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In the top league

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:12 IST
Pooja Biraia

Mission: Harvard, Yale, Princeton

We tell you what makes each of these three liberal arts universities in the Ivy league unique and we suggest ways in which you can maximise your chances of getting into these highly competitive institutions

A liberal arts and sciences education: Yale, Princeton and Harvard are all alike, in that all three are known for imparting liberal arts and sciences education at the undergraduate level. “The significance of such an education is that it gives you broad knowledge across disciplines, without limiting you to a particular academic subject, which is in sharp contrast to the Indian system, where college teaching is entirely dedicated to taking courses in one particular field over the three years of the programme. Through liberal arts, a student gets a broad grounding in a variety of basic subjects, and then proceeds to choose his majors in the last two years of the programme,” says Ranjan Pal, president of the Princeton Club of India.

The college system: As opposed to the UK system of education, where colleges form the centre of a student’s academic and social life, in the US, all academic activity happens in the university. The college—also known as a residential hall — is mainly a housing option. “Although, a residential college in Yale is where we live, sometimes we do have seminar classes in our colleges, conducted by expert professors,” says Yale alumnus Ashish Bakshi.

Undergraduate research and theses: Undergraduate students at Princeton, Harvard and Yale are required to write theses and essays or submit projects and portfolios pertaining to their majors. “One needs to submit two independent research projects, one at the end of the junior year called the junior independent work, and the next one during the senior year, called senior thesis which is submitted upon graduation. All along, you work with your academic advisor. Preparation involves a lot of reading and writing. Every course has about 200 pages of reading per week and you need to read about 10 books for each course. Every week there are assignments and papers to write,” says Nikhil Seth, an economics student at Princeton.

Flexibility of learning: Undergraduate studies in the US last four years —freshman year, sophomore year, junior year and senior year. “Liberal arts institutes offer a lot of flexibility in choosing subjects. Although I had electrical engineering as my major, I minored in finance and also had the option to take courses outside my major in fields such as South Asian arts and architecture,” says Aishwarya Sridhar, who recently graduated from Princeton. A liberal arts education, in fact, requires a student to study about seven courses spread over four years, outside of his major. “Apart from these subjects, you can also sign up for additional certificate programmes,” says Sridhar.

The professors: Students interact with professors after lectures, to further explore topics that have been discussed in previous classes. “Professors set the framework for the course and decide when you need to do a paper, assignment or field study. The significance of the professor is such that students often pick courses based on who is teaching it,” says Pal.

Seminars, discussions, precepts and tutorials: Besides the regular lectures, students are required to participate in discussions and seminars relating to their areas of interest. These relatively small group sessions are called ‘preceptorials’ at Princeton and ‘tutorials’ at Harvard. All three universities also offer the Freshman Seminar program, which allows students to work closely on a variety of selected topics with their seminar faculty.

Funding: Ivy League institutes do provide need-based financial aid. However, applying for aid does not affect your chances of admission. At Princeton, for instance, grants and scholarships cam make up 96% of a student’s aid, with the other 4% provided through a campus job.

Alumni speak
Nikhil Seth, BA economics
Undergraduate at Princeton University
“I went to Princeton after Class 12 and am now in my senior year. Princeton has only one large graduate school, so the University’s focus is on its undergraduate student body. This is why Princeton is known as the best place for undergraduates. The location is an added attraction — it’s just 40 minutes by train to New York.”