I grew up in a solidly middle class family. I honestly did not know that NOT going to college was an option. On the other hand, it never occurred to me (or my parents) to apply to an Ivy League college -- too expensive and way to Eastern.
Even so, I have always had this secret fascination with the idea of Harvard or Yale -- kind of like a sociological study in how the other half lives. Fat Envelope Frenzy gave me a whole new perspective on education in the 21st century and the Ivy League.
Joie Jager-Hyman followed five high school seniors in their quest for admission to Harvard. These kids are remarkable (and a little intimidating). All but one of them has achieved more in their short lives than most of us will achieve over the course our fifty years. And believe it or not, the "under achiever" is something of a relief in this line up of super achievers:
- Felix, the child of Chinese-American doctors who grew up in Philadelphia. He achieved perfect scores on all seven of his Advanced Placement tests, has toured internationally , and edits and online science magazine.
- Nabil, son of a Memphis gas-station attendant, is a math wiz who takes multivariable calculus at the University of Memphis, just for fun.
- Andrew , a New Orleans native who survived Hurricane Katrina is a tennis-playing class valedictorian and does charitable work at his church.
- Lisa, is an internationally ranked gymnast who is weighing college against the Olympics. She got a B-plus once -- in Driver's Ed.
- Marlene, the daughter of impoverished Dominican immigrants. She is the "underachiever" with excellent test scores but a less than perfect school attendance record.
Jager-Hyman does a good job of making each one of the characters vibrant and real. I got very involved in their ups and downs and couldn't help but routing for them.
She could have been less "academic" about the process -- there were lots of detours through her experience. She also has lot of ideas and opinions about the admissions process.
If you are interested in applying to the Ivy League or have a child who wants to apply this is arguably valuable information. For the rest of us -- just skim over those and follow the storyline.
The most profound sentence in the whole books is near the end: "Past experience suggests that the particular college a student attends is far less important than what the student does to develop his or her strengths and talents over the next four years."
This is a great "bedtime book"; you can read a little every night for several weeks and not lose the storyline.
Here is the Harper Collins synopsis:
A former Ivy League admissions officer, Joie Jager-Hyman follows five bright and eager high schoolers—students from diverse ethnic, social, and financial backgrounds—as they each put their best foot forward on the road they hope will lead them to the hallowed halls of Harvard University.
At once a remarkable true story of dedication, achievement, and heartbreak and a guide for success in an ultra-competitive environment, this important work deserves a place in the home of every family that has ever dreamed of receiving that coveted “fat envelope” in the mail. Jager-Hyman also offers a startlingly frank appraisal of the college admission process and the important roles race and class continue to play in a student's efforts to attend the best school possible.