Your Mom’s Guide to the Ivy League

There’s an old saying that writers should write what they know.

So what do I know?  I know the Ivy League.  I went to Brown.  I come from a long line of Dartmouth men. (No women back in those days.)  I have friends who have attended each of the Ivies.  And I’ve visited all of them — except Cornell.  Because Cornell is convenient to absolutely nothing.

Of course, I know some of the Ivies better than others.  But according to me, I am well enough informed about all of the Ivies to share my wisdom about them with you.  So here are some important facts I think you should know.  I hope you find them useful in your college search.

Brown University

Famous for: Having no requirements.  At all!  You can graduate without ever going to class.   Or seeing Providence.  Really!  (Please don’t tell my parents.) Also, free tampons!

Little Known Fact: GQ named Brown “America’s Douchiest College.” Finally! Brown won something!   We’re #1!  We’re #1!

Notable Alumni: Me; Hermione Granger; a LOT of minor royals from small countries (bonus admission points to the scions of monarchies in exile); Daveed Diggs (the coolest possible combination of Brown and Oakland, CA.  Represent, Daveed!); JFK Jr. (Yes.  I was in a tiny seminar with him.  And yes.  He was that handsome in real life.)

Columbia University

Famous for: A safety violation that allowed Peter Parker to be bitten by a radioactive spider and turn into Spider-Man.

Little Known Fact: Columbia’s wiki includes a dress code which describes — in excrutiating detail — what to wear from “casual” to “white tie” and when to wear it.  In case you were wondering, “black tie preferred” may include an ascot. Occasion?  “Opening season at the opera.”  Sadly, they failed to suggest something that would be really useful — like an ensemble for going to the grocery store or cleaning my house.  So Columbia’s dress code only gets a C+.  I’m disappointed in you, Columbia.

Notable Alumni: Alexander Hamilton (Go ahead and sing it.  You know you want to.  “Alexander Hamilton.  My name is Alexander Hamilton. And there’s a million things I haven’t done.  But just you wait.  Just you wait.”); Barack Obama (I’m working on an interpretive dance about him.  I think it’s going to be a massive hit!); Meadow Soprano; Martha Stewart; a ridiculous number of spies.

Cornell University

Famous for: Cold, cold, cold, hotel management, cold, cold, Andy Bernard, cold, cold, cold, cold, the Gorges, cold, cold, f**king cold.

Little known fact: The chicken nugget was invented at Cornell.  Which makes Cornell the dream school of every 3 year old in America.

Notable Alumni: Bill Nye, the Science Guy; Citizen Kane (expelled); Sideshow Mel from The Simpsons; Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; the Wizard of Oz.

Dartmouth College

Famous for: Being the birthplace of beer pong.  And the ultra-conservative Dartmouth Review.  I’m sure these facts are completely unrelated.

Little Known Fact: An anthropomorphic beer keg known as “Keggy the Keg” is Dartmouth’s unofficial mascot.

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(Keggy the Keg on the Green.  Is that you, Rob?)

Notable Alumni: Dr. Seuss; Senator Bluto Blutarsky; Shonda Rimes (Call me, Shonda, I have a fabulous idea about an Obama interpretive dance.  I think it’s going to be a massive hit!); Mr. Rogers; Mindy Kaling.  Bonus alumni — my dad, my uncle, my grandfather and two cousins.  Which makes me the Brown sheep of the family.

Harvard University

Famous for: Being in Massachusetts.

Little Known Fact: Absolutely nothing.  Because it’s Harvard. They know everything.  Just ask them. Also, Harvard murdered its sister, Radcliffe.  (That’s for you @EastGrad!)

Notable Alumni: Fred Munster, the Unabomber, Gopher from “The Love Boat,” Bill O’Reilly (figures); Jason Bourne.

Princeton University

Famous for: Eating clubs and the world’s ugliest marching band jackets.

Princeton University football at Lehigh, Bethlehem, PA, September 26, 2009. Photo by Beverly Schaefer.

(This just in — the fashion police at Columbia think I should wear the Princeton band jacket while cleaning my house.)

Little Known Fact: Bob Dylan wrote a whole song about how much he hated getting an honorary degree from Princeton.  He analogized Princeton to a swarm of locusts.  Really.

Notable Alumni: Aaron Burr (aka the damn fool who shot Alexander Hamilton); Doogie Howser; Batman (dropped out)(WTF, Batman? Doogie Howser managed to graduate and he was only 12); Michelle Obama; Ted Cruz’s roommate, who managed not to strangle Ted Cruz in his sleep.  (Mad respect, Ted Cruz’s roommate!  You are a paragon of restraint.)

University of Pennsylvania

Wait . . . . Penn is in the Ivy League?  (Cheap joke.  I know.  But it works.  Every time.)

Yale University

Famous for: Being the venue for some great love stories — Bill and Hillary Clinton; Skull and Bones; Rory Gilmore and Logan Huntzberger; George W. Bush and Beer.  Upon further reflection, perhaps “great” is too strong a word.

Little Known Fact:  Yalies traditionally play a game called “Bladderball” which is a rule-less game involving much alcohol and a fight for a giant leather orb.  It also has, at various times, included a leaflet drop by helicopter and referees in top hats and tails.  What could possibly go wrong?

Notable Alumni: Montgomery Burns; Lupita Nyong’o (I love saying that name); Agent Fox Mulder; Anderson Cooper; Jodie Foster (who I hope will play me in the movie version of this blog).

Next — Your Mom’s Guide to the Personal Statement.

See my Guide to the Hippie Colleges here, and follow me on Facebook!

Your Mom’s Guide to the Hippie(ish) Colleges of the Northeast — Part 2 (Days 6 and 7)

You know those dreams you have where you are in familiar surroundings but everything is just a little off?  Yesterday was the lucid version of that dream for me.

Day 6 of the college tour dawned with considerably less drama than the previous morning.  I found the car keys.  I found the car.  And I found the best parking space ever on College Hill in Providence (no mean feat) — just steps away from where we needed to report for the information session and tour at Brown.  It was as if the gods were making nice for the mean trick they had played on me the day before.

Apparently, many kids these days would like to go to Brown.  I like to think that’s because I went there. The info session was crazy crowded.  Given the massive turnout, I half expected to see Brown alum Hermione Granger leading the info session.

The info session was blah, blah, blah.  Systemically, Brown remains pretty much unchanged from my days except that what used to be called the “New Curriculum” is now called the “Open Curriculum” — a reminder that a few years have passed since my Brown days and that what was “new” back then is now “not-so-new anymore.”  I guess they figured that “open” was a better descriptor than “middle aged.”  Because it is officially middle aged.  Boo’s eyes did widen when they talked about how you can take all your courses pass/fail, but otherwise, she was unmoved.

After the info session, we broke up into smaller groups for the campus tour.  The tour guide asked a couple “can you guess this?” style questions.  I appeared to be a genius by answering all of them correctly until I fessed up that I was an alum — and immediately became less a genius and more an annoying know-it-all.

And while Brown remains systemically the same, physically, I barely recognized it.  There are all sorts of new buildings and even the old ones that I could recognize from the outside have been completely modified inside.  I felt like Alice through the Looking Glass.  They also have electrical outlets in all the street lamps.  If they had that back in my day, I was woefully uninformed.

So what did Boo think?  Her thoughts were succinct — “nice school, too big.”  I agreed.  So it looks like the Barnes family is one and done at Brown.

After our tour, we hopped into the car for the drive to NYC.  We had to drop the car off at JFK and then get into the City, so it turned out to be a 6 hour affair before we made it into the apartment we rented.  We dropped our bags and immediately headed for the TKTS booth at Times Square to try to get tix to “The Color Purple” only to discover that it starts at 7:00 instead of 8:00 on Wednesdays and we were too late.  So instead, we got tickets to a frothy little off-Broadway musical starring Diana Degarmo from American Idol!  Squee!  (Actually, she was very good.)

And on the 7th day, we rested — except for a trip to Kmart to buy some supplies for Boo’s summer at NYU and a delicious Peruvian chicken dinner.  I was seriously tempted to drink the chimmichuri sauce.  It was that good.  I think I may need to move to Peru.

And tomorrow is a momentous day.   Tomorrow will likely be my last college visit.  Unless I can figure out a way to make money by visiting hippie colleges.  Any takers?

Next up — Day 8

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Your Mom’s Guide to the Hippie Colleges of the Northeast (Part 1)

Hippie Colleges of the Northeast Tour 2015 (Day 1) — Today we embarked on our quest to find Boo the college of her dreams.   So what is the college of her dreams?  Probably something small(ish), liberal arts with strong music and theater options, possibly a conservatory or joint degree program.  Must have lots of hippies, be LGBTQ-friendly, and the more protests, the better.  (I’m saving up for bail money while I save up for college.)  Our first stop was Bard College.  Bard is #2 on the Princeton Review’s list of colleges for Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging vegetarians, which is perfect for Boo except for the Birkenstock part.  (She’s a girl who loves her high heels.) Also, not so much the vegetarian part either.  (She likes her bacon.) But tree-hugging is awesome.  Anyway, Bard’s campus is way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, but it is lovely.  Bard has the strangest placement of a campus building I have ever seen.  They have a gorgeous Frank Gehry designed performing arts center plopped down in a pasture.  It’s like the Bilbao Guggenheim got caught in the Twilight Zone and transported to a field in upstate New York.

Bard

(There should be cows in the picture.)

Anyway, Boo really liked Bard, and but for the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere, it would likely be a good fit.  So Bard stays on the list.

In the afternoon, we backtracked to Vassar, the only extant college of the former seven sisters that is co-ed.  Thanks to a merger with Harvard, one sister is dead.  It figures that it would be Harvard that would kill its sister.  (RIP Radcliffe.)  Vassar is definitely less isolated than Bard.   It has a beautiful library that looks like something out of Hogwarts.

vassar

(Where’s Hermione?)

Plus, they allegedly have really great theater options.  I thought Boo would love Vassar.  She liked it fine, but not as much as Bard.  Perhaps because Vassar is only #8 on the Princeton Review tree-huggers list.  So Vassar is on the bubble.

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Hippie Colleges of the Northeast Tour 2015 (Day 2) — We arrived late yesterday in Saratoga Springs, home of Skidmore College.  First, I have to say that I heart me some Saratoga Springs.  I had never been there before, but it is about as adorable as it can be.  Like our hometown, Saratoga Springs was built as a resort for city dwellers and while our hometown has its charming Victorians, SS has massive Victorian mansions everywhere.  (In other words, SS was way, way swankier in its heyday than our town.)   Nowadays, however, the cost of a charmless condo in our town will buy you one of those Victorian mansions in SS.  The times, they have changed.  Boo once again had a different reaction to Skidmore than I expected.  I loved it.  She was meh — even though Skidmore is #4 on the tree-huggers list.  Go figure.  So it looks like I will not have an excuse for selling my house and acquiring a mansion in Saratoga Springs.  Wah!

This afternoon was a different story.  We crossed into Vermont to visit Bennington College, alma mater of Tyrion Lannister.  Who would have thought that Tyrion was educated in the bucolic environs of Nowheresville, Vermont?  It must have been quite a change from King’s Landing.  Anyway, Bennington (#3 on the tree-huggers list) was a hit.  For such a tiny school, it has fabulous theater facilities, and it has a groovy design-your-own-major curriculum.  The downside is that it is tiny.  I mean tiny.  I told Boo that if she goes to Bennington, she is not allowed to have a bad breakup because there will be no avoiding that person.  And it’s in the middle of nowhere.  But it would be fabulous if Boo wants to be deeply involved in theater.  Plus, it’s full of hippies. So Boo loved it.

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Hippie Colleges of the Northeast Tour 2015 (Day 3) — This morning we visited Hampshire College.  Our visit did not get off to a good start because they have the world’s worst signage when it comes to locating the admissions office.  We drove in a circle for 20 mins. I figured they were trying to play some sort of head game with us because the sign allegedly pointing towards the admissions office turned out to point away from the admissions office.   Maybe they meant this as some sort of weird metaphor.  (“If you closely follow signs then you are a conforming tool.  If you go where the signs tell you not to go, you will end up where you need to be.”)  I finally had to call the office to ask them where they were.  Surprisingly, Hampshire does not make the tree-hugging list.  My theory is that Hampshire is so far beyond “hippie” that it doesn’t even qualify as hippie.   They have a yurt.  No really, a yurt.  The Hampshire crowd made the Bard and Bennington hippies look like a bunch of stuffed shirt investment bankers. It was WAY too much for me, and even too much for Boo.  But IF Boo ends up at Hampshire, I will be running a “design Boo’s first tattoo” contest.

We followed up our morning at Hampshire with visits to Mt. Holyoke and Smith — which were pretty much indistinguishable in my eyes except that you can apparently get credit for dog walking at Holyoke (which is particularly impressive because that’s something they don’t even offer at Brown).  Boo liked Holyoke better.  It might have been the dog walking.  We finished our day with a drive to Cambridge and a walk around the periphery of MIT — which is likely as close as Boo is ever going to get to attending MIT given that I am the person called for “tech help” at our house, and my version of “tech help” is disconnecting the machine from its power source and then plugging it back in.

Tomorrow we will take a brief break from visiting colleges for a morning walk through American history along the Freedom Trail in Boston followed by an afternoon walk through my personal history when we visit my alma mater, Brown University.  I’ll be stocking up on cheap liquor just to make the experience a more realistic representation of my past.

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Day 4 of College Tour 2015 — This morning we took a break from looking at colleges to explore a little American history. We took a guided Freedom Trail walk through Boston. Boo spent much of the walk muttering under her breath about how the guide was oversimplifying things. Like a guy in a costume with a tri-cornered hat, knee breeches and buckled shoes is going to get into the subtleties of the philosophies of the various Sons of Liberty.

Then we spent some time at the Kennedy Library where Boo asked me what I had thought of JFK when he was in office. I told her that my opinion of him at the time was somewhat unformed given that I had not yet celebrated my 2nd birthday when he was killed. But I’m sure that whatever my opinion was at the time, it was oversimplified.

We ended the day with a visit to my alma mater, Brown University, where I gave Boo a tour. So now she knows what it would be like to go to Brown — in 1984. Which was awesome! So now she’s ready to go to Brown circa 1984. Which might be an issue, but I think that if she is able to invent a time travel machine, it will improve her chances of being admitted to Brown. No guarantees of course — because these days Brown has many excellent applicants who undoubtedly have done things far more impressive than inventing a working time machine.

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Day 5 of College Tour 2015 — Psych! No colleges today! Instead, we got up early and drove from Providence to New York. Boo slept all the way across Connecticut. I can’t blame her. Connecticut from I-95 is kinda boring. I had to stop halfway across the state for a caffeine infusion or I might have fallen asleep too. I also had a Dunkin’ Donut — which definitely did NOT live up to my memories. I guess over the years I’ve become a donut snob — a title I will wear with a mixture of pride and horror.

We dropped the car off at JFK and raced into Manhattan in time for the matinee of “Fun Home.” Awesome show made even more memorable by the fact that one of the children is played by another student of Boo’s voice teacher.  So we got to meet some of the cast after the show.  Fun indeed.

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Day 6 of College Tour 2015 — our last college visit of this trip.  We took a half hour train ride from Manhattan to Sarah Lawrence College — the #1 college on the tree-huggers list.  SLC is to arts dropouts what Harvard is to tech dropouts.  Seriously, SLC has the most impressive list of dropouts.  (Carrie Fisher, Kyra Sedgewick, Sigourney Weaver, Tea Leoni, Carly Simon, plus both Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney.)  Fortunately, there are also some very successful people who have managed to graduate.  (JJ Abrams, Barbara Walters, Vera Wang, Alice Walker, Julianna Margulies, etc.)  Boo loved this place.  I saw her starting to fall when she was told about the annual screening of her favorite movie, “The Princess Bride” (starring SLC dropout, Cary Elwes) on the college lawn with everyone reciting the lines and the annual Halloween enactments of “Rocky Horror.” Then she was told about the tiny classes and the mandatory close work with professors (you have to meet with them one on one every 2 weeks for most classes). There are no distribution requirements and no majors or letter grades. There’s tons of theater and music and other arts on campus, and Manhattan is only a half hour away. Great study abroad programs. Beautiful campus near a cute town. And there’s a swing set right outside the main administration building. Plus, the unofficial slogan is “Queer by New Year.”  She was sold.

It may turn out that this is just infatuation but at the moment she’s in love — with the most expensive college in the country. Figures.

Next — The Hippie Colleges of Ohio

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