Over my many years as an independent college admissions counselor, I’ve often wondered about what motivates high schoolers to apply to certain colleges. Certainly, there are practical reasons, like legacy. If Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Auntie, or Uncle Fred went there, then that’s good enough for some, especially if a legacy connection can result in some slack during the admissions process. The so-called “prestige” factor looms large, too, sometimes even more for parents than for the applicants themselves. I recall overhearing one proud parent pull the old bait-and-switch routine one evening at an after-concert reception. Two fathers who hadn’t seen one another in a long time were catching up on family affairs. The one father was obviously proud of his daughter’s collegiate status and boasted, “Oh, yeah, Emily is at Penn State in the Schreyer Honors College! [certainly something to be proud of]. How about your boy?” Like a mountain lion stalking its prey, the other father smiled and quietly answered, “Billy’s very happy at a small private school in New Jersey.” Of course the desired reaction was curiosity. “Great!” responded Penn State Dad, “What school is that?” New Jersey Dad wound up like Nolan Ryan going for a perfect game and calmly answered, “Princeton.” To paraphrase George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf … and that’s how you play Pass the Prestige, Please.
Of course, economic considerations make many college-choice decisions by default. If a “prestigious” school doesn’t offer as much sorely needed financial aid as a decent lesser-known private school, then the decision becomes clear. This happens frequently. Speaking of prestige and the various shadows that the “top” so-called “elite” schools cast (I use quotes a lot because in some cases these “prestigious” schools may not always be thoroughly “prestigious”), I have sometimes pondered the names of colleges, especially the Ivies. So, really, what’s in an Ivy name?
Well, there are The Big Three: Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. When I have thought about the names of the Ivy League schools, various images appear in my brain. Take Princeton, for example. The name oozes royalty: PRINCEton. It kind of rolls off the tongue and that hard “P” demands attention. I’ve even imagined “a ton of princes.” That’s heavy royalty. No wonder that the Princeton Dad I overheard at the reception was so delighted to drop his princely bomb. In a less regal mood, I’ve been known to conjure “Priceton” due to the dollar freight. A princely price comes with the “prestige.”
So what about Harvard? Well, with the way my mind works (who can figure that out?) I sometimes find myself pondering beets. Really. When I was a young boy, my mother would occasionally (far too frequently, unfortunately) proffer Harvard beets for dinner. “They’re good for your blood,” she would rationalize. “So is a transfusion!” I would retaliate. Anyway, my character has been permanently stained with the deep purple (or are they dark blue?) dye of Harvard beets. From a humor standpoint, I’ve fantasized about this headline: Harvard Beets Yale! If that’s been used, I’ve not seen it.
Speaking of Yale, I’ve imagined it as Yell. “Mom! Dad! I’m going to Yell!” Of course, the natural parental comeback would be,”Well, go ahead, but not too loud!” I sometimes see padlocks, too. That’s not entirely inappropriate because that’s pretty much what New Haven’s admission office keeps on their main gate doors. A BIG one. If you’ve seen the admission percentages from recent years, then you’ll know what I mean. Yale also rhymes with “shale.” I’ve thought that the road to Yale is paved with shale. Certainly a sensitive, poetic musing, and most applicants trod that pathway barefoot. Ouch! How about that classic Beatles hit: “She loves you, Yale, Yale, Yale!” Endless (and mindless) cerebral ramblings.
Enough about The Big Three. How about the other Fab Five? More »