Yale welcomed us with a world of castles and trees. Nghi and I, tired after a fun night at Wesleyan, woke up to buildings that looked like they were pulled out of our AP Art History textbook. We immediately went to the athletics center, which had an exterior that resembled a beginning-of-the-renaissance cathedral. We went up a couple floors to meet the head coach of the Yale team, a man named Dave Talbott. He and Renato caught up as we toured the facility, which boasted over fifteen courts with three exhibition courts. I couldn’t help but be floored. This was the place where champions fought with thousands of people behind them. The urge to play was almost irresistible, but we had no time.
Coach Talbott led us out of the facility and to the admissions office. Along the way he introduced us to quite a few structures and a lot of the history about Yale. We were also able to ask him questions about what it took to become a “Yaley” and part of the squash team. He didn’t hold back, which I appreciated. We could become part of Yale and play Club or Intramural, but the team was way beyond our skill level.
He did mention, however, that no Urban Squash student had ever been accepted to Yale before. It was almost an indirect challenge, one that I knew I had to pursue. The sparkle in Nghi’s eye told me she aimed to do the same.
He was also able to grant us special access to see the dining hall, which reminded us exactly of the great hall from Harry Potter. My draw nearly hit the floor as I took in how beautiful and how powerful all of Yale was. I guess I have a thing for gothic architecture.
Once we arrived in Admissions, Coach Talbot was able to put us in an official tour group, despite the wonderful job he had already done. After a few more rapid-fire questions, he went to go to a meeting, and we integrated ourselves into the tour.
Yale has a reputation for having some of the best tours, and I would have to agree. Our tour guide was funny and an excellent speaker. With him, we saw the library, got an introduction to the residential college system, and even learned about some funny history. The most impressive was the residential system. Each college had a population that was in near-perfect ratio with the actual demographics of the students in Yale. For example, if Yale had 56% women in attendance, each college would have about 56% women. These people became a family for you. You lived with them, ate with them, put on/attended special events with them, and did all of the like with them. You were friends with people from every college, of course, but Yale specifically divided itself into twelve parts so you could make meaningful and lasting connections much more easily. Nghi and I both think this is what makes Yale great, although the outstanding academia and striking scenery are huge pluses.
We ended the tour with a visit to the local Urban program, Squash Haven. I had made some friends on the Citizenship Tour who attended that program, but they were not in attendance while we were there. It was still interesting to see the similarities and differences between our two programs, and their staff was equally kind and supportive.
Before we left Yale for Vassar, we stopped at the gift shop to pick up a few souvenirs to commemorate the trip. We left with positive, but mixed, feelings. Nghi and I began this tour with ideas about what we wanted to do, but as we fell in love with more and more colleges, the number of possible futures we had started growing.
Renato told us that this was important. It was better to love the colleges we were seeing than to hate all of them. Nghi and I agreed, but now there are more doors open then I ever thought there would be. It’s a wonderful and scary thing.
Vassar was different from all of the other colleges we had seen. The University is huge, 1,000 acres of beautiful woodland, with a tiny student population that was just under 2,500. Everything was spread out, and the architecture of the buildings was almost as impressive as Yale’s, and even better in certain cases (i.e, the stain glass windows in the library).
We first hit the athletics center, where we caught Coach Jane Parker leading a beginner group. They have six incredibly well kept courts, and only shared this building with the volleyball team. Vassar Squash had undergone total renovations in 2006, and it showed. Despite not being Harvard or Yale, the facility impressed us with how well kept it was.
Coach Jane (she didn’t seem to want us to call her Parker) was what made the whole tour very different from any other squash school we had seen. Most other schools, Wesleyan aside, clearly push for championship victories. It isn’t there only, and mostly not their major, focus, but the competitive edge they were looking for was clear.
Coach Jane doesn’t want that. Vassar is only a Division III school, and she is proud of that fact. Last year, despite not winning the Division, she spoke with pride about how hard her students played and the amount of work they put in as a team. Renato put it the best: She isn’t looking to create a team of champions, she’s looking to create a squash experience. After the nature of other places we had visited, Nghi and I received this as a welcome refresher.
Coach Jane then took us on her own tour. Although we weren’t able to see much, as everything was very spread out, what we did see was impactful. The library, as previously mentioned, was well kept and breathtaking. The grounds are amazing. The dance hall is beautiful, and a lot of their focus is on the arts. They are even putting the finishing touches on a new science research center, which would be perfect for Nghi, who wants to become a Oncology Surgeon.
We were also able to meet the professor of Geography, a very kind woman who helped give us a small introduction to the coursework and course load of a Vassar class. There is no doubt that the academics are incredibly challenging, but the support system at Vassar doesn’t allow kids to fall through the cracks. My favorite fact was that all of the classes are taught by professors who hold doctorates and no one else. There is no TA who steps in to teach, so our education is quality assured. Also, because of the lack of general-ed requirements, most of our education is shaped by our individual choices. Education at Vassar is highly personalized.
The main thing that kept me from signing up at that very moment was the atmosphere. It was quiet and sleepy. This isn’t a bad thing, but for a San Diego native, it is more than just a bit different. Coach Jane told us about fly-in opportunities that we can take in order to get a feel for the campus, which will most likely end up being necessary so I can experience what the social life is in the school.
We ended the day with a few photos, and began our drive out to New York City. Coach Jane and Vassar opened up a door for us that was incredibly different from any other school we had gone to. Our choices are multiplying even further, and this would most likely only continue as the College Tour continues.