Getting Real About Getting That Leg-Up in the Ivy + Application Pool

Check out this article from Bloomberg this week on the high cost of high school summer enrichment programs at Ivy+ universities and the false hope they create regarding eventual admission to those universities. Parents are paying upwards from $7K ($10,490. at Harvard) to enroll their children in summer school courses on selective college campuses (including some Ivy League schools and others equally renown like Univ. of Chicago, Duke and Stanford) with the hopes/expectation that this will give their kids that important leg-up in the college selection process.

For the millionth time, parents, please hear me.  It won’t.  Going to Harvard Summer School will not get your kid into Harvard.  Not even a little.  It’s just a great way for the schools listed above to earn some serious cash by exploiting desperate parents and their own reputations.  Did you know that many of the people teaching those summer classes are local high school teachers augmenting their salaries for the summer, not professors from those universities?

The professors you think you’re paying for are way too busy and too esteemed to teach advantaged high school kids all summer.

So let’s get real about what it takes to get admitted to one of the top colleges in America, including some of the Ivy League schools.  I suspect this news might break the hearts of some, but I hope I can help you get real before it’s too late and you hold expectations that will never be met.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Want to know who gets that leg-up for admission to an Ivy school, for example?  Try Division 1 athletes who have SATs of 2200+ and who are in the top 10% of their high school class.  Know how many of those there are out there?  Not many… and they are applying to all the top tier schools and will probably get admitted to most.  Are you going to turn your kid into one?  Not likely unless your kid has that kind of athletic talent, the right aptitude to play the sport, is an excellent student in school and has had the benefit of top coaching for many years.  In other words, they would need that perfect storm of aspects that conjoin to create an Ivy League athlete.   No offense, but it’s probably not your child.

If you had the job of reading 35,000 applications to choose 2000, you would quickly see that being able to do the work at that college is so not good enough, nor is having top grades and scores, or being a wonderful person who ‘deserves’ that education.

You would quickly experience that there are many thousands of top students who fit those descriptions and frankly, they all resemble each other on paper since 99% of those applicants are the same age and live standard teen lives without a lot of variation to set them apart from each other.

If you had to pick 2000 of those candidates, you’d admit students who fit your institutional needs, the ones who are different: Div 1 athletes, children of wealthy donors, children of faculty and staff, valedictorians of local high schools to honor the ‘town/gown’ relationship, and whatever other needs your college has.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this.  No laws are broken because we’re talking about private colleges who can generally call their own shots except for anything that would violate the 14th Amendment or the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning they can admit whomever they want for any reason except ones having to do with race, gender or a disability of any kind.

You’d have to move fast through all of those applications because you have so little time to process and make decisions and get those decisions out on time.  While you would read all of your cases, some you would only just scan because you could pretty much tell within 30 seconds if that candidate would be one of the lucky 2000 admitted.  You might feel guilty about that, but you’d realize that this is how life is, you’re paid to admit a class within that 12 week time window and you have 40 more to read before you quit for the day.

Think writing applications is grueling?  Try reading thousands of them,

one after the next, trying to keep them all straight, your eyes glazing over as you read the 12,000th essay about the lesson learned on the losing team or how the writer’s life was changed by feeding lunch to hungry children for a day in Africa or India or any 3rd world country they were visiting with their family last summer.

I don’t mean to be cynical.  But if you did what I did for a living, you’d understand the realities of the college admissions business and would see that spending $10K to send your child to a summer school program where they teach classes your child could take at a local high school summer school for free, just to give your child an advantage in the college admissions process, is not money well spent.  It’s dumb.

If you REALLY want your child to learn during the summer, encourage them to work a summer job for minimum wage.  There they will learn lessons in integrity and character-building.  They’ll learn not to quit and how to work with all kinds of people. They’ll be humbled and challenged much more in every way than they ever would be at Harvard Summer School or Oxford Summer Program which is just more of the same and won’t help them get into college.

If you were reading 35,000 applications to admit just 2000, wouldn’t you rather take a student who worked a hard construction job all summer instead of spending 2 weeks saving endangered sea turtles in Honduras (for $8K) or doing an unpaid internship cleaning test tubes in their parent’s biochemistry lab?

Yeah, me too.