We wrote a little bit yesterday about a couple of things we disagreed with in William Deresiewicz’s piece in “The New Republic.” There’s quite a bit more we disagree with — including his attention-grabbing headline. Deresiewicz makes a number of arguments but none of them demonstrate why you shouldn’t send your kids to the Ivy League. We have a feeling he titled his piece in this way merely for the traffic. But there are indeed a couple of things he says that are true. For instance, development cases, the children of wealthy, major donors to a school, are indeed a subgroup in admissions. College admissions officers at Ivy League colleges do refer to students as development cases or “DevA” for short. “Ed Level 1” is also a moniker for students of parents who did not attend college. These types of students are the kinds of students highly selective college admissions officers seek out.
Alright, but that’s enough agreeing. Time for some disagreements with Deresiewicz’s piece. He writes, “‘Super People,’ the writer James Atlas has called them—the stereotypical ultra-high-achieving elite college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a couple of foreign languages, service work in distant corners of the globe, a few hobbies thrown in for good measure: They have mastered them all, and with a serene self-assurance that leaves adults and peers alike in awe. A friend who teaches at a top university once asked her class to memorize 30 lines of the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope. Nearly every single kid got every single line correct. It was a thing of wonder, she said, like watching thoroughbreds circle a track. These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood.”
While Mr. Deresiewicz may have gotten to observe a sampling of the admissions process at an Ivy League college, he clearly didn’t fully understand the process if he believed highly selective colleges are seeking out students who play a musical instrument, do service work in distant corners of the globe, participate in a few hobbies for good measure, etc. What Deresiewicz is describing is a well-rounded student — the complete opposite of what Ivy League college admissions officers seek out these days. They want the angular student — the student who excels in one area. Not the student who is mediocre in three. Deresiewicz also questions why it’s great that students do service work in far off parts of the globe when they could do such service work right here in America? He’s right. But college admissions officers at highly selective colleges feel that way too. To argue that admissions officers are impressed by students who complete service work in far off countries is grossly inaccurate. What such service work conveys is that mommy and daddy have money to send their kid to far off parts of the world. And it conveys that they’re trying to impress admissions officers. But it’s not the case and if Deresiewicz had paid closer attention to the inner workings of the admissions process, he’d have realized this.
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