Journals The Tattoo

Harvard’s a crapshoot

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, U.S.A. — I’m still in shock at my discovery that Harvard undergraduates can’t really recite the 1400th place of pi, or write a book within a week, or manipulate space and time.

They enjoy playing video games, spending a day watching TV, wearing white T’s with their midnight snack on it (well, at least the guys do), and taking walks down to the local Irish pub for drinks. A typical Friday evening: pizza, Gears of War, and “Family Guy.”

Is it possible? Could they be — dare I say — human and not demigods?

If not, how then did they get past that 9 percent acceptance rate and into Harvard, the most recognized university in the world, and richest organization second to the Vatican?

Attending a workshop on constructing the college application by a former Harvard admissions officer — the person one would have wanted to suck up to — I’ve discovered that the difference between acceptance and rejection is not whether you can turn iron into gold, but a small matter of being the right person in the right applicant pool.

Admission committees construct classes. They need tuba players, Irish dancers, and astronomers in their classes.

Applicants tend to incorrectly believe admission is solely a reflection of strong or poor academic and extracurricular merits — if I’m concertmaster, if I’m valedictorian of my 4000-person class, I’ll get in.

The admissions process is not so black and white, according to the lecture.

A 2400 SAT does not guarantee acceptance, but neither will it be ignored. Everyone is considered because admittance is largely reflective of what that particular class needs.

Harvard needs a bagpiper. If a 2400 SAT applicant has never touched a bagpipe in his or her life, that won’t negate the fact that Harvard needs (and therefore, prefers) a bagpiper and not another pasty nerd with a knack for test taking.

That’s good and bad news. It’s bad news because it adds uncertainty even to the application of a future Stephen Hawking or Einstein. But it’s good news because it gives everyone a chance.

Admissions is a crapshoot, and Harvardians are humans.

Daniel Lee is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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