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The Disorderly March XIII

January 22, 2011

So I’m “in school” now, and I suppose that’s why I picked up Admission, a book I’d bought for mom, whose unimpressed reaction put me off it last year.  I don’t know why she didn’t like this novel about a college admissions counselor, liberally laced with stories and wonderfully opinionated and Balzacian asides about the admissions process (though I suppose since I’m the same intrusively opinionated sort of author, it’s more my style).  Each chapter starts with a “selection” from a probably typical application essay, some brazenly crafted to be cut-and-pasted from one application to another, others illuminating the hazards of a single mistake on the Orderly March and the need to explain it in great detail when applying to college.

Author Jean Hanff Korelitz worked briefly as an applications reviewer in Princeton’s admissions office, so she knows whereof she speaks.  She mourns the end of the “well-rounded individual” as the qualifying standard for admission to high-end academia; turns out that now you have to have “a passion” for biomechanics or astronomy or internal medicine by the time you’re fourteen, your life course set before you even apply to college.  Turns out as well that you can be too orderly on your march, becoming so predictably dull in your cello concerts at the soup kitchen while you do your calculus homework with your feet that your generic flavor of outstandingness just…doesn’t stand out.

There’s an amusing dialog between the main character and a visiting professor from Oxford, about the difference between how US and UK schools select their students.  Being the greatest tuba player (or ping pong player or bridge player for that matter) makes you “interesting” on a US application, but in the UK, nobody mentions their volunteer work or athletic accomplishments – it’s just not (at least according to Korelitz as speaking through this character) “applicable,” your admission being based on your academics and nought else (though I’m sure there as here the diversity checklist trumps the perfect transcript). 

I had to laugh when I read about a certain type of student: me, basically.  The ones who hate high school and want to be left alone to read, who fail the classes they don’t care about and ace the ones in the subjects they do care about, who only look good on one half of the SAT/ACT but who are nevertheless bright-to-brilliant in their own fields.  Turns out that colleges accept more of my type than I’d have thought, at the request of the faculty, because it’s exactly us ill-rounded types who end up…on the faculty.

I don’t know if it’s just the novelty of it, though for me there’s always a ton of good to be said about that, but I’m loving the whole “college experience,” as minimal as it is for me, taking one night class two days a week.  The newest buildings on the UNR campus, the library and the student union, were built during the boom, the library (excusez-moi, “knowledge center”) at the bequest of formerly deep-pocketed slot machine maker IGT.  So the whole thing feels shiny and new; the old library was basically a dungeon whereas the new one has got an atrium and almost no spaces without wonderful natural light to read by, as well as lots of café-style comfy-chair seating (with a Peet’s in the lobby and a Starbucks 100 yards away in the student union).  It’s a place you want to go and sit and read, which would be the first requirement of any library in my book.

College is full of energy, of course, all those young people about, excited and growing into their brains, and it’s like a transfusion to us old people (I’m 48, so definitely on the far end of the student age curve on campus).  I’ve got my hands full with a full-time job, especially now, so I’m glad I only took one class to start, but when I win the lottery, I can see myself doing much more.  Again, I don’t care if I get a degree – I’m not taking Algebra again and you can’t make me – but you don’t need to get a degree to get an education, and at this point, that’s what I want.


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