Shortly after I posted a rant from a college admissions counselor about some students and their parents who are irrational about their expectations and choices for colleges, I received this e-mail from a parent, Michael Martin, who asked not to be further identified. He tells a personal story as he takes issue with the counselor, Elizabeth Zucker, whose post can be found here.

From Michael Martin, a parent:

It seems to me you are off your game a little with the Zucker counselor post. I don’t think the post offered anything useful.

My son is a high school senior. He applied to MIT, Princeton, Harvard, and Harvey Mudd and was turned down by all of them (wait listed at Harvard). But let’s look at his credentials. He took the SAT and got an 800 in math, 740 in reading and 700 in writing. He took two SAT subject tests: chemistry and calculus and got 800’s in both. He had completed 5 advanced placement tests before his senior year and had three 5’s and two 4’s. One of the 5’s was in calculus. He couldn’t fit that calculus class into his schedule so he took that as an independent study. He has had straight A’s in high school despite taking mostly honors or AP classes, including some high school credit courses he took in 7th and 8th grade. He won the silver medal in honors math at the state Academic Decathlon competition.

All four years in high school he played trombone in the school marching band, presentation jazz band, symphonic band, and school musical orchestra pit, plus he was selected for the regional honor band. He received personal awards in a couple years in marching and symphonic band, and was section leader in marching band. This year he is president of the school Model U.N. and won with a classmate the state best position paper award, in Spanish. He is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. In prior years he participated in the National Forensic League Speech & Debate team and Mock Trial.

He does not have a lot of community service, although he is in Boy Scouts at the Life rank, just below Eagle, and has done some community service with them. Considering his academic schedule I don’t know where he would have found the time to do much community service. He tutors other students in Spanish with the Spanish Honor Society and does some community service with the National Honor Society. What do they want? Blood? Oh, yeah, he has consistently donated blood too.

My point being that he is an exceptional student and yet could not get into a major university. Your Zucker post made it sound like kids are all the same and will do well where ever they go. But my concern is different. When my son was in middle school he played in the band with another kid who had taken private lessons and was much better than him. He loved it because he could hang out with this student and learn and play together. With everything else in school he was always the best. He helped friends with homework and tutored online but some kids resented that he wouldn’t do their homework or papers. He took AP & honors classes and participated in these extracurricular activities because he could hang out with other students who were committed to intellectual excellence. People he could, in essence, cross intellectual swords with and argue and discuss current events and issues.

I told him the main reason to apply to MIT, Princeton, Harvard, and Harvey Mudd had little to do with the faculty, it was the other students who would be intellectual peers so he could be just one of the students like he was with that middle school trombone player. My son is not a genius, he only got one second in a ten event statewide competition, and maybe he doesn’t measure up to MIT, Harvard, Princeton or Harvey Mudd. Those places would have cost us one-fourth of our total household income each year to attend, so I’m not exactly complaining. But I’m not exactly sure what more he could have done to get into those schools.

So I found it highly insulting and insensitive for Zucker to suggest that it’s all a fraud anyway. Bob Somerby occasionally comments in your blog. His school mates were Al Gore, the guy who wrote Love Story, and a famous Hollywood actor. I don’t know about you, but my own college experience was that my extra-curricular activities were just as important as my classes. I attended a 30th year reunion of the off-campus newspaper I worked on that closed after my senior year. Fifty people showed up for that reunion and those I talked to mostly worked today in fields that were derivative of working on that newspaper rather than our majors.

Maybe you think it is a sop to all the rejection slips going out right now to say it isn’t really important. But it is. It was a help when you posted the essay about all the valedictorians that were rejected and some other posts about the difficulty of getting into top colleges. My son wrote his own essays, went on his own interviews, because it was more important for him to succeed or fail on his own. Sure, he is probably going to do well in some “State U.”, and he won’t be the smartest or most talented student there. But he knows from his high school experience that he won’t have the intense experience of working with other students of higher intellectual caliber on a daily basis. He is disappointed at not being accepted. We are disappointed he was not accepted. Life will go on, but don’t say it wasn’t important.

Michael T. Martin

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