Thursday, July 7, 2011

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: Hotlanta’s Higher Education

Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia; we are at a burger spot called “The Varsity,” in the middle of a day filled with college exploration. This morning I awoke early, eager to start my day. We planned to attend admissions sessions at both Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology also known as Georgia Tech, but before we could go there, we had to fuel up with breakfast at the Waffle House. There I enjoyed a simple layout of waffles and grits, which I began to gulf down as soon as it hit the table. As we sat and talked with each other during breakfast, I learned an important lesson from my cohort Julia: I learned that even though as people we may be the same, we can be totally different due to our exposure through the time of our development. In this instance, I had subconsciously chosen grits because I've been eating them for years, but Julia asked me what grits were. I was shocked to hear she had never eaten grits. I offered her some and she accepted, an action I do commend her on because trying new things isn't easy, and she found them interesting yet enjoyable. Examining the depth of the experience I had witnessed was cut short because we got up to leave the restaurant to go to Emory.

After some navigation blunders, we finally made it to the school. I was immediately taken by its modern appeal that still made attempts to capture traditional architecture by incorporating marble. I was pleased to learn that Emory is not only need blind, but it promises to meet 100% of its students financial need. I was also pleased to hear that Emory examines students against Georgia’s own high schools. Sadly, I was disappointed in the fact that applying early decision to Emory meant that upon my acceptance I’d be forced to attend that school. It has a rich history, with origins outside of Atlanta.

Its original building is about 40 miles away in Oxford, Georgia.

In 1915 they received $1,000,000 in stock and land in Atlanta from the President of Coca Cola and was rechartered as Emory University. Since then the two have maintained a great relationship. As we walked around, I was excited to see all of the new buildings and development across campus. Examples of this can be seen in Emory’s new themed freshmen dorms and Woodruff library.

The next college we visited was Georgia Tech. This school I had heard of many times but I only knew of them through their well known athletic programs. We arrived at the campus and the first thing I noticed was the huge stadium that the football team plays in—it’s featured constantly on ESPN during the NCAA football season. Although the stadium was an engineering feat, I wasn’t impressed because I see this side of Georgia Tech all the time.

Admissions Counselor Ashley Brooks changed that perception as she gave her admissions presentation. I was surprised to find that Georgia Tech was ranked 7th in the country among all public universities. I enjoyed the philosophy for learning that Georgia Tech illustrated. They stressed work not only inside but outside the classroom. I agree with their teaching style, which is application based, hands on, practical, experimental teaching creating problem solvers. They are a huge campus made up of 400 acres with over 20,000 students. They have plenty of majors to choose from—35 in total. The school is so large that they have developed their own efficient transportation, serving the main campus itself and the community. Their buildings are made of majestic red brick capturing the origins of America’s oldest technological school.

Emory has amazing athletic facilities, a state of the art recreation center with 4 stories worth of basketball gyms, dance rooms, pools, an indoor track and more. Academically, Emory is also a top contender with their impressive computer center equipped with touch screens and Mac computers.

The student life at Emory is as vibrant as any; walls are filled with lines of potential opportunities for students. The DUC—Dobbs University Center—the student hangout, is always mentioned as the place to be on campus. It is apparent that the students truly love their school.

After taking some time out at the hotel, we ventured to “Ecco” a restaurant in downtown Atlanta to meet Mrs. Meredith Ray, the Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at the Georgia Institute of Technology. As soon as we met her at the door we immediately began asking questions. She didn’t falter and answered every question; even when we enclosed her at the door while waiting for our table, she stood confident. It was easy to talk to her because she had experience with the Bay Area, so we were able to compare Georgia Tech’s environment to what we see every day in California. I learned about getting around the massive specimen which is Georgia Tech’s campus and Atlanta using MARTA, the main public transportation agent for Atlanta. I learned in depth about campus life from Mrs. Ray, employee and alumni of Georgia Tech. She portrayed Georgia Tech as a balanced environment where students work hard and play hard too with concerts, athletic events, Greek life, even parties, and more things. The campus and the community are tightly knit in a cycle of service and support shared by both sides. Studying abroad is a definite possibility at Georgia Tech because they have many worldwide campuses and if your destination has no campus, there is a good chance Georgia Tech has a good relationship with that school. Research is a requirement at this school so she suggested we partner with a teacher for research.

We talked so much this evening, but the only thing that allowed us to separate was the delicious food served by the Ecco staff. As the night went on, sometime after dessert, we decided to part ways. We had enthralled ourselves in conversation so much that we forgot to take a group picture with Mrs. Ray. Spending time talking to Mrs. Ray on a personal level really showed me that admissions officers are normal people. Since they have the power to admit or deny you from college, one could be intimidated by them, but in truth they only want the best for the student and the university.

Super Social Schools vs. Seriously Studious Schools

Settling into a new and unfamiliar environment is always a tough one. Though our rooms are so nice, and our beds are so comfortable, it took me a while to fall asleep. After just a blink of an eye, my alarm clock went off signaling my “Get Ready for Breakfast” call. We ended up discovering a local Waffle House, and had some fantastic waffles and juice.

We were pretty excited to go to our first college visit tour today. Emory University was the first stop today. I was wrong about the Emory building I saw in the city last night; that was Emory Hospital. The Emory College is actually separated from the downtown area, in a quiet suburban neighborhood with plenty of gorgeous trees and fields. It’s spacious and the buildings are large. The housing apartments have an old and elegant look to them, and the dorms and commons have a more modern feel to them.

Before the campus tour, we sat in on an admissions focus session. I learned that what sets Emory apart from other colleges is that this college focuses on community: community in the dorms, community as a college, community as a city, and also the worldwide community. Dorm rooms compete against each other in varying contests; almost every student participates in extracurricular activities; clubs and organizations around the school host community outreach services each week; and about half of the students on the campus participate in the Study Abroad program. In the informational video, a student stated that through the Study Abroad program, she not only learned how others live, but how she can live better back at home, and improve her own community by bringing back this information. Emory’s other perks include 100% need blind admissions and a promise to meet 100% of demonstrated need for financial aid.
One of the pieces of information that I found to be most informative came during the talk about admissions. What the officer stressed to us is not to worry about our test scores in the SAT and ACT tests. He said that Emory does not hold low test scores against you, and that you can make up low test scores with the quality of work you put in through the rigorous classes you take in high school and in extracurricular activities. He explained that when you see colleges post those SAT and ACT scores in their pamphlets or online, those are the mid-50% scores, which means that even people below those scores are admitted. I greatly appreciated him stressing this, because so many people don’t know that, and get discouraged when they see how high the college’s posted scores are. I feel like students in my school or in my school district don’t know facts like these and get discouraged when they see the high test scores or the rank of the college. So many bright, young students could qualify for Ivy Leagues and other renowned colleges. It would be nice to host a seminar at our schools to stop students from being discouraged and to encourage them to challenge themselves with rigorous classes and participate in about 2 school clubs or sports, since these could really boost a person’s application.

Our second college stop was Georgia Institute of Technology, or as Julia calls it, G-I-T (even though no one, even in Atlanta, calls it this for some strange reason). Georgia Tech boasts that its learning style is unique compared to other colleges. This school’s main attraction is that it has a hands-on learning experience with real world applications and experiments. Their top three opportunities are their study abroad programs, research programs, and hundreds of internships and co-ops. Even though this school is in the heart of downtown Atlanta, it still has that traditional campus feel to it with the large buildings, close-by dorms, and open fields and greenery. They like to call it their own little “tech bubble.” A cool quality at this school is their Invention Competition, where the top two students with the best invention receive a patent for their creation, and money to start their own company with that product.

We heard many similar things between this admissions seminar and the one at Emory. However we did learn a few new things. For example, Georgia Tech does not look at SAT II’s, AP scores, letters of recommendation, or class rank when considering your application. They mostly just look at a student’s curriculum in high school and test scores, as well as the personal essays. I also learned that when researching colleges outside of your home state, you should look up the common high school required courses in that state. I learned that in Georgia, they require four years of science, where as in California, only 2 are required, and three are recommended.
On a personal note, I do not think Georgia Tech is the right school for me. Though I thought the campus was beautiful, I thought that the social aspect was lacking compared to other colleges. It seemed like Georgia Tech was more of a serious school, mostly focusing on just academics, whereas Emory, which I greatly enjoyed, was also a serious school, but also had a large social atmosphere to it. To me, Emory seems more welcoming, with more freedom and fun both with classes and other activities. A more active and lively environment is personally more of what I’m looking for in a college.

Finding a spot to grab grub is always fun to do. We came across an American food joint called the Varsity, similar to the food place back home called Sonic. The waiters came to the car to take our order. I noticed the cool hats the waiters had, and asked if we could have a few. He ended up giving us five of these stylish paper hats, and a pamphlet of the restaurant’s menu lingo. For future reference, a “Bag of Rags” means potato chips in a bag, and a “Joe-ree” is coffee with cream.
Today was packed full of firsts. My firsts ranged from not extremely memorable, such as having my first frappuccino from Starbucks (I’m usually a Peet’s Coffee kind of girl), to rather important firsts like having my first small scale meeting with a college admissions officer. This type of gathering is more thorough and informative than the generic meetings with the 30 or so people we had earlier. Yes, those conferences we attended this morning were very important, but by meeting in this manner, we could ask more personal questions that related to our own interests and concerns, and further our interests and knowledge in that college, and other colleges as well. We met with Mrs. Merideth Ray, an admissions officer from Georgia Tech. She talked about what she looks at when she evaluates college applications, the types of essays she receives, the environment at Georgia Tech, and the different types of classes and activities available. One of the facts about the college that I found most informative was how helpful the faculty is for Georgia Tech. Because G.T. is such a strong hands-on school, professors are always available for help, and there are also directors in the dorm halls that check up on the students to make sure their workload is manageable and to offer assistance if the student is feeling homesick or overwhelmed. She also talked about Atlanta as a college town, and explained that there is plenty to do here in the city.

Other firsts of the night included trying mussels for the first time. Julia and I decided to be adventurous and try them. However when the platter of mussels appeared, our daring spirits dwindled to curious and weirded out expressions as we tried to open them and eat the contents inside. I’ve learned that I am not a big fan of this particular seafood. I think there might have been sand in one of mine, since I felt a bit of a crunch, and the insides of the mussels are supposedly normally not supposed to crunch. I at least hope it was sand, and not some other small, mysterious, undersea creature, inside of another undersea creature. My other first of the night was my first try of cinnamon flavored ice cream, which was fantastic.

After a late night dash to the nearest Walmart, it is time to hopefully get a bit more sleep than I did last night.

More college visits tomorrow. I can’t wait!

"Cream of Wheat"

After a refreshing three hours of sleep, I was up and ready to start my day. The Eastern time change, which is three hours ahead of California in the West Coast, is beginning to take a toll on me.

The rays of the warm Georgian sun would not be the only thing we would be absorbing today—we were scheduled for a focus session and tour at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

We had a quick breakfast at the Waffle House by our hotel. I ordered a delicious chocolate chip waffle and a glass of milk. Ms. Bulls and Kye ordered a side of grits, and upon hearing my comment on never having tasted or seen grits before, Kye offered me a spoonful after mixing butter and sugar into it. It tasted alright—creamy and a bit sandy. I am very glad that every day of this trip, I am being exposed to and trying new things. It is really a one-of-a-kind learning experience outside the classroom.

After breakfast, we were well on our way to attend the focus session and tour at Emory University. As we entered the highway, we began to worry when we saw it was packed full of morning commuters. However, we made it to the campus in plenty of time and filed into a neat, overly air-conditioned room to begin the session.

Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia

I learned more than a handful about Emory from the admissions officer that spoke to us at the meeting.

Emory University is a liberal arts college—they encourage students to take courses and engage in activities that are new to aid them in finding an interest that they are passionate about. Therefore, students are able to have an undeclared major until the end of their sophomore year, which allows them four full semesters to explore many options.

Oxford is a college within Emory (about forty miles away from the main campus) set aside specifically for freshmen and sophomores. With an amazing student population of 600, it is very tightly knit, which can be a good or a bad thing.

Incoming freshmen may choose to apply to Oxford or Emory; however, Oxford students eventually transfer to Emory as juniors to finish their four-year studies there.

One thing that makes Emory University distinct has to be its study abroad and philanthropy projects, something I admire greatly. Half of all Emory students travel abroad, serve in internships, or volunteer. The college emphasizes the belief of "giving back to the community", an idea I wholly support and agree with.

At my school, I myself am engaged in many service and volunteer clubs and programs, and I think it truly is wonderful to see the scale in which it grows from a high school to a college environment.

The diversity at Emory is just as impressive. Seventeen percent of students are from Georgia, thirty from the Southeast, and fifteen percent of the incoming freshmen are from all over the globe. A diverse campus is definitely an important aspect for me. Growing up in the WCCUSD, it has become something I cherish and am grateful for, and I no doubt want to study in a diverse, thriving college—the experience of learning and accepting other cultures, I know, is priceless.

The campus of Emory is beautiful. Trees line the paved trails throughout the school, and the architecture of the buildings are lovely and modern—many of them are new and constructed of marble of a light, pearly color. It is quite a sight.

So, how can you, you're asking, increase your chances of seeing these breath-taking constructs and participate in the plethora of student programs yourself?

Well, Emory University admissions officers look at seven main things when you apply to the school:

1) Your transcript: Did you challenge yourself with what your high school has to offer in terms of rigorous academics and courses?

2) Your grades: How did you do in those difficult courses? Keep in mind that an "A" in an easy class may not exactly measure up to a "B" in a more challenging one.

3) Your test scores: SATs or ACTs. The mid-50% range for SAT scores is between 1960 - 2250. ACT is 30-33. However, remember that some students admitted may fall below or above the line in some cases.

4) Your extra-curricular activities: How involved are you in your school? Do you have an activity, such as a sport, that you are committed to? Also, take advantage of the writing portions to describe your activities. The admissions officers read them. Really.

5) Your essays: Tell them about yourself. They don't know you at all; it is, essentially, your voice and your way of telling the officers who you are and what makes you a unique individual.

6) Letter of recommendation: Please, parents, do your kids a favor: leave this job up to your child's school counselor, teacher, or so on and so forth.

7) Your demonstrated interest: Have you visited the university's campus? Attended a focus session? Contacted an admissions officer? They have your visits on file.

I find Emory University compelling—a liberal arts college would allow me to explore new things that would probably never even occur in my mind. In addition, it really is community-based, both locally and globally. Their enrichment programs are fantastic, and there is a beautiful balance between academics and student activities. It is located in the urban city of Atlanta. However, it is secluded from the city, so students there receive and experience a real college setting. Also, as a private university, it is one-hundred percent needs-blind and offers generous financial aid.

However, I am unsure if I want to attend a liberal arts college. I feel as though the type of person I am does not fit in at a school such as Emory. I like to travel in a straight line—figuratively, of course. Emory is without a doubt a great school, but I after the college visits today, I am beginning to figure out exactly what type of college I am looking for and would like to attend. I think I prefer a more strict and orderly curriculum, something that the Georgia Institute of Technology may have to offer.

Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia

As Georgia Tech. came into view, I gazed in awe, once again, at the intricate architecture of the institute buildings. They were a modern take on the many traditional brick buildings around city, but upgraded with crystal-clear glass walls. It is a traditional green campus in a city setting, the backdrop of the school being the proud, towering skyscrapers of Atlanta.

The informational meeting covered many aspects of the college, including the typical learning styles of its students: experimental, hands-on, practical, problem solving, and application based. Georgia Tech. is a "home away from home" for high caliber students, providing world-class academics, and is ranked #7 for the best public university in the country.

One of the things I am interested in this institution is its College of Sciences, which include majors in biology, biochemistry,  earth and atmospheric sciences, and psychology. I may want to study medicine in my fast-approaching future, and I was very surprised to hear that forty-two to forty-six percent of students in this College move on to medical school and an amazing ninety percent advance with specialized counseling.

Overall, it was a very fine day of college touring, and I learned so much from the admissions officers of these two colleges that can apply to any university I may have interest in attending.

One thing that was discussed in both of the informational sessions was admitting students that "fit" into their campus. It really opened my mind, and I suddenly realized why one should not be upset if rejected from the school of their dreams—it simply means that that college was not meant for you, either academically, socially, or more.

After Georgia Tech., we decided to stop for lunch at Varsity, a drive-in eatery. We relaxed in the car as we awaited our food to be brought to us. The server kindly gave us some of their neat hats after Aiyana asked him for one.
We returned to our hotel after trying to locate a Wal-Mart, to no avail. After some blogging and rest, we prepared for our dinner at ECCO with Ms. Merideth Ray, an admissions officer from Georgia Institute of Technology.

We had a pleasant dinner and had the opportunity to talk about Georgia Tech. Our conversation ranged from the application process, which included information about personal statements, to student services for events such as when a student from out of state feels homesick.

Aiyana, Kye, and I shared an appetizer of mussels with preserved lemon, paprika, and coriander. It tasted extremely fishy—more than I had anticipated.

Mrs. Ray was very social and kept us very engaged in discussing the institute, and I can honestly say that my perception of the college has changed after the dinner. I feel more informed and comfortable with Georgia Tech. Although I am unsure if I will be applying there in the future, I am confident that if I do, I will be well-educated about the school and make a wiser, better decision when choosing the college of my choice. I am thankful we had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk with Mrs. Ray because all of us took something away from that dinner that will help us wherever we may decide to apply.