Faking It and Making It—In Ninth Grade and In Journalism

At the Washingtonian magazine we had 15 editorial interns each year. Most came from relatively upscale families and had impressive resumes. The tiebreaker for me in picking interns was what did you do during your high school and college summer breaks?

I looked for interns who hadn’t had what amounted to fake summer jobs (being a lifeguard at the country club pool) but who had worked at real jobs with people different from their friends and their parents’ friends.

What brought this to mind were this week’s stories about parents bribing coaches to buy admission for their kids to top colleges.

What now seems even worse was looking back and having seen high school kids being encouraged by their schools and parents to create fake lives.

One girl I know went to a highly regarded private high sch0ol where getting into an Ivy League school was the goal for the school and for most of the girls and their parents. In ninth grade the girls began talking about what can we do this summer that will look good on our college applications.

For the kids, not what do we want to do this summer but what will impress others.

For the parents, not what will help our daughters learn and grow but will get the attention of the admissions committee at Yale or Harvard.

Helping a 14-year-old to begin to live an inauthentic life or bribing a college coach—children should not have to bear responsibility for such sins of their parents.
P.S. A reader says another admissions game she saw played by affluent parents was paying a psychiatrist to say that a high school student had a previously undiscovered learning disability and thus should be allowed to take an untimed SAT test, increasing the chances the student would get a higher score.

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