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Not Another Teen College Guide

Untangling the Ivy League by Marc Zawel

By Casey N. Cep, Contributing Writer

“Untangling the Ivy League: 2006” markets itself as an insider’s guide to the Ivy League written by the students and alumni. The book’s back cover confides: “We figured they would know more from experience, plus they’re probably a whole lot smarter.”

As if self-promotion and hubris were in too short a supply around our campuses, the book informs us that Ivy Leaguers are more intelligent than college experts, major publishing houses, and the general public.

If the labyrinth of college admissions truly is a puzzle to be solved or a game to be won, then this rhetoric of superiority and altruistic disclosure is an effective one. In the promotion of his 500-page guidebook Marc Zawel, a first-time author and recent graduate of Cornell University, claims that he has consulted “the people who know best.”

There is a system to be beat, so why shouldn’t Ivy Leaguers be the ones to reap the benefits of the million-dollar industry that has developed around the frenzy of college admissions?

Prospective applicants might benefit from the book’s “key insights” on applying or they might not, but current students are not likely to find much of a use for the “Preferred Guide of College Counselors.”

Just in case your curiosity has been aroused about Harvard’s standing—the Harvard statistics were compiled by Dominic Hood ’05—here is a quick review. We earn “A’s” for academics, off-campus dining, campus housing, and transportation.

Not surprisingly, our lowest grades were for campus dining, off-campus housing, Greek life, and parking. Guys at Harvard give Girls a “B-,” while the females are a little more generous with their evaluation and offer up a “B” rating for their male counterparts.

The book’s sparse layout and repetitious graphics reveal the extent to which it is a work of redundancy. For Harvard alone, six different ‘students’ reveal how convenient, but not necessary, it is to have one’s own computer on campus; another six stumble through an articulation of the role of finals clubs on campus; and in this endless series of student epiphanies, another six speculate that Harvard’s drug scene “seems like the kind of thing where if you’re looking for it, you can find it.”

Consider the examples of local Boston slang in the Harvard section. Without the book, non-locals might never have figured out that a “frappe” is a milkshake and the “Yankees” are the New York Yankees baseball team. Nor would any incoming freshman be respected if he or she did not already know that the COOP, the Harvard Cooperative Society, is pronounced as in “chicken coop.”

Not every word of the book is titillating gossip. “Untangling the Ivy League: 2006” includes interviews with former Cornell President Jeffrey S. Lehman and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the topics of diversity and affirmative action, but these are brief escapes from the banality and incoherence of quotations from anonymous current students. Multiply the Harvard section by seven for each its sibling institutions and you have a sense of the excess of the project.

It is unlikely that “Untangling the Ivy League: 2006” will help more than a few students narrow down their decisions between Ivy League schools without having to visit campuses, but the book is not entirely deplorable.

Zawel, if nothing else, has given us another reason for self-congratulation: there are always jobs available for Ivy Leaguers post-graduation.

Next year’s guides are waiting for their “student writers” or “alumni voices.”

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