These places reject many smart (and rich) applicants every year

Friday, April 12th, 2024

Troubled by Rob HendersonAt Yale, Rob Henderson explains (in Troubled), he found that the vast majority of his peers were high performers:

One thing many people don’t understand is that it’s usually not enough to be smart (or rich) to get into a top college — these places reject many smart (and rich) applicants every year. You have to be diligent as well, and I respected their work ethic.

I came to understand that along with the fact that they were generally bright and hardworking, my peers on campus had experienced a totally different social reality than me and had grown up around people just like them.


On the midterm exam, my score placed me in the bottom quartile of the class.

I befriended some other students and picked up some tips. We held study sessions, and they showed me how to make flashcards, and how to review PowerPoint slides from the class. One simple approach I learned was to read a slide and then commit the information on it to memory and go through that exercise a few times with each slide. Spaced repetitions. Other students taught me that for the assigned readings, they read a page, and then wrote bullets at the bottom of the page summarizing the most important points. These strategies might sound simple, but for me they were a revelation.


My classmates taught me that I didn’t have to read every single item on course syllabi. At first, I thought if I wasn’t reading everything, then I was cheating myself out of my education. This, I discovered, is a common belief held by first-generation college students. I spoke with a variety of students about how they approached coursework and noticed a distinct difference. Students from well-to-do backgrounds, who had parents who were college graduates, seemed to have developed a good sense of how to manage their assignments and understood that reading everything wasn’t always necessary. Classmates showed me that we could split the heavy reading burdens by dividing it. We’d write up a summary of our share of the readings and notes.


The professor asked the class to anonymously respond to a question about family background. Out of twenty students, only one other student besides me was not raised by both birth parents. Put differently, 90 percent of my classmates were raised by an intact family. I felt a sense of vertigo upon learning this, because it was so at odds with how I’d grown up. Later, I read a study from another Ivy League school — Cornell — which reported that only 10 percent of their students were raised by divorced parents. This is a sharp juxtaposition with a national divorce rate of about 40 percent, which itself is quite low compared to the families I’d known in Red Bluff. When I explained to a classmate how disoriented I felt when I discovered these differences, she replied that this was how she felt when she learned that seven out of ten adults in the US don’t have a bachelor’s degree, because that was so out of line with her own experiences.


  1. Phileas Frogg says:

    The class divide in the US is as deep and wide as any as has existed in history, but instead of acknowledging the divide, much less trying to bridge it, we have chosen moralization and mutual animosity, which will be the death of us.

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