Columns

Corvese ’15: Who wins the admissions game?

By
Opinions Columnist

“To (All) The Colleges That Rejected Me,” a March 29 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Pittsburgh high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss is swiftly making the rounds and gaining great notoriety.

“Colleges tell you, ‘Just be yourself,’” she proclaims. “That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms.”

Suzy gained fans, enemies, faithful retweets and web commenters asking, “Is she serious?” Whether satire or a legitimate rant, her piece addresses an important point: There are flaws in the often arbitrary decisions made by college admission committees. But these flaws are not for the reasons Weiss claims. Though college admission is largely a game, it is not one with an instant ticket to success, as Weiss seems to believe.

Her ignorance of diversity and the experiences of minorities is alarming. Weiss regrets not having “worn a headdress” to school, as if doing so would serve as a golden ticket to higher education. Colleges do not admit minority students because they have a free pass — they do so to increase diversity and to provide equal opportunities to all, especially to historically marginalized groups. Furthermore, they do so within the context of the opportunities afforded to them.

There are plenty of other problems in the admissions process that Suzy pays no mind to, such as legacy admission, excessive reliance on standardized tests and even students who pay professionals to write their college essays for them. Factors like these make college admissions much more like a game than like affirmative action.

The system does not have the capacity to do away with problems of this kind overnight, which is why it is important that programs like affirmative action are instituted to help balance the process. These programs are certainly not perfect, but they are important for college hopefuls around the country — even if Weiss thinks otherwise.

Weiss’ cynicism and lack of faith in her peers is concerning as well. There is no doubt that excessive resume padding happens in the college admissions process, with students joining more clubs than they can handle and scraping together hours of community service just to stand out a little more to admissions officers. But that does not mean all college hopefuls are on a quest to beat the system with artificial activities.

Weiss may chastise colleges for demanding students “just be themselves,” but some students do so anyway. Unlike Weiss, “being themselves” for some students means working diligently, being creative, engaging with their communities and pursuing what interests them. Colleges want applicants to be as true to themselves as possible while still showing success. Some students are experts at the admissions game — but in a way that does not involve sacrificing their integrity or their passions.

Unfortunately, Weiss does not seem to have that passion. At the end of her article, she hushes her critics — “The Real Housewives is on!” Even here at Brown, where independent concentrations let students study whatever they want, I think she would have a difficult time getting approval to concentrate in “The Real Housewives Of New Jersey.”

Even after meeting the criteria, is each and every passionate and motivated student going to get into his or her dream school? No. That is the consequence of the admissions game. The most decorated resume might get a student accepted to one prestigious school but rejected from another for no apparent reason. Valedictorians, sports captains and charity founders may get rejected for different reasons. And minority students get denied from colleges, too. There are ways to make one more qualified, but in the end, there is often no rhyme or reason to a college’s final call.

I commend Weiss for recognizing that there are problems in the college admissions system, but change is best achieved by mobilizing ideas, not complaining about them in the Journal. She must also realize it is important for the college admissions system to turn away from needless nepotism and keep heading in its current direction of helping American students who, in years past, might not have been in college at all.

Perhaps I am a cynic for buckling down and taking my standardized tests rather than seeking a different path as Weiss has. In that case, she can happily advertise publishing a rant in the Journal on her resume. Other than that, though, her CV looks pretty sparse.

 

 

Gabriella Corvese ’15 got rejected from some elite colleges, too and can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.

  • Joe’09

    1) You’re taking satire waaaaay too personally.

    2) Devolving into attacks on the qualifications of a satire writer for, really, no reason other than an insulted ego doesn’t do you any justice. Congratulations, you’re at Brown – she’s not. Any frustration she has doesn’t invite your public ridicule.

    • sour grapes

      what was the point then? what was she supposedly satirizing?

      Any frustration she has doesn’t invite your public ridicule

      why not? she had it publicly published in the WSJ!

      • Joe’09

        So if she is such a failure, why should we be lowering ourselves to her level?

    • Brown ’14

      I don’t understand. You’re calling the original column a satire piece. What was the original author satirizing?

      Even if it was satire (which is a dubious claim), lines like “well, I wish I would have worn a headdress!” are really lazy and racist. A privileged white girl saying that she should have worn a headdress to get admitted to an Ivy League school is insensitive at best. Yes, she’s an insensitive teen, not some satirist who’s looking to debunk “politically correct” ideologies.

      • Joe’09

        You’re missing the forest for the (diversity-blinded) trees. Finding an argument politically incorrect doesn’t debunk the argument, and calling on the pariah of white privilege doesn’t excuse you from blithely ignoring the purpose of the writing. Don’t criticize what you refuse to understand – the mark of the educated is the ability to entertain an idea without accepting (or passive-aggressively belittling) it.

        Admissions has become a checkbox filled game, and it’s more advantageous for a person to “fake it” and check all the boxes than to be genuine and not do so. The call to the headdress illustrates what she, as a middle-class white female, feels the game has devolved into. You can call this racism, but is she incorrect? You can call her privileged, but is she accurate in that if she went off to Africa and snapped some shots of her having “diverse experiences,” she would improve her chances of admission?*

        Corvese confuses this checking-of-boxes with diligence, when really it is more blind adherence to a set of traits that, very likely, your parents or someone along the way instilled in you as requirements of success. Really, these traits are not the hallmarks of a successful person, but only those of a successful applicant to a top school, and it would do us well to stop defending those traits as though our egos are bruised.

        *: Do not confuse racial privilege with true hardship – I’m not white, and while I’m well aware that while I may have had a different perspective growing up as a caucasian, I can’t call myself “unprivileged” for being something else. Much (but not all) of the ‘diversity’ found in the hallowed Ivy League halls did not go through nearly as much hardship as we like to imagine in these debates.

        • Brown ’14

          “The call to the headdress illustrates what she, as a middle-class white female, feels the game has devolved into. You can call this racism or insensitivity, but is she incorrect? You can call her privileged, but is she accurate in that if she went off to Africa and snapped some shots of her having “diverse experiences,” she would improve her chances of admission?”

          1. The call to the headdress illustrates more than her opinion of what she “feels the game had devolved to.” There are a bunch of people who are wearing headdresses who get abused and mistreated just based on the single fact that they do. That Weiss can only envision this reality as an option on a checkbox is severely limited. And even if I did agree with her point (I don’t), she would be racist and insensitive in my book.

          2. Again, why does going to Africa have to be about “snapping some shots of her having diverse experiences”? There’s somuch more to socioeconomic inequality than that. People seem to think that being underprivileged is in vogue or something. Um, no. There are real issues going on surrounding underprivileged populations.

          3. It’s pretty clear to me that she’s just bitching about not getting into the college that she thought she would get. She feels oddly entitled in terms of her admissions prospects. You didn’t get in? Hard luck. Many more people get rejected from elite schools and don’t complain that their whiteness was the cause of their rejection.

  • dahwhat’s up

    The admissions officers at the colleges that rejected Weiss are probably breathing a sigh of relief. They certainly dodged a bullet. The statements in her essay, satire or not, smelled badly of racism. If she wants to attend a more competitive school, she should do something. In fact, doing something may have helped her, had it happened while she was in high school. If a college can select students with remarkable accomplishments, what justification would they have for choosing one who given a few minutes of spare time uses it to watch a tv show about housewives? The issue is whether, given her life circumstances, she has the level of achievement that places here in an elite category. After all, she wanted to be admitted to an elite college. The fact that it is elite, accepts only the very best, means that she needs to have accomplished at an elite level-one that places her above 95% of the other applicants. She didn’t. But I bet she watched more “Lazy Housewives” than any of the applicants who will be attending the elite colleges in the fall.

    • Guest

      “Racism”? Really? Followed by “we are elite and she isn’t, so she’s wrong”?

  • lmomzkn

    I’m shocked at the number of responses that this young girl received to her little satirical rant about her frustrations over the college application process. I’m even more stunned that the negative reactions of strangers to this young girls hilarious and candid expression of her disappointment. So many people choose to judge and condemn her thoughts and actions. A wise person would accept that this is an 17 year old teenager who, while entitled to her disappointment, hasn’t been hushed by the politically correctness that has so often overruns expression of this kind.

    She has a humorous way of presenting the reality of the application and admissions process and by her achievements has earned the right to ask, “why not me?” to these universities which rejected her. Going public with it took a lot of nerve. I applaud Suzie and respect her right to be disappointed and her freedom to express it so humorously. I know that she will do well in her future!