I originally wrote up this list in a spate of boredom some years ago and posted it on my school's college website. Some people found it funny. I've added a few entries for this edition.
(With thanks and apologies to Ambrose Beirce’s The Devil’s Dictionary)
Acceptance: The knowledge that one has been ushered into the ranks of the elite, leaving behind all those, including former friends, who are now beneath one's notice. The end result of years of toadying, strategizing, and relentless joining, leaving an empty shell where once was a vibrant intellect. In rare cases, substance triumphs over image, but a proliferation of agents, "consultants" and other barnacles have accreted to the admission ship until Captain Ahab himself wouldn't recognize it.
Admission dean: An all-knowing wizard invested with majestic and mysterious power by the legions of peasants outside the gates, but in reality a mere pawn of his or her institution doomed to carry out its will no matter how misguided or morally offensive it may be. One condemned never to be truly finished with his task or satisfy anyone completely. see Sisyphus.
Admission office: Rejection office. Once a benignly prejudiced (although often tilted to white males, legacies, talented helmet heads, etc.) entry point for modestly talented students with enough money to pay their bills; now a cynosure of every collegiate institution worth its salt, designed to increase the number of students the institution can reject in order to increase that institution's value in the eyes of those who don't want to join any club that they can enter easily, considering it beneath them. Challenged to raise the academic profile of every entering class while also curing society's ills. Rejection is presented as a mysterious force of the universe. “But don’t take it personally."
Applicant: Supplicant. One who with greater faith than wisdom knocks on the door of the fortress expecting warm hugs and pudding, instead being pierced with arrows and drenched in offal.
College Application: A torture device imposed like thumbscrews on apostates.
College Board: Not, as one might surmise, a relic of the cheerful sadism of fraternity days, but the name of a supremely profitable non-profit institution whose purpose remains obscure even as it tramples the aspirations of students and their families underfoot, like any number of monsters in Japanese films of the 1950s. A testing organization that calls itself an educational organization, thereby turning the meaning of "education" on its head, as if to say that measuring the content of a thing measures its worth. An organization answerable to no one that has the ability to make everyone from high school students to college presidents lose control of their bowels. See also: Norris, Frank, The Octopus; Bush White House; Godzilla; Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.
College Counselor: An individual charged with paving the way to college for high school students, yet with neither asphalt nor equipment to do so. A Cassandra doomed to speak the truth without being heard. A convenient repository for the fears, insecurities, and rage of parents who all know better. When successful, credit goes to the student; when unsuccessful, blame goes to the counselor. See also, fool.
College essay: 1. A repository for words and concepts never otherwise used in adolescent writing or conversation, including words such as "plethora," "mitigate," and many other polysyllabic anachronisms (such as "polysyllabic" and "anachronism"). 2. A device that asks the writer to suddenly develop the universal insight of an ancient guru or Buddha or the existential angst of Jean Paul Sartre in order to convince the reader of his/her ability to pass Freshman English and College Math. 3. A piece of writing required by colleges that practically demands stilted and artificial language tied to inflated topics and hopeful deeds. Also known as "bloviating." Topics include: one's social consciousness, work ethic, and personal literacy, none of which have any value in contemporary society. 4. A piece of writing no good English teacher would permit in a class. See "Miss America Essay."
College rankings: The attachment of an absolute value of quality to a thing not truly susceptible to numerical evaluation. A system against which all rail but in which nearly all participate. Not to do so condemns an institution to relying solely on its actual, not perceived, condition.
Common Application: A way to simplify the college application process by making it more complicated. Supplicants wishing to use this means of indicating their desires are often compelled by the CA's institutional users to subscribe to the collegiate equivalent of a Ptolemaic view of the solar system: Only by attaching many and ultimately redundant wheels, gears, and cogs to the application can one make it appear to operate correctly, i.e., "simply."
Early Decision: Voluntary servitude. An agreement under which a buyer permits a seller to dictate where he (the buyer) may spend his time and money, without recourse to arbitration. For the pottage of a quick answer the buyer is compelled to sell his birthright. See also, indentured servant.
Financial Aid: (1) Giving money to the wealthy in the hope they will repay it a hundredfold in the future. (2) Rewarding the middle class for not having the foresight to save for college. (3) Bribing the needy in order to persuade them to decorate one's campus with their social consciousness and picturesque customs.
GPA: The scarlet letter of high school life. A magic ratio indicative of the time, effort, and cultivation of teachers that students have invested in their courses, or rather, in the cultivation of same. A number having vastly different meanings in high schools from town to town and village to village. The pursuit of the GPA, like the pursuit of the snipe, often becomes a task in itself and undertaken just as vainly. For some, a reasonable outcome of a life of dedicated work and inquiry; for others, merely an impediment to one's aspirations, even if little has been done to achieve them substantively. Often, like the GDP or the federal budget, a way to lie without lying.
"Ivy League": Used as a synonym for "perfection" or "heaven" when used as a noun by those unacquainted with subtlety: "Cynthia is in the Ivy League." Translation: "Cynthia has achieved immortality." Used as an adjective when social conditions require it. Example: "Chad attends an Ivy League institution," Mrs. Huffington casually remarked at the cocktail party. Translation: Chad will get everything that's coming to him. Often said with feigned insouciance, for to express excitement about this condition brands one as an arriviste. A much more ambiguous designation than one might think. Originally used by a New York sportswriter to describe an athletic consortium; the irony of this designation is seldom noted.
Optional essay: Required essay. (Also, “optional testing,” “optional interview,” and so on.)
Prestige: n., from the Middle French meaning conjuror’s trick, illusion. The magical ability of an institution to make outsiders think it is worthier of love and admiration than it really is. The prestige of a college or university, as with nightclubs, country clubs, and secret societies, is determined primarily by who does NOT get in, thereby increasing the desire of those on the outside to be on the inside. A college's prestige can be increased merely by encouraging more applicants, who can then be rejected, in which case the prestige rises while the quality of the institution is affected not at all. A concept with more power than it ought to have in college admission. See psychologist, Marx, Groucho: "I would never be a member of a club that would have me." In a similar vein, see Vidal, Gore: "It's not enough simply for me to succeed; others must fail."
Rejection: A word whose currency rises as its euphemisms multiply. The process by which a college rids itself of those unworthy of its beneficence unless they happen to be athletes, alumni children, or others born in the right neighborhoods. A mark of distinction in college rankings. In some institutions, a 92% rejection rate is considered the acme of a job well done, although the figure is always mentioned with an obligatory apology by admission personnel, especially when speaking with those most desirous of attending. Also, “deferral” and "waitlist."
Standardized Testing: (1) The Procrustean means by which schools and colleges saw off any protruding limbs of interest in an effort to minimize the need to study the whole person. (2) A magical process by which all human ability, desire, understanding, and aspiration are alchemically transformed into a single sacred number. (3) Turning dross into gold by convincing the credible that this number says something meaningful, thereby compelling them to purchase not only the test itself but the means to circumvent it. As with lawyers in immense lawsuits, the only ones enriched are the test makers themselves.
Waitlist: The limbo of the lost after the initial round of acceptance and rejection letters have been sent. The purgatory of college admission, where one is sent to have one's sins burned away before being reconsidered for acceptance into heaven (See "Ivy League.") Unfortunately, like unbaptised babies in the Catholic church, most waitlisted applicants never escape this spiritual desolation and must content themselves with attending one of the institutions that accepted them.
College Access Counseling
My firm, College Access Counseling, Ltd., works with adults and organizations who counsel and support first-generation and minority students on the way to college. I teach the ins and outs of the college process, helping them build social and cultural capital for their students. Click here for more information. I also write for NACAC's blog, Admitted. You can read my entries as well as some of my colleagues', here. Click here to read one of my entries in the New York Times's blog, The Choice.
college admission college high school college counseling underserved students Amherst Amherst College admission practices college counselor college panic adolescents college applications parents adolescence anxiety college acceptance financial aid first generation SAT AP courses hurried children Sartre
Books About College, Teens, and American Culture
- A History of American Higher Education
- A Hope in the Unseen
- Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic
- African Americans and College Choice
- Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture
- Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
- Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers
- Campus Life
- College Access & Opportunity Guide
- College Admissions and the Public Interest
- College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family
- College Gold: The Step by Step Guide for Paying for College
- College Knowledge: What It Really Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready
- College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy
- Colleges that Change Lives
- Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing
- Doing School: How We are Creating a Generation of Stressed-out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students
- First in the Family
- Fiske Guide to Colleges
- Going to College: How Social, Economic, and Educational Factors Influence the Decisions Students Make
- Harvard, Schmarvard
- Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private & Social Benefits of Higher Education
- Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood
- I Am Charlotte Simmons
- Increasing Access to College:
- Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admission and Beyond
- Leveling the Playing Field: Justice, Politics, and College Admissions
- Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered America
- Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams
- Looking Beyond the Ivy League
- Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions
- Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class
- Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
- Race and Class Matters at an Elite College
- Rescuing Your Teenager From Depression
- Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education
- Sophomore Guide to College & Career: Preparing for life After High School
- Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It
- Status Anxiety
- Taking Time Off
- Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education
- The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy
- The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive & Reconnect with Their Fathers
- The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools
- The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton
- The Culture of Narcissism
- The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College
- The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in American Life
- The Little College Handbook: A First Generation's Guide to Getting in and Staying In
- The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College
- The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfull a Dream
- The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life
- The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates
- The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids
- The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager
- The Secret Lives of Overachievers
- The Unintended Consequences of High Stakes Testing
- Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education
- What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens