Television successfully parodies our lives in so many ways, from the educational apathy of My So-Called Life to the day-to-day antics of Modern Family. Whether you more closely identify with the midwestern charm of The Middle or the edge of Skins, there’s something for everyone -no wonder why we’re said to be in “The Golden Age of Television.” Despite this, what would the optimal portrayal of teenage life be without mention of college applications? I’m mostly kidding, but it is pretty interesting to see how “the industry” chooses to depict a process so central to most of our lives. I’m going to select and discuss a few television shows in which college admissions is a plot point, and even include a realism rating for your amusement.
The Carrie Diaries
Resident overachiever Jill “Mouse” Chen is obsessed with getting into Harvard. She’s a Rubik’s Cube champion, has never gotten a B in her life (until episode “The Great Unknown”), and even slept with a “Princeton guy” over the summer. She’s obviously first in her class…that is, until she meets Thomas West, a African-American-basketball-captain-volunteer-guru-from-a-single-parent-household who can solve a cube faster than her and usurps her class rank when she gets her first B+.
When a Harvard admissions officer comes to visit their high school, she’s far more interested in West than she is in Mouse. What’s the problem? “You’re from a single mother household? And you’re black … and an athlete…” “That’s right,” he replies. “I’m like a college admissions unicorn. The Trifecta. What are you? A non-athlete Asian math genius with two parents. A dime a dozen. Looks like I win after all.” What starts off as competition evolves into romance, and as for Harvard, you’ll have to wait until The Carrie Diaries airs their decision-time.
College: Yale, Brown, Columbia
Blair Waldorf, The Queen Bee of the Upper East Side, has been prepping for Yale since birth. She’s so anxious about the interview that she ends up coming across as completely straight-laced and the pinnacle of the stuffy stereotype that Yale’s trying to avoid. Blair gets deferred from Yale, and eventually rejected when they find out that she hazed her teacher at Constance Billard School for Girls. She’s put in a very difficult position, as she failed to apply to any other schools. But with Blair being Blair, she manages to finagle a brief stint at NYU, which is far too low-brow for our urban princess.
Luckily, Chuck Bass somehow applied to Columbia in Blair’s name without her knowledge, where she attends until the screenwriters slowly distract us from her Ivy-enrollment until we’re supposed to assume that she dropped out or pays someone to take her exams.
If Blair is “Queen Bee”, her best friend Serena van der Woodsen is the resident “It Girl”. She’s dead-set on Brown until her incessant competition with Blair causes her to set her eyes on Yale, who accepts her after a free-spirited and charming interview. After a well-deserved wake-up call regarding what a manipulative friend she’s being, Serena chooses Brown, and then defers her acceptance to “find herself”. After a brief imitation of “Eat, Pray Love”, she magically enrolls at Columbia, where she tangles with a hot professor and mysteriously fades away in the style of every other GG protagonist.
College: Harvard, Yale
Before we took the reigns of our school’s chapter of The Prospect Society, TP intern Ellie Lueders and I ran a similar little support group called “Aspiring Rory Gilmores.” If that doesn’t say enough about how we feel about the prep-school princess, I don’t know what would. High-schooler Rory Gilmore only has eyes for Harvard, which is why she transfers from Stars Hollow High School to Chilton Preparatory for her sophomore year, borrowing money from her grandparents to afford tuition. Quite a bit of the series centers around Rory’s collegiate aspirations, from studying for her SATs to actually applying (by mail!) to universities. Perhaps her most admirable feat is the self-imposed transformation from receiving a “D” paper to graduating as valedictorian. She’s then faced with a dilemma that any of us would love to have: Harvard, Yale, or Princeton? After writing extensive pro-con lists with her mother, she ends up becoming a bulldog, much to her grandparents’ content, who make her attendance financially possible.
In the light of Bangerz and other recent scandals, it’s easy to forget that Miley Cyrus was once the face of Hannah Montana, which stopped airing in 2011, after its fourth season, Hannah Montana Forever. In my house, my sisters and I were discouraged from watching Hannah Montana in favor of more “substantial” entertainment, which, of course, only made her a more desirable role model. You could imagine the excitement when my ambitious younger self discovered that Miley Stewart dreamt of going to Stanford.
In one of the last episodes of the series, Miley and and her best friend Lilly receive their acceptance letters in the mail. They had planned on attending Stanford together until Lilly was accepted and Miley wasn’t. In a dramatic move transcending any reasonable reaction to college-rejection or friend-rivalry, Miley drives all the way to Stanford from Malibu to personally demand the rationale behind her admissions decision.
After she got there, the Stanford Admissions Office was more than accommodating, happily informing her that though her grades and scores were on point, she simply didn’t have enough extracurriculars! This is quite the unfortunate situation, as Miley Stewart’s primary extracurricular is living a secret life as an international pop star. Is that enough for Stanford? Miley drives back to Malibu to change into Hannah Montana and then all the way back to Stanford to ask its ever-accommodating admissions office if her pop-career was EC-enough. “Of course,” they say. If only Hannah had Miley’s grades! Faced with the inevitable shortcomings of her double-life, she speeds home to her best friend, who decides to postpone her admission until Miley gets accepted the next year. Awwww.
Any other TV shows that totally mess up how admissions works? Sound off in the comments below!