There’s been a lot of coverage of the college admissions scandal, and my new novel “Around Harvard Square” has been drawing attention for depicting a similar (fictional) cheating scandal. Fox 5 NY did a segment on my book, and also posted a story online. In the article, Fox 5 NY reporter Mike Sacks writes “In his new novel, ‘Around Harvard Square,’ Farley writes about a scandal strikingly similar to how [California-based admissions consultant Rick] Singer helped parents and coaches allegedly exploit athletic programs of schools like Yale, Georgetown, and USC.” You can read the full Fox 5 NY story.
It’s a comment I hear a lot from friends who matriculated from top-tier schools like Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia twenty or thirty years ago. It’s a kind of FOMO on something that they didn’t actually miss out on. The children of these friends are now of college age or approaching it and as parents they’re coming to the conclusion that if they had to do it all over again today, they couldn’t get it done. As they guide their kids through college tours, admissions essays and ACT prep courses they’re seeing first hand that the college admissions process in the 21st Century is more intense and seemingly more competitive than it was in the 20th Century.
Then today news broke that various Hollywood actors, CEOs and others were among a group of some 50 suspects charged in a multimillion dollar college entrance scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed people to take tests, and paid off coaches and administrators to identify their kids as athletes, all as part of a scheme to get their sons and daughters into top colleges like Yale and Stanford. The Federal Bureau of Investigation sting reportedly was codenamed “Operation Varsity Blues.”
For years, complaints about gaming the college admissions system have been directed at the wrong students. Anyone who is black and went to an elite school probably felt the stares, maybe heard the whispers. There was always some crank somewhere saying that being a person of color gave us an unfair advantage getting into whichever elite school we were in. The talk was mean-spirited and misguided but we learned to brush it off like lint on a letter jacket. Now the world sees the scandal many of us always knew was there: how the super rich game the system to get into elite schools.
Earlier this year, Harvard announced that a record 43,330 students applied for admission to the Harvard College class of 2023, up 1.4 percent from the year before and marking the fifth straight year of increasing application numbers. For the class of 2022, Harvard admitted just 4.7 percent of the 42,749 who applied–way down from the roughly 20 percent acceptance rate when I got into Harvard in the 1980s.
With admissions rates so low, tensions about getting in are running high. These days, talking up your school around the house can feel like a form a child abuse. Even smart, talented kids with straight-As, seats on student government and rooms full of sports trophies might not get in to many top schools. Is it fair to talk up a possibility that might not happen for your kid? Is it right to push your kid towards a school that you couldn’t get into today? But if you don’t encourage kids to shoot for the top, are you selling them short?
This fear that that some elite college graduates have that they might not have what it takes to get into elite colleges today is what could be driving things like the latest alleged cheating scandal. Parents figure if they don’t have what it takes, maybe their kids don’t either–so instead of having faith in their children’s abilities, they turn to cheating on their behalf.
The important thing to remember is that the college admissions game is something of an illusion. Top colleges are admitting a smaller percentage of applicants, but students aren’t necessarily smarter or better than they were back in the day. Kids today apply to many more colleges than they did in decades past, and more international students are in the mix, so with the application pool growing, acceptances rates are shrinking.
But there’s no reason for despair. It’s certainly true that a student might not get their first choice–which may happen to be your alma mater–but if they’re truly an outstanding student, they’ll get their second choice, or their third or something down the line. There are a lot of great schools out there and a great student is likely to find a place somewhere.
Part of my new novel “Around Harvard Square” revolves around a scheme in which a rich student cheats his way through the Ivy League admissions process. When the scandal comes out, another character rages, “You’re so used to having so much that fairness feels like oppression and inheritance feels like achievement.”
Helicopter parents need to land and let their kids find their own way.
I’ve gone with my son to Harvard basketball games, and I took my daughter for a tour of the Harvard Lampoon castle. Not long ago we all paid a visit to my niece, who is living in the same freshman dorm at Harvard that I was assigned back in the 1980s. I got a lot out of my time at Harvard, but I’m not worrying about whether my kids will make it in, or whether I would make the cut if I applied today. I learned a lot at school, but my parents taught me one of my most important lessons before I left for Cambridge: have confidence in yourself. Acceptance isn’t just about getting in.
C.J. Farley is the author of the new novel “Around Harvard Square” (Akashic Books).
I saw all over the news today that an FBI sting codenamed “Varsity Blues” resulted in a slew of Hollywood actors, CEOs and others being charged in a multimillion dollar college entrance scheme. According to the various reports I read, wealthy parents allegedly paid off coaches and administrators to identify their kids as athletes and bribed others to take tests, all as part of a plot to get their children into places like Yale and Stanford.
John Bonavolonta, FBI special agent in charge, was quoted by NBC News as saying “We believe everyone charged here today had a role in fostering a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students trying to get into these schools the right way through hard work, good grades and community service.”
My novel “Around Harvard Square” is about many of the same things–the cutthroat competition to get into top colleges, suspicious admissions practices, corrupt rich folks pulling strings to give their kids unfair advantages when they apply to elite schools. As one character says near the end of my novel “But admissions people know that the worst students elite college admit are the legacies, children of millionaires and billionaires.”
I don’t think truth is stranger than fiction, but it certainly is weird when the two collide.
To some, it may just be the sad passing of an actor.
To people who lived through the 1990s, it’s a little more.
Perry played Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” To put it in Baby Boomer terms, he was kind of the Fonz on “Happy Days” of the 1990s. To put it in millennial terms, he was kind of the Jughead Jones on “Riverdale” of his day.
Actually, maybe millennials get it without the translation–Perry also appeared on “Riverdale” as Fred Andrews, Archie’s dad.
“Beverly Hills, 90210″ was a big part of the TV culture of the 1990s. It spanned the decade, running from from October 4, 1990 to May 17, 2000. There were just reports of a possible reboot of the show.
The 1990s are back because the 90s never left. We still watch 90s movies and TV shows and we still listen to 90s music.
The new movie “Captain Marvel” is set in the 1990s and the advertising campaign is pushing the music and pop culture of the period. I have a new novel coming out called “Around Harvard Square” that’s set in the 1990s and I named every chapter with a song from decade, like “Ex-Factor” and “Kick in the Door” and “Come As You Are.” There was a lot of great music made in the 1990s, from alternative rock to gangsta rap to the Fugees and Lauryn Hill.
Now that the 52-year-old Perry has passed on, everyone who is around his age–like me–is thinking just a little bit more about the 1990s, the pop culture of the period and their own mortality.
“Around Harvard Square” is available for preorder and will also be released on Audible.
I’ll be discussing my new novel at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138 on April 30, at 7pm. The store is right across the street from Harvard Yard.
I started writing “Around Harvard Square” when I was a freshman at Harvard and now I’m bringing the finished book back to where it began. It only took 30 years or so.
For more details you can visit the Harvard Book Store website.
“Around Harvard Square” is available for pre-order right now!
The trailer for my upcoming novel “Around Harvard Square” is out! You can see it below. My book will be coming out on April 1, 2019, but you can preorder it now at your local bookstore, or on Amazon.com. Keep checking back for more news about my book!
I’ve left my post as a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal–I’m now an Executive Editor at Amazon Inc.’s Audible! I’m working with actors, entertainers, comedians, celebrities, public intellectuals, journalists, screenwriters, authors and others to create original audio content. It’s all very exciting stuff!
I also have a new novel coming out, “Around Harvard Square,” due out April 1, 2019. More about that later!
I just watched a “60 Minutes” segment about the Harvard Lampoon. Part of the segment dealt with the fact that women and people of color haven’t been very well represented in the ranks of Harvard Lampoon staffers and on the roster of comedy TV shows. That’s one of the themes of my upcoming novel, “Around Harvard Square,” about a Jamaican-American freshman competing to get on the staff of a certain Ivy League humor magazine. Erich Segal called my book “the funniest book about Harvard since ‘Love Story,’ or at least he might have said that if “Love Story” were a comedy and if Segal hadn’t died in 2010. I also think John Updike and George Plimpton would have totally agreed with Segal about my book if not for that same they died years ago problem. Anyhoo, you can read the book next year and judge for yourself. Comedy is never having to say you’re sorry.
Here’s how it was described on GoodReads and Publishers Lunch: “a satirical novel about a Jamaican-American freshman and his misfit international friends who compete against ridiculous odds to join the staff of Harvard University’s legendary humor magazine, in a story exploring race and class, sex and philosophy, collegiate pranks and Ivy League secrets.”
Back in the day, I was an editor at the Harvard Lampoon. I’m not saying it’s about the Harvard Lampoon, but I’m not not saying it’s about the Harvard Lampoon.
More to come!
I had a great interview last week with Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn, author of “Forged in Crisis,” as part of the Wall Street Journal’s C-Suite Book Club series. “Forged” is a really fascinating book about how various leaders, from Frederick Douglass to Rachel Carson, coped with turbulent times and what we can learn from them.