Frank Bruni, the always opinionated editorialist for “The New York Times” (hey, he’s paid to be opinionated…we back it!) has a piece out entitled “To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti?” that we figured we’d share with the readers of our college admissions blog. We’ve written extensively about Frank Bruni’s editorials pertaining to highly selective college admissions in the past and, as our regular readers know, we often disagree with what he has to say. But not this time. In this instance, Bruni paints an excellent portrait of how so many high school students are trying to game the college admissions system by going on “mission trips” to faraway places, to show to college admissions officers at highly selective schools what good people they are and how much they care about humanity.
If we at Ivy Coach composed a top ten list of the Deans of Admission we most respect, Ángel Pérez would certainly make the cut. Continuing on in the tradition of Deans of Admission like the late Fred Hargadon of Stanford, Princeton, and Swarthmore, Mr. Pérez tells it like it is.
Of course, college admissions officers at our nation’s elite schools see right through that. As our Vice President would say, “Malarkey!” That’s what we happen to think about mission trips. It is utter cliche to go on a service trip to a faraway country to build roads, bridges, or work in orphanages. Is it good for the sake of humanity? Probably yes! It’s wonderful to help people. But if these students are doing it in the hope of improving their odds of getting into a top university in America, they’re missing the mark big time. What these kinds of mission trips convey to admissions officers is that the students are trying to impress them by demonstrating what great people they are. And what they also convey is that the students are privileged. It costs money to go to a country in South America or Africa to do volunteer work — the student’s parents’ money. That doesn’t exactly inspire admissions officers to want to root for the college applicant. Think about it.
Ángel Pérez, the Trinity College Dean of Admissions, is an admissions dean who tells it like it is. And, needless to say, we’re big fans of Mr. Pérez for his candor, as we’ve articulated quite a bit on our blog over the years. As he is quoted in Bruni’s piece, “The running joke in admissions is the mission trip to Costa Rica to save the rain forest.” You bet that’s a running joke. But the always candid and outspoken dean takes it a step further and we could not agree with him more. As Bruni writes, “Pérez told me that his favorite among recent essays by Trinity applicants came from someone ‘who spent the summer working at a coffee shop. He wrote about not realizing until he did this how invisible people in the service industry are. He wrote about how people looked right through him at the counter.'” Yes, yes, yes. We love that kind of essay and we love that kind of work experience. Ángel Pérez, cheers to you!