So you know when you meet someone and they’re not really good looking, kind of plain, not ugly but just meh . . . But then you get to know them and they’re just the most amazing person and you really, really dig them? And you want to be around them all the time because you just feel cooler being there? And you can’t get them out of your head?
That’s SUNY Purchase.
At first glance, it’s not very impressive. It looks even worse considering it’s surrounded by some pretty amazing scenery — Westchester County in all its glory. Kind of like standing next to your gorgeous friend and her beachy waves. Low-to-the-ground stone walls on both sides of the road leading to a compact campus ringed by a pothole-filled road. Brown brick buildings with an occasional garishly colored accent wall and public art statues along the roadside.
Well, get over it. The dorms and food aren’t anything to write home about, but stop being so shallow and embrace this amazing place as the gem that it truly is.
I pulled into the admissions office parking lot, got my parking pass (it’s a mystery why I even needed this since there were dozens of open spots), and sat down for the info session. As usual, I got the weird looks because I was alone. I’m too old to be a student. I’m without a teenager so I’m probably not a parent. It was even weirder this time because Ben (high school junior) was supposed to be with me, but decided (wisely) to sit this one out and finish 4 film projects along with a heap of end-of-the-year school work. The info from the info session, in short: Purchase has close ties to New York City, its mission is to be the best arts college in the SUNY system, and it’s progressive and inclusive. By the numbers: 4200 undergrads, average GPA (unweighted) 3.2, 24 ACT (test optional). They value letters of recommendation and application essays big-time. They get 10,000 apps a year that are reviewed by only 4 readers (ugh), so writing an essay that stands out in an interesting way is the way to go. Their motto is “Think Wide Open,” so this place is not for in-the-box kids. There are lots of projects, hands-on experiences, and co-teaching between the disciplines.
Since Ben is looking at film schools, my ears perked up when the admissions officer started talking.
First up, the facilities and student experience: They’re building a brand spanking new film/media/theater center that will open this fall. They’re keeping the current facilities which are pretty terrific: huge soundstage, multiple editing rooms, screening rooms, 3:1 student to camera ratios (the smallest on the Eastern seaboard), gigantic cage of equipment. Freshmen get to do camera work immediately and make films every semester. At the end of each year, they have “Review” when their films are critiqued by 4-5 faculty members and they’re invited (or not) to return the following year. Pretty intense stuff!
Next up, the degree: Purchase offers a few different options. If you want to study film along with other subjects in the liberal arts, for example, you can pursue a BS or BA degree. For those of you like my AllFilmAllTheTime son, go for the hardcore conservatory style. Out of the 120 credits to graduate, you’ll be taking 90+ in the film department. The program teaches students all aspects of filmmaking, but it has an emphasis on directing and storytelling.
And finally, the application: For its most intense BFA degrees, Purchase requires a portfolio and an interview for admission. Applicants must submit samples of their creative work that shows their clearly defined artistic voice and technical skills. The film program accepts about 10% of applicants each year.
In short, Purchase College is a great place for the student who is a serious artist and wants to commit to his or her craft. Professors see students as colleagues and fellow creatives. Students are collaborative, friendly, hard-working, ingenious, and curious. It’s less expensive than a lot of private colleges (NYU, I’m looking at you), but offers an intense and rewarding experience for students who are driven and passionate about art.