Friday, September 22, 2006

Fun way to waste some time

Inspired by a New York Times article about kids who search for possible colleges to attend through the internet (college admissions is actually an interest of mine, and possibly a "beat" I would have explored if I'd stayed in the States and gone into Education reporting), I went here and filled out a profile based on how I was as a senior in high school. That is, I put in the majors I thought I wanted when I was a senior, the activities I thought I might do, type of campus atmosphere I thought I wanted, my GPA from high school, my SAT scores (had to make one up for the Writing Section, since it didn't exist then), etc. The idea is that the site then recommends colleges that fit your criteria and are likely to accept you, or that would be good "reaches" or "safeties." It's a tool for being exposed to colleges that one might not have thought of otherwise.

The system had no way to account for the one factor that was most important to me (and still would be): the presence on campus of an Orthodox Jewish community, even if it's a small one. I needed kosher food, Orthodox services nearby, and a few Orthodox friends so I wouldn't be the only crazy one on the entire campus! But this Counselor-O-Matic device by The Princeton Review doesn't ask if you want a specific type of religious community, only if you want a college with a specific religious affiliation. I checked "no," since as a high school senior I did not need the internet to tell me which Jewish colleges might be good for me; I was able to weigh the pros and cons of YU, Brandeis, and Touro on my own. What would have interested me at age 17 was which secular colleges might be a good fit.

The results were surprisingly fitting. The16-college list generated by the site included six colleges whose brochures I did study wistfully as a teenager, thinking "if only they had a frum community (or a bigger frum community), I might have liked to apply there": Bard, Amherst, Syracuse, Yale, Brown, and Skidmore. On the list were two colleges I did apply to: Harvard and Cornell.

The rest seemed out of the blue to me, and if a frum community weren't important perhaps I would have been inspired to look into them more, though in most cases I doubt it would have made a difference: Carnegie Mellon, Hamilton, Gettysburg, Claremont McKenna, Elmira, SUNY Stony Brook, Juniata, and Washington College in Maryland.

Notably, the list did not include the college I actually attended, and loved (Barnard), nor did it include another college whose brochure I slobbered over and actually wrote to in order to find out how far a walk it was from the nearest Orthodox synagogue: Bryn Mawr. (To this day I get wistful when I hear about Bryn Mawr. Oh, the sacrifices one makes to be an observant Jew.)

One of the reasons I played this little game is that, being a Barnard Alumnae Admissions Representative, I've often thought lately that admissions to Barnard has become so competitive, I doubt I would get in if I applied now (with my high school record). The fact that Barnard didn't make my "list" doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I did think that some of the "rankings" were interesting. For example, Yale and Cornell came up as a "good matches" but Amherst, Brown, and Claremont McKenna came up as "reaches." It implies to me that either these lists are more random than they should be, or else they are frighteningly accurate, taking into account the most nuanced preferences of admissions committees at various colleges. It also could indicate the rise and falls of various schools in the 17 years since I applied to colleges: Brown, for instance, is MUCH more popular now then it was then, and therefore much more difficult to get into.

Anyway, that was fun. A little pointless, but fun.

To all my Jewish readers: Have a good and sweet new year.

To my readers who are not Jewish: Have a good and sweet next 12 months.

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