I have to say that reading about the Harvard admissions process makes me sick. First, it’s important to establish whether it matters or not. I would argue that it absolutely does. I have never heard someone who attended a top-tier school – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, Stanford – argue that it doesn’t matter. I’d say I was a good ten years into my career before the fact that I attended Stanford stopped being significant to people inside and outside the company. And an engineering MS at Stanford is nothing like an undergrad degree at the top Ivy Leagues in terms of connections and opportunities.
My sister got her first job at Bain Boston. From there she went on to venture capital and is now a VERY successful VP at a startup. Bain Boston ONLY recruits from Ivy Leagues and UVA. UVA is the ONLY non-Ivy League school Bain recruits at (or recruited at in 2003 – I can’t say if things have changed.) (You can go to their second tier offices from other schools, like the Atlanta office from GT, but if you want the direct path to opportunity my sister had, you need to be at a very select list of schools. I had an offer after grad school and the manager didn’t recruit at public schools like GT. This is very obviously stupid on his part, but it is real. And obviously, connections are huge.
This article is about the opportunity afforded to those at the tippety top of the money spectrum. Incredibly, these people apparently make up 10% of the Harvard class with a more than 40% admit rate. That’s mind-boggling! But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. My husband went to an elite private school in Manhattan, probably the most elite in NYC. He had decent SATs but not exceptional (1400s), good grades but was not valedictorian, and participated in extracurriculars but really didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. (For the record, I do think my husband is one of the most overachieving people on the planet, but it’s not clear to me that that would have come through on a college app all those years ago.) He applied to multiple Ivy League schools, including Harvard and Yale, got into all of them, and chose Harvard – a daring move since he comes from a Yale family. (Father, brother and sister all went to Yale.) His family was nowhere near rich enough to buy a building, but they didn’t need to apply for financial aid. What percent of the admit class goes to these applicants – the well-off graduates of prep schools all over the country? And while these prep schools may have a scholarship student or two, my husband, child of a Manhattan doctor, said he thought he was poor in high school because most of the other kids at his school were so much better off than him! It boggles the mind. It truly does.
Ironically, my children are Harvard legacies. And Stanford legacies. Apparently Harvard’s class is typically one third legacy! And we live in a big city and are solid earners, so if we wanted to, we could try to get the girls into one of the more prestigious private schools in the area. Even if we sent them to public school in, say, Bellevue, I’m pretty sure Harvard admissions is familiar with the top public schools in the area. I’m 100% sure schools in Roanoke are NOT on their recruiting list, or any other elite school’s for that matter.
When 40%+ of the class goes to the rich kids, and probably another 10 or 20% to athletic or musical or other types of prodigies, that leaves about 40% of the class for the rest of the country to fight over the scraps. Into those few remaining seats, you have to fit middle class overachievers, the economically deprived, and racial minorities. And I guess that’s probably part of the reason affirmative action is so controversial. There’s all this affirmative action going on to help the rich and connected that’s rarely talked about. Is racial affirmative action any more or less fair? Why do we have a court case about racial discrimination but no court case about the economic discrimination? Why is it not OK for Harvard to discriminate based on race, but it’s OK for them to give seats to people whose parents might buy a library? If we want this opportunity for L, should my husband join the alumni association? So. lame.
What I find fascinating is how much Harvard wants to hide their admissions process and criteria from public scrutiny. To me, that’s a tell. If you’re frightened and embarrassed to share publicly how you choose to admit students, that probably indicates there’s something unsavory about it.
Trump went to an Ivy League school. I’ll leave it to you to decide if he earned it:
“He was a transfer student who arrived at Wharton after two years at Fordham University, which U.S. News & World Report currently ranks 66th among national universities,” the Post explains. Trump reportedly had “respectable” grades at Fordham, but got into Wharton as a transfer student mainly because of an admissions officer who had gone to high school with his older brother.