Recently, someone posted a link in a “High-IQ” closed Facebook group where I belong despite the fact I don’t actually know my IQ: “Confessions of a Harvard Gatekeeper.”
I graduated from Harvard in 2006, and have spent eight of the last nine years working as an admissions officer for my alma mater. A low-level volunteer, sure, but an official one all the same. I served as one of thousands of alumni volunteers around the world—a Regional Representative for my local Schools Committee, if you want to get technical. And, as a Regional Rep, my duties fell somewhere between Harvard recruiter and Harvard gatekeeper.
But now I’m done with all that. For a long time, I believed in the admissions process. I thought that I could use my position to help regular smart people with great test scores and impressive extracurriculars break into an elitist system. After eight years, though, I’ve learned that modest goal is more or less unreachable. Ivy League admissions are a complete racket, rigged in favor of the privileged and completely impervious to change. So I’m quitting the business.
And because I’m quitting, that means I can tell you, the reader, all the secrets of being a Harvard admissions representative, and what it really takes to get in.
It’s a good story, about privilege, preparation, and plenty of phoniness as the “best and brightest” (from the right social/economic background) make their case and work the system to obtain admission to the Ivy League college of their dreams — to, of course, perpetuate the privilege.
But there’s a deeper story here. Some years ago, I had a run-in with a business executive who put on airs of intellectual brilliance, and represented his association with Oxford University (the U.K. equivalent, I suppose, of Harvard.) However, after the run-in reached the stage that I decided I needed to research the guy more closely, I discovered he had simply taken a fee-paid summer extension program there. (And you can do that sort of thing at Harvard, as well.) Eventually, we squared off in the courts, after he hired the some of the best lawyers in town and sued my business for $1 million. Thankfully, I prevailed, winning costs and a dismissal.
The relationship by association with prestige applies in other areas, of course. Credentials of “being a supplier to a major corporation” play out with credibility and marketing power, and allow the big corporations and “names” to negotiate deals which are really to their favour. (Donald Trump certainly plays this game with his branding process.) You can, on a local level, achieve this credibility through community service and leadership, ultimately becoming a director, president, or chair of the relevant group/organization — and thus able to put the credentials on your CV.
(I enjoy some of this sort of status, as well, with Google, as a volunteer Top Contributor, or moderator, on one of the company’s help forums. No pay, but I still have some status — including occasional expense-paid trips to the mother ship in California. And that leads to credibility within the search engine marketing community, undoubtedly.)
There’s marketing science and reasoning about why it makes sense to associate your brand and self with the elite — either locally or, if you can, internationally. I’m not sure, however, if I would turn completing an extension course into becoming an “I attended Oxford University”. Thankfully, the experience with the guy who tried that stunt provided several years of ammunition from troublemakers, when I could truthfully say: “I have a very good lawyer.”
As for the High IQ group — well, I certainly know and hang out with a whole lot of very intelligent people, and earned my place in the group by personally knowing some of its brightest members before being admitted. Relationships through association, indeed, matter.