I was in Elmhurst, IL not too long ago visiting some friends. One of these friends, a guy named Joe, taught me how to change my oil. When I finished changing my oil and my oil filter he smiled and said, "Sparky, I'm proud of you." I looked back to him and replied, "Yeah, but you know the entire insides of the car, how is my feat worth being proud of?" He sent his pretty green eyes back into mine, "I'm a car guy. That's what I do. You aren't."

That simple statement made me really re-evaluate some stuff. I'm smart, I got into a school that only a tiny bit of the population can get into, and I'm proud. But the thing is this, I'm a school guy. I know stuff, I read, I remember, getting into my school wasn't a grand feat.

I will now tell you what a grand feat is. My dad isn't a brilliant guy and he had a terrible childhood. He never graduated high school and he wound up really destroying his life via cocaine and alcohol. He's good with machines, and he means well. He's been working in a junkyard for twenty years. Well, just recently, he called me up and he told me that he got back into school. He got out of alcoholism, he got out of coke addiction, and he's enlisted in a technical school. He's not going to be making a hundred thousand a year and he's not even going to have a GED, but he pulled himself up out of the meta-human slime that he was stuck in and he's putting himself on the track. Me in school is like a dolphin in water, my dad in school is like a hydrophobic cat in water.

Here's story number two of a marvelous feat:
My mom's friend's son has Down's Syndrome to an intense degree. They figured he'd never remember his grandfather's name, let alone read. Well, now, at 22 he works in a Jewel gorcery store stocking shelves. He reads the labels, memorizes the positions they tell him to, and moves them when they tell him to. That is fucking amazing.

I'm smart. I'm lucky. Understanding of mathematics and language comes really fast to me. I've never had to work for anything. Thinking about my dad and my mom's friend's son and all you other people who actually have to struggle for the things you've gotten - I'm more proud of you than I am of myself. I feel awe, and almost apology, for the charmed existence I lead.

Nonsense. Nowadays it's very very difficult to get into a top school. It's a great time to be going to college, but it's the worst time to apply, in many ways.

Colleges like Harvard get something around 20,000 applications a year. They have to reject somewhere around 89% of all their applicants to keep class size small.

How do they screen candidates? Not by interviews anymore, that's optional, and not a big factor. Grades? Thousands of kids who apply are already in the top of their class, almost all of them have at least an A average.

The median SAT for students is extremely high, yet a perfect score does NOT guarantee admission. To keep a rounded student body, the school accepts students from all 50 states in the US, and over 100 countries. Racial and ethnic diversity is a must, which narrows the pool of admission spaces for the rest. Athletics is important, and the team coaches have some pull with the admissions boards.

How else do you screen them? Well, there are no shortage of smart kids applying, we know that already. You're getting thousands of kids from urban areas, lots who are the top of the class, national honor society, chess club, yadda yadda yadda. The students need to find a way to get into the college, and that's the college admissions essay.

Colleges are on the lookout for one demographic, the Neat Small-town Kid. If you're from a rural area, write an insightful essay that really stands out, and study the works of Fydor Dostoyevsky, then every college in the country will want you. You make the college more diverse, better than the sea of urban WASP kids who populate a campus. So what if the other kid got a 1600 SAT score, his essay was dull, and his personality is flat as cardboard, you look so much more appealing. One man wrote in his admissions essay to Princeton that he worked as a farm hand and read Plato under the stars, he got a full scholarship.

Your saying that it's not difficult is entirely the opposite experience for me. I am white, I live in a suburb. Worse, I live in New York, where thousands like me are applying to the same college. I and everyone else in my school was turned down for early admission to Columbia University, there were literally thousands from Long Island already applying. My essay was rather insightful, but I was just 'regular' smart as opposed to 'a new +5 insightful philosphy on life beyond the wisdom of my years' smart.

At least two Ivy League schools I spoke to said they'd rather take a kid from Nebraska than New York if the kids had equal transcripts. I think it's a great feat for anyone to get into college, not just smart people. I envy you for feeling like getting where you are is No big deal.

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