Hot for Harvard

ENOUGH! I raised my eyebrows, bored out of my mind, as I skimmed through a Phillipian article last week titled “‘From Andover to Harvard’ Raises Concerns of School’s Image in China.” The article was about the recent publication of a book named “From Andover to Harvard” that prompted “concerns with the title and whether it will lead some to think that Andover leads to Harvard” from Andover administrators. In the article, Henry Yin ’07, the Andover graduate described in the book, said, “The book was to be about American high schools, not how to get to elite American colleges through high schools.” But do people buy the book because they want to know how life is at an American school called “Andover,” or do people buy the book because they want to know how that boy got into Harvard? Our school does not like the book’s title, “From Andover to Harvard.” But if that book was titled otherwise, like “At Andover” or “From Andover to some-less-well-known college,” it would almost certainly not sell as many copies. No offense to Andover, but the publisher wants an eye-catching title. I love our school, but this time the word “Harvard” is more important than “Andover.” And Asian students? Poor us. Our dilemma is simple: Parents forced us into taking extra classes and subscribed us to a special-genius-manufacturing regimen. If we get into Harvard, parents will boast that we get into Harvard because of their “special education,” or because they send kids to high schools like Andover. Some even choose to write books about it. If we get into Harvard, we are officially canonized as saints. But if we get into other schools, we just get into “some American school.” Don’t believe it? I have a friend who attended the Christ Church Episcopal School last year as an exchange student under the ASSIST scholar program (the same program that bestowed upon our school the great Moldovan man Andrei Macovei ’09). My friend was thrilled at her early decision package from Duke. But her excitement was quelled immediately. On Facebook, she complained: “My parents were so unsupportive. My dad simply scowls: What is that Duke school? And what is Early Decision? You have to come to that school no matter what schools accept you later?” Another good friend of mine found herself in an even more ironic situation; upon announcing her admission to Grinnell, she expected congratulations from her parents. Instead, she was stunned by regret from her mom, “Oh, sorry, my daughter. Other kids are good; they get into universities. But you are not good as the other kids, so you only got into a college — a liberal arts college. And, do you really like the arts so much that you chose a liberal arts school?” The problem is that “college” in Vietnam means two-year community college. “University” means four-or-five year schools. Moreover, my friend had to convince her parents that “liberal arts colleges” are not colleges specializing only in the study of arts and liberal philosophies, as most parents think. These parents might think the only good school in America is Harvard. As a Vietnamese student, I remember watching a Korean film on state-run TV three years ago named “Love Story in Harvard.” I remember thinking, “People know that Harvard is a great school, so if I get accepted there I must be a superstar! But if I get into Yale – I just get into ‘some American school.’” Last summer I had to explain to my beloved mom, a graduate-school-educated woman, what Yale and MIT were. I’ve been presented twice with a translation of the best-selling Chinese book “The Harvard Girl” by Liu Yiting, which details how one Chinese girl got into Harvard. Ask the Chinese students on campus. They know the book. They may not want to admit that they have that kind of pressure put on them, but they do. Not to mention the copycat book titles like “How We Got Our Child into Yale,” “Harvard Family Instruction” and “The Door of the Elite” that have sprung up in bookstores across China. Andover is diverse. There’s no way to stereotype any group of students. Asians should not be stereotyped as overworked nerds who all aim for Harvard. But some are actually “prepared” by the “Harvard Girl” regimen. Toan Nguyen is a new Upper from Hanoi, Vietnam.