out the most about Yale was the fact that the two alums would reminisce about their college experience and get excited over it. It was like they were ecstatic that they were alums and they were proud. I felt the pride in themselves that I could almost feel in myself if I were to go there. My Luu told us all to aim high, there’s no harm in aiming high. We must go after what we want, but play it safe at the same time, meaning don’t just apply to colleges that have a less that 10% acceptance rate.

The two alums from UPENN, Carlin and Ben, were awesome. I didn’t get to talk to them as much as I would have liked, but they told us that when dealing with admissions, to just take your time and keep doing what we’re doing. We’re already amazing students for being able to participate in this program so the main thing is to just keep strong through senior year. Ben offered to hang out with us when we had free time and take us to museums or sightseeing. We will definitely take that offer.

Two strange things happened to me tonight that I will never forget. NEVER.

When I was coming out of the bathroom, a woman that worked at Milos approached me and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I replied yes and she asked me what all the people at the table and I were there for. I explained the situation about the ILC and her mouth dropped. She couldn’t believe that we were given the opportunity to do that. She went on to say that she wished her daughter, who is 7 years old, would be offered an opportunity like mine. She wished me luck and reassured me that I would become successful.

This moment, I can relive it over and over again. For an outsider to be able to notice that something unique was going on means that the ILC is making a difference and is grabbing not only the attention of admissions officers and students, but also of the public. Even if they don’t know what we’re about something is unique that draws attention to ourselves.

I was about to leave the table when the table behind me asked me where we all worked. I replied, “Sorry, we don’t work. We’re high school students.” They looked at me for a while like they were confused and asked what we were doing there. I responded by telling them we were part of the ILC and what we were doing in New York City. Again, they responded with an astonished look. They told me I had the experience of a lifetime. I told them I wanted to be an engineer, and one of them simply said, “You’re on the right track, you’ll be great one day.”

Now, I don’t know if they were being overly nice or something, but to me, that meant a lot. Again, twice in one night people noticed something was different with our group.

Tonight made me realize how lucky I really am to be in a program like this. Not everyone has this chance and for people to notice what work is being done is amazing. Everyone (all of the alums and even some people in the restaurant) agreed that they wished they have the chance that we have. Tonight has been the best night in NYC so far, just because of those two groups acknowledging our group. This is just the first step.

I Never Really Liked the Idea...

...of a school such as Yale University, which is wholly ironic given my keen, if ignorant, interest in Columbia. Yale University is prestigious, which is not the problem. It is the #2 ranked university (generally speaking) in the country. Again, that is not the issue; Columbia is arguably ranked #3 in the nation, at that. I just always thought that these schools, of which I would associate the likes of Harvard and Princeton, had a sort-of superior, haughty nature to them—an atmosphere of arrogance.

But, I was pleasantly surprised, and coincidentally convinced that Yale University is not of that stereotype. I loved it, and as much as I really hate going back on my previous notions, I'm definitely applying. The university is astounding for multiple reasons, and it had me in shock at first, which probably amplified things.

First, the university was considerably urban—this is what attracted my immediate focus and appealed to me sharply. I honestly thought it was desolate and isolated. And, I am ecstatic that it is, in fact, integrated in that sense.

Following that immediate realization, I was able to seriously take in what was educating me in regards to the campus and school. And, I am impressed. What made the school so unique was its sense of tradition and timelessness. No other school has provided me with such an extensive and entertaining background on the school itself. There's a mood of unity because identity is the first thing you’re provided at Yale University. The name speaks volumes, and the students speak even louder. They have a home and they are aware of it. And, that, blog reader, is a ridiculously persuasive aspect. The indirect rhetoric even coerced me into buying a sweatshirt. Luckily, it doubles for my high school, 2012 class color, so I have a back-up explanation if my relationship with the Yalies goes south.

That, however, was not the most impressive college epiphany of the night. After leaving New Haven and arriving in New York again, we quickly changed and met both Yale and U. Penn. alumni for dinner at Milo's. It's a seafood eatery (and it doubles as a wallet eatery).

I gravitated toward the U. Penn. alumnus to my left, with fair game as a Yale alumnus was situated to my right. And, this is especially astounding given my shear awe at Yale and in regards to the complete, mental 180 turn in my collegiate relationship with Yale.

The U. Penn alum to my left had just finished his commitment to Teach for America (TFA), a program I hope to pursue, actually, and he graduated with the class of 2009. Given my extensive tour at U. Penn already, in addition to the lunch meeting with an outreach and admissions officer of the school, I had a great idea of the school. But, this time around, I was more excited. Because, with such information already available, the conversation was not necessarily an information session, but, well, a conversation. We discussed, debated, and really delved deep into our lobes to explore the core of the university. And, after such discussion, I am disappointed.

I can't believe U. Penn is now challenging my top-choice university for three years running—Columbia University. I am not gullible, and I do not try to embrace naivety, but after two meals and a couple of hours around the campus, my mind has genuinely settled permanently and comfortably with U. Penn. I cannot wait for tomorrow (our orientation to Columbia University). I need—I absolutely need to hear from Columbia University. The thought of my mind changing is both exciting and frightening, but I feel like I haven't given my top-choice a fair shot yet.

What allowed me to form such potent conclusions revolving around the University of Pennsylvania was its unique atmosphere. At U. Penn, from what I gathered, you have both the rigor and respect of an Ivy League university and the social availability and vivacious mood of a California U.C., for instance. It's just astounding—the genius tangential blending of the best of both university worlds. U. Penn is incredible, and I cannot wait to apply, even at the risk of Columbia University.

Don't get me wrong; I have full faith in Columbia securing that top spot. And, I'll be giving the E.D. decision to Columbia either way, I'm sure. U. Penn isn't nearly as selective, not to imply that it is easy—that is not the case. But, in comparison to the #3 national university, it's simple.

But, sometimes simple is the best way to go. I'll be able to elaborate on this more by the end of tomorrow, after my first experience at Columbia. I never really liked the idea of Columbia being outdone, but the thought is impressive in itself. There is attraction within the concept, and that's one of the things I just so happen to looking for.

A Trip Up the Hudson

Well, today was definitely one of the action-packed days the Ivy League Connection had promised us back in California. Visits to Bard and Vassar Colleges, with a short visit to FDR's historic family grounds fitting between them, made the day interesting, while good food and company with two current Columbia students helped to finish off the schedule that was simultaneously grueling and engaging.

First up was Bard. Because of the nature of the train transit times and the relatively early hour of Bard College's tours and information sessions, I was up shortly after 5 AM, which was particularly difficult thanks to a scant four hours sleep as well as to my body clock being convinced that it was really 2 in the morning. Even with a hearty (and very large) cup of coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other, I felt barely awake as we navigated Penn station in the early morn, catching the 90 minute train that would take us up the Hudson to our station near Bard. The view was gorgeous even though the sky was overcast, though I must admit that my eyes were closed for much of the trip. When we arrived at the station at Rhinebeck, a very talkative driver met us and ferried us to Bard College. I must say, the drive up to the college is utterly spectacular. The scenery is beautiful. Everything is so very green! Especially since, in the early morning, tendrils of silvery fog crept between every tree as a soft mist smudged edges into oblivion, and more than a few ferns proudly wore a string of dewdrop pearls on their fronds. Incredible. Bard itself seemed a very different school from any I had previously looked at; during the information session, our spokeswoman focused very much on how much support the students have from the faculty and described how Bard as a liberal arts college offered a very diverse education for any who looked for one, as well as telling us of Bard's interesting practices of moderating instead of declaring a major, meaning that each student has a meeting with a few of their professors as a sophomore or occasionally junior and essentially has to defend their choice of majors and show some outline of their plan for the next few years at Bard. The campus itself was very rural and covered a huge expanse of space; I'm not sure I could live in a place where, standing outside one building, you can see the faint outline of another in the distance and no closer. There was so much empty space, and because of the lack of students and the dampening effect of the fog on sound, the campus seemed vaguely eerie in the silence. Our tour-guide (a student of psychology, one of Bard's most popular majors) had a wonderfully dry sense of humour, which was a refreshing change from the incessantly up-beat tour guides we had previously met. She was frank and honest about the school, answering our questions when we had them, even if the answers did not cast Bard in the greatest of lights; for instance, she was very open about the fact that the school is very expensive for middle-class students who do not benefit from low-income scholarships but still have to pay Bard's full tuition.

Then came our brief but informative visit to the Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidential Library and Museum, where we saw the beautiful acres where FDR spent his years as a boy. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to take a proper tour and fully enjoy the park, but we attached ourselves to a small tour group and learned a few fact about our famous president's formative years in an aristocratic background, as well as stopping off at his grave at the rose garden to pay our respects.

Next came Vassar, which to me seems like a brilliant school. To be perfectly frank, it had most (but not quite all) of the qualities that attracted me to Bard in my initial college searching but had very few of its drawbacks; for instance, Bard and Vassar are both liberal arts schools with a desire to encourage breadth of knowledge in their students, but Vassar had much of the quiet charm that Bard had while being closer to a larger and more busy city as well as a much more traditionally collegic campus, although from my limited research it appears that Bard has a more well-developed psychology program. Our student guide for Vassar reminded me very much of a few friends at home, and like to bard guide, seemed very honest about the shortcomings of Vassar while still showing his love for the school. Particularly attractive to me about Vassar was their study-abroad programs during the year that students could receive college credit for, one of which is set in Morocco, a country I desperately want to visit and who knows, perhaps live in.

Our dinner was wonderful; China Grill had an exquisite duck salad, and the two Columbia students who joined us there were more than happy to fill us in on the atmosphere at Columbia while sharing a meal, though I'm going to defer a verdict until I actually set eyes on the campus and live there for a while.