Novelist Elinor Lipman wrote an excellent essay in the Boston Globe the day before yesterday, entitled “If I ruled the admissions universe.” I would like all high school juniors to read it. I just wish I could agree with it.
The thrust of the essay was an attempt to reduce college admissions anxiety by pointing out that your future is not determined by where you go to college. You are just as likely to be successful and happy if you go to your local state college as you will be if you go to Yale. That bit may be true, although it’s very hard to tease out the statistics, since of course we’re not talking about equivalent populations. Let’s look at some excerpts:
…My mission today is to celebrate the safety over the reach, to say to high school seniors, “You who are waiting anxiously for that fat envelope, please know that you’ll enjoy the same success and happiness whether you end up at Bates, Bowdoin, or Ball State.”
When I was 20 an older friend predicted, “Ten years from now, no one will care where you went to school. In fact, no one will ask.” Ridiculous, I thought. She turned out to be right. Where you live between the ages of 18 and 22 won’t define who you are. One day soon, the proud new college decal on your family car’s rear window will start looking a little uncool.
In 1987, a friend’s son wrote to admissions officers explaining that he had fallen in love and was therefore distracted, so could they please excuse the C in physics? They did. He went to Yale. If he hadn’t? I daresay he would be the same hero he is today, getting the wrongly convicted out of prisons through the Innocence Project.
If I ruled this new admissions universe, I would study the applications and sniff out the resume padders whose parents could afford the semester in the rain forests. I’d want good smart kids, including the ones who didn’t shine as brightly as the alleged stars at this moment in their high school lives… Maybe I would go with the lottery, or maybe just take the first 1,000 who applied. Studies would have shown that you are all excellent, and in the end, I couldn’t go wrong.
So how would this essay go over in a town like Weston? I suppose I should simply ask some of my high-achieving juniors to read it, and we’ll see what they say. As a graduate of Lowell High School and Simmons College, the undeniably successful Lipman must know what she’s talking about, but my prediction is that her essay won’t be persuasive. She makes some fine points, but…I’m not convinced. I wish I could agree with it.