Chasing the Clean Sweep: Yale University

For students wanting an undergraduate experience that embodies the intimacy achieved at smaller schools like Dartmouth and Princeton without dealing with the “bubble” effect of being located on a small campus, Yale offers the perfect solution. Resting at a comfortable 11,300 students, of which 5,500 are undergrads, Yale has the offerings of a large university with a dedication to undergrads usually exclusive to schools half its size. While most introductory courses are done in a larger lecture hall, professors make an effort to be accessible to every student, and lectures are not led by graduate students like they are at other large Ivies. However, graduate students are utilized in small discussion sections meant to complement larger lectures, breaking down the concepts addressed in lecture in a more open setting that encourages inquiry.

Of course, no discussion about Yale is complete without addressing residential life, both on and off campus. Harvard, Columbia, UPenn, and Brown enjoy easy access to the largest cities in the Northeast; Princeton is located in a chic, safe town; and Dartmouth and Cornell are surrounded with awe-inspiring natural beauty. Yale is located in New Haven, a small city in Connecticut traditionally known for having some rough neighborhoods. This means that the gates blocking Yale’s campus from the rest of New Haven are more than decorative wrought-iron. New Haven is steadily improving and the area surrounding Yale has a college town feel. Students can of course venture further out into the city, but with many feeling uncomfortable with doing so, most of student activity takes place on-campus. Accordingly, Yale has given students reasons to love being on-campus, creating communities called “houses” that both act as social hubs and foster a feeling of comradery some describe as “family-like” between housemates. The entire campus has 12 houses, each with its own library and dining hall. However, your keycard only gives you access to your house, so while Yale breaks down the large campus for intimacy it also somewhat isolates the student body by the House system.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Princeton University

Long-term US News ranking favorite, Princeton is a small school with a low acceptance rate, a laundry list of accomplished alumni, and an enormous endowment. Princeton, on the surface, combines some of best qualities found in other Ivies to create a campus uniquely its own. By offering students world class faculty and copious amounts of endowment money, Princeton is similar Harvard in terms of research quality, with most professors regularly leading ground-breaking efforts in their disciplines. Its small size rings similar to that of Dartmouth, allowing the school to prioritize discussion-based courses and strong student-professor relationships. Utilizing a residential system built around small “house” communities instead of individual dorms, students enjoy a sense of community with their house peers similar to the closeness often lauded by students at Yale under the Yale house system. It seems students at Princeton are able to enjoy the best the Ivies have to offer, further cementing its position at the top of the ranks.

However, no school is perfect for everyone, and what makes Princeton distinct defines its students and their experience. Princeton is notoriously less diverse than the other Ivies, historically similar to Yale and Harvard in its overwhelming catering to the progeny of the highest, and usually Northeastern, elite. Like Harvard and more recently Yale, admissions at the university is working on programs to increase socioeconomic diversity, achieving much success and applause in their endeavor. However, despite its success and a change in policy to admit more socioeconomically diverse students, the campus is still one of the most elite and exclusive in the country, and students from more diverse, less privileged backgrounds may face a great deal of culture shock. Moreover, those who want a balance of upperclassman and underclassman would be left wanting at Princeton, where the house system ensures that class years are largely kept separate.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania, commonly referred to as UPenn, is a large research-oriented university in a large city, similar to Harvard and Columbia. However, it distinguishes itself from Harvard with its small class sizes and close student to professor relationships, and unlike Columbia’s Core Curriculum, UPenn’s programs seem to contain “undercurrents” of pre-professionalism. For those who are looking to achieve intimate faculty relationships without attending a liberal arts school or adhering to a liberal arts curriculum, UPenn strikes an unusual balance, offering the advantages of a large research university while maintaining the tight-knit community and professor relationships found at smaller colleges.

In addition to its tight-knit community and pre-professional slant, UPenn is known as the “Happy Ivy,” offering the same level of academic rigor as the other Ivies without the same level of stress and competition that plague top-tier schools. This is not to say students at UPenn are not stressed or competitive, but rather that there is a greater work-life balance at UPenn than there is at peer institutions. This work-life balance encourages students to be more social and take advantage of opportunities to blow off steam and alleviate stress. Students participate in a vibrant Greek life culture, attend football games, and adopt a “work hard, play hard” philosophy that separates social weekends from coursework-filled weekdays. Those who desire a challenging, Ivy League education without being confined to the library for days on end will find in UPenn an oasis of balance greater than that found at other Leaguers.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Harvard University

Harvard is one of the most well-known universities in the world, possessing name recognition only matched by Oxford or Cambridge; however, despite its fame, many know very little about the university itself or its students. Often lambasted for its professors’ overwhelming focus on research and graduate school teaching, Harvard is not the school for those who require individual attention or daily access to professors. For many students, the most rewarding form of instruction is the sophomore and junior tutorial, a small-group directed study in a student’s field of concentration that is required in most departments within the humanities and social sciences. However, the tutorial opportunity is an exception to the norm, as most courses outside of higher level seminars are taught by both professors and graduate students in larger lecture halls.

For students who are highly motivated and ambitious, the lack of classroom interaction with faculty is no hindrance, as they are able to benefit from participating in the ground breaking research that otherwise occupies their professors’ time. Furthermore, the widely acknowledged (and debated) grade inflation policy enables students to focus on growing academically without strictly focusing on academic performance and GPA. Being located in the most active academic and social hub in the US, students at Harvard have a front row seat to the wealth of opportunities and activities found in Boston and Cambridge, benefiting from the other 250,000 students and hundreds of internships that call the revolutionary city home. It might be easy to get lost in such a large school in a large area, but for those who are independent and self-motivated, Harvard provides opportunity, money, and resources unparalleled by any other school, within or outside of the Ivy League.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Brown University

Brown University is the Ivy for those who are open-minded and flexible. It’s known for its liberal academic curriculum and even more liberal student body. Brown embraces a far more open curriculum compared to other Ivy fellows, allowing each student the opportunity to “choose their own adventure.” With no distribution requirements aside from student-specific major requirements and two writing courses, students are free to pursue all of the liberal arts, or conversely, free to take courses in just two or three departments. Adding even more flexibility to its academics, Brown also offers the option for students to take courses “credit/non.” This provision means that students can elect to take a course on a pass/no pass scale instead of the traditional letter grade scale, making the class exempt from GPA calculation while still receiving credit. Because of the ability to deprioritize GPA, students at Brown are able to prioritize taking the classes they are interested in instead of being confined to courses in which they would earn high marks.

Beyond its academic freedom, Brown is known best for its on-campus student activism, often home to student leaders who manage social change and home to student protesters. For those who want the chance to create their own curriculum and those who are interested in hands-on activism, Brown offers a unique campus environment, fueled by student liberty, that is distinct from its peers.

Chasing the Clean Sweep: Why You Shouldn’t Apply to All 8 Ivies

Considering the mad frenzy of the modern college application process, there is no greater feat than getting into all eight Ivy League universities. If not for the sheer accomplishment, many students apply to all eight Ivies with a “you just need one yes” outlook. Parents and students alike hope that by applying to all the Ivies, they increase their chances of getting accepted into any single institution. This “just one yes” strategy is common in educational consulting, best exemplified in the “safety/reach” application method. However, when used by educational consultants, this strategy is implemented to help place a student at the most academically rigorous school that the student would thrive in. All Ivies are not created equal, and the vast differences among the campuses ensure that no single student is a good fit for all the schools. In this series, I hope to explain what separates each Ivy from the pack so that your student can save time and energy, applying to their right fit Ivy League school instead of feeling pressure to apply to multiple Ivies. In the case that you find that none of the Ivies seem like a good match for your student, I’ll do a follow-up post listing the top 10 Ivy League alternatives, distinguishing the schools by state and briefly explaining why the League fails to include all equivalent institutions.

Visiting Colleges Over The Summer

The idea of visiting colleges this summer may not be at the top of your list of fun things to do, but getting a jump start on seeing colleges up close and personal this summer will help you narrow down your choices as you head into the busy start of your senior or junior year. While many say that the summer may not be the optimal time of year to visit colleges because classes are not in session, most colleges and universities have summer sessions, so you really can get a feel for what life may be like on campus.

Rising Juniors: Get started now!
For rising high school juniors, college may seem like a far off future event, but in reality you will be applying to schools in less than 18 months from now. By visiting a variety of different types of colleges, (large/small, urban/suburban/rural, public/private) you will certainly get a feel for what kind of environment appeals to you. For juniors who may be thinking about applying early decision, you will need to be very certain of your intent to commit to one school if accepted. That is a very difficult decision to make unless you have already visited many schools are completely confident that your first choice college is the right pick for you.

Rising Seniors: Visit before crunch time!
As a rising senior you can only imagine how busy you will be with all your academics, sports and extracurricular activities. Now add all the college application tasks on top of that and you can see why visiting schools this summer is a must do. Don’t try to schedule too many back-to-back tours. All the schools will start to look the same to you. Remember that while campus tours are great, school tour guides can only really give you a limited perspective. Allow yourself enough time to hang out in common areas such as the student union and the cafeterias (don’t forget to try the food!). Most importantly, talk with current students who are not official tour guides. In the fall you can revisit the schools that impressed you and you won’t spend your limited time having to visit schools you already know are not a good fit.