College review by Lisa Bleich
We spent the next day at Brandeis (my alma mater). We started off the day having lunch with a student. There are two dining halls on campus, Sherman, which offers all-you-can eat food as well as a kosher kitchen and Usdan, which is a pay as you go model.
We went to Usdan and also met one of my former students who had to stay in Usdan the entire week as part of his fraternity pledging obligations. We had a surprisingly good lunch; there were numerous healthy, fresh options including a salad bar, sandwich bar, Mediterranean bar, grill, and sushi.
After lunch we sat in on a class, Magical Realism and Mythology, with a brilliant, young English professor, David Sherman. He had e-mailed my daughter the syllabus prior to class, so she was prepared with the reading. Twenty-six students sat around a square table with nothing to look at but themselves and their books.
The 1 hour and twenty minutes was filled with discussion, dissection, and literary references. Class members grappled with magical realism and the idea of self-acceptance, sexual power, transformation, and illusion vs. reality. Students were engaged, thoughtful and even playful in expressing their differing ideas.
Brandeis is all about inclusion and this was illustrated by the way the professor tried to bring everyone into the discussion and validate their points, even if they were not on target. He even called on my daughter several times and she felt comfortable participating in the discussion.
Students did not have one specific “look”, but rather a mix of cute dresses with leggings and boots, jeans, converse, t-shirts, etc. There was a sense of individual style. The campus too does not have a uniform look, with a combination of mid-century to modern architecture.
Karen, the Associate Director of Admissions, who led the information session was very friendly and tried to engage the students. She said Brandeis students are creative, have a passion for learning and social change. Students of color make up 21% of the class and international students represent 15% of the class. Brandeis was founded in 1948 as the only Jewish sponsored, non sectarian university with the idea of creating an inclusive learning community dedicated to social action.
Karen described the key ways that Brandeis is unique: its people, experiential learning, critical thinking, and students who are engaged in both the local and global community. Almost 100% of students do an internship and 50% study abroad. Most classes offer an optional 2-week experiential learning segment and our tour guide discussed how she took advantage of this program and was able to integrate what she learned in the classroom to a real life case study. Undergraduate research is also huge as our tour guide said; “They’ll basically throw money at you if you want to do research in any discipline, not just the sciences.”
Students are required to take courses in humanities, social sciences, science, creative arts, non-Western studies, Quantitative reasoning, 3 semesters of foreign language (a SAT subject test of >650 eliminates requirement), and PE.
Socially, students have a lot of activities on campus from Theater to Dance shows to a cappella singing to Greek life to coffee houses to school sponsored laser tag obstacle courses to hopping on the shuttle to Boston which is only 9 miles away. There is also a train station right near campus. The largest club on campus is The Waltham Group, which is the umbrella organization for community service projects.
I often get the question about the Jewish life on campus. We asked several students, both Jewish and non Jewish and their answers were fairly consistent, it’s there if you want it, but it is not pervasive on campus.
“Coming from a Jewish High school sometimes I want nothing to do with Judaism and that’s easy to do but other times, when I do want it, I have a lot to choose from. I go to Chabad on Friday nights sometimes with friends for a free and really fun dinner or will go to prayers for a holiday. The communal aspect of Judaism is the one I like most about the religion and I think that it transcends into the Brandeis community as a whole.”
“I have learned some things about Judaism that I didn’t know before being Catholic, but really it doesn’t have an impact on me one way or the other.”
The campus goes out of its way to be open to all faiths and beliefs.
Admitted students are typically in the top 20% of their class with an average SAT range from 1940-2100 and ACT of 31. Brandeis has moved towards meeting 100% of demonstrated need, which means that their merit scholarships are almost all gone.
There has been a lot of building over the past 5 years resulting in a state-of-the art science renovation as well as the Mandel Center for the Humanities. They also plan on reopening their swimming pool in the fall, so swimmers and divers will be in high demand to create their team.
My Daughter’s Impressions:
“I want to apply here early decision. I feel very comfortable here; the students are really smart and friendly. They have a good creative writing program along with everything else I like. I also like the campus and having access to Boston without being right in the city. ”