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Everything I needed to know about college admissions I learned from Machiavelli

October 23, 2008

When I sit down to watch Gossip Girl, I want to temporarily escape reality and live vicariously through the sheer excess and artificiality of New York City’s moneyed class. The last thing I want to think about is the college admissions process. But this week, instead of inexplicably partying at the hippest bar in Manhattan, Serena and Blair spent part of the episode bickering outside of Yale’s Dean of Admission`s house, fighting for a prized spot in Yale’s class of 2013.

One of the best parts about coming to Georgetown was the end of a seemingly life-long discussion about college: where to go, how to get in, how to be an “ideal” candidate. Or so I thought. Even after coming here, I have found myself talking about the college admission ordeal practically daily. People continue to talk about where they got in or to compare Georgetown to the schools their friends got into.

Thinking back, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think about getting into college at least once a day. But how could I? College admissions have become a litmus test so pervasive that it extends to the trashiest of television shows. Getting into Yale proves something, even to the high and mighty of Park Avenue. Where you applied to college, a question that I am frequently asked even now, is a question that is intended to say something about who you are.

The New York Times quoted a sixth grader as saying that his dream to attend St. John’s University is “all that runs through my mind.” Getting into college has become more than a necessary evil; it’s become a societal obsession.

Just last night, a friend was lamenting how her sister didn’t want to apply to any reach schools because she was afraid of being rejected. This is a common dilemma caused by the college obsession: balancing fear of rejection with the idea that college acceptance proves something.

Perhaps this new emphasis on college is the continuation of the American emphasis on meritocracy, the idea that by working hard in high school you can pull yourself up to Ivy League prestige. As another sixth grader told the Times, ‘’With the Ivy League schools, my dad always says that to get into them, it’s like a race. Let’s say we could put the whole grade in a race. People have to fall. People have to stop to tie a shoe. But if you keep getting good grades, you race and race to the top.” This survival of the fittest mentality may be brutal, but at least achieving the best is earned.

But if Gossip Girl is any indication of how people feel about the college admissions process, earning your spot based on merit isn’t the only option. According to the show, admission to Yale can occur because of wealth, influence, and the ability to impress the Dean at his private dinner party. The seeming randomness and injustice inspires a kind of frenzy even for the watchers of the show. Never had I felt so scandalized by the show’s contents as when I found out that the notorious party boy player Chuck Bass had been essentially accepted at Yale.

After watching Gossip Girl, I always feel a sense of relief at the relative simplicity of my life. It’s a comfort to me that I ended up at Georgetown, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Even if Georgetown isn’t in the “Holy Trinity” of Ivies (as Blair would say), I think the fashionsitas here would give Serena a run for her money.

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