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College tour impressions: NYU

NYU had a chance to become my own alma mater. They blew that opportunity when I was offered way too few transfer credits based on my Russian undergraduate studies. (I went to a cheaper school that offered me full two years of transfer credits plus a generous merit-based scholarship.)

I don’t hold grudges. And when a school features as an excellent match for my kid’s interests and has the built-in advantage of being located in a vibrant city district just an hour away from home, it clearly pushes to the top of our list even before we had a chance to try it on.

It so happened that we were visiting NYU during the inexplicable October snowstorm. Our first bad-weather college visit could, theoretically, skew the overall impression towards negative, but Becky happily concluded in the end that she liked it even in the bad weather.

We first had a very lively information session. The value of those talks greatly depends on the person conducting them, and I have already noted in this series my lukewarm feelings towards some of those. The session at NYU was lead by a talkative and very natural lady who made jokes at the right time, emphasized critical points without going on boring tangent, moved things along, avoided sounding patronizing, and generally kept our attention throughout the hour.

She spent a fair amount of time explaining NYU’s global presence, which seemingly takes the idea of studying abroad to the next level. A student can enter NYU at two (soon to be three) “home” colleges in different parts of the world, but then can go and study within NYU on a dozen of campuses in Europe, Asia, or Australia. Apparently, even freshmen have the opportunity to do that, and the only limitation is the availability of specific classes that one wants to take at a particular location for a semester. Anyone familiar with our family’s wanderlust would recognize how appealing that sounds to Becky. (Not to minimize study-abroad opportunities at other schools, but they are normally presented as something available primarily to juniors, and often through collaboration with local institutions abroad, which could mean better immersion, but also an added hassle of logistics.)

There is also a School of Individualized Studies, which is not something we’ve seen elsewhere. Yes, many colleges offer students ability to double- or even triple-major, or sometimes even “create your own major”. But this is the first time I’ve heard of an institutionalized approach to shaping undergraduate studies to the interests of the specific student. Given wide-ranging interests of my daughter, we find it very intriguing to shed the “undecided” label in favor of “individualized studies”.

The weather obviously interfered with our college tour, so we were only able to quickly move from one building to another, with our tour guide giving us a talk and conducting a brief Q&A session at each stop. The library was impressive in a modern, 12-stories-high atrium kind of way, but the student center, one of residence halls and one of the academic buildings left minimal impressions. We recognize that in the middle of a huge city we are not looking for either surpassing beauty or quaintness.

The tour guide at first seemed as if he was trying too hard to make us like him and the college, and when he slipped in that he was both a Rhodes and a Marshall finalist this year, I thought the kid was blatantly making it up. But then at some point he started talked academics, specifically about his own studies, which incidentally were an eclectic mix of computers and philosophy through the Individualized school, and he practically morphed before our own eyes into an articulate lecturer with a clear command of complicated subjects, which was rather impressive. We had an annoying family on our tour who wanted to know “how well someone who needs a lot of hand-holding would have their hand held at NYU” and “how would a conservative student fit into the left-wing mayhem that is New York City”. I felt sorry for the kid for being publicly labeled by the parents, but our tour guide showed a lot of maturity in deftly dispatching those questions. I liked him a lot more towards the end of the tour than at the beginning.

With all that New York has to offer in terms of lifestyle, networking and career development, plus the appealing things about the college itself, NYU firmed up its position as one of our top choices after this visit.