David Brooks reflects on college admissions. Or, more specifically, he addresses high school students who are worried about which college will take them. He has some thoughtful points about the relationship (or lack of) between good grades and being a good student. Or, even better, having the character necessary to become a good student. He also considers what a good education has to do with getting into a so-called top college (not much, most of the time, it turns out). Needless to say, these are questions close to my heart. The students I take into the Ashbrook program are not only very good students, but also--somehow--show me that they are (at least pontentially) very serious people. I don’t have a formula for this. It is based on a personal interview lasting--normally--well over one hour. I have also learned that such an interview is better when at least one of the parents is present. When I explain how different, how difficult, how important, this higher education is going to be than what they may have expected, I like to see the reactions of all the parties, not just the student alone. It turns into a much more revealing conversation both for the the student and me (and, of course, the parents). Although I can say more on this subject, let me only say for now that I try to talk about what they are going to study, how they will study, and what virtues it takes to study these important things. I focus on the difficult. Because they are used to a reverse focus (talk about how many pools we have on campus and how good the food is, etc.), they are a bit surprised by such discourse, but are (almost) universally pleased when someone--often for the first time--talks to them as if they were adults, rather than children just being told what to do, again. I explain to them that they are on the verge of real leisure (skole in Greek, hence, school), how that differs from the necessary (as in laboring in the fields else you don’t eat) and that they should take advantage of it.
As a rule, they take to it like duck to water. And they most certainly don’t have to go to Princeton to drink from the best well.