Monday, July 11, 2011

Improviso - College Faire at Marin Catholic High School

When all you've been doing in a summer is read books like those on the YISP reading list, you tend to observe the people and setting around you differently and by that, I specifically mean strategically. It's just as Sun Tzu would say repeatedly throughout his famous book of grand strategy, The Art of War: "one cannot help but to examine them". And that was the way I saw my unpremeditated evening today - call it my first run-through with reading meets real-world applications.

Confronting Mistakes: Who's fault would it be that that Mr. Ramsey was mysteriously not showing up at El Cerrito High School when an email he sent to Matt Lee said he'd be there at 5:15PM to meet interested YISP students to go to Marin Catholic's College Faire? The answer is not important. No, correction: finding someone to point fingers at is unimportant. The important thing was to acknowledge this peculiar instant, accept the mistake as an irreversible action, and put all our energy towards solving the dilemma at hand. However, that is merely attitude; the lesson to gain here is to kindly treat situations like these as hard-hitting reminders to not repeat the blunder again.

Go Out of Your Way to Be Prepared: After scrolling through our individual contact lists on our cellphones and calling certain friends out of the blue, we finally discovered Mr. Ramsey's phone number. When we called him, we were informed that, due to a seemingly dead interest in the Marin Catholic College Faire, Mr. Ramsey had already made other plans. Now, without pointing any fingers at anybody but myself for the moment, this whole ordeal was another lesson, though learned the hard way again, of the importance of going out your way for the sake of being prepared. There were two things I should have done beforehand - update my own contact list with important contacts like ILC affiliates and send a follow-up email to Mr. Ramsey regarding my participation of this event rather than relying solely on second-hand information that turned out to be a couple of days old. Perhaps these simple details could have prevented this change of plans from occurring, perhaps not. However, I do know that, had I been nitpicky with being prepared, I at least had the satisfaction of not having to waste pointing a finger at myself (not that that should be the main focus for situations like this of course).

Be Optimistic: Okay, so the evening wasn't going off as planned. Should we just head home? Absolutely not. The three of us - Matt, his mother, and I - recognized this as still an important event to our upcoming college visits on the East Coast, and even though the absence of Mr. Ramsey was unforeseen, we accepted the challenge of confronting the Princeton Admissions Officer alone and courageously asking, amidst other Faire goers' questions regarding the admissions process, our request to invite a Princeton representative for dinner on the 20th of July. We were unsure what to expect and we knew there was no guarantee of securing a dinner guest or two, but at least we were tackling our impromptu mission without hesitation and without dread.

Don't Waste Time: What better way to spend the 30 minute car ride than for Matt and I to bounce off our input on our reading so far? It proved to be very helpful and made me personally more open-minded

Go With the Flow: Waiting for Mr. Ramsey outside of El Cerrito High School took a toll on our otherwise impeccable timing. We arrived to the Pope John Paul II Student Center in the middle of the CAL Tech speech over an intimidating and packed audience. Calmly, we walked to vacant chairs near the back of the room and, "when in Rome, did what the Romans did". I took out my notepad and wrote the little information I obtained from the final moments of the CAL Tech speech (you can see all my summarized notes at the bottom) and took some photos. Luckily, we were here to speak very specifically to the Princeton Representative and hearing these college presentations were a nice supplement. There were four colleges represented at the Marin Catholic Faire - CAL Tech, Columbia, Princeton, and Rensselaer (again, notes for all four will be found near the bottom of this blog post).

A Good Leader Thinks of Others: "If you're not too fond of the maths and sciences, CAL Tech isn't really the place for you." the admissions officer for CAL Tech jokingly admitted. I know for myself that the life of an engineering or science major was not for me. So, why bother lifting up my pen during CAL Tech's remaining speech anyway? Why pay much attention to the fact that Engineering is Rensselaer's most popular college? I continued to take notes of everything because, as worthless as some of this information will be for me in the long run, they could be of the most interesting thing another person may get from my notepad of chicken-scratch notes. Once you start thinking "hey, this might be something so-and-so may like" or "wow, so-and-so should be here to see this", it will start to naturally become a habit, and a good one at that. However, simply thinking of others does only half the job; you also need to carry it through by letting who you thought of know. By making that simple connection, you've down a little good deed for you and a good deal for that individual. After hearing about all this talk about these four colleges' great Engineering program, I hope to pass this information on through my summarized notes below, in addition to telling some of my math wiz and science-minded friends when I see them again.

Thinking of the Future: Sometimes, as the admissions officers blazed through their ten-minute time frame of "why our school was the best and why you should go", I'd stumble on interesting things that they say or things I didn't really understand. However, rather than prepare myself to ask these questions by waiting in long lines after the speeches and forgetting our "mission" at hand, I underline everything I wanted to know more about and wrote reminders to myself on the side. I am saving my questions for the intimate, exclusive, and less hectic meeting with the Princeton and Columbia admissions officers when we see them in the East Coast. Not only will this probably give me more detailed answers, it will also give me plenty of time to think over what today's admissions officers said and formulate even more questions by the time of our campus tours this upcoming two weeks.

Learning From Others: We didn't have any questions to ask when the floor was open up for anyone to ask them, but again, that was no reason to give my pen a break. Although some of the questions asked among the crowd were those I've heard before and have received answers to before, hearing what these four colleges had to say continued to supplement what I already knew. There were also other rational questions that I didn't think too much about so, not only was I increasing current knowledge but also obtaining new ones as well. All of which too, were done with no effort on my part but from listening and being attentive to what others wanted answers to.

The Special Case when the Minority Have to be Respectful of the Majority: Matt and I were not like the others at the College Faire. Both of us had our questions about admissions and spirit for these schools bottled up for the actual tours later in the month; we were unlike the many parents and students suffocating the admission officers booth trying to have all our personal questions about a college answered on the spot. Thankfully, we were not in a rush to do anything later that evening (but read of course) and let the other Faire goers do their business first.

Dust Yourself Off Quickly and Improve: We did briefly talk with Mr. Alex Bustin, the assistant director of Princeton's Office of Admissions, in between two regular Faire goers and quickly regretted doing so. Upon reflection of our good but very rushed presentation to Mr. Bustin, Matt and I agreed to wait until everyone had cleared from the Princeton booth to clarify our request again but in a less stressful setting.

Don't be Aggressive; Be Understanding: Perhaps it was because Matt and I were not very believable characters to be asking an admissions officer so coolly about inviting one of their people for dinner. Either way, we made sure that, as discredited we may appear to represent the ILC at such an impromptu and brief, first meeting with Mr. Bustin, we laid down our request calmly and reasonably. Under brevity, we told him a bit about who were and what our program aimed to do. We told him that we were not sure if Princeton's policies even allowed admissions officers to have external get-togethers with prospecting students. Mr. Bustin, upon hearing us this second time, appeared more relaxed and focused. Although he wasn't sure how he personally could help us since this was honestly not his department, Matt and I did leave the Student Center with something. With my email that I gave Mr. Bustin, he plans to let Mr. Burkmar - Princeton's NorCal Representative - know of our plans and contact me in return. In addition, Mr. Bustin gave us his card so that, should we receive no word, we at least have a familiar person to email again for more information.

Get the Most of Every Experience: Although the mission was clear - try to get a Princeton-represented dinner guest from the Princeton admissions officer at the College Faire - I couldn't resist making the most of this College Faire by asking the Rensselaer admissions officer a little more about some of the things she said. Not only was seeing a representative from Rensselaer again rare but because I wasn't visiting their campus in the next two weeks, there was no reason not to ask now. And in case you were wondering, ILC, the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute does offer summer programs for high school students - more information to be found on their website.

Appreciating Kindness: All of this was largely possible thanks to Mrs. Lee, who not only drove us despite being initially under the impression that Matt and I were joining another party and carpooling with them, but was also very patient with our "mission" at Marin Catholic. She also helped me take some of the photos you see here. In addition, she also treated us to a very delicious dinner at a local Japanese restaurant. Thank you Mrs. Lee for driving us to Marin Catholic and making this day very fun and memorable.

Notes from the Marin Catholic College Faire

California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech):
  • Not a good college for those who don’t really like math and science.
  • Curriculum requirements: lots of math and science classes and a PE requirement.
  • Humanities classes available to make students more well-rounded.
  • Top-notch academic institutions.
  • For students who have a passion for science and a yearning to find that friendly community of like-minded scientists.
For more, go to:

Columbia University:
  • The undergraduate population is small but they are “the heart of life”.
  • Student life is “vibrant” as Columbians experience their education on the island of Manhattan and completely woven into the life and culture of NYC.
  • Professors are intimate enough that you many undergraduates may also join them on research projects.
  • NYC offers a heightened abundance of internships and professional opportunities that are not merely for summertime but year-round.
  • Many students do not have class on Fridays, using that day to do internships or do research.
  • Residential campus with on-campus housing for four years available if needed.
  • Lots of student organizations, from political to art to political to etc.
  • When applying to Columbia, you must decide whether you plan to join Columbia College or the School of Engineering.
  • Columbia College: The purpose of this school’s core curriculum is to build critical/analytical skills, improve writing skills, and enhance debate skills. Among some of the classes students take for the core curriculum include those in the humanities, literature, art, writing, and foreign language. There are 82 majors to choose from.
  • School of Engineering: Students in this school have an abbreviated version of the core curriculum and take many pre-professional courses. There are 17 majors available, in addition to an option for liberal arts minors.
  • Fun Fact: Students at Columbia College must pass a Swimming Test. Back when Columbia was known as King’s College and students wanted to rename it to remove this institutions affiliation with the British Empire, someone declared that students must learn to swim across the Hudson in case they had to escape from Manhattan Island to safety. This tradition carried on (but thankfully, no longer on the dirt Hudson). Engineering students do NOT have to take this test because their previous alumni had successfully argued a long time ago that engineers could simply built a catapult or other inventions to get across the Hudson . Thus, today’s engineering students in Columbia must pass a different test that isn’t swimming.
For more, go to:

Princeton University:
  • There are about 5,000 undergraduates.
  • A major factor of Princeton is the mandatory “Senior Thesis” – an independent research project that is a graduation requirement. It can take the place of a usual essay but could also be anything from a novel to a constructed item, as long as it represents work led by a student’s desire to become an expert on a certain topic.
  • Students have until the end of their sophomore year to declare their major (though most Engineering students do so earlier).
  • There is a strong liberal arts-based curriculum.
  • Fun Fact: Roughly 70% of students change their minds before they declare their major.
  • No double majors.
  • Princeton students take pride in not only being academic scholars but also active members in their community.
  • Four years of on-campus housing provided if needed.
For more, go to:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:
  • Location is very close to an airport.
  • A green campus with lots of trees – not your typical urban setting.
  • Medium-size college with about 15,000 undergraduates.
  • Not a “suitcase campus” – a college where students regularly leave for weekends/holidays.
  • 40% of students live on campus.
  • Organizations are student-run and very easy for students to start their own clubs.
  • 200+ clubs currently at Rensselaer.
  • Retention rate: 92% (The national average is 75% and the average for NY is 72%).
  • Schools: Humanities, Management, Architecture, Engineering (most popular), Sciences.
  • Flexible schedules that make it possible for students to complete 2 majors under one financial package.
  • Common theme among Rensselaer students: an interest in science, technology, and engineering.
  • “interdisciplinary”
For more, go to: