College Tour: Harvard, MIT, and Yale

Feb 4th, 2016, 07:37 PM
  #1  
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College Tour: Harvard, MIT, and Yale

Our family is from California, and our daughter is facing a decision about where to apply Early Action. Because she can do so at only one school, we would like to take her on a college trip to the East Coast to see Harvard, MIT, and Yale over Spring Break. I would really appreciate people's thoughts on the most efficient itinerary for seeing these schools and their locales. I am guessing we should see Boston, in addition to Cambridge, for example. If we allocate about one week to this trip and prefer not to rent a car, how would you suggest we organize our itinerary? Many thanks in advance to all who offer your advice!
vistala is offline  
Feb 4th, 2016, 07:46 PM
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On reflection, MIT would probably not be a good fit for my daughter, so I'm wondering if it would still make sense to visit it for the primary purpose of sightseeing.
vistala is offline  
Feb 4th, 2016, 08:05 PM
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Not answering your question, but for what it's worth, while Early Decision is limited to one school, I think Early Action typically is not. Good luck with your trip and the visits!
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Feb 4th, 2016, 08:32 PM
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Fly into Boston/Logan. Spend half the time in Boston/Cambridge. While you are there, you might look at a few other colleges - if Early Whatever doesn't work out, she might have a head start on some other possibilities.

Then take Amtrak to New Haven. See Yale. Take train back to Boston and fly home.

(If it were me, I would take a detour to Providence and see Brown - but you didn't ask that question)
gail is online now  
Feb 4th, 2016, 08:33 PM
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Thanks, bakerstreet. Things have changed since I applied. My understanding from reading their admissions pages is that Harvard, Yale, and Stanford allow students to apply to only their own respective schools Early Action, but do not bind them to accept admission if they are offered it. If I'm wrong about this, I'd love to know.
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Feb 4th, 2016, 08:44 PM
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On reflection, MIT would probably not be a good fit for my daughter, so I'm wondering if it would still make sense to visit it for the primary purpose of sightseeing.

I have to ask why you say that, and whether it is you saying that, or your daughter. I recognize that the decision-making process is different for everyone, but it seems odd that you rethink MIT so quickly after your initial post. If your daughter is at this level in terms of schools, she has earned the right to be choosy and to find a good fit. MIT is a great school that I respect tremendously and I'd caution against excluding it out of hand.

As to the general question... You can see the three schools easily enough without a car. Harvard and MIT are a long walk apart or two stops on the subway. How much time you spend in the area comes down to whether this is strictly a college trip or a bit of a vacation too. You could visit Harvard and MIT in a day, two if you wanted to really spend some time at each. If, however, you wanted to catch the sights, too, I'd give Boston 4 or 5 days. The 'locales' are pretty similar, as both end up in the Cambridge/Somerville orbit, as opposed to the Allston/Brighton side of things.

Yale and New Haven could be covered in a couple days and the train will get you there easily enough. Not entirely sure about getting around town, though, and my understanding is that Yale is more centered around campus than MIT and Harvard (which are still very campus-centered), so not sure how much value there may be in exploring downtown New Haven.

Speaking as someone that went to school in Boston, and placed a lot of emphasis on going to school "in the city", I will emphasize that campus life will matter a lot at all of these schools. Maybe not so much at a BU or NYU, but for these three, that is what really matters.

The one thing I'd offer is that there are some other phenomenal schools in the region that might be worth a look. Amherst and Williams are pretty much as competitive as Yale, Harvard, and MIT, but offer a different experience. And, depending upon interests, BC, Brandeis, and Tufts are also top schools.
travelgourmet is offline  
Feb 4th, 2016, 08:55 PM
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Thank you, travelgourmet, for challenging my thinking so thoughtfully. I would value your feedback on my reasoning: My daughter would like to attend a liberal arts college because she is not ready to commit to a STEM career. MIT may be too narrow in its emphasis on the sciences and its public perception as a science-oriented school. As for the other schools outside of California that you mention, they are all fabulous ones but we are focusing only on choosing an Early Action school on this trip. For Cambridge/Boston, I was thinking of staying at the Harvard Square Hotel in Cambridge for convenience. You're right to suspect we'd like to do some sightseeing as well. Would you suggest moving over to a Boston hotel after we're finished seeing Cambridge? Maybe two nights in each? I really don't think we have more than a week plus or minus a day in total.
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Feb 4th, 2016, 09:22 PM
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You remind me of my oldest friend who came East from CA to do the tour with her daughter...
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.,etc. but one day they just happened by Wellesley… looked around… and that was the end of the Top Ten.
Daughter loved her time at Wellesley ( did Harvard Law later…)

Don't know if Wellesley is Early Action…. but if you get to New Haven
check out the pizza.
Gwendolynn is offline  
Feb 4th, 2016, 09:26 PM
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Have you or your daughter contacted the admissions departments for the schools you are considering? They often conduct tours or admissions info sessions which are terrific ways to get information and get your questions answered. If your daughter knows what she would like to major in, she may be able to meet with a student or someone from the department. Your tour schedule may well dictate the rest of your sightseeing.
KTtravel is offline  
Feb 5th, 2016, 01:27 AM
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I am generally in agreement with travelgourmet. If your daughter wants to come East to college and is realistically a candidate for admission to Harvard, MIT, and Yale, you ought to look around a bit more widely while you are in the area.

Realistically, these schools turn down thousands of applicants every year who are just as qualified -- in many cases more qualified -- than those who are admitted to the freshman class.

The three schools you mention are in somewhat gritty urban areas, though not so much as BU or NYU or Columbia. If you don't live in a gritty urban area, she needs to look at some other kinds of locations, and Dartmouth, Williams, and Amherst are among a number that fill the bill. Gritty urban areas are exciting, but they aren't for everyone.

I hope that the weather is lousy when you visit because lousy weather is a big part of life in New England and the life of a student is very much a life outdoors. We visited from the Deep South in March and thought, "Oh, this isn't that much colder than home!" It was record warmth, never that warm in March again.

Your daughter seems to have her head on her shoulders. It is absurd to ask someone at 18 what she expects to devote her life to, but if I were coming all the way from California, I would spend a morning at MIT even if just for comparison purposes.

Finally, what makes these universities great is not the quality of the faculty or the teaching but the power and diversity of the students. MIT has a Gilbert and Sullivan society. YoYo Ma didn't major in music at Harvard, though Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones were roommates. George Herbert Walker Bush, George Walker Bush, and John Kerry all went to Yale, where, by the way, the W got better grades than Kerry. Were they all members of Skull and Bones? Could be.

How does she figure out which if any of these groups is best for her?
Ackislander is offline  
Feb 5th, 2016, 04:10 AM
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I think it' really interesting that someone refer to these as "gritty urban areas". They are certainly urban - but most are not "gritty" unless one qualifies any part of a city not filled with multi-million $ mansions as "gritty".

IMHO for me college is all about expending one's horizons - so for a very sheltered, naive suburban kid (which is what Ackislander seems to be assuming) I would think a larger school in an urban area is probably the best choice.

What I would think about for someone from CA is if they are ready to deal with a real winter - which may be a real shock to them. A FL friend of our elder Ds left Boston after only one year since she just could not cope with the winter weather (yes, it was a snowy winter).

And agree to have a look at some other schools while you/she are there. And I would definitely have her clarify with her counselor the details of the Early Decision or Early Action (I don't know the details any longer since our younger DD is a senior this year) as well as focus on schools that specialize in her main areas of interest.
nytraveler is offline  
Feb 5th, 2016, 05:43 AM
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Actually the area around Harvard is filled with multi-million dollar mansions!
Sally30 is offline  
Feb 5th, 2016, 05:54 AM
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Actually the area around Harvard is filled with multi-million dollar mansions!

Heck, in the area around Harvard, you could very well pay $1m for a condo in the 1,000 to 1,500 square foot range.

The area around MIT is, IIRC, the most expensive commercial real estate in the Boston area.
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Feb 5th, 2016, 06:08 AM
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My daughter would like to attend a liberal arts college because she is not ready to commit to a STEM career.

MIT is certainly strong in STEM, but they are also very strong in other fields, such as Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy. They may be the top undergrad program for Management.

I'd say that, since you are in the area, it would be a shame to not at least visit.

Would you suggest moving over to a Boston hotel after we're finished seeing Cambridge?

There is no reason to move hotels. Harvard Square is only 4 stops on the Red Line from Park Street, which is pretty much the center of Boston. In a car, Harvard is no more than 5 miles from pretty much anywhere you would want to go in Boston (though traffic may make that a half hour ride). If you put a gun to my head, I'd say that the Marriott in Kendall Square is more central for a combined Boston/Cambridge trip, but the difference is marginal and Harvard Square is probably a more exciting place to be for a prospective student than staying in Kendall Square.
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Feb 5th, 2016, 07:13 AM
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The points each of you brings up are excellent--there is great power in discussion. I have to say that I have considered all of these thoughts, but hearing them from you firsthand is convincing me to revisit some of my initial inclinations. I suspect that the cold climate and being across the country are going to be tough adjustments for my daughter, but also believe she is up to the challenge and must make this decision for herself. She plans to apply to Pomona College, one hour from our house in Los Angeles. Are the various colleges you suggest sufficiently distinct that it would make sense for her to consider them other than for purposes of spreading her risk of admission?

NOTE: Do people agree with gail that the best itinerary for Harvard/MIT/Yale visits is to round-trip LAX-Boston with the Amtrak to Yale? Any thoughts on hotels in New Haven or restaurants in any of the cities?
vistala is offline  
Feb 5th, 2016, 07:39 AM
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Even Yale, which is in the middle of gritty urban New Haven, is not itself in a gritty urban neighborhood.

The only thing I might suggest is getting a car for one day in New Haven. The campus is in the middle of downtown, and the area immediately surrounding it is nice urban. But there are neighborhoods not that far away that you wouldn't want to walk around (they can easily be avoided), and also neighborhoods a little farther from campus that are really nice and you should at least see (East Rock, Wooster Square). (P.S. I agree with NYT that the areas around Columbia and NYU are urban, but not "gritty").

The nicest hotel in New Haven is The Study. After that, there's an Omni and many other chain hotels.
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Feb 5th, 2016, 08:04 AM
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Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.,etc. but one day they just happened by Wellesley

I'm a bit embarrassed that I didn't think of Wellesley. Definitely a great school.

Are the various colleges you suggest sufficiently distinct that it would make sense for her to consider them other than for purposes of spreading her risk of admission?

It depends. Certainly Williams and (even more) Amherst would be hugely different than MIT or Harvard. They are in more rural settings, are much smaller, and are undergrad focused. Wellesley would differ both in the undergrad focus and being in the suburbs, but also for not being coed (though I think that may only be in practice and not policy now). All three have an excellent reputation for instruction. MIT differs from Harvard in that it is aggressively geekier and they like it that way. Every school is unique, though, so a visit is recommended if she is interested in any of them.

NOTE: Do people agree with gail that the best itinerary for Harvard/MIT/Yale visits is to round-trip LAX-Boston with the Amtrak to Yale? Any thoughts on hotels in New Haven or restaurants in any of the cities?

That makes sense if you definitely don't want to rent a car. Otherwise, renting a car for a couple of days and driving from Boston is definitely a decent option.

As for restaurants, it would help if you offered some cuisines you like and budget.
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Feb 5th, 2016, 08:24 AM
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travelgourmet's mention of Williams reminds me I wanted to comment on the post about the weather. We visited Williams, Amherst and all the others when my son was a senior in high school (this was after acceptances - he was deciding where to go). Anyway, we arrived at Williams on what turned out to be the first day of spring. Up until the day before it had been cold and blustery, but on this day, it was glorious - about 70 degrees and all the students were outside on the lawn in shorts and t-shirts. The problem is my California-raised son thought it was always like that!

(P.S. He went to college in California, but grad school in New England and he lives in DC now, so he know winter LOL)
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Feb 5th, 2016, 12:57 PM
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Don't forget the Harvard Of The West (San Diego State)!

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Feb 5th, 2016, 03:59 PM
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Beware, it did snow here today! Now living in the area coming from the Midwest I often walk through Harvard Yard though a Yale grad. Don't know MIT but doesn't it focus on science rather than liberal arts? Our son teaches African Studies at Boston University. Wellesley, sure, and in the Boston area many more excellent colleges. Yes, Amtrak to New Haven is great and yes Yale campus somewhat compact if you mean the colleges.

But here's the thing. I don't advise just looking at a big name school but more importantly wonder what academic interests does the student have. Also to think about, what is the value of walking around gawking at big campuses? One should have pinpointed academic and perhaps other interests (like music, sports, drama) before considering such a long trip. One might do well to explore strengths in that area, even meet teachers.

There is this also...you know surely the excellent colleges in most every state, California included. So is there really any reason you should consider just big name ones? And another thing to ponder: for a college education, is a big university better than a smaller liberal arts one?
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