To get into college, be perfect — or lie

Elite colleges are looking for genius tigerkids, the ethnically and sexually diverse  — and liars, writes Suzy Lee Weiss, a high school senior in Pittsburgh, in  To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me in the Wall Street Journal.

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

Weiss worked at a pizza place and ran last on the track team.

Worse, she is white — not even 1/32 Cherokee — as well as middle class and heterosexual, the antidiversity trifecta. And she didn’t redeem herself by starting a “fake charity.”

Providing veterinary services for homeless people’s pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome. Fun-runs, dance-a-thons, bake sales—as long as you’re using someone else’s misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you’re golden.

Teens without traumas of their own are supposed to write their admissions essays about their trip to Africa — “spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life” — but Weiss went to summer camp instead.

With a 4.5 GPA, 2120 SAT scores and a stint as a U.S. Senate page, Weiss was rejected by Princeton, Yale, Penn and Vanderbilt. Critics complain she’s whiny, but I read her as sarcastic and quite funny.

Admissions directors should stop demanding that applicants tell absurd lies, writes Megan McArdle.

 These days, a nearly-perfect GPA is the barest requisite for an elite institution. You’re also supposed to be a top notch athlete and/or musician, the master of multiple extracurriculars.  Summers should preferably be spent doing charitable work, hopefully in a foreign country, or failing that, at least attending some sort of advanced academic or athletic program.

Naturally, this selects for kids who are extremely affluent, with extremely motivated parents who will steer them through the process of “founding a charity” and other artificial activities.  Kids who have to spend their summer doing some boring menial labor in order to buy clothes have a hard time amassing that kind of enrichment experience.

In her day, applicants faked epiphanies about themselves. Now they have to fake epiphanies about the suffering of others, preferably foreigners. “This proves that they are really caring human beings who want to do more for the world than just make money so that they, too will, in their time, be able to get their children into Harvard.”

About Joanne


  1. 2120? Out of 2400? So that’s 1413 on the old SAT…. respectable, but certainly not “I should get automatic Ivy admission.”

    • Perhaps she should read Marty Nemko’s take on what the most overrated product in america today is:

      The bachelor’s degree


    • I got a 1250 on the old SAT… Does that make me an idiot, then?

      • Not an idiot, but not “Top schools should be chasing me down!!!” material, either. You had to be north of 1500 to turn heads when I was in school. (I didn’t turn heads, but I did do well enough to get into my first choice school– top rated but not an Ivy, and not popular with my classmates b/c of its location…)

        • To put it in perspective, though — to get into the exam school when I was in HS, the FLOOR on your SATs in 8th grade was 1300. But they only took the top 100 kids in Montgomery County, MD. We used to joke in HS because the kids who couldn’t make National Merit Semifinalist in MD would have been at the top of the charts in Arkansas based on state scores.

        • Well, I got into the U. of Texas at Austin, and thought I was doing really well for myself… Working on a PhD in Physics right now… But I digress, I guess.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    Suzy scored a 2,120 on her SAT, with no better than average extra-curriculars
    (I’m not noticing any competition [e.g. debate team, chess team, track and field]
    even at the state level, for example).

    Her 2,120 means that almost 50,000 kids had *BETTER* SAT scores in 2012 than
    she did.

    Princeton enrolls fewer than 1,500 freshmen per year and a 2,120 would put Suzy
    in the bottom 25% by SAT score. With no stellar extra curriculars.

    Yale enrolls fewer than 1,500 freshmen per year and a 2,120 would put Suzy
    just above the bottom 25% by SAT score.

    Penn enrolls fewer than 2,500 freshmen per year and a 2,120 would put Suzy
    at roughly the mid-point by SAT score.

    Vanderbuilt enrolls fewer than 2,000 freshmen per year and a 2,120 would put
    Suzy at roughly the bottom third by SAT score.

    So … of the four schools mentioned, there are slots for about 7,500 freshmen
    and almost 50,000 kids scored better than Suzy. She’d be in the bottom of most
    incoming freshmen classes for these schools even with her pretty good top 3% SAT score,
    because they are *THAT* competitive. And she doesn’t have any standout extra-curriculars
    to help.

    These four schools all look like reach schools for her.

    At the University of Michigan, her SAT score would put her in the top 50% (but not
    top 25%). My guess is that she is going to a school roughly as good a UMich.

    Which should mean that everything will turn out fine for her.

    I sorta understand her frustration (and still think she was aiming for a bit of
    sarcasm …) but I also don’t understand how she could have been surprised by this.
    The numbers I’m using are all available on the internet. Does she not realize how
    non-special she appears to an Ivy League school, partially because for them her
    SAT scores just aren’t that good? And how fine she does look to many good state

    • Exactly. Most of the Asian kids I grew up around would have been DISOWNED for getting her scores and GPA.

      I mean, for most schools, honors classes are weighted an extra point, and APs and extra 2 points, so a 4.5 is suddenly… also not impressive.

    • Mark Roulo says:



      I really wish there was a preview button 🙂

  3. I find it funny because we know that things are often set up so that people have great credentials without doing anything (what does the president of the French club actually do?). That being said, my husband and I didn’t get into our stretch ivy schools and wound up with great scholarships to a state land-grant school (in state for him, out of state for me). We both did well -we were first-generation 4-year college students. I didn’t realize what a great education I was getting while I was getting it.

    When we went to grad school, we were competing against students from those big-name schools. He won national fellowships. I sat in classes with students who thought grad school was hard…I found most classes a review of my undergraduate curriculum.

    I used to think that smart kids got into the big-name schools. Now that I know where the leaders in our respective fields come from, I’ve realized that smart kids who have the means and knowledge to do things the ‘right way’ go to the ivies. Plenty of other smart people go to state/small schools and then, when they reach the graduate, postdoc, or job levels and are judged on their output, they do just fine.

    I wish students knew not to put so much emphasis on getting into the right school and instead focused on getting as much as they can out of the school they go to. Take hard electives, work in a lab, intern, or co-op, talk to your professors, and participate in extracurriculars if you can. Like so much else in life, you’ll get out what you put into it, and smart people are everywhere.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    Since so many of you diversity lovers think this white girl is so lacking it would behove ya’all to consider that a similarly unqualified black girl would have been admitted to at least one of the Ivy schools.

    The issue this white girl has put in your face is racial discrimination. If she were black you’d be amazed.

    You call what you do “diversity”. You just hate a young white girl who won’t accept her “place”. You’ve been Stone Cold Busted being a filthy racist.

    • Personally, I’m all for race-free college admissions. Like I said, the Asian kids I knew would have been grounded for stats like these. I actually went to a school known for its race-blind admissions. In the 50s, they took smart Jews when no one else would, now they take smart Asians.

      OTOH – I saw one article claiming that the Ivies aren’t about ‘smart’ as much as maintaining the proper environment so that future political leaders could claim the right sort of friends….

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        The Ivies have NEVER been entirely or even substantially about merit. Academic merit is secondary to creating the appropriate or ideal social environment. What’s deemed appropriate or ideal has morphed over the decades. 150 years ago the ideal social environment was white, male and protestant.

        Now, like 150 years ago, they fall far short of their goal and possible don’t understand – no, they understand, they don’t choose to acknowledge – how their preferences illustrate their own moral obtuseness and lack of imagination.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Basically, the Ivies reflect the Mandarin class: image, money, and prestige obsessed and intellectually complacent and most importantly – LAZY.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Less than 50% of those admitted to Harvard are merit based admissions. 30% are legacy, 10% athletic, and 20% affirmative action based.

            These schools are all about raw political power and how to preserve it. They co-opt those they need by including them in the “in” group. And exclude those they don’t need. Asians and whites of a working class (read Conservative or red-neck) background are unnecessary for building political coalitions.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            Harvard’s legacy admit *RATE* is 30%. Harvard’s undergraduate class is about 11-12% legacies.

          • cranberry says:

            Harvard’s 25th percentile on the SAT is 2080. Its 75th percentile on the SAT is 2380. Looks like merit-based admission to me.

            There are lots of people who are not white and really, really smart.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Ross Douthat explains:

            “a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively—that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.

            it would be like telling admissions offices at elite schools that they should seek a form of student-body “diversity” that’s mostly cosmetic, designed to flatter multicultural sensibilities without threatening existing hierarchies all that much. They don’t need to be told — that’s how the system already works! The “holistic” approach to admissions, which privileges résumé-padding and extracurriculars over raw test scores or G.P.A.’s, has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite.

            No, it’s better for everyone when these questions aren’t asked too loudly. The days of noblesse oblige are long behind us, so our elite’s entire claim to legitimacy rests on theories of equal opportunity and upward mobility, and the promise that “merit” correlates with talents and deserts.

            That the actual practice of meritocracy mostly involves a strenuous quest to avoid any kind of downward mobility, for oneself or for one’s kids, is something every upper-class American understands deep in his or her highly educated bones.”


  5. My son was disgusted by the resume-stuffing at his high school in Palo Alto. His resume was real, and pretty impressive. A 3.5 GPA put him in the upper 75% of his class.

    He is really happy as a freshman at Willamette U., running cross-country, and knows that he got there without any lies.