NABOKV-L post 0012184, Mon, 5 Dec 2005 22:08:27 -0800

Fwd: Re: Read Nabokov & Go to COLLEGE!
EDNOTE. George Shimanovich reminds me that this appeared sometime back. I now
see it appeared in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY back in June 2004. I wonder how the 2005
number will look?

----- Forwarded message from -----
Date: Mon, 05 Dec 2005 19:13:24 -0800
From: Thomas Seifrid <>
Reply-To: Thomas Seifrid <>
Subject: Re: Read Nabokov & Go to COLLEGE!
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum

Note the name of the dean of admissions: one can always trust a Schiff for
devotion to Nabokov!

Tom Seifrid

----- Original Message -----
From: D. Barton Johnson
Sent: Monday, December 05, 2005 6:32 PM
Subject: Read Nabokov & Go to COLLEGE!

Monday, December 5, 2005 2:02 PM PST

Cracking The Admissions Code
Psychology Today Mon, 05 Dec 2005 7:46 AM PST
Are college-essay topics the key to getting in?


By: Carlin Flora
Summary: Are college-essay topics the key to getting in? Certain topics may be
a tip-off as to who will get a fat envelope.
The essay component of the college application is the student’s chance to
flesh herself out—to shake the admissions officer’s shoulders and convince him
she is more than a combined GPA and SAT score. Are certain topics a tip-off as
to who will get a fat envelope?

Marjorie A. Schiff, senior assistant dean of admissions at the University of
Virginia, crunched some numbers and found that last year, 347 of the
approximately 7,000 online applicants wrote about cloning or stem-cell research
and 657 applicants talked about Jesus, the Bible or God. Both groups snagged the
average number of acceptances—about 35 percent. Schiff’s analysis showed that
“even a hackneyed topic doesn’t really influence your chances” and assuaged her
fear that UVA’s officers could be biased against yet another cloning manifesto.

One topic did predict a greater-than-average chance of success: 67 percent of
kids who wrestled with Vladimir Nabokov’s work were accepted, while only 18
percent of those who wrote about J.D. Salinger got in. Schiff isn’t
surprised—familiarity with Nabokov indicates a deeper engagement with
literature, whereas The Catcher in the Rye graces nearly every high school’s
mandatory-reading list.

Essays are cultural weather vanes: This year, 87 students who applied to UVA
wrote about literary hotcake The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. “Several of the
admissions staffers were mad because they were reading the book and didn’t want
the plot spoiled,” Schiff says. Could that explain why only 24 percent of The Da
Vinci Code enthusiasts were admitted, whereas George Orwell’s classic 1984,
which appeared in 127 applications, had a 39 percent success rate?

Admissions officers agree that whatever the topic, everything rests in the
execution. They look for a thoughtful, revelatory essay that enhances the rest
of a student’s application. Some applicants reveal too much, however. “I’ve
read accounts of lost virginity, kleptomania, bulimia,” says Lloyd Peterson, a
former gatekeeper at Yale University who is now vice president at College Coach
in Newton, Massachusetts. “But the topics that really illuminated an applicant’s
personality were the ones that dealt with setbacks—a divorce or a death—and
showed resilience or depth. ‘What I Did on My Summer Vacation’ didn’t help an
application in most cases,” Peterson warns.

Laura Sellers, formerly of Duke University’s admissions office and associate
director of college counseling at Cary Academy in North Carolina, says that
nonnarrative formats generally make her cringe, but she fondly remembers a poem
written in the pattern of an American flag. And a standout among Duke hopefuls
was a student who created a board game representing his life.

Some application questions safeguard against reader fatigue. The University of
Pennsylvania asks aspiring students to “submit page 217 of your 300-page
autobiography,” and thus gets varied futuristic tales. While variety is the
goal, Daniel Evans, UPenn’s regional director of admissions, says applicants
who attempt to stretch the bounds of creativity can fail. “One began, ‘Please
read this essay to the following Broadway tune.…’ We have a sense of humor, but
you probably shouldn’t go that route on your college application.”

----- End forwarded message -----