White Girl College Problems

Are privileged white girls good for anything other than viral internet memes? Perhaps not. The Daily Beast's Steve Cohen reports that this years' college acceptance statistics are especially dismal for "unhooked white girls":

That's the euphemism for smart girls with really good grades and solid SAT scores, but who lack some special "hook" or positioning — for example, being a star athlete, concert pianist or first generation to go to college. They experienced a particularly tough time getting into most of the nation's most competitive colleges.

The article has a long list of college acceptance statistics and how they differ from last year, but to give you some idea, Harvard accepted only 5.9 percent of kids who applied for the class of 2016, and Yale only 6.8 percent, versus 6.2 and 7.4 the years before, respectively. Stanford accepted only 6.6 percent of its applicants, down from 7.1 percent last year. My alma mater, University of California, Berkeley, saw a record number of applicants — 61,661, almost 10,000 more than last year — and dropped its admit rate from 25.7 to 19.5 percent.

"With more kids each applying to more schools, the colleges can be even more picky about the smallest credential," Michael Muska, the dean of college relations at Brooklyn's Poly Prep, told Cohen. "...Test scores count — a lot! At the same time, a kid with great SAT scores but without a ‘hook' will have trouble getting into the most competitive colleges. You need both." That's why "unhooked white girls" are finding it especially tough: "Because there are so many high-achieving … girls who have studied hard, participated in all the right activities, and expected the top colleges to appreciate their efforts," said Scott Farber, a test-preparation and admissions expert. "Do they deserve to get in? Sure. Would they do well if admitted? Absolutely. But colleges are not looking for the well-rounded kid; they want the well-rounded class. And unless you are a superstar in some area, you're just one of thousands of smart, all-around, but unhooked white girls. It may be unfair, but that's life."

That's life indeed, and most of you are probably getting out your tiniest violins for the thousands of smart, upper-middle class white girls who didn't get into Harvard, but as a former unhooked white girl myself, I can sympathize. I attended a private high school, and almost all of my peers went on to private, top-notch universities. My public-school educated parents didn't understand the concept of being "hooked" and therefore let me do whatever I wanted after school and during the summer. I spent my free time reading, attending musical theater camp, and interning at magazines, because those were the activities I was interested in as a 15 and 16-year-old girl, not starting breast cancer philanthropies or volunteering in Kenya. And it's not like I was good at singing or dancing, either — I was actually pretty terrible — but I loved camp nonetheless, which is why I went back year after year. My college counselor and I struggled over how I should "package" myself, and I would leave every session hating myself because I hadn't written a novel or built any houses for the homeless. I was smart, passionate about a variety of issues, and interested in the world, but I wasn't really special. Would Berkeley have accepted me now? Maybe not.

Another issue raised in the article that resonated with me is that colleges only want students who want them. "We are seeing colleges really looking at whether kids are applying because it is a good fit or whether that college is the next-most-prestigious place they can get in," said Pete Silberman, dean of the upper school at Los Angeles's Harvard-Westlake. "Colleges want kids who really want them; where it is a good fit." I felt pressured to apply early to a certain Ivy League college because the idea that only one college is perfect for you — a concept that's really as ridiculous as believing that we all have only one "soulmate" — was forced upon me throughout my high school years. I was deferred and then rejected from that Ivy League school, and I couldn't be happier that I ended up at a public university instead. So hey, unhooked folks bummed about college rejections: this once "unhooked" teenager turned out just fine, and so will you.

Image via Craig Wactorv/Shutterstock.