Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | May 6, 2013

A Modest Ivy Proposal

Tis the season; of college acceptances, that is.

I treated a high school senior today suffering from acute depression, anxiety, and panic attacks all precipitated by the fact that he was not accepted to any of the four Ivy League colleges to which he had applied, but several of his friends had. It wasn’t that he had been rejected everywhere. In fact, he had multiple acceptances at excellent schools. Nevertheless, he was beating himself up over his perceived inferiority. He just couldn’t understand why his friends with identical grades and test scores were somehow more worthy than he.

I explained to him that in this day and age, all of the Ivy League schools — as well as many, many other top tier colleges — have enough ideally qualified candidates to fill their entire classes ten times over, or more. After a certain point — a point well passed by my patient and many other students — acceptance to any of these schools is basically a lottery. Although my patient understands this intellectually, emotionally he still doesn’t quite believe it. His friends must have had something he didn’t to receive that coveted thick letter.

So here is my modest proposal. Listen up, Ivy League admissions folks:

Go through your regular admissions process. Evaluate each applicant according to whatever criteria you want. Decide whether or not each one has what it would take to succeed at your institution, and whether or not you would want him or her there. Sort them all into two (and only two) piles: Yes, and No. Go ahead and send out your graciously worded rejection letter to the kids in the “No” pile, bearing in mind that the group almost certainly includes future presidents, entrepreneurs, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners, etc.

Next: Take all the names in the “Yes” pile, throw them into a hat, and run an actual lottery.

If you have 40,000 applicants for 6,000 places, go ahead and pull out 6,000 names (plus however many extras you want.) Send them those nice thick letters. Then — and this is the important part — everyone else on that “Yes” list gets a letter telling them that they were good enough. They were fully qualified; there was nothing wrong with them, with their application, with their qualifications. Their number just didn’t come up, you’re so very sorry, and you wish them well.

There are several advantages to this scheme.  In addition to preserving the sanity of the poor high school seniors stuck in the middle of this mess, the job of the Admissions Committee will be infinitely easier; all you have to do is decide yea or nay on a truly individual basis. Additionally, it’s much more intellectually honest. All that crap about “balancing” your class, fine-tuning the precise makeup of your student body is all a bunch of bull anyway, since as you know, you can’t control who accepts you once you send out those letters. Just run the damn lottery and let the thick and thin letters fall where they may.

You’re welcome.




  1. This is excellent.

  2. Or maybe it’s time to stop babying the American teenager, and teach him/her how to face real life without getting into a panic attack every time s/he gets a kick in the tushy.

  3. Failing that, or pointing out that that legacy spots and the ability to pay play a role, just keep a copy of this article around:

    Provocative, yes. But we don’t have a meritocracy in the US, we never really have. And also why they will never do what you suggest. Whether the Ivys admit it or not, they want their population to have a sort of faux diversity that does not reflect the reality of merit.

    To Erv, many of the kids I see with this kind of reaction were not babied. They were helicoptered, which is not at all the same thing. Mom and Dad are the ones that are HORRIFIED that little Tommy didn’t get into Harvard after all *their* hard work and sacrifice. That sort of “you totally failed at being *my* kid” thing really messes with a teen’s sense of self.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. And just the same for the music conservatoires, both sides of the pond.

    Although I think to go with it, we all need to remind ourselves and especially our 18 year olds that there is no one ideal path to follow through life, and that the dictated route of school/higher education/work without gaps or diversions is not just not compulsory but not the right fit for many young people – and that being one of those young people is ABSOLUTELY FINE.

  5. This is great. I am in my fifth year of medical school, and every year, without fail, I get so many email from prospective students, wondering WHY they didn’t get in despite their great results. (Not like I have an answer for them) We don’t have Ivy Leagues in South Africa, but still: a great point.

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