Posts filed under ‘IL’

So You Want to Be a Doctor

Does your student really want to be a doctor?  I”m not talking about someone who wants to be McDreamy or McSteamy on Grey’s Anatomy, or whose parents want her to be a doctor for the money or the prestige, but a student who truly is ready to head down the med school track.

Several of the schools we have visited – Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University, and CalTech/UC San Diego come to mind – offer programs for students who are sure they want to go on to medical school.  Usually these are highly competitive programs in that they only admit a handful of students.

What do they offer:

  • Guaranteed admission to the university’s school of medicine (assuming grades, etc., stay up to par).  In other words, you won’t have to sweat out med school admission…assuming that’s still your med school of choice 4 years from now.
  • A little extra handholding, attention, lectures, mentoring, shadowing, or other opportunities that you might or might not get if you were not in that program.
  • At some schools (such as Northwestern), save an entire year of college, because they condense the curriculum.  This could save you $50,000.
  • Bragging rights, which might help a student get other fellowships or scholarships or research opportunities along the way.
  • The opportunity to start a longitudinal research project as an undergrad and continue work on it through med school.


  • Will a student feel locked into that medical school or not explore other options that might have been a better fit or enabled exposure to a wider variety of professors, more ways of doing things, more challenges – simply because she doesn’t want to hassle with the med school application process?
  • Worse, will a student feel pressure to become a doctor when that’s really not the best fit?  They won’t force a student to go to med school, but I suspect there would be some serious “convincing” going on if a student wanted to drop out of the program.

Note that those drawbacks are things the student can control, so they aren’t real big issues.  I was really reaching to come up with some drawbacks.

Northwestern’s program also offers the option of becoming an MD/PhD and, in general, the program is geared toward more gifted students than the general NU student body, with accelerated courses in the science curriculum.


December 10, 2009 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

To be a journalist

Early on, my daughter wanted to be a journalist, so we investigated the renowned journalism schools at the University of Missouri (Columbia) and Northwestern University (Chicago).   Then she did an internship with The Dallas Morning News, where everyone told her, “Don’t major in journalism.  Journalists are a dime a dozen.  Major in something else that will give you subject matter expertise, then look for a job in journalism or go to grad school in journalism.”  (That was before so many major city papers filed for bankruptcy, so the advice might be more negative now.)

So I thought it was interesting that the University of Chicago wrote my son about – amongst other things – their approach to journalism:

Students seeing to become influential journalists have a tremendous preparation in Chicago’s broad, deep, and rigorous liberal arts education with its emphasis on critical thinking and creative inquiry.  Students in the Chicago Careers in Journalism program represent 46 of Chicago’s 49 majors, and have received internships everywhere from The Economist to NBC’s Meet the Press to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.  Between 300 and 400 students participate in award-winning student publications every year as editors, writers, production assistants, and photographers.

Bear in mind that the University of Chicago competes directly with Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

I think that first sentence succinctly makes the case for a liberal arts education.

July 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

My son’s list

As of summer before senior year, here is my son’s short list (in alphabetical order):

  1. Carleton College, Northfield MN – the only small liberal arts college on the list.   A comfortable fit. Size-wise, Carleton is at the bottom of his preferred range.
  2. CalTech, Pasadena CA – Really small, but a fantastic school as long as he doesn’t change direction and decide he wants to major in something other than math or science.  Incredible job placement track record.
  3. Harvard College, Cambridge MA – We were more impressed than we expected.   Strong residential program makes the size manageable.   Financial aid is generous.   Boston is a plus.
  4. Northwestern University, Evanston IL – Has some special programs he wants to explore more.
  5. MIT, Cambridge MA – Like CalTech, but bigger and more widely known.  His original dream school when we started this process 4 years ago.
  6. Stanford University, Palo Alto CA – A little big for my tastes but he loves California and there are more options for majors than at CalTech.
  7. University of Chicago, Chicago IL – The intellectual’s school.   More discussion-focused.
  8. University of Oklahoma, Norman OK – Fantastic financial package for National Merit Scholars and, surprisingly, he feels comfortable at a school with 19,000 students.  Very compact beautiful campus, and he can live on an honors floor and get priority class registration rights.
  9. Yale, New Haven CT – The difference between Harvard and Yale comes down to whether he would take advantage of what Boston has to offer….like pro hockey games.

We’ve visited all of these and now he needs to do more research on their websites to see if he’s still interested in any of the special programs and happy with the course offerings….as well as to get more fodder for the question “Why do you want to attend XYZ University?”.

In case you’re wondering…

  • We never really investigated any other Ivy League schools, other than Penn, so don’t take this as a conclusion that Harvard or Yale are better than the others.
  • The schools with really lucrative merit scholarship programs generally did not appeal to him (which may be why they offer such great scholarships).
  • Originally, he was focused on MIT and CalTech, but, as time goes by, he’s seeing an advantage in leaving open his options for pursuing a non-technical major…even though that’s not what he’s interested in now.
  • My daughter is attending a college that, at one time, was on the bottom of her short list, so I’m well aware that this list could change.

July 20, 2009 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

College Visit: Univ of Chicago

Univ of ChicagoIt was pouring rain when we got to the University of Chicago, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Impressive stone architecture.   As my husband put it, with all the ivy climbing the buildings, it should be an Ivy League school.  The admissions office is in a building with huge rounded wooden doors.  A visit to the restrooms requires a hike up the stone staircase and through the famed Chicago School of Economics.  It gave me chills to think about the people whose footsteps I was following.

[If you’d like a more modern dose of U of Chicago economic thinking, read the book Freakonomics, which was started by a grad student’s research.  You’ll understand the HBO Series, The Wire, much better.]

The curriculum really impressed me:

  • U of Chicago has an incredibly low faculty to student ratio of 6:1.
  • They leverage that low ratio to focus on discussion-based classes.  After all the lecture halls we have toured elsewhere, I was so surprised at being taken into a classroom that was arranged into a circle that I walked up and down the hallway to check.  Every classroom was arranged in a circle!
  • There is a bit of the Great Books approach to learning, similar to what you’ll find at Reed College or St. John’s.  Our tour guide said that students can pretty much count on reading Marx, Aristotle,  and maybe Kant and/or Smith.  Thus, every student has a shared fundamental understanding of philosophy, ethics, and economics.   And by reading Marx, they get their biases and assumptions challenged.
  • Our tour guide talked about interesting classes, engaged professors and grad students, and being challenged to explore big picture themes like war, love & happiness.  Never before have I heard a tour guide talk about a class not wanting the semester to end!
  • I had always thought of Chicago as the brainiac school of Illinois, where the real intellectuals – the ones who love to learn and discuss and debate – study.   So does our tour guide.  So did an admissions counselor quoted in the New York Times recently.   The University of Chicago admissions counselor spoke about looking for “scholarly curiosity”.
  • As evidence that it is truly a liberal arts college and not a pre-professional place, they offered up the fact that there is no engineering program.
  • Of course, the city of Chicago is used as a resource for classes, with all the exhibits, plays, etc. that the city has to offer.
  • There are some accelerated programs (math, chemistry, & med school) and AP credit options that might allow a student to graduate almost a year early.

Drawbacks?  As my son pointed out, if the classrooms are designed to be interactive, you’d better be good at participating in discussions.   And the professors better be adept at preventing one or two people from monopolizing the conversation.

The University of Chicago offers about 12 full-tuition scholarships and 200 1/3 tuition scholarships.  To win one, you have to impress the faculty, not the admissions office.

From a residential standpoint, Chicago has “houses” like Hogwarts.  Students can dine in their house or, in the main dining hall, eat at their house table…or hang out with friends from other houses.

One advantage at Chicago is the availability of research opportunities.  The medical center is next door.   There are strong ties to physics research facilities.  This year they will open a new chemistry building that is designed to implode – after evacuation – if something goes seriously wrong…which makes you wonder what they are working with in there!

Up until now, I have been leary about sending my child to a research university.  My bias has been that an undergraduate student – particularly an introverted one – will get more opportunities and more attention from professors at a small liberal arts college.  But I’m now realizing that, at a research university, an undergrad can get to know some grad students, see what they have to do, and get a sense for whether that is a path he or she wants to take.

By the way, CalTech and University of Chicago consistently send out the most interesting direct mail pieces – at least as far as this nerd is concerned.

July 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

College Visit: Northwestern University

My husband describes Northwestern University as the biggest medium-sized college he’s ever seen.  It seemed like we walked for miles and still didn’t see half the campus.  The sciences are primarily in a complex called the Technology Institute, which has an incredible 17 miles of corridors.  (Guys, you’d better learn to ask directions if you want to arrive at class on time.)

My son is intrigued by some of the accelerated programs (HPME for medicine, Integrated Science Program, MENU for accelerated math).  Be careful about choosing NU for these special programs.  Not only are they very limited in numbers but some are incompatible with each other or other programs.  For example, engineers can’t be in MENU, yet those who want the Kellogg certificate (the only business-oriented option for undergrads) MUST be in MENU.

Engineers: take note of Northwestern’s innovative approach.  Freshmen tackle a real-world problem as teams.  At places like Harvey Mudd, these hands-on projects are done as seniors.  Northwestern wants to give freshmen a good feel for whether engineering is really for them. NU also offers engineers a one-year (handsomely) paid internship program called Co-op, that often results in an employment offer.

My daughter originally was interested in Northwestern because of its journalism program, but ended up deciding that she didn’t want to attend there unless she was going to major in journalism.  After interning with a newspaper, she decided journalism wasn’t for her.  Now here we are again…my son thinks he’s only interested in NU if he decides he wants to be in one of their special programs.

July 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm 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: 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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