Letter to the Editor: What Harvard Missed

To the Editor:

In the last three years, my two oldest children both went through the harrowing college application process. When it was all over and the acceptances and rejections were received, I told them both that there was no way I would have been accepted to Harvard if I had applied today. The process just wasn’t as competitive or grueling twenty plus years ago. To stand out now-a-days, there is the need to have done something at the tender age of 17 that speaks to the kind of innovator, leader, titan you will one day be. Which is why I am left baffled, not that Harvard rescinded the acceptance of 10 students, but rather how they could have been accepted in the first place.

The entire application process, not just to Harvard, is flawed. My kids—one of whom is at Barnard and the other will be at NYU in the fall—struggled mightily to figure out how to communicate the whole of themselves to the nameless, faceless admissions boards receiving their applications.

But I can promise you one thing: There is no way they would ever post a meme such as those posted by these students. It’s not in their nature. It’s not in their character. The Holocaust. Child abuse. Sexual assault. Was there really no way in the application process to know that somewhere—either at the forefront or in the recesses of these students’ minds—they were capable of this?

This isn’t about due diligence in the conventional sense, because that’s what the applications currently are themselves. But clearly, in some cases (hopefully just a minority of cases) they miss something. They get something quite wrong. Because the capacity to mock sexual assault, ridicule the Holocaust, and joke about child abuse as being arousing speaks to a person’s character, more than his or her original application does. It represents the fine lines that aren’t being captured, the intangibles that aren’t being communicated.

We need to rethink the college application process. Perhaps schools need more admissions officers so that interviews conducted by admissions officers can be brought back. Maybe more peer reviews need to be incorporated. Perhaps the recommendations should come from someone for whom the applicant is not in their good graces in order to understand why that is so. I’m drawing at straws. I don’t have the answers. But someone at Harvard should.


Nancy Abramson ’94


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