The recent college admission scandal has generated some excellent discussion, but it ignores the situation of most young adults. I am referring to the kids Hasan Minhaj on Patriot Act described as people who, rather than suing Harvard when they don’t get in, just get on with life.

The biggest misconception that surfaces when we focus on the students obsessed with prestigious colleges is that all college-bound kids plan their lives around padding their college admission packages. In my experience as a professor at a state university and as a father whose daughter attended public schools, I encounter kids who do the opposite. They, in fact, do exactly what New York Times editorial writer Frank Bruni suggests. These young people seek extracurricular activities that satisfy them intrinsically. They want to build their resumes, but they do so by racking up the experiences they want to do, not by doing what was recommended to them by a private consultant hired by their parents.  Let me give you two concrete examples. 

  1. I called a student into my office and told him that he misunderstood the directions to a particular written assignment.  I gave him a ‘C’ on his paper, but offered him the weekend to rewrite it for a better grade.  He replied, “I appreciate the chance, but I’ll take the ‘C.’ I’m in charge of a big event this weekend at the Boys and Girls Club. I’m just a volunteer, but they are depending on me.”
  1. Some of my students, upon graduation, land jobs as wilderness trip leaders or environmental educators. When they return to campus to tell me what they are up to, none are able to keep a smile off their faces. These idealistic kids are earning minimum wage and living the dream.

I do not worry whether elite schools might be producing immoral autotrons. If not for the fact that prestigious schools produce a disproportional number of senators, CEOs, and US presidents, it would be a tempest in a teapot. The majority of young adults at the majority of institutions of high learning have their priorities straight.

Steven Simpson