a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Not every Tom, Dick, and Harry makes it into Princeton these days
By Hugh O'Bleary
On these mild fall mornings,
I walk past West College, my shoes crunching over the gravel, and
I can't help but think about the life-changing deliberations going
on in that building these days. Some 13,000 hopeful young students
apply to Princeton each year. About 1,600 are deemed worthy of admission.
For the rest, it's Thanks, but no thanks. Tough beans. Better luck
next time. Only, there is no next time. What's particularly dismaying
is that a vast number of those rejected are extraordinary students
- at the top of their classes, armed with extracurricular achievements,
athletic honors, and glowing letters of recommendation. Too bad.
These days Princeton can afford to pick and choose, and increasingly
the choice is only the cream of the cream, with special emphasis
on the hallowed "Academic One." Remember Tom Cruise in
"Risky Business," scamming a recruiter and being told,
"Princeton could use a guy like you, Joel." Not anymore.
My friend Bernie, Class of '80, who by the way graduated cum laude
and now has a prestigious, high-profile publishing job and never
misses a P-rade, shudders whenever the word "admissions"
is mentioned. "I'm just glad I wasn't born 20 years later,"
he says. "These days I wouldn't stand a chance."
Indeed, so strong and
accomplished are today's applicants that it must take, well, magic
to select an entering class. Which brings us to the following hypothetical
case study of a typical "well-rounded" applicant.
An autumn evening, sometime
after midnight. The campus, bathed in the silvery light of a full
moon, is perfectly still. Suddenly, with a flutter of wings, a large,
snowy owl swoops down in front of West College. Something drops
from its talons to land with a thud on the pavement in front of
the door. With a mournful "Whooo," the bird flies off.
In the moonlight, the fallen object is revealed to be a large manilla
envelope. It is addressed to Admissions Office, Princeton University.
In the upper corner, in clear block letters, is the return address:
4 Privet Drive.
Afternoon, a few days
later. Dean of Admission Fred Hargadon and three other admission
officers are seated around a conference table piled high with folders,
each one labeled with a student's name. "All right, next,"
Hargadon says. He reaches out, takes a folder from the top of the
stack and lays it open on his lap. Looking down, he reads aloud,
"Another prep school
kid, right?" says one of the officers. She furrows her brow
in an effort to recall.
says a second officer. He is on his fourth Diet Coke of the day.
I thought," says the third officer, glancing at her notes.
"But he wasn't at the top of his class, was he?"
the first officer. "That Granger girl blew him away - she was
a total Ac.1. Valedictorian, aced her SATs, all AP courses.."
"What about Potter's extracurriculars?" says Hargadon.
He thumbs through the folder. "It looks like he's quite an
athlete. In fact, there's a note in here from Gary Walters."
"Hmph, the jock
factor," says the second officer with a snort. "Just because
he can catch a snitch doesn't mean he can do Princeton work."
"His letters of recommendation were very strong, though,"
says the third officer. "As I recall, his headmaster wrote
that he hasn't had a more impressive student in his 600 years at
the school." "Oh, they always say that," says the
second. "Besides, he didn't do anything during the summers.
Just sat in his room." "Then again," says the third
officer, consulting her notes again, "he did save the world
from the forces of evil four times."
"Yes, but that doesn't
mean," begins the second officer, "that he can do Princeton
work!" Hargadon and the other two chime in. All four laugh
Hargadon, tossing the folder into a pile on the floor,
"Harry Potter: Wait
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