President Obama has given his 17-year-old daughter Malia some college admissions advice. Like many other fathers, he told her “not to stress too much” about getting into a specific college.
Umm, why would Malia, a senior at private Sidwell Friends School who is applying to attend college next fall, stress?
Which college wouldn’t take the president’s daughter?
She might stress about deciding which school is her first choice. Or what to put in her essay. (Imagine the topics. Living in the bubble that is the White House. Meeting world dignitaries. Working as a production assistant on the set of a sci-fi thriller called “Extant” starring Halle Berry and produced by Steven Spielberg. Interning with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”)
College admission decisions rest largely on grades, test scores, extra-curricular activities and “the hook.” What’s the hook? Something that distinguishes you from everybody else. It could be the fortune your family has donated to a school, or the fortune the school hopes your family will donate.
It could be that you have won some mind-bogglingly huge prize, like Malala Yousafzai has: She is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history and is applying to colleges in the next two years. Or it could be that you are the daughter of the president of the United States and, as a result, have had a unique set of experiences.
The New York Times ran a story about Malia’s application process that noted that Obama told some high school students and others in Des Moines about guidance he had given her:
“One piece of advice that I’ve given her is not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college. Just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.”
He also said it was important to “keep your grades up until you get in, and after that, make sure you pass.” Naturally, the crowd laughed because it was funny, and, just perhaps, because some people might have been tickled by the notion that his daughter — who is believed to be a good student — would be rejected by any college she wanted to attend.
I asked some college presidents and admissions directors about this, and most didn’t want to be quoted by name, but the general response was, “not on this planet.” Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing at DePaul University in Chicago, said:
The president’s daughter won’t apply to any place unless a high-ranking official has pre-reviewed her candidacy, I suspect.
So if she’s going to get a thumbs down, she will never submit an application to that place. If the White House has allowed her list to slip out, it’s only because she’s been essentially admitted already.
Based on the places she seems to be focusing on, she appears to have credentials that put her solidly in the running, so no, she won’t be denied anywhere, if I’m a betting man.
Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan College, one of the schools that Malia visited, said:
“From what I hear, any college would be fortunate to have her as student. But if it happened that the fit wasn’t right, a school would let her know.”
Obama has been bracing himself for some time for the day Malia leaves home to attend college. At a high school commencement address he gave last year in Worcester, Mass., he said:
“I’m trying to get used to not choking up and crying and embarrassing her. So this is sort of my trial run here.”
Other presidents’ children have done well when they applied to college while their dad was president. George W. Bush’s twins went to different schools: Barbara studied at Yale University, and Jenna at the University of Texas. Chelsea Clinton, who also attended Sidwell, chose Stanford University after considering Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Georgetown and Wesleyan universities.
Malia has visited several schools, including, the Times said, six of the eight Ivy League schools — Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Brown — as well as Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, New York University, Tufts University, Barnard College and Wesleyan University. (Her father didn’t come on any of the visits, hoping to avoid attracting any more attention than the presence of first lady Michelle Obama and Malia generated on some campuses.)
Colleges don’t like to talk about individual applicants, which is what Lisa Lapin, associate vice president for university communications at Stanford University, said when I asked her about the validity of stories in the media saying that the school was requiring Malala to take the SAT or ACT like other applicants. She wrote in an e-mail: “We do not know the origins of that story. The university does not comment on prospective student application matters.”
Which college would really turn down the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history?