Thursday, June 28, 2012

Core Beliefs

After a quick breakfast, we headed over to U of Chicago for our second college tour. Last year, I went to a joint info session with Rice, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, and U of Chicago. I remembered U of Chicago as sounding pretty quirky, with campus wide events such as the annual scavenger hunt, but I was not prepared for today’s wonderful info session and campus tour.

 I remembered U of Chicago’s pride in their Core curriculum from the previous info session, but back then I had thought that I would find such requirements stifling. After meeting with Callie Brown, the U of Chicago admissions officer for northern California, I realized that the Core would actually be great for me. Although I prefer certain areas of study, I have always enjoyed taking classes in all the four main disciplines–math, English, history, and science. Contrary to former belief, I would love taking classes in a wide variety of fields of study. I also didn’t understand before that although the Core requirements cover math, the sciences, humanities, etc., within that frame there are plenty of classes to choose from that fulfill those requirements. I like the idea behind the Core, the belief that every student should have a broad base of knowledge not confined to his/her chosen field of study.

The Fermi statue
U of Chicago is on the quarter system, which translates to taking 3 different sets of classes per year, as most students don’t take classes during the summer. I remembered first hearing about the quarter system when I toured Dartmouth with the ILC last summer. If I recall correctly, I was doubtful that I would do well with such a short time for each class. (At U of Chicago, a quarter is 10 weeks and finals week.) After speaking with Edgar, a rising junior at U of Chicago from southern California, I don’t feel that that’s such a concern anymore. After all, El Cerrito High’s block schedule has already helped me adjust to semester classes, and I like the idea of being able to take up to 12 classes per year. It sounds wonderful to be able to learn so much in such a wide variety of classes in such a short time period.
U of Chicago's largest library–most of the books are underground
The classes themselves also sound amazing. Core classes are capped at 19 students, which sounds great because I’ve found from high school experience that my favorite classes have been when I’ve been fortunate enough to have classes with about 20 or fewer other students. Although it might seem incredible to have classes with 20 students in an underfunded public school, the higher math classes tend to be smaller than other classes.

The phrase most commonly used to describe U of Chicago classes was “discussion based.” I know I would enjoy classes here because my junior year AP Lit class was discussion based, and it was one of my favorite classes. We spent 90% of our time talking about the novels we read, which would invariably offer new ways to interpret them. I really liked the way that our teacher would help guide us to new ways of thinking, but mostly let us talk among ourselves and discover new meanings from each other.

My other favorite high school class was calculus. My Calc AB teacher was a U of Chicago alumnus, and he was my favorite math teacher ever. I also had him for geometry my freshman year, and he helped spark my interest in math. He was a big believer in learning for the sake of learning, an approach which resonated with me. He tried to help all of his classes learn the right way to think about math, and always told us that we didn’t need to memorize formulas (with some exceptions, obviously) if we could figure out how to derive them. I loved this approach to learning, and when we came to U of Chicago it became immediately apparent that his teaching philosophy and that of U of Chicago go hand in hand. 

Based on my experiences in AP Lit and calculus, I think that I would love U of Chicago academics. Although a lot of schools claim to have small discussion based classes, I am pretty convinced that the U of Chicago is the real deal because of my math teacher. I love the core beliefs and academic approach here. I really liked campus, as it was a mix of older and more modern buildings, in an urban setting but still maintaining a sense of campus unity. From what I’ve experienced so far, I could definitely see myself here in another year, and I plan on applying.

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