“They’re angry at you, all the time. After a while, it just grinds you down…
The applicants are angry because I can’t see how special they are. Their parents are angry because I let in some other kid with a lower SAT score. The alumni are angry because they got into Princeton, but their brilliant kid got denied. The faculty’s angry because we took the athlete, not the genius, but the football players know that its easier to get in if you throw the discus, and all the violinists and pianists are pretty sure you have an edge if you play something strange, like a tuba or the harpsichord. All the New Yorkers believe that everyone out there from South Dakota gets in automatically, but out there in South Dakota they think they don’t stand a chance at a place like Princeton. The working-class kids are convinced we’re selling admission to the highest bidder. Simone is angry at us because we’re elitist, but the elite know for sure that we’re giving their places away to every black or Hispanic kid who applies. Nonlegacy kids are pissed of because they read somewhere that legacy kids are twice as likely to be admitted. But I’ve watched my boss get up in front of a packed house at reunions and tell all those loyal alumni that two-thirds of their kids are going to be rejected. Let me tell you, they’re not thrilled about that. When I go out to visit schools, the kids are mad at me because they know I’m going to dangle this beautiful thing in front of them and encourage them to apply, and then reject their applications. The college counselors, the private ones who charge thousands of dollars, they’re furious at us, because we’re furious at them, and if we even smell them on an application it pisses us off, which makes it hard for them to sell their services to the parents, who are already angry at us and are now going to be angry at them, too.”
“Can i just say, as a mother of a prospective applicant…that it’s very frustrating. We’re all trying to figure out what you want. And it feels like every time we figure out the rules, you just change them. One year it’s ‘well-rounded students.’ The next it’s minorities who play the flute,’ then as if remembering that it wasn’t supposed to be about her, she rephrased her conclusion. “these kids want to be able to give you what you want.’
And therein, thought Portia…resided the problem…
‘We’re very much aware of that,’she told them. ‘we understand the frustration. And I don’t think there’s anyone in my field right now who isn’t worried about what this is doing to the kids. And I don’t just mean the competition, though that’s bad enough. I mean what the process is doing to them psychologically…We’ve got twenty-five percent of all college applications in this country going to one percent of the schools. And that one percent includes the only fifteen American colleges who accept less than twenty percent of their applicants. We know there are parents who are doing everything they can to game the system. They’re having their kids diagnosed ADHD or learning disabled so they can get extra time on the SAT. Now that ETS has stopped denoting which students have been given extra time, there’s no reason not to. But the message. To the kids. They’ve been tutored in everything, for years, whether they need it or not. So what they come to understand is: I’m not good enough to do it on my own. I need help to be successful…
And how can that not carry forward into their adult lives? I think it already impacts their experience as college students. We have students who freak out when they no longer have that support. They’re e-mailing their tutors and sending them their papers for review. They feel fraudulent…
I had a pretty scary conversation last year with one of my friend Rachel’s babysitters. She’s a senior at Princeton now. She told me a lot of her friends have a kind of disassociation. They’ve spent years assembling this perfect self to display to use — to people who are going to make these important decisions about htem. But sometimes they don’t feel they’re that person at all. They don’t feel smart or capable in the least, and of course when they get to Princeton they’re surrounded by their peers, who have done just as good a job of assembling this competent veneer, then they feel as if they’re the only fake in the bunch. This girl, Samantha was telling me there’s so much self-doubt. When I heard that, I suddenly felt as if I’ve been doing these kids a disservice.
They expect a lot from themselves.
Oh my God. So much. I honestly wonder if they’re not creating, or at least abetting, this surge of anxiety and depression in college-aged kids. And then there’s the other side of the coin. Which the babysitter also pointed out to me. Which is that some of them get to college and they just let all those balls they’ve been juggling for years fall out of their hands. They’ve worked themselves into the ground to get in. They feel like they missed out on slacking off. So now that they’re in, they’re going to have that lazy teenager thing they never had in high school. Seriously the whole system. I wonder about it sometimes. But this where we are. In a few years, it will probably look different.”
–Admission, Jean Hanff Korelitz
Late post with some quotes from Admission (pulpy novel the Tina Fey movie is based on) which I read earlier this summer while studying for the GREs. Illuminating a little of the complex many in my generation share. How did I get here? Why did I get here as opposed to someone else? How do I make the best of it? Not hugely different from other generations post-adolescent quandaries except in the magnitude of inequality.
To the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into the College of their Dreams
It’s different for grad school but my 2 cents is that I want to be somewhere that wants to have me, not someplace where I’m the last person they pick off the wait-list.