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College tour impressions: Drexel

Sometimes people check out stuff they come across in the infomercials.

Drexel was nowhere near our list of targets for Becky’s higher education. It is not big on liberal arts and humanities subjects, instead priding itself on offering strong programs in applied sciences and professional lines of study. Not at all what our undecided applicant is looking for.

It did send us quite a number of mailings, just as many other schools did. But whereas most of the other schools attempted to entice us solely with variations of rah-rah slogans such as “You deserve the best!” (meaning, of course, that they are, naturally, the best) or “Imagine yourself here!” (implying that there is hardly any reason to imagine any other destination) or “You’re such a star, we want you!” (which any reasonable sixteen-year-old would see through as meaningless flattery), Drexel supplemented their “we’ll give you VIP treatment” pitch with highlights of some pretty cool programs available at their School of Media Art and Design. Given that we wanted to check out at least one other school besides our home state university that was sitting well outside the Top 50 ranking, and coupled with its relative proximity to us, we included Drexel on our itinerary, giving it a distinction of being the only school on our list whose mailed ads to us worked to some degree.

Unfortunately for Drexel, nothing else really worked.

As much as Becky enjoys the idea of living on a campus in a large city, the amount of through traffic and noise on the streets occupied by university buildings was a bit too much. As little as she cares about architectural composition of the campus, there was too much of uninspiring industrial structures on or around campus; sprinkled with some cool-looking modern buildings, to be fair, but not to a large degree. The main university building, which used to be the entire university when it was first founded, is actually quite delightful inside and out, with a grand central atrium, arched balconies on all levels, a museum-worthy collection of artifacts and an impressive picture gallery. Since that was the first building we went into, everything else went downhill from there.

UPenn alums in my audience will undoubtedly tell me that University Town, encompassing both UPenn and Drexel, has a lot to offer in terms of diversions (and downtown Philly seems to be but a stone throw away), but we must have been on the wrong streets and did not see much of that. I have little doubt that happening areas, full of restaurants and shops, were just a couple of blocks away, but not seeing that firsthand left us with a feeling of being in a wrong part of the city.

One of Drexel’s main selling points – its strong Co-Op program of paid internships at major companies for literally all undergraduate students – is a plus (although one quickly realizes that taking the most advantage of it means getting your undergraduate degree in five years, rather than four, while paying for each of those years as if it was a standard year of study). Having to declare your major at the very beginning – albeit with some room for an “undecided” factor and an ability to change majors later in the course of studies – is a definite minus, taking away a lot of flexibility that we have come to expect in our college search. And then, besides those seemingly cool media-related programs, there are truly no major fields of study that align with Becky’s interests, and we really have to account for the possibility that she will change her mind many times during her first couple of years, which seems less convenient with Drexel’s approach of fitting into a major-focused study from the very start.

The info session was conducted by an incredibly fast-talking admissions official who managed to squeeze more informative points into a 30-minute presentation than most people do in an hour. She answered a dozen of questions from the audience during that time as well, concisely and to the point. Becky thought her too fast, but I actually enjoyed that part of our visit the most. Then, for the campus tour, we got a girl who clearly could not hold still for even a second and gave us little beyond scripted snippets of what purpose each building played and how some of the key elements of being a Drexel student worked. Boilerplate stuff. She took us into the student center (which was all right), then a gym (which was modern and dandy – probably the reason why it was included – but hardly merited a stop on the campus tour), and a “show room” at the freshmen dorm. The latter seemed ok up until the point when our tour guide ventured that while this particular room was a double, the same size room could be a triple. Since we could not imagine how a third of anything – bed, desk, wardrobe – could fit into that space, we came away depressed by the possibility.

I hope Drexel alums in my audience, if there are any, will forgive me for coming to a quick conclusion that we will not be applying. It’s not you, it’s us.


  1. Dr. Phil

    Very much enjoying your reviews. Of course you should just go to Northwestern — and if interested in sciences and research, check out the Integrated Science Program. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  2. Ilya

    Actually, Northwestern was on our initial list – they have some pretty cool-sounding theater-related programs. We even started planning a trip to Chicago, but then Becky decided that any college not within a few hours of driving from home gets disqualified.

  3. Ilya

    I think I’d be ok if Becky decided to go someplace far. But it was entirely her own decision to limit the search to a certain radius.

  4. Ilya

    Having you close by was something we considered, but in the end it was all about being able to get home without spending half a day on air travel…

  5. John

    Try to talk her out of that geographic restriction. As a HS senior and college freshman, being close to home is a consideration they think is important, but usually by the sophomore year, and definitely by the junior year, they are not going home every other weekend, only on the big breaks – high school friends and activities have given way to college ones.

    And seeing another part of the country is important. I know from my college experience that there is not a job in the world with sufficiently high pay to get me to move to the Midwest. šŸ˜€

  6. Ilya

    That argument would be easier to make if there were fewer good schools on the East Coast. What you say, John, will undoubtedly happen whether she is one hour of driving away or five hours of flying. But with so many good choices comparatively nearby, going across country would really be down to an expressed desire to move far from the family. Becky is not keen on that idea, and I do not have a strong argument for any particular school outside of our immediate geographic reach to force that into consideration.

  7. Ilya

    Come to think of it, I am not sure why something like this does not appeal to her, but when she put together the list of her targets, Chicago was the only place not within reasonable driving distance, and even that was discarded almost at the start.

  8. Brian Greenberg

    Again, late to the game, so my apologies. And, as you already know, Ilya, I am nothing if not a cheerleader for UPenn (my wife’s working on her third Penn degree right now, and I’m heavily involved in various alumni activities on campus). I’m not sure why Penn wasn’t on the initial list, but if Becky wants to know more about it, Sherry & I are certainly available to answer any questions. We’ll be as unbiased as we can be (not much of a promise, I know, but we’ll try…)

  9. Ilya

    I do not know precisely why UPenn was not on the initial list, Brian, but it was compiled through some detailed matching exercise that Natasha and Becky did on or some such. I know which schools made the top ten, but I do not know the exact parameters the girls used (and I doubt they’d be able to recreate them now). After we added a couple of the “safety” choices and a couple that had special emphasis on foreign languages, we were running at over 15 potential schools, which is borderline overkill. I suppose we would be more inspired by UPenn than we were by Drexel, but when we added the latter to the itinerary we specifically wanted to look at a lower-rung school rather than another Ivy League member. I’m afraid we already drew the line under our list (it actually includes 4 schools that we have no plans of visiting before applying and 2 schools that we are yet to visit over Veteran’s Day weekend), and UPenn ended up overlooked. I appreciate the offer nonetheless.

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