Harvard Schmarvard

Harvard Schmarvard

Jones, Bruce J

Harvard Schmarvard By Jay Mathews Prima Publishing (Roseville, CA), 2003 $14.95, 290 pages, soft cover

In Harvard Schmarvard, Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews has written an engaging college guide, a book that is both “how to” and “where to.” Mathews’ work demystifies the college admission process for both parents and high school students in a straight-forward and humorous style.

In this age of admission anxiety, test-prep and resume building, Harvard Schmarvard is the proverbial breath of fresh air. Mathews makes the argument that an able student can be well-served at any number of colleges that haven’t climbed to the top rungs of the college rating guides, and that a pedigreed diploma is not necessarily the path to enlightenment and success. Indeed, it is Mathews’ sane and refreshing belief that character traits (“persistence, optimism and honesty”) drive success regardless of one’s alma mater.

The bulk of Harvard Schmarvard is a guided walk through the admission processtesting, selecting, counseling, financing, essay writing, visiting, maintaining family harmony. In addition the author tackles less familiar topics such as mid-year admission, taking a year off and transferring to another college.

Mathews handles the nuts and bolts of the admission process with conciseness and humor. (In reference to his own college career, Mathews, Harvard ’67, writes: “When I think of college, most of the images in my head have nothing to do with classes: I am munching an ice cream sandwich in the student newspaper office at 2:00 a.m. I am hammering out a story for the paper on a decrepit typewriter at 5:00 a.m. I am kissing the managing editor in her office at 9:00 p.m.”).

Most high school counselors will nod in agreement as they whip through the explanations and advice: this is familiar territory to the knowledgeable. However, as a long-time public school counselor in less than affluent neighborhoods it was informative to read that students at the most exclusive private and public schools are sometimes at a disadvantage when applying to elite colleges: “The valedictorian at the average school would be rated much higher by most selective colleges than the 29th-ranked magnet school applicant.”

I have lent my copy to a number of anxious parents, in part because the information is reliable, in part so they can see that the information I share mirrors that of an expert.

This is a book parents and students can both use. Parents will appreciate the easily accessible information. Over-scheduled students will appreciate the gray-shaded, “boxed” information and personal testimony from peers, a sort of Cliffs Notes to the admission process.

Harvard Schmarvard closes with two appendices-“Twenty Not-So-Easy Questions,” one for students (“Am I ready for college?”) and one for parents (“Can we stand it if our child picks the school at the bottom of our list?”). Mathews’ answers should be required reading. The book ends with brief reviews of “100 Colleges That Are Better Than You Think.” It’s always affirming when one of Mathews’ stature includes your own personal favorites, from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington to Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

In a landscape littered with forgettable college guides, Jay Mathews1 Harvard Schmarvard is a keeper.

Reviewed by BruceJ. Jones

Counselor for Plymouth. MA Schools and freelance writer

Copyright National Association of College Admissions Counselors Spring 2005

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved