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Old 11-15-2008, 03:22 PM   #16
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

Gah, yeah, the meaning of 'college' is a bit confusing, and varies between the US and UK.

UK usage is that college usually refers to further education - A-Levels, normally taken between 16-18 years old. The term 'college' is used for other educational establishments too though. "Sixth form college" specifically refers to these, while "Further Education colleges" focus more on adult and vocational learning, but the qualification levels are notionally the same.

Degree-granting (or higher education) establishments are almost always referred to here as "University".

The situation is muddied by the existence of collegiate Universities, notably Cambridge, Oxford, and Durham. These have a somewhat federal structure, one 'University' made up of several independent 'colleges' (loosely similar to the USA being one nation made up of several independent states). Thus at these Universities, the term 'college' is taken to mean college of the University.

(Some secondary schools (equivalent to high schools) stop at 16, which is the end of compulsory schooling, while others go up to 18 in what is called the "6th form". I don't know but I believe in the US there isn't anything between high school and University)
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Old 11-15-2008, 04:16 PM   #17
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

In the States, high school continues through age 18. Sometime people take other classes at "community colleges" in the last year or two, and those are also used by homeschoolers, but they're usually just vocational colleges. If you're at a decent high school, it's generally more impressive to just take upper level courses there, though. It's not as specialized as the A-levels are, though.

Nearly all universities here are divided into colleges, but never more than five or ten. From what I know Cambridge has many more than that. (Edit: Yep, it's 30, according to Wikipedia. And now I see why you chose "cantab" as your handle.)
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Old 11-15-2008, 06:15 PM   #18
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

I keep writing a reply but never posting it... I'll make this one quick I guess.

Teacher recommendations are mostly worthless. 90% of everyone will have generic recommendations. Tell those writing recommendations to say some specific things about you that they like to make your recommendations more valuable.

I don't remember too much about the essays I had to write but I do remember the University of Maryland had an essay option I thought was certifiable bullshit compared against the others. I say that sincerely. The question was something like "How will you improve the university's diversity?" The University of Maryland seems to be big on affirmative action and "diversity" to an obscene and contradictory degree (I could rant about this for a while... and maybe I will eventually on trettel.org when I have enough time). I knew this question was meant for minority students but I wrote about it anyway. If I remember correctly my essay focused on me being a twin, which is uncommon, and me living in a small town, which is somewhat uncommon from what I can tell. Obviously they didn't have a problem with this as I was accepted into the university, the engineering program, the honors program, and received a small scholarship.

Edit: For those who are looking into engineering, I would highly suggest becoming familiar with the basic principles of statics, dynamics, calculus, and differential equations during the summer (well, statics and dynamics if you're not looking at electrical, computer, or biological engineering). Getting the basics down will help you enormously when you start to learn more details about the subjects, even if they start from the basics in that class. The basics of these subjects can easily be learned off the internet. For differential equations I'd suggest becoming comfortable with the Laplace transform because that method works in a wide variety of cases.
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Old 11-15-2008, 08:15 PM   #19
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

Hmmm...you could have told me those recommendations BEFORE I went to Cambridge and ended up without a clue on calculus. I don't even know what the Laplace transform is.

And might be best NOT to tell me. I have enough math geekery this year; half the people on my staircase are mathmos! They put a whiteboard in our kitchen to do maths on! Though it's actually used more for complaints about the state of the kitchen, and breaking world news. Anyway, I'm a Geologist now. I solve my problems with a hammer!
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Old 11-15-2008, 08:59 PM   #20
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

Ben, I was waiting for you to post something.

Teacher recommendations vary wildly. There's one teacher at our school who can definitely write the best recommendations, but she only does it for maybe two or three out of the fifty students for whom she writes recommendations.

Essays are pretty bad. I decided to drop my UChicago application because I couldn't handle the essays. Just look at 'em. There's no way I can answer them while being confident that I've said what I want to say and have a fair shot. And a lot of other universities do the same thing, to a lesser extent, even if they're technical universities. Even MIT had one essay I got stuck on forever before scrabbling something together.

All US universities do affirmative action. The idea is commendable, but it only helps the affluent minority students who'd have done well anyway. Better preschool and K-12 education would go a long way towards leveling the playing field when it actually matters.

Hmm...the Laplace transform sounds scary. I'll do what you say and look at it this summer, not now. Thanks. And cantab, all I know about geology came from Earthsearch and Dwarf Fortress. Sadly, that's already enough for quiz bowl.
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Old 11-15-2008, 09:13 PM   #21
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

Those are some pretty funky essay titles. Especially the 'choose-your-own-essay' one - is that a regular.

But come on Silence! You've got until January I believe. What have you got to lose? Go for it! I went to a 'special' junior school', then a bog-standard high school, then an inner city sixth form, and now I'm less than a year from graduating from one of the finest Universities in the world - with only my work ethic standing between me and a first (equivalent to summa cum laude). Aim high - you might just reach it.
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Old 11-15-2008, 11:32 PM   #22
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

@cantab: Basic calculus is easy once you've done it enough. Though, unless you need to use it, it is helpful but not necessary in your work, or you find it interesting, I see no reason to learn it.

General education doesn't make much sense to me, mainly because you forget what you don't use fast. I remember perhaps 15% of the material of my ancient Mesoamerican and Andean art class last year for example. And next year I think that'll be close to 0.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silence
Essays are pretty bad. I decided to drop my UChicago application because I couldn't handle the essays. Just look at 'em. There's no way I can answer them while being confident that I've said what I want to say and have a fair shot. And a lot of other universities do the same thing, to a lesser extent, even if they're technical universities. Even MIT had one essay I got stuck on forever before scrabbling something together.

Those essay questions are definitely esoteric, but that's probably what they're going for. I agree that they get ridiculous. To be honest I doubt responses to these questions say much about a potential student. Too many brilliant people can't write well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silence
Hmm...the Laplace transform sounds scary. I'll do what you say and look at it this summer, not now. Thanks.

Definitely learn the Laplace transform. In a lot of the freshman level classes they'll assume you don't know how to solve differential equations and just give you derived equations. That can be a lot to memorize so knowing some way to derive those equations is very helpful. I'll also admit that I didn't understand some things until I derived the equations myself.

Don't bother learning the derivation of the Laplace transform of a function. Use a table of Laplace transforms to avoid having to derive or memorize too many things. Follow examples of how differential equations are solved with the Laplace transform and you'll get the hang of it. You'll need to be comfortable with partial fractions and factoring but that's about as hard as it gets.

Another thing worth learning is how to solve systems of linear equations with a matrix. You may already be familiar with this. In my high school they called it the "matrix method" of solving equations. It's basic linear algebra (not a class I've taken but I know a bit about the subject) and it's easy.

Here's a decent page with information about solving linear systems with matrixes. Basically you put the coefficients in one matrix and the non-coefficients in another. Take the inverse of the first matrix and multiply that by the second matrix and the system is solved. This saves a huge amount of time and is less prone to error compared against the old fashioned way of solving systems of equations.

One more thing... be very comfortable working with vectors.
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Old 11-16-2008, 12:58 AM   #23
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben
General education doesn't make much sense to me, mainly because you forget what you don't use fast. I remember perhaps 15% of the material of my ancient Mesoamerican and Andean art class last year for example. And next year I think that'll be close to 0.
I second that completely. From my understanding, general education is supposed to expand the student's subject areas to non-major areas that they would otherwise not study. Fair enough; college is about making good students who know a lot about a lot. But it's implemented in a horrible lunch-line like way that just won't work for everyone. One from here, one from there, one from everywhere! At the University of Maryland, they have a list of classes for general education, and I feel the lunch-line analogy works. You can choose one from this group, one from this one, and one from another, just like the lunch line in middle school where you can pick one lunch from a selection of many and never get any customization without a higher price.

I have extra-major interests. I also have hobbies. I have no problem taking classes outside of my major, and I especially have no problem taking classes about my interests and hobbies outside my major. General education forces students to take classes they likely are not interested in at all, and because of that they'll put little effort into them. And even in classes they enjoy, they would likely be unable to take further classes in them. An example: I love taking classes on Spanish and am quite good at speaking it. I took a rather low level class on Spanish, but because of the general education requirements and the rigorous requirements of a mechanical engineering degree, I can't take another even though I technically can fit it in if I didn't take other general education classes. In their minds, I filled that category and am complete. I'm not.

My proposed solution? Just tell the students to take a certain number of credits well outside their majors. General education works well for majors that don't require a lot of classes; stricter majors (like engineering) don't work well with it. This solution offers flexibility to those students that have to take a lot of classes in their majors by letting them really have fun with the ones outside of it, hoping that they'll remember and use more from this.

End of rant. Good luck to anyone applying!
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Old 11-16-2008, 02:31 AM   #24
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

I'll go back and read those long posts later. (lol)

I did read Ben's first reply however, and can mention this:
I am looking into mechanical engineering.
I took physics last year, and am taking calculus this year, and being on the robotics team at school has taught me a lot of stuff. The other good thing is my calc teacher is real tough and like grinds the stuff into our brains so its hard to forget certain things. *brain blanked out on what else to say since its 2:30 am*

About essays:
I agree that some of these topics that the colleges come up with are pure bullshit. I have been procrastinating with my university of delaware application because of the damn essay. Their choices in my mind are bonkers.
I can't post a link because you have to be logged in to read the essay topics, ill take a screencap.
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Old 11-16-2008, 06:27 AM   #25
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

I think calculus was taught a bit badly at A-Level. I always felt I was muddling through things without really understanding it. It took a long time to get over that.
And now I use it very little, so I can never remember stuff, I find I have to look up standard integrals like e^kx

What age is 'general education' at? I know the US has this system of major and minor - that's totally alien here. Most degrees are just one subject, though there are some that are quite broad: at Cambridge we have "Natural Sciences", where you start studying a wide variety of sciences and progressively specialise (you can't just take straight physics or whatever). Even in that though, it's still all science - you can't do half science and half english literature.
That said, in my mum's time, "joint honours" were all the rage. I've head them described as "two thirds of one degree and two thirds of another!" She studied the unlikely combination of English and Computer Science, before failing exams in the latter.

Delaware's essays are all a bit up themselves. "We're great. Now here's the essay."
Except for the fourth one I see there. "null"
Write that essay! Write an essay on the topic "null". Include the screenshot to prove they offered the title.
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Old 11-16-2008, 10:41 AM   #26
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Default Re: My college acceptance(s)

General education doesn't occur at one age, just during college. Students have to pick one class for each category and take them when they can (scheduling is rather free-form). Ben's and my main criticism is that in the end students don't "expand their horizons" because they readily forget the information, especially in classes they have no interest in taking. The net effect is that they learned nothing, so it's useless in my mind.

I think the only way I was able to remember calculus was because I also took calculus-based physics at the same time. There's no better way to remember things if you know you'll be tested on them twice! I now consider Calculus 1 and 2 to be like learning to add, subtract, multiply, and divide like in elementary school. The topics discussed in these classes are rather boring but essential to later math, so essential that instructors will assume you can do any of them perfectly.

The point of the essays is to get to know the prospective student better than just from the form information. Answering the "null" one, though creative, won't help your chances because it avoids (or possibly answers) the real question: Who are you? Notice the wording: "have you discovered," "learn from you," "How will you assist." All of them are asking for personal information, so the best thing to do would be to answer personally but creatively, because you have to pull yourself out of the crowd and shout that you're an individual who'll bring stuff to the university.
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Old 11-16-2008, 07:57 PM   #27
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Thanks for the encouragement with the essay...but the biggest problem is finding where to start and writing something unique (which is difficult in this case). But just as a note, there are other reasons I'm not too keen on UChicago. They don't have an engineering school (just the natural sciences), the location isn't particularly captivating, and it's a little far from home with no relatives nearby. Honestly, I see many more reasons to go to other schools and I'd choose a different one from my list if I had the choice.

And it's not a problem of not being able to write well, Ben. It's not even a problem of being able to write creatively. I just want a real prompt that tells me what to write about, or at least where to start. Or I might just attach a story that I've written and that I like.

A lot of essay questions do seem to be recycled by colleges. Here's one that's used by MIT, UC-Berkeley, and UVA:
Quote:
Describe the world you come from – for example, your family, community or school – and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
And the diversity one is used often, too.

Specter, go for the first essay if you can. I always pick the passion one when I can because it seems to work well for me and it makes it easy for me to address what I want to address. I'm sure you've found something that you like to do...like building water guns.

I agree calculus makes sense once you understand the application. Taking a calculus-based physics class at the same time (which is what I did, too) certainly helps, and having good teachers obviously helps. Calculus is actually easier than a lot of its prerequisites...it's just got a bad rap since you need a dozen years of schooling to get there and you still may never use it.

I'm definitely comfortable with the matrix method and vectors. Thanks for the heads-up though. And once again, I'll check out Laplace transformations soon.

Yeah, I'm all for the "take this many credits outside your major" alternative to general education. Fortunately there are a few workarounds to the conventional system. First, if the college accepts AP or IB credit, you could use your high school classes there (unless those just make you eligible for more advanced general education). And second, you could get a fellowship exempting you from general education. UVA, for example, gives out Jefferson (liberal arts) and Rodmund (engineering) fellowships.

But yeah, I'll look into general education (or lack thereof) when looking closer at the schools I'm admitted to. Once again, thanks for the tips.
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Old 11-24-2008, 05:12 PM   #28
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update:

I got a scholarship letter from Widener today I got a Presidential Scholarship worth $15,000 per year for a total of $60,000. It can only be used towards tuition.

Also a week or 2 ago i got an application for a Music Scholarship worth $2,000 per year.

I'm happy

Also I visited Rutgers Engineering on Friday. I know that its a really good school, but I wasn't too thrilled with it. The buildings are very confusing to navigate and its a really big campus. I have applied there, but I have a feeling I won't attend.
I really like Widener's campus because it's all contained and one general area. I feel that the Widener campus environment would suit me better.

on another note: I still have to finish my UDel application. (lol) I should probably submit part 1 so that theres a file for me then my school transcript is sent, since i already brought that form into school.
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Old 11-24-2008, 05:40 PM   #29
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10000 a year...and that's just on tuition...ouch. I'm glad I'm not American.

I don't really know what campuses are like generally. As I may have mentioned, Cambridge doesn't have one - the University stuff is intermingled with the general town. Means the mainstream shops are very accessible, which is nice. For Sidneyites (those at Sidney Sussex college) it's great - the main gate is right opposite Sainsbury's supermarket! OTOH Girton College is out in 'the sticks'
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Old 11-24-2008, 06:14 PM   #30
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Wow, it looks like you're set. You don't even need to bother with the other schools if you prefer Widener, you've been admitted there, and you've got a full scholarship there.

cantab, some schools cost $50,000 per year for room and board. The vast majority of students get financial aid, though.
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