Flight of fancy Columns

Don’t let the ivy sting

Vintage suitcase and hat

Vintage suitcase and hat  

When eight American colleges are the goal, controversies notwithstanding

“Babe, I am so relieved,” said Ms Skinny Socialite, animatedly waving a mojito as she leaned in to air kiss me. We were discussing the topic du jour: which colleges various peoples’ children had been admitted to. As the mint leaves in her drink looked precariously close to falling out of her glass, I steadied the exuberant beauty and flashed her a smile. “It’s been an agonising wait, right?” I said. She rolled her eyes. “Uff, I am ready to celebrate!”

Her son, a very bright 17-year-old, was assumed to be a shoo-in for some of the top liberal arts colleges in the US, but had been either waitlisted or rejected one after another, till finally, an acceptance letter arrived a few days ago from a prestigious ivy. “I didn’t wait for a second,” Ms SS continued, “I quickly paid the deposit the next morning and he’s going!” It wasn’t just the mojitos talking. I could see how giddily happy she was.

We were in Alibaug on a very hot Saturday last weekend, for a friend’s 50th birthday bash. Often described as the Mumbai equivalent of New York’s Hamptons — in other words, a quick country weekend beach getaway — there’s something about Alibaug that immediately de-stresses and decompresses both mind and body. Maybe it’s the abundant natural beauty, or just stepping on a speedboat (or the slower, larger public boats) and being on the water that melts away tension, but being there lightens one’s load. It’s no wonder Ms SS, looking resplendent in a billowing printed sundress and a big hat, was at ease. Her kid had gotten into college (finally) and she could celebrate poolside in style.

College admissions are the cause of much stress and anxiety. But back in the early 1990s, in the dinosaur age when I was in high school, my parents were clueless about where I was applying. They assumed I would study somewhere in India, but with those crazy cut-offs, getting into an Indian college seemed as insurmountable as climbing Mount Everest. I did the next best thing. I quietly filled out applications to the US, prayed that I’d be admitted and that someone would give me financial aid (remember, this was 1990, India and most Indians were broke). Luckily, I did, and when I told my mother, the first thing she said was, ‘But why would some American college give you money to attend it, what’s in it for them?’

Today about 1,86,000 Indian students apply to the US, with another 1,00,000 to Canada. Applications to Australia and New Zealand are increasing because of multiple factors, including language and ease of working after studying. The Chinese have much bigger numbers — about 3,50,000 in the US alone. In 1990, these numbers were significantly less, so the competition to get in was much lower. Today I am not sure I would even be accepted! It’s no wonder the pressure is so great. My parents’ ignorance is almost quaint.

The most recent US college admissions racket has been a real shocker, with wealthy Americans illegally manipulating the system to fake qualifications and test scores. Asian parents have long been known to be supremely ambitious for their kids; it’s now apparent that that sentiment is also highly prevalent in the US. This is completely separate from wealthy individuals making significant donations to colleges with the hope their children get a leg up during the application process. That, of course, is lawful.

As the race gets tougher each year, be prepared to see many more buildings and libraries emerging on American college campuses with Indian names emblazoned on them. Till then, I am basking in the few years of peace I have left before we too become one of those overwrought, over ambitious parents.

This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 10:18:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/dont-let-the-ivy-sting/article26745524.ece

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