Attention Students: ‘Just Being Yourself’ Isn’t a Skill That Should Earn You Admission to College
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a controversial op-ed from Pittsburgh high school senior Suzy Lee Weiss, who was very annoyed she had not been accepted into her dream college, even though she had wanted to be accepted into her dream college.
Entitled, "To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me," the piece is a good old fashioned spiteful rant, flinging glasses of white whine into the eyes, not only of every college that denied her admission, but also every person who has ever been accepted into a college, ever.
The gist of Suzy's opus: while some try-hards spent their high school career trying—hard—to build an impressive résumé so that they could get into their dream colleges, Suzy opted to take a more virtuous path; the path of just being herself and hoping for the best. It didn't work. And that is unfair.
Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It's simple: For years, they—we—were lied to.
Colleges tell you, "Just be yourself." That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!
Suzy's mistake, it seems, was interpreting the advice "Just be yourself" literally. Like perhaps someone told her, "Applying to colleges? Ah, just be yourself," and she accepted this as an instruction to pursue no activities other than being herself.
Being yourself is not a talent. If you worked two full-time jobs all the way through high school and one of them was "being yourself" and the other was "trying your best," you actually worked zero full-time jobs. It's important to make time for yourself, of course, but you should be making other things in addition to that. Like goals and plans and effort.
By the way, why are "killer SAT scores"—a very reasonable requirement for college admission—sandwiched between "three varsity sports" and "two moms" on that sarcastic list of things college students "ought," but could not reasonably be expected to have? Is demanding good test scores really as ridiculous as demanding participation in nine extracurriculars?
I bet if I'd had great SAT scores, they would have accepted me.
I bet that too. That is a safe bet. I bet if you had performed well on your driving exam, you would have a driver's license right now. I bet if you hadn't burned down that barn, that barn would still be standing. All reasonable assumptions.
While we're on the subject, no university would ever offer "Just be yourself" as its sole piece of advice for applicants. Harvard's admissions website offers a list of factors admissions officers consider when reviewing applications. Here's an example:
"Has the candidate been working to capacity? In his academic pursuits? In her full-time or part-time employment? In other areas?"
There's nothing on the page about searching for a candidate who's just, ya know, livin' life; who be's herself.
Oddly, Suzy Lee Weiss' takeaway from the failed "que sera sera" method of college admissions prep does not seem to be, "It was a bad idea for me to try to 'be myself' my way into college," but rather "It is unfairly easy for minorities and gay people and Ke$ha to 'be themselves' their way into college."
….had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would've happily come out of it. "Diversity!" I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would've been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.
Fie those lucky gay teens with their glamorous backstories; those Native American freshman swarming Ivy League campuses by the billion. Where are the It Gets Better videos for unexceptional teens dedicating themselves to "I dunno, stuff"?
Much of Suzy's bitter criticism is leveled at her parents (whose lovely home, shared by Suzy, you can tour in this 2011 Wall Street Journal article), whose refusal to force their teenaged daughter to pursue a hobby against her will borders on child abuse:
But my parents also left me with a dearth of hobbies that make admissions committees salivate. I've never sat down at a piano, never plucked a violin. Karate lasted about a week and the swim team didn't last past the first lap. Why couldn't Amy Chua have adopted me as one of her cubs?
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Suzy's essay, though, is her apparent rabid hatred of charity.
She bemoans the fact she never "started a fake charity," and it's not clear whether she's arguing that most of the "charity work" mentioned on applications is simply a lie (a trip to McDonald's becomes a trip to the Ronald McDonald House?) or if she is so unmotivated that, even in her own hypothetical situations, she would rather take the easy way out than put in hypothetical work to found a hypothetical charity. She imagines "raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome," which is a funny joke because chapped lips aren't really a big issue, and "providing veterinary services for homeless people's pets," which is a funny joke because homeless people's pets should starve.
She goes on:
I should've done what I knew was best—go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life. Because everyone knows that if you don't have anything difficult going on in your own life, you should just hop on a plane so you're able to talk about what other people have to deal with.
Ignoring the fact that her hypothetical African child's name is uncomfortably close to "Kunta Kinte" (maybe she meant to name him after Zachary Quinto?), it's not clear what she's satirizing here apart from, y'know, the concept of charity.
In fact, the one notorious aspect of college admissions that virtually no one ever praises openly—the preferential treatment given to legacy applicants who are admitted to schools because of familial connections—Suzy Lee Weiss doesn't touch in her Wall Street Journal piece.
Perhaps her sister Bari Weiss, a former Wall Street Journal editorial features editor, talked her out of it.