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In the Top League

When applying to these universities, make sure you know everything about them that makes them stand apart

education Updated: Jul 04, 2011 13:47 IST
Hindustan Times

These are considered to be the big daddies of the Ivies in terms of their vast campuses, locations in big cities, the number of undergraduate schools and the diversity in their academic programmes. Hence, this week we focus on XXFull form (UC) and XXfull Form (Upenn) with regard to their academics and the exciting cultural and social life they offer on campus.

Core curriculum – foundation of liberal arts education: Students are required to study the ‘famed core’ at Columbia College, featuring small, discussion-based classes and must attend every session of their core classes in order to graduate. These include courses such as literature humanities, contemporary civilisation, art humanities, music humanities, university writing, frontiers of science.

“As I was studying at Columbia Engineering, we were required to take some of the core classes such as principles of economics, contemporary western civilisation, university writing and masterpieces of western art, all of which are interdisciplinary. In addition, my major allowed me the freedom to take some electives and I took ‘Introduction to Indian Civilization’, and some electives in psychology and economics as well,” says Bikram Rana, a 2011 graduate from Columbia University. Upenn follows similar system, says Rohan Tibrawalla who concentrated in accounting and management at The Wharton School, Penn, “The core curriculum at Penn includes critical writing and thinking and basic math and economics to be fulfilled by all Penn students and then depending on the undergrad school, you complete school specific requirements.”

Dual Degrees/joint degrees:
Advay Jhunjhunwala, a 2009 UPenn graduate, pursued a dual degree programme, with a BA in PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) from the College of Arts and Sciences at UPenn and BSE in finance and business studies from Wharton business school at UPenn. “Penn has a ‘one university’ philosophy. A student may be enrolled in any one of the four undergraduate schools at Penn, but he can choose to fulfill all the requirements of a certain major in any other school, and earn a second degree,“ says Jhunjhunwala. A dual degree is not rare among students, although it’s challenging as one may have to take over 45 credits, as against 36 credits required for a single degree. “However”, says Jhunjhunwala, “the professors and advisors guide you and help you structure your courses in a way that you’re not burdened. They put you in the driver’s seat wherein you can decide which classes to take and when, leaving a lot of time for extra curricular activities as well.” But, it definitely is a lot of hard work, as you fulfill the requirements of both the degrees individually, as well as take plenty of courses in the liberal arts.

Interdisciplinary programmes: These are structured programmes combining knowledge from seemingly diverse fields, a structure that’s very unique to UPenn. “My liberal arts major, PPE – is interdisciplinary in nature, in that I took classes in subjects as diverse as politics, economics, statistics, psychology, philosophy and integrated them.“ Both Columbia and Penn follow the dictum that if a student is enrolled with any one undergraduate school on their campuses, his/her knowledge is incomplete unless, he/she looks beyond the areas of study and also take courses in other schools and subjects.

Undergraduate research: Having opted for a major, students are required to submit an academic research project in their last year, under a professor’s mentorship. ““Many Penn students take advantage of the opportunities at Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. I too submitted a research paper and enjoyed the experience of being a research assistant to a professor of Finance and helping him with his work by collecting, analyzing and interpreting data,” says Jhunjhunwala.
Work-study: “While studying at Columbia, I had to arrange for extra money through work-study,” says Rana. Work-study options include, working in the library for few hours per week, in the college residential house as a residential advisor or as a receptionist or even engaging in small jobs at the local café etc. earning a minimum of 7-8 dollars an hour. “‘I was enrolled in the university’s tutoring center where I was tutoring students enrolled in certain economics courses,’ says Jhunjhunwala happily.

Assistantships and need-based grants: Ivy League universities do not offer merit-based scholarships. “Since I was concentrating in accounting and good at it, I was made a teaching assistant to a senior accounting professor and helped review and grade exams, earning around $10 an hour,” says Tibrawalla. Columbia University offers need-based grants (money given to a student on a non-returnable basis) and loans. However, “unlike other Ivies, international admissions at Columbia University is not need-blind??needy,” says Rana. “So if a wealthy international student is competing with a poorer one, the wealthier one has a much better chance of getting in. This is the only downside to their financial aid policy regarding international students,” he adds.

Big cities – higher crime rate: Even though both universities are located in big cities, Philadelphia and New York, where crime rates are high, students needn’t fear, as students from both universities give assurance of safety. “The unsafe areas are further up north, and quite far away from the Columbia University campus. There have been individual cases of violence against students, but these are few and far between. The campus is safe, and there are always cops and public safety officers around,” says Rana. UPenn too, has its own police force and on campus security, and in the night students are provided with bus services. “Additionally, the academic and residential buildings are accessible only to those with ID cards,” says Tibrawalla.

Aravind Adiga, author, ‘The white Tiger’ UPenn
Vikram Pandit—The current CEO of Citigroup UPenn

Bikram Rana, studied Engineering at Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, University of Columbia
The campus is extremely beautiful, and the main library was ranked the fourth most beatuiful in the country. Every year, we have a huge number of events lined up and also lectures are conducted every week by famous figures, such as, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nicolas Sarkozy, APJ Abdul Kalam, Shakira, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Imran Khan among others.

Advay Jhunjhunwala, 2009 grad with BA in PPE and BSE in business and finance
At the end of my first year I decided to do two degrees as I wished to study both business and liberal arts. Interdisciplinary studies at UPenn is fantastic. Also, Philadelphia is a foodie’s paradise as there are a lot of restaurants and cuisines to choose from and many outlets provide authentic Indian cuisine. UPenn has a very big campus and the annual Penn relay carnival is a big hit as runners from across the country participating. Penn also host several conferences including The Wharton India Economic Forum, where keynote speakers such as Dr Abdul Kalam, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Chanda Kochhar participate.

First Published: Jul 04, 2011 13:38 IST