Posts filed under ‘foreign languages’

College Visit: Yale

In our tour group at Harvard were two families who raved about the Yale information session they attended the previous day, saying that Harvard’s just didn’t measure up.  I wish I new what they liked at Yale, because our information session at Yale was decidedly slow-moving and low key.  Still, we saw enough good things that my son is very interested in Yale.

Prime studying spot at Yale Library

A prime studying spot at Yale Library

Residentially, Yale is similar to Harvard, except that (a) legacies can choose to live in their parents’ houses and (b) freshmen are randomly assigned to a house before they arrive on campus, even though they won’t live in that house until sophomore year.  During freshmen year, they are in dorms but with other members of their house.  Advantage: quickly bond with one’s house.  Disadvantage: no bonding with people who are NOT in your house.   Hence, if you want to network with an alum, it needs to be someone who graduated from your house, not just someone from Yale.

Why random housing assignments?  Yale believes that economic diversity is more important than race or ethnicity.

Academically, Yale & Harvard are similar.  Low faculty: student ratio (7:1) .  Science major have an option to earn a B.S. and M.S. in 4 years.   But they also have some differences:

  • A global education is a hot button for Yale.  About 65% study abroad and there is talk of requiring overseas study for everyone.   They even facilitate scientific research abroad (e.g., China).   You can’t test out of the foreign language requirement based upon what you did in high school but you can fulfill it by studying overseas.
  • Double majors are frowned upon as sacrificing exploration of interests but 30% pursue them.
  • Students get two weeks to “shop” classes before they have to lock in their schedule.

Students who have participated in scientific research projects in high school (particularly the juried science competitions like Intel and Siemens) can apply for a special seminar class that surveys all the science topics of Yale’s top professors.  It’s a great way for an undecided science major to get exposure to many areas and professors.  Students in the seminar are expected to spend the spring working on summer research grant proposals.  But beware:  only 70-75 of 220 applicants are accepted into this program and you must have real research experience to get accepted, so connect with a local teaching  hospital or research university by junior year in high school.

Yale now has a calculator on their website so you can estimate what financial aid you will get.  (In 3 years, all schools will have to offer estimates or calculators.)  For middle class parents (incomes between $60,000 and $200,000), Yale is very generous.


July 15, 2009 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

College Visit: McGill University

Montreal Convention CtrIf you can’t qualify for either financial aid or merit aid, there is still a way to get a world-renowned brand-name education at half the price of a private U.S. college.  And, for extra measure, it offers immersion in another language in daily living, but English-language classes.

McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, is generally viewed as the best university in Canada and The Times ranks it as one of the top 12 colleges in the world.  A popular T-shirt reads “Harvard: the McGill University of the USA”.

Because Canadians believe that every student is entitled to post-secondary education and because it is a public university, tuition, room & board is more reasonable than the top schools in the U.S., running from $23,000 to $32,000 for “international” (including American) freshmen living off campus, and less for upperclassmen.  That’s in Canadian dollars, and right now the US dollar buys about $1.15 Canadian, so that’s like getting a 13% discount off the stated tuition.

Admission is based more on grades and test scores and less on extra-curriculars than in the U.S., or perhaps it would be appropriate to say it is more like applying to a public university in the U.S.

For a student interested in foreign languages (particularly French), or international studies or comparative government, McGill offers a different perspective without living on another continent.  About 18% of the students are francophone.  We heard conversations on campus alternate from English to French.

For a student interested in a pre-med track, McGill has relationships with 7 hospitals.  In fact, a neurological institute and birthing center are practically sandwiched between the dorms and the academic buildings.

Montreal is a beautiful, exciting, bike-and-pedestrian friendly city.  The university is tucked between downtown and a large park at Mont Royal, so it has the advantages of both convenience and green space.

Still, with all that going for it, we walked away with the impression that the education and experience would be inferior to what a student can expect at a top U.S. college:

  • Class sizes even for upperclassmen run about 30 students.
  • The university only has housing for 2200 of 24,000 undergraduates, so only some of the freshmen can live “on-campus”.  One of those dorms is 4 metro stops away.  Another is about 5 blocks from campus.  Since the university estimates that living off campus saves $5000/year, there is a big incentive to move off-campus.
  • When the preponderance of students don’t live on campus, they are less involved in extracurriculars on campus.  McGill has 150 clubs….a lower number than some U.S. liberal arts colleges with 1/10th as many students.
  • The cheapest dorms are old cinderblock buildings with tiny single rooms, which we found less appealing than dorms at Texas State University or NW Oklahoma State.
  • Two students described McGill students as “independent, or at least they become independent after coming here”.  That may be a function of a university with large classes, little housing and few clubs…you have to find and create your own opportunities.

Maybe a better way of looking at it is that McGill offers some interesting twists on a typical U.S. public university education.

July 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment

Info Session: 2 Ivies + 3 nearly Ivies

5 colleges are hosting the “Exploring College Options” college tour this spring: Duke, Georgetown, Penn, Harvard & Stanford. My son and I attended the presentations in Dallas. Afterwards, we concluded that he was still interested in Harvard and Stanford, admittedly in large part because of their reputation and financial aid offers (plus the California sunshine), but the presentations didn’t get him to add any new colleges to his list or provide any more compelling information about Harvard or Stanford that he didn’t already know, perhaps because they really did not address any majors that are of interest to him.

Here are the key points they covered in their 10-15 minutes presentations:

Continue Reading May 15, 2009 at 12:52 pm Leave a comment

SAT subject test strategies

To partially answer my own question…

  • Students should take the foreign language SAT subject tests after completing 3 years of language classes.  Don’t wait until finishing the AP course.  The subject tests cover grammar, not the literature that is the focus of the AP classes.
  • Math students should take the SAT subject tests after completing algebra, geometry, and trigonometry / pre-calculus.  It doesn’t cover calculus, so don’t wait to take it until you’ve taken calculus, as you might forget some of the material that is on the test.

(From a book I browsed while waiting to talk to the high school counselor.  Sorry, I didn’t write down the title.)

February 25, 2009 at 7:07 pm Leave a comment

AP success rates

The Advanced Placement tests with the highest scores generally fall into two categories: foreign languages and math/science.

1. Students who have been exposed to a foreign language at home or by spending extensive time overseas should consider taking the AP exam in that language. The percentage of such students earning a top score of 4 or 5 on the AP exam are 94% in Chinese, 56% in Japanese, and 50% in Spanish. Students do not have to take a class in the language before sitting for the AP exam.

2. The other courses in the top ten are Calculus (61% earn a 4 or 5), Computer Science AB (58%), Physics C (58% for E&M and 53% for Mechanics), French Literature (48%), and Psychology (47%).  If you’re trying to decide which AP courses your student should take, you might want to consider the passing rates.

(Although a 3 is considered passing, most selective colleges only give credit for AP scores of 4 or 5. )

The complete list of AP grade distributions can be found here.

January 5, 2009 at 9:02 pm Leave a comment

College Visit Report: Macalester

Stroke of luck (or genius):  The evening before we attended Macalester College‘s Fall Sampler Day, I read about some beautiful homes on Grand and Summit Avenues, and convinced my daughter that we should go oogle the vintage homes before going to dinner.  Turns out these two georgeous streets back up to Macalester’s campus, so she was already in love with the neighborhood and picking out the home she wanted to buy before we ever set foot on the campus.

There were several things that conspired to make her feel at home at Macalester.  First, it was fall, with gorgeous colorful deciduous trees in a light rain… and she loves rain.  Secondly, the info session was in a room that felt like a treehouse, with the Admissions Director just fielding off-the-cuff questions from a dozen parents and students…a very intimate setting.  Then she read the list of clubs, and was thrilled that Macalester had not just an economics club but a Women in Economics club, plus a Pro-Choice club.  (She feels the Catholics in our town stifle any dissent on the abortion issue and that the high school is complicit.)  Our guided tour began in a chapel where they had a large display of stoles belonging to or embroidered in memory of gay and lesbian ministers, a subject that our home church tiptoes around.  Michelle Obama was coming to campaign at Macalester that afternoon.  All these things made her feel very confident that Macalester is a place that will welcome her liberal opinions and that encourages dialogue.

Other than places like Northwestern University that seem to have 20 restaurants on campus, this was probably the nicest cafeteria we visited, with an Italian line, a Mexican line, a vegan line, etc. etc.  Lots of choices and great tasting, too. Clean, bright, big windows.  Clearly a nice place to be three times a day.

While she attended a class, I went to the career center, where I was impressed how organized they were and how many internships they had lined up in the area for students.

Being in the state capital, Macalester could also be a great place for someone who is interested in politics or in working for a non-profit involved in advocacy.   It also has a real global perspective.   How many colleges have you visited that fly the United Nations flag?  A large number of students study abroad.  Isn’t it interesting…the smaller places, the ones less stuck on themselves, seem to be much more aware of the rest of the world.   (For example, the best camps to learn a foreign language are run by Concordia College in northwestern Minnesota!  Who’d have thunk?)

She’s still a little leery about being in such a residential area.  I think if we could move Macalester to Chicago, it could be on the top of her list.  Right now, I think it’s squarely on the list.

Makes me happy.  I like those Midwestern values.  You bet.

October 13, 2008 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

Insights and advice from a parent of two gifted teenagers



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