Over at the NYT college admissions blog, Harvard’s dean of admissions has been answering questions about the application and admissions process. I was struck by one comment that he addressed in his most recent post:
The sad fact is that students whose parents don’t help them with their applications are greatly handicapping themselves in the college admissions sweepstakes, at least at places like Harvard. They’ll be competing against other students whose applications, including the essays, have been exquisitely polished by parents, college guidance counselors at school, private college guidance counselors, and even essay editing services.
That came from an anonymous commenter, so I don’t know whether the person was stating this with any level of expertise or whether, as commenters on blogs often do, was just pontificating into thin air. My sense from having been through the process just a year and a half ago is that admissions folks can tell when someone has received too much help, just as teachers and professors can tell when someone’s plagiarized an assignment. My sense is that I can’t have been hindered too much by the fact that I wrote my own essays, and that I took the fact that I was writing my own essays very seriously. My sense is that can’t have worked against me, because I took some risks that someone who’d had professional college counseling advice would probably have been advised not to take. And, well, things turned out the way they did.
I don’t usually read the NYT college admissions blog because it feeds this insanity over admissions in the worst way. I’ve been interested in what William Fitzsimmons (Harvard dean) has to say, because Harvard’s admissions process is probably not vastly dissimilar from Princeton’s—but it’s not particularly relevant to most people’s concerns, questions, and interests, and it just reinforces this sense that it’s Necessary to apply to Harvard or its moral equivalent, which is most certainly not the case. That the commenter I quoted above was moved to make that comment is as much a product of this type of coverage from the NYT as any other systemic fault.