Sunday, July 12, 2009

UPenn vs. Bard

This weekend, our group visited both University of Pennsylvania and Bard College. UPenn is located right in Philadelphia, so students have easy access to urban opportunities. After living in Columbia for two weeks, I think I would enjoy what UPenn's location has to offer. Bard, however, is very much on its own. Neighboring towns have been described as farming towns or summer towns. Neither of these schools are scattered throughout a city, but while I can say that UPenn is an enclosed school, I can't quite say the same for Bard. Bard is like a large park, with its buildings spread out on a large expanse of land. It is surrounded by nature, while UPenn is surrounded by city. I think Bard's campus itself is wonderful -- it provides for a nice break from the big city. The dorm buildings look interesting, and I absolutely love the science building. But I'm not sure if I would be able to handle being far from modernized towns. Oh, and I also love UPenn's buildings -- they are absolutely gorgeous. The theater hall was so large and ornate -- it made Bard's movie theater look scrawny. But the main dorm quads in both UPenn and Bard impressed me. I felt like I would love to live in either one.
UPenn's undergraduate system consists of separate colleges, which is perfect for those who already know what they want to major in. For students like me, who have yet to make such a decision, it may seem unappealing. However, Andrew (one of June Chu's students who came to speak with us) enlightened me and said that it was actually easy to transfer between the schools, since the university knows that students rarely know what they truly want to study right from the beginning of college. Bard makes it simpler and requires students only to declare their majors by junior year. Before then, they have what are called distribution requirements, in which students have to take one class from each of the nine distributions, which are general subjects. But, for example, if a student is focusing on history and dislikes math, he or she can take a History of Math course as an alternative. I find this system to be very appealing, because I feel less restrained in choosing classes, and I think it provides a better tactic for learning about one's self and what I would want to major in.
I didn't learn much about UPenn's faculty, but Bard seems to have an outstanding system. First of all, there are no TAs. All classes are taught by professors. Whereas in some of the more prestigious colleges, professors leave their TAs to teach the class. Actually, my Chemistry class here in Columbia is taught more by the mentors than Professor Avila himself. Moving on, the classes at Bard usually range from about 12 to 28 students. Personally, I don't have a specific affinity for larger or smaller classes, but the concept of a smaller class allows for a more involved experience in class, especially since most of Bard's classes are more discussion than lecture. Furthermore, students and professors get to know each other better. All this appeals to me very much, because I like participating and I like to have friendships with my teachers, rather than distant professor-student relationships. And although my Chemistry class at Columbia is taught more by the mentors, Professor Avila tries to be as involved with us as his available time permits. I also know that not all the Columbia classes are like this - others are taught specifically by the professor.
I think the one aspect that made me more excited about Bard than anything else I heard that day was its Bard Conservatory of Music program. Apparently, when in that program, the student will be earning a double degree - one from the Conservatory, and one in another subject. I have always planned to minor in music, but a double major with music would make me just as happy, I think. But even so, I also considered double majoring in other subjects, and I also considered whether or not I would be able to handle the workload. So...we'll see.
Wow, I found that I have ended up talking about Bard more than UPenn. But both made a really good impression on me, and I am thankful I got to experience both.


Charles Tillman Ramsey said...


I was moved by your post and sensed the hesitation in making a commitment to a school that you had never heard of. It is obvious that you really enjoyed what Bard had to offer. This is great and you should further explore the college and try to stay open minded. Just because a school is not well known to you does not mean that you have to become indecisive.

Bard is highly ranked and is well known on the East Coast. I would suggest that you speak with Ms. Kent when you return and find out when our San Francisco Bard Representative will be in the Bay Area during the fall. This will allow you to learn more about the college.

I would also direct you to find out more about John Hopkins University in Baltimore that has a great music program and has a great core curriculum. I hope that you explore this fantastic University.

All of you have a wealth of ability and talent. I want the best for you and I know that this past weekend has given you more to think about and consider when deciding where to apply to college. I am sure thatyou will do further research and share with us your reasons and rationale about what school is appropriate. Thanks Jackie for taking us inside your thought process.

I can see that you are really pondering all of these choices and I am glad that visiting these schools and even being at Columbia has been helpful.

Take care.

Charles T. Ramsey

Don Gosney said...


Your description about the contrasting surroundings between Columbia, UPenn and Bard is interesting. I had never heard a place referred to as a ‘summer town’.

After I read Julie’s comments about Bard’s remoteness I Google Earthed Bard and saw that it was within two miles of Barrytown, Red Hook and Tivoli and they all looked like they had SEVERAL residences included. Bard seems like it may be a nice place to take a vacation but I’m not sure I’d want to spend four years there. I think that collegiate years should include getting to know the world—not Alvin the chipmunk.

Sofia even commented on the ‘large’ campus of 600 acres. Cal has more than 8,500 acres and Stanford 8,000 acres. I guess that everything is relative.

Many of the UC’s have a College of Letters & Science which pretty much covers all of the bases as far as a major goes. Specialty majors like engineering or business have their own colleges but there isn’t even a concern about declaring a major until after you get a feel for things.

Your comments about Bard’s classes being taught by the professors instead of TAs is very appealing. I recall my freshman calculus series at Cal where we had 1,000 students in the lectures and we never had an opportunity to speak with the professor.

Keep in mind, Jackie, that TAs are usually grad students and one of the reasons for having them ‘teach’—aside form them getting paid to do so—is that you tend to learn more about a subject when you have to think about imparting your knowledge on to other students. It’s a very good teaching tool even for grad students. I mention the things about the grad students because Bard’s graduate programs are almost all based out of Manhattan so there aren’t many grad students to perform as TAs on campus.

I REALLY enjoyed this blog, Jackie. Not only was it informative but it was pleasing to read of your impressions about all three schools and how your own wants and needs played into your impressions. Good stuff.

Post a Comment