Maybe that's why you published this horrid, openly racist opinion piece written by Suzy Lee Weiss, the younger sister of one of your former editors (and oh, by the way, I enjoyed the photo house tour of the Weiss family home you also published two years ago.) But why not drop the nepotism next time and branch out from your odd obsession with The Weisses of Pittsburgh, maybe give some others the page space to speak to their own experiences, too? Might I suggest someone who appears to have done even the slightest bit of research into elite college admissions criteria these days?
One of the first reactions to Ms. Weiss's painfully-inaccurate piece many seemed to have this week was - oh, that's awkward... and "That has got to be satire." Then Ms. Weiss herself decided later that yes, it was satire. So, if it's "just satire" then, sure, why not just relax already! Have a sense of humor about it! I mean, do we get this worked up about what they publish in The Onion? Ever read Jonathan Swift? Because who in their right mind would really write such racist and homophobic drivel for publication in a major newspaper? Plenty of people, that's who.
There's a lot more in there I could critique, (and Gawker already did that quite handily), however I'll simply note that Ms. Weiss was too clever by half. She was just sneaky enough not to openly satirize African Americans, or Jews, or Latinos - no snarky talk of donning an afro, yarmulke, or sombrero - because even your Average White Person knows that's no longer ok to do. Native Americans, however - well, feel free to attack members of that racial minority with impunity! Suggest they don't even actually exist! Right on - so says the WSJ because they edited and published these words. Members of the LGBT community? Go ahead and insist they're all just padding their college resumes with their dubious personal identities, too.
No, no, I don't think the piece was satire, though I wish it were. Claiming after the fact that racist and homophobic statements are "satire" does not magically transport them into some protected confine of legitimate, proper expression fit for a newspaper that nice people supposedly read. Calling this satire is another way to avoid taking responsibility for her hurtful, racist words, though. Since Ms. Weiss has a clear habit of blaming others for her failures, perhaps the shoe fits. Nice try. What this was, unfortunately, was a child's regrettably permanent attempt at mourning a loss with some self-deprecation while trying to be funny, but which actually revealed some troubling, misplaced rage directed at marginalized groups. Which is disappointing, but apparently enough people feel the same way so the WSJ signed off on it.
But enough about that. The rest of this looong post will focus on what Ms. Weiss's analysis failed to comprehend: what elite college admissions criteria these days are generally, and how the criteria have shifted away from the "well-roundedness" ideal that was predominant when Gen Xers like me applied to colleges back in the day. Then I'll finish with my thoughts on why nobody ever gets an op-ed published critiquing legacy and recruited athlete admissions, despite the actual stats showing that's where the lion's share of admission preferences are bestowed.
Insert disclaimer here: Getting a degree from one of the top 27 or so US colleges or military academies that are the hardest to get into is not the end all, be all of life; it is certainly not some guarantee that your life will turn out the way you want it to be; there are many various definitions of success, you'd do well to avoid acting like yet another risk-averse lemming who is forever maximizing options according to external standards that may not actually work for any given individual; results are not typical** etc. Yes, to all of that. Now, on to how it's done.
First of all, the admissions process is still the same crapshoot it always was ever since the late 60s/early 70s when they began to stop de jure discriminating against women, Jews, blacks, and other racial minorities, but it is certainly not like 1990 anymore. Being "well rounded," in the boring ways Ms. Weiss cynically enumerates, in addition to having test and GPA numbers solidly in the target school's range, used to work out fine enough - but that is no longer an effective strategy. Applicants need even better numbers now, and they have to reach deeper. Forget being Secretary of French Club and Treasurer of Model UN plus a few sports and an instrument - these days, folks need to have a demonstrated focus on one or two things that they find truly interesting. Go read Cal Newport's "How to Be a High School Superstar" (do less, win accomplishments that are hard to explain, but not necessarily hard to do, and be interesting and passionate).
For someone from a privileged background like Ms. Weiss's, so chock full of social capital that she gets to be published in the WSJ as a teenager, it shocks me how could she honestly not know all of this by now.
Secondly, before you blame all the Indians and the gays for your own failure to work smart and have more reasonable expectations, Ms. Weiss, for heaven's sake, do your research! Start with "A is for Admission" by Michele A. Hernandez (former admissions director at Dartmouth), and you'll quickly discover that the people you presume to have so much unfair advantage over you do not even begin to constitute the real cohort of applicants who actually are given an unfair advantage over you:
"At all the Ivies, legacies [now pretty strictly defined as the sons or daughters of undergrad alums only] are accepted at twice the rate that everyone else is (not as high as athletes, I might add). At Dartmouth, the legacy acceptance rate is around 40%, as compared to the overall rate of around 15-20% [year 2009 figures]... Remember that Dartmouth and Princeton still reject 60-70% of all legacies, a statistic that does not make the alumni very happy.... Is it fair to give legacies a leg up? In my opinion, a small boost is fair, but the Ivies are going too far with legacy acceptance rates two to three times above the general acceptance rate."The trouble is, opinion pieces such as Ms. Weiss's too often focus only on the vaunted 'unqualified/lying racial minorities and gays who always seem to be getting admitted' instead of considering the *actual groups* who are given the lion's share of Ivy admission preferences despite slightly lower numbers: legacies and recruited athletes. On the statistical insanity that is Ivy athletics admissions, from Ms. Hernandez:
"Recruited athletes comprise only 2.5% of the applicant pool at Dartmouth, but they are accepted at a roughly 62% rate - much higher than the overall acceptance rate of 20%... Princeton..historically admits 60-70% of its recruited athletes (1979-1994). Except for football, most coaches at Princeton are limited to 10 or so on their list, in order to keep the academic standard high."