Breaking the Mold

There is no ideal Harvard student

Admissions rates have long been low at Harvard, and as they get lower and lower each year, the bar set for high school hopefuls gets higher and higher. Every year, it seems, we report a lower threshold than before—we dipped below six percent for the first time in 2012.

As admissions get more selective, the market for those looking to increase their chance of admission gets more and more pricey. There are countless services that offer the chance to raise SAT and ACT scores, websites that purport to tell you your chances of being admitted to various institutions, and even admissions consultants, who can begin crafting applications and resumes for future college students as early as their freshman year of high school.

The lengths some will go to in order to gain admission got more publicity in recent days after a lawsuit was filed against a former Harvard lecturer and assistant professor Mark J. Zimny. Zinny reportedly took over $2 million from Gerald and Lily Chow of Hong Kong under the guise that he was making donations for them to top universities to help their sons’ admissions chances.

Zimny was not accredited by the Independent Educational Consultants Association, and the Chows allege that he did not make the donations the way he promised he would. Even if he had, however, it seems obvious that such actions are lamentable, not to mention of questionable efficacy.

Accredited consultants were quick to disavow Zimny following the lawsuit, calling his alleged practices “exploitation.” However, it bears mentioning that, speaking generally, college consultants can hardly guarantee to be effective in helping students to admission to top-tier schools.


Too often, the myth circulates that there is some sort of ideal Harvard student, and that everyone here or at other good schools is some variation of that archetype. As a result, industries survive on the attempt to help students fit this mythical mold, or rather, appear to fit it on their application.

Students and parents hoping to force themselves into this sort of perfectly packaged gift to an admissions officer should know that such tactics, and checking what they assume are all the right boxes, do not alone lead to success. It seems more reasonable to presume that you are better off selling your real personality and interests, and to be passionate in doing so. Students at Harvard are many things, but they could hardly be called cookie cutter, and those seeking admission would be well advised to ditch the mold in favor of some flavor.