In a Perspective essay in the April 4 issue, Tamara Sorell ’81 described how she had advised her daughter not to apply to Princeton and other elite schools, saying she feared that admission policies “have reached the point where students who don’t have elaborately financed résumés and top-tier academic preparation cannot compete.”
Like Tamara Sorell, we both have been interviewing for the ASC for several years — but unlike her, we have been privileged to interview students from every imaginable walk of life, and one thing is abundantly clear to us: There is no “typical” Princeton applicant.
Getting into college these days is hard, no doubt about it. The odds are steeper than ever before, particularly at the top. But Sorell is mistaken if she thinks that any particular group has an advantage, and she has done her daughter a grave disservice by suggesting that her background makes her worse equipped to compete than any other applicant. The odds are certainly tough, but they are tough for everybody. The best thing any student can do is to be true to her passions and to herself, and to keep trying.
JESSICA BRONDO ’04
Founder and CEO, New York, N.Y.
The Edge in College Preparation
JENNY (SCHANBACHER) MARLOWE ’04
The Edge chief admission counselor
We also advised our daughter not to bother applying to Princeton, and I’m still sad about it. She’s a top student, with grades, classes, and SATs that rival my own when I was admitted to Princeton. ... For this well-rounded, interesting, and interested student, we knew she wouldn’t have a chance. How do I know? I’ve served on the alumni committee and have interviewed dozens of applicants to Princeton, and came to the same conclusion. Only those elite few, many of whom are catered to or driven by parent “managers,” are the ones who have enough accolades to make it in. The mature, independent students who make their own way and their own choices, either by choice or by their parents’ decision not to helicopter, or by dint of the fact that their parents are too busy “just making it,” are overlooked by the elite schools. It is such a loss for all involved.
KATHERINE CLELAND ’83
I find it distressing and disheartening that parents would tell their children “not to bother” applying to top schools, no matter what their circumstances. By the reasoning you give, the message that is ultimately conveyed is, “Due to circumstances beyond your control, doors are closed to you.” Seriously? How defeatist is that? I would worry about any future in which children are not being encouraged to at least try to get what they want — and who consequently are learning that rejection is always worse than never having tried at all. How are you going to prove your hypothesis if you don’t go through with the experiment?
MELANIE PAPASIAN ’03
As an interviewer with the Alumni Schools Committee (who has never seen one of her interviewed students accepted) and a parent of two young children, I have increasing concerns about the quality of admission decisions. Who decides the criteria for admission, and could more people, beyond the admission office, be involved? Could alumni have a greater say in this process?
The ASC coordinator in my state reminds her interviewers that the admission committee does not just accept amazing individuals, it wants to “shape a class as a whole.” But what do these words really mean, and what do they obscure?
NOOR O’NEILL BORBIEVA ’96
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Tamara, you write, “I cannot suggest how the selection process could be shifted to consider criteria beyond the constellation of expensive achievements.” I think the answer here is simple: Just shift it. Make a decision as an institution to consider character as well as accomplishments. Recognize that some students won’t rise to their full height by 11th grade, and accept responsibility for building leaders, not just burnishing them.
With their relentless marketing, admission departments all over have so increased the numbers of applications they have to process that I can’t imagine they have time to give thoughtful consideration to each applicant, their protestations notwithstanding. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of this really will stop until the marketing push does.
SUSAN KORONES GIFFORD ’79
I have long thought that the best path for Princeton admissions would be to accept students by way of a lottery (this has most likely been suggested by others in the past). The main function of the admission office would be to establish the major pool for the lottery by simply weeding out the few applicants who do not seem to have the capability of making it through any significant university program. Most applicants to Princeton are already self-selecting and capable of graduating from Princeton. Perhaps the admission office could be allowed to select, say, 20 percent of the admissions.
DONALD D. KASARDA *61
This spring in Connecticut, Princeton admitted 21 of 114 (18.4 percent) of private/parochial school applicants, but only 5 of 75 (6.7 percent) from public schools. After 42 years as an educator, I’m well aware that the variation in the quality of typical public-school graduates is greater than among those who attended private schools; however, I doubt that the degree of difference among the best students amounts to nearly three to one.
The message from Ms. Sorell, other alumni I’ve communicated with who have interviewed applicants for Princeton, and me, is that the statistics suggest that Admissions is being overly swayed by essentially superficial achievements (the résumé arms race). Mainly, the result is Princeton’s loss.
MURPH SEWALL ’64
I was once one of those “independent motivated young folks who were economically less privileged” (an immigrant living in Newark, N.J.), yet I managed to apply and gain admission to Princeton and other elite schools. This opportunity still exists today for qualified students, regardless of their economic status.
This year I interviewed five students from various schools for Princeton, and none of them was admitted, but 100 percent of the inner-city “less-privileged” youth that I mentor have been admitted to “elite schools” such as Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia. It certainly is more difficult today to gain admission to Princeton with the applicant pool having increased by 95 percent in the past eight years, but the system still works, despite occasional hiccups.
TONY RODRIGUEZ ’79
San Diego, Calif.