Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Learn What College Fits For You

I have always been fascinated with liberal arts colleges. Ever since I learned about Sarah Lawrence from one of my favourite books (if you can guess what it is, please do), the idea of the small research-based community has appealed to me. Many liberal arts colleges are reputed to be incredibly flexible and tight-knit, which I felt fit me immensely.

That is why when we arrived in Poughkeepsie to visit Vassar, I was actually rather excited. I was still nursing a slight headache from the rushed morning, but I was excited. I would finally get to see a top liberal arts college and ascertain whether it was a good fit for me.

The weather was misty and humid, with the scent of petrichor permeating through all of Poughkeepsie. There were dark brick buildings scattered everywhere. The weather and the construction echoed Ithaca to me, the addition of the Hudson River in the area only added to the scene.
The Vassar Chemistry Department.
The central Vassar class hall.
Glass windows that adorn the Thompson Memorial Library.
The frontal facade of a Vassar residential hall.
We toured the campus, taking note of it's uniqueness and the small amount of land it actually had. It is a very small campus, and the student population was apparently only 2400. There were no graduate students and there were no programs for them anyways -- Vassar was dedicated to being just a college. This allowed students to get to know their professors intimately, as well as provided a strong sense of community between the small population. It was practically everything that a big university would not necessarily have. There was no core -- only three classes were required and students were even allowed to create their own majors. This allowed the school to supposedly make up for the small amount of majors that actually are offered. A lot of the administrative decisions were made by student-run governments, and even most of the theatre productions were small 

Once the tour was over, we made our way to the theatre and attended an information session with one of the many admissions officers at Vassar. She covered the application process from top to bottom, from the necessary scores (they ask to send in cumulative scores) to the two Vassar supplements -- the motivation form and the 'Your Space' submission, a submission that can be anything as so long as it is representative of a person.

After the Vassar visit, we shuttled ourselves back to New York City, where Ms. Kronenberg accompanied us for a walk around Battery Park City, Wall Street, and the World Trade Center. We saw the Statue of Liberty from a distance, mingled with the disparate members of Occupy Wall Street, and reflected on the September 11 attacks at the 9/11 memorial.
The Staten Island Ferry terminal at Battery Park.
Looking to the sea from Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance.
Wall Street in full force during the day.
The new 1 World Trade Center under construction.
The South Reflecting Pool at the 9/11 Memorial.
To cap off the day, we spent some time at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant at the London. There, we met with several Vassar alums (and one student) to speak about the school. They related stories of how every student knew their professors' love lives, the reasons for choosing Vassar (which was usually because of the fellowship in the community and the small class sizes), and most importantly, gave us general advice about college and senior year, urging us to enjoy it as soon as college applications were done.
My dessert, a mango parfait.
Despite all the perks Vassar seems to have, I couldn't see myself attending classes there. The campus was simply too small, and discounting the possibility that the community might be more friendly or that the professors would pay more attention, I just knew that it wasn't the right fit for me. I needed the hustle and bustle of a mass of people, the ability to access any part of civilization on a whim.

I couldn't have reached any of these conclusions without having taken the chance to visit Vassar and speak with some of their great students. I am sure that it is a beautiful campus, and that the college itself is marvelous for those who are attuned to it.

For now, at least I know I can look elsewhere for that right fit.

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