Posts filed under ‘political science’

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

Info Session: George Washington

George Washington University in Washington, DC, has lots to offer, both because of the town it is in and because of the college’s resources. Do all the colleges in Washington DC boast these opportunities and results, simply because they can leverage all the resources that the DC area has to offer, or is there something special about George Washington University?

Continue Reading April 3, 2009 at 8:38 am Leave a comment

Kudos for Fordham’s marketing

We just got a letter from Fordham University, one of the colleges where my daughter has been accepted, telling us to “save the date” for May 18, 2013. Huh? Oh, cute. That’s my daughter’s graduation date, should she decide to attend.

Nice job, Fordham. You got my attention and created a sense of buy-in or commitment.

(If you’re not familiar with Fordham, “The Jesuit University of New York”, it has a traditional Gothic campus in the Bronx next to the Bronx Zoo and another campus at Lincoln Center, a great law school, and – what captured my daughter’s attention – an honors major in International Political Economy. The information session that the director of admissions held here in Dallas ranks as one of our 3 most impressive info sessions….and he spoke without notes and without PowerPoints!)

January 25, 2009 at 9:26 am Leave a comment

The Selected Six

Hooray!  My daughter has completed her college applications.  The final six selections are (in alphabetical order because she still doesn’t know how to rank them in order of preference):

  1. Clark University, Worcester, MA – smallest research university in the US, appealed to her because of the college’s close ties to local government for internships and the sense that the campus is involved in social change
  2. DePaul University, Chicago, IL – she loves Chicago and they offer urban planning & environmental studies
  3. Fordham University, The Bronx, NY – their international political economy major combines all her interests
  4. Macalester College, St. Paul, MN – she felt she would “fit in” best here – perhaps influenced by the fact that Michelle Obama was speaking the afternoon of our visit
  5. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL – originally made her list when she wanted to be a journalist because they have a great journalism school (and she didn’t like Mizzou’s journalism school), but she still liked it well enough to want to go there even if she’s not going into journalism.
  6. Washington University, St. Louis, MO – strong political science program, gorgeous campus, beautiful new dorms, fun pep band (no practices required – just show up and have fun), best info session ever, and generally a great place.  Grandpa is rooting for this one because he lives at the end of the light rail line so he hopes he’ll see her regularly.

If she gets accepted by all 6, it’s going to be a tough choice!   I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed until April 1st, when the last of the acceptance or rejection letters goes out.

December 11, 2008 at 8:49 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

College Visit Report: DePaul

My daughter and I began our Midwestern college tour in Chicago, a city that both of us love.  I lived in the western suburbs and worked downtown for 3 years before we had kids.  We should have lived downtown back then, buy my original job was in the western suburbs.

We came in the summer to visit Northwestern, but now she has her eyes on DePaul University, because it offers Public Policy majors, with emphasis in either Urban Studies or Environmental Studies, both of which interest her, and an Economics major.  DePaul has also built up a significant part-time MBA program and established a campus right inside the downtown Loop, which makes sense given the number of people working in downtown Chicago.

The info session was pretty much what we have come to expect, then we split up to attend several smaller sessions led by faculty or administrators.  I went to a very sparsely attended session with an Economics professor.  They offer Economics degrees through two schools, and we basically concluded that she would be a better fit for the Economics through the College of Arts and Sciences rather than the downtown campus, which is more quantitative.  Encouragingly, the professor said her AP Economics classes were a great preparation and they give credit for both semesters.   The second session was led by a Dean who used to be an English professor, who discussed the core curriculum.  Since DePaul is a Catholic university, there are some religion/ethics/philosophy core requirements but they sound like classes that she would love to take.

The campus tour was interesting and enlightening.  At a Catholic school, I expected we’d find some dorms that were very segregated by sex.  It turns out that they aren’t, because Chicago has a law that any building with 6 or more occupants, all of whom are females, is a brothel and is therefore illegal!  The college has a few apartment-style buildings for upperclassmen.   We really turned up our noses at the dorms on the east side of the campus, bordering the athletic field, because they were pretty ugly architecturally and they have no air conditioning.  (When we moved to Chicago, we were told we didn’t need air conditioning.  Big lie.)  The other dorms, across the quadrangle from the library and main academic buildings, are very nice, although the rooms are pretty cramped.  One girl demonstrated how she can see the downtown skyline from her dorm room.  The recreation center is impressive, too.

There is some Catholic influence, though.  The Dominic’s grocery store, which is the 1st floor of a dorm building, is prohibited from selling condoms.  Wonder what the pregnancy rate is amongst students?

What has us rather leery, though, is finding out that not only is housing not guaranteed for freshmen – and how are we supposed to find an apartment and roommates and furniture when we live clear across the country – but that it is virtually non-existent for upperclassmen.  How do you build relationships with classmates when most of your classmates are “commuter” students?  The college cannot tell us what % live in apartments in the neighborhood, which would still make it more like a traditional campus, versus what percent live so far away that they drive or take public transportation to their apartments or live with their parents.  This has us both rather unsettled.    I know Lincoln Park is a great neighborhood to live in and being off campus would give her the option to take a summer job or stay during breaks, but it also means you have the whole issue of finding roommates and getting everyone to pay their share of the bill.

For such a large population of students, the campus seems very small.  Are there a lot of part-time students in their headcounts?  Are many of them attending the satellite campuses?

Aside from the Lincoln Park campus, she would also have the option of living at the Loop campus downtown.  I originally thought being in the heart of the city would appeal to her, but the classroom building was very corporate looking and didn’t feel at all like a campus, and the “on-campus” cafeteria was pretty limited.  Plus, on Sunday morning, Chicago pretty much rolls up the sidewalks.  The Lincoln Park campus seems like a much more fun place to be.

Of the schools she’s considering, DePaul accepts students with the broadest range of SAT & ACT scores.  I think DePaul only makes sense for her if she can get into the Honors program, where she would take her core classes with other Honors program kids.  Otherwise, I’m fearful that it would be somewhat like taking the “on-level” high school classes rather than being in the gifted or Advanced Placement classes.  She needs to be with other kids who think and question and challenge ideas like she does.  Plus, by being in the Honors program, she would have multiple classes with the same students, which creates more opportunities to build friendships with them.

We’re still leery about the whole housing thing, but I think DePaul might make her list.

October 11, 2008 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

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