I Told Them So

I generally try to avoid naming my undergraduate college in this space because of all the snooty associations. Today, however, the snooty associations are key to the story.

For a few years, I was an alumni interviewer for Harvard. My job was to meet with applicants, spend a half hour or an hour talking to them and getting to know them, answer any questions they might have, and write up the experience for Harvard, which would then reject them. The admissions rate was something like one in ten at the time, so with an average of four interviews or so a year, I wasn’t exactly looking at the faces of the next first-year class, statistically speaking.

The most interesting and best qualified candidate I ever met had come to the U.S. knowing almost no English, and within two years had blown through almost all of her high school requirements. She’d worked at an aquarium and helped them set up new educational programs, played onstage at the local symphony hall, taken scads of advanced classes, read Roman history for fun, spearheaded a book donation drive for needy urban schools, and a bunch of other stuff I’ve since forgotten. She was also kind, thoughtful, admirably polite, and generally pleasant to talk to. I gave her a far stronger recommendation than I gave anyone else I interviewed.

Harvard wait-listed her.

I have it on what I consider unimpeachable authority that Harvard sometimes wait-lists applicants, not because it ever anticipates letting them in, but just to encourage their high schools to funnel more applicants in Harvard’s direction. I don’t think that was the case here—her high school was no mean shakes, either. Just something to chalk up to Harvard’s infinite caprice.

In any event, I Googled her today out of curiosity. I’d known that she was attending another fine university—she’d been nice enough to send me not just a thank-you note but a second brief thank-you when she accepted a place in the entering class at Another Fine U. Well, it turns out she’s done swimmingly well. She was named to the USA Today All-Academic First Team, was a varsity rower, won a research award from the NIH (not to mention the honors heaped on her by AFU), and was named one of Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 College Women. And, oh yes, she was a Rhodes Scholar.

I’d like to say, “I told you so.” Well, I checked my letter to the admissions office bureaucracy, and I did. I called her “the smartest candidate I’ve interviewed,” said she “would have been one of the top students” in the computer science section I taught, asserted that she’d be “more likely to take full advantage of the scope of Harvard’s offerings than many people I knew from there,” and compared her to another notable Harvard student who “strolled through a very demanding schedule, racking up awards and honors and leadership roles.”

I may have told them so, but Harvard always laughs last. She’ll be going there for medical school.