The Fashion Magpie First Choice Schools Weekend Vibes

Weekend Vibes, Edition No. 107: The One on First-Choice Schools.

My Latest Snag: Children’s Stationery from Preppy Prodigy.

I recently re-stocked our stationery drawer with some new stationery from Preppy Prodigy, which has the sweetest prints for little ones. I snagged this set for mini — the colors are fantastic! I love when designers use sophisticated colors like gray/taupe! Also loving these bunny gift tags. Might order a set of those to accompany with an Easter baked good for loved ones and neighbors.

You’re Sooooo Popular: The Evening Dress.

The most popular items on the blog this week:

+This gorgeous Needle & Thread gown. The perfect pick for an evening affair.

+These Chanel-esque slides. I love how these would transform a pair of black jeans and white tee into something haute-looking.

+On-trend, super affordable sunnies from Anthro.

+My longtime favorite tea.

+This chic ($30) puff-sleeved sweatshirt!

+The $5 activity that kept mini busy for HOURS.

+A chic, monogrammed cachepot. Great way to dress up a shelf or coffee table — and a sweet gift!

#Turbothot: First-Choice Schools.

If you went to college: did you get into your first-choice school? How did that impact you?

I have been thinking about this while reading Michelle Obama’s account of her own education, where she mentions, in passing, that she “was applauded just for getting in [to Harvard Law School], even if the truth was I’d somehow squeaked in off the wait list.” I’d somehow forgotten, or willfully buried, or otherwise distanced myself from the petulance and bristle that emerged whenever someone asked me: “Where are you going to school?” or “Where do you go to school?” or “Where did you go to school?” I wonder what it would feel like to have been admitted to my top-choice school, whether or not I’d been ushered in off the wait-list.

Academics were my thing throughout my childhood and teenage years. I was high-performing. I earned As with ease. I won nearly every academic award at the end of each school year throughout grade school and was valedictorian of my high school class (though we didn’t use the term valedictorian at Visitation). Teachers praised me. Classmates labeled me as “smart.” It was who I was.

I set my sights on Princeton by sophomore year of high school. Fashioning myself as a character out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, I anticipated an intellectual blossoming during my college years that would only — could only — take place at my rightful home among the greenswards and Gothic architecture of Tiger territory in Princeton, New Jersey. I was even selected to participate in a program for gifted students at Princeton when I was a rising high school junior; I took the train up with my friend Meghan and we spent the day in mini-lectures and courses, toured the campus, and spoke briefly with members of faculty and admissions. I took this as a gesture of courtship.

I applied early decision. I had family members who had attended Princeton write letters of recommendation on my behalf. Everyone assured me it was a done deal.

And so I was astonished when a thin rejection envelope arrived in the mail. I dropped to my knees in histrionics and refused to eat or talk to anyone in my family for a full day, sulking in my room, wondering what I had done to deserve this injustice.

I begrudgingly turned my attention to my other applications while sullenly observing that nearly everyone else in my friend group had been accepted into an Ivy League school: E. and N. were going to Princeton; T. was bound for Dartmouth; M. was headed to Harvard; S. was off to Brown; M. was matriculating to Penn. Meanwhile, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d get into either of my second choice schools: UVA or Duke. Though I knew both were great options, I couldn’t help but observe that though I had the highest GPA in my class, I was not going to be an Ivy Leaguer, and maybe not a Blue Devil or Wahoo, either — and it did not seem fair.

Ultimately, I got into both UVA and Duke and waited until the very last possible moment to send in my acceptance letter to UVA, swayed by its offer of an Echols Scholarship and its proximity to home. For months, though, I found myself performing excitement about my future academic home. I felt I’d been treated unfairly in the application process. After years and years of academic assiduousness, operating under the premise that my hard work would pay off, I felt defaulted, cheated. Or maybe I was being punished for my intellectual snobbery, I mused. Maybe this was a comeuppance I needed?

I now look back and know that UVA was the best place for me. Though I have no point of comparison, it just felt right the entire time I was there. I had several close friends who transferred schools over the course of their college experiences, but such an upheaval never once flitted through my mind. I was snug, secure, happy. The academics were rigorous and rewarding, and being in the Echols program stroked my fragile ego and enabled me to retain my claim on cerebrality — gifts I may not have enjoyed at an Ivy League school, where I’d be one of thousands of academically-oriented students, and probably one of the lower performing ones if I am honest. Meanwhile, the UVA social scene scene and especially its equilibrium with academics was new and thrilling. Though this is an over-broad generalization, I found that many of my UVA classmates were more balanced than I’d been as a high school student hell-bent on an Ivy League school. Though Wahoos studied hard and took their academics seriously, grades weren’t everything. There was a low-key-ness to academic exertion at UVA: less hype, less humble bragging about how many hours had been spent in the library, less anxiety around scores and deadlines. My classmates tended to work hard and then shift gears to attend to other interests. I learned that academics was just one of many spheres in which to cultivate myself, and watched with interest as classmates with wide-ranging interests and talents garnered attention and respect of commensurate intensity. I remember a super-attractive, super-fratty, super-southern boy who seemed to be at the pinnacle of the Greek social ladder mentioning, with no small amount of reverence, that his girlfriend was a big deal in the student judiciary system. (I also discovered, to my surprise, that she was a “GDI” — “goddamn independent” — meaning that she was not in a sorority.) The entire thing confused and impressed me; I had assumed that student politics were a brainy, dorky operation and that participants in the realm would be relegated to second-class status in the overall social hierarchy of the school. This was not the case. I learned this lesson over and over again while at UVA, each time restructuring my vision of merit, social standing, and “coolness.” Of course, it’s possible I could have learned these lessons at another institution, but it seems to me that UVA had a different vibe than some of the other schools I pined after when it came to matters of intellectualism and academics–one that placed other realms of achievement on an even playing field.

I also fell in love with Mr. Magpie there, and of course cannot imagine my life being as rich and beautiful as it has been without his dramatic entrance and steady, substantial presence in it.

Aside from teaching me balance and presenting the logistical opportunity to meet and court my future husband, not getting into my first-choice school represented the first of countless times in my life where I have been hell-bent on something only to fail at achieving my expected outcome. I like to think these failures have taught me grit and resilience, but that’s a bit self-aggrandizing. The truth is that they have humbled me. They have taken me down a peg. They have forced me to confront the gray area between fate and agency, and to take the best from both perspectives. Some days, I thought: I didn’t get into Princeton because it wasn’t meant to be. I’m learning what I need to learn. God willed it this way. Admissions are random anyway. Other days, I thought: I didn’t get into Princeton because I was too focused on academics. I should have played a varsity sport, or pursued piano more aggressively, or participated more intensively in volunteering, or or or or. I didn’t get in because there are so many people out there who are smarter and more hard-working than I am. In other words, not getting in set the stage for countless rounds of self-reflection and more general negotiations with what I can and cannot control. These are healthy musings. They ground me. They prevent me from taking anything for granted. They remind me that life not fair, and no one said it would be — but then again, there are always things I could have done differently, and I need to learn what I can from my own missteps.

Still, as I read Michelle Obama’s book, I found myself wondering what would have happened had I gotten into Princeton. Who would I have been? Would I have learned the same lessons, perhaps more painfully, four years later, when applying to graduate school and not getting in to a first-choice school there? Would I have skated through life with an unearned sense of bravado and ease for longer, only to topple elsewhere? Would I be less inclined toward risk, or more inclined toward it? I wonder how deeply my change in college plans impacted who I have become.

What about you? Did you get into your first-choice school? How has it shaped you?

#Shopaholic: The Floral Anorak.

+Loving this floral anorak as a transition piece for spring. Such a light-hearted way to add a print to your wardrobe.

+Swooning over the vintage vibes on this toddler bubble. I am also suddenly, gut-wrenchingly aware that mini can no longer wear baby clothes like this. For starters, she barely fits into a size 2T (she is SO tall), but her long legs also make me think that putting her in bubbles/sunsuits will look oddly infantalizing. Sigh.

+Yoox has some incredible Self-Portrait dresses on super sale. Love this.

+How sweet is this tiny mother-of-pearl star on a simple gold chain?

+As of the time of writing this, I am being bizarrely last-minute about what I will be wearing to my baby sprinkle (which is taking place today, Saturday, probably while you are reading this!) My front runner has been this dress, which works with the bump and can be tied in the back to have a huge and dramatic bow. I love it. I also ordered this Emilia Wickstead dress when it went on sale, but it doesn’t work quite as well as I’d expected with the bump. And then, at the last minute, I ordered this fun Ulla Johnson tunic because — it jumped out at me. Such different vibes! I have no clue what I’m going to end up with!

+These heart-shaped earrings are so fun (and inexpensive!)

+Two books on my radar for mini: this one on Maria Montessori (mini starts Montessori this fall!) and this one (love the illustrations!) Also, mini is a Mo Willems convert. She is IN LOVE with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Thanks to all of the mamas who raved about this author! I especially love the pigeon book — I think it puts the kiddo in an interesting position where he/she has to be the disciplinarian! Love it.

+How cool are these monogrammable ballet flats?!

+PSA: some Native Shoes for kiddos on sale for around $20 here.

P.S. More major learnings from UVA. And still more.

16 Comments

  1. So many thoughts swirling in my head reading this piece along with your readers’ comments… but one thing I thought I’d share from my experience is that we all need a healthy dose of rejection in life. My experience wasn’t so much about getting into my top choice school as I went to the one that I knew had a strong program but also offered the most in terms of scholarship. I went for my masters degree and did very well, and my professors encouraged me to go on to the PhD program (which was run by a different group of faculty). I had a strong academic and field experience record. My professors also provided solid references. I was utterly disappointed when I was not accepted. I was later informed that the program wanted me to gain more work experience here in the US (I was an international student and most of my work experience was in my home country). I did find full-time work and pushed my disappointment aside, and found myself ready to apply again for a PhD program after 4 years of working. Looking back, I was grateful for the rejection because I found that I had a much different and more informed perspective going in after having worked for a while. I was able to formulate better, more meaningful research questions and had a better sense of the problems our field faced that needed solutions. It sounds overly simplistic and perhaps even mildly annoying to say this but sometimes, there really IS a reason for when things don’t work out the first time.

    1. Love the notion of “a healthy dose of rejection.” You are so right. It gives us the opportunity to take a step back and assess ourselves, re-evaluate things. I love the way you’ve framed this. xox

  2. The New Yorker article entitled “How I’d write about the admissions scandal if I were a foreign correspondent” was very good. I got into my top-choice Ivy school and am convinced I would have been better off at a smaller liberal arts school. I also have been through so much post-graduate education and I can confidently say that the most dynamic and smartest people I’ve come across have come from primarily non ‘big name’ schools. There is so much to say here about privilege, education, expectations, etc. My husband and I are looking at kindergarten options and it opens up so many questions. The Integrated Schools podcast is an EYE OPENING listen about the many MANY issues with American education.

    1. So many interesting points here — fascinating to see someone on the other side still have qualms/second guesses about these decisions.

      xxx

  3. I did get into my first choice school, but it was still not an easy decision for me. My older brother decided to go to Duke the previous year. It so stunned my mom, who was desperate for us to go to Notre Dame, that she then told me that I could only apply to Catholic schools. I thought ND was… fine… but I had been interested in other schools along the East coast. Due to the change in rules, I only applied to 3 schools, which was a much smaller number than my classmates back then, and far FAR fewer than what some of my students apply to nowadays. I did end up going to ND, since it made my mother happy, and was a good school.

    To this day my mom will justify her decision. I made lifelong friends and had a generally positive experience by going there. Do I ever stop and wonder what my path would have been had I not been “limited?” I do. BUT, perhaps I’m an agreeable person because my current life is pretty wonderful, and of course I would not be where I am today had I not gone to that school!

    All of that aside, how privileged am I to have had a choice?! How blessed to have options! My internal struggle seems infinitesimal in comparison to people from other homes, backgrounds, and resources. So truly, all is well for me, then and now!

    1. Hi Anna! Ahh so interesting. Your experience reminds me of a design principle I learned while taking classes/tutoring under some fantastic product design minds: “sometimes constraint is a good thing.” It can be hard to see it that way (“but I want an open sky!”) but maybe having your mother narrow your field of options led you to the right place in the end — at least, that’s how it sounds you’ve interpreted things.

      xx

  4. Like your other commenters, this college bribery “scandal” has had me thinking on the college app process as well. Scandal in quotes not because it wasn’t scandalous, but because money and admissions have been so closely intertwined for … well, ever, so I’m not sure why this instance was so surprising. I only had one school I wanted to go to, and was very happy when I got in, and doubly happy with the experience itself — but, I remember how crestfallen I was when I learned that a classmate, the Regina George of our grade, had gotten in as well… and then it made all sense when I saw her family’s name on the library. And then I grew up and (mostly) got over it. But yes, such a fraught and stacked process, and my heart hurts for the kids whose rightful places are given over to the z list.

    1. Super interesting; so much to tease out here. I think your use of quotations around the word scandal was especially thought-provoking — maybe we needed this story to really think through and shine a light upon the various ways in which the existing process is problematic. One problem that I keep coming back to is that we often describe the college admissions process as “unfair” or “disproportionally favoring certain types of people” (true and true) but I don’t know that the end game most people are after is a “completely fair, purely merit-based” solution either, as even more of a blind process would exclude or underrepresent certain groups of people. And so it feels like we want a weighted system that accommodates and recognizes all different inputs — but it is SO complicated and fraught with peril to think about how to define such an approach. Ugh. My head is spinning any time I sit down and try to figure out what might be more equitable. Ugh. xoxo

  5. I really enjoyed your honesty and humility in this post. I still remember my shock in high school. I thought the admissions office must have missed something because I couldn’t imagine any applicant more perfect for Princeton than you.
    I did get into my first choice early action, and I feel this set me up for greater disappointment when later failures occurred. I also got the first job I wanted out of college, and the high profile job I desired after that. When in my late 20s I was waitlisted at a competitive MBA program (the only one I applied to because, hey, it worked before!) and then experienced workplace gender discrimination in my early 30s, I was so shocked and disappointed that it paralyzed me. I ended up never re-applying to graduate school and I left my job abruptly with nothing lined up.
    I had always thought that if you worked hard, the system recognized and rewarded you. I learned late that our paths are not linear and a pure meritocracy does not exist in academics or in career.
    But I also learned that the other path – the one that wasn’t OUR plan – is usually the one that is best for us. I never would have met my spouse had I gone to graduate school. I would not possess the awareness of workplace gender dynamics that I now have. And I would not have reflected on how much my privilege carried me during those first chapters of my academic and career life. I’m much more grateful today because of not being able to control the outcome of everything, and I wish I’d learned that lesson earlier in life … say around 18? Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

    1. Erin! Hi! First, thank you so much for the sweet note. I can’t believe you even remember me wanting to get into Princeton so many years ago! And also, hi! I’m happy you are reading this!

      More to the point – so many great insights and provocations here. I’m sorry you had to travel a longer road before coming to some of these gutting discoveries and especially disappointed and sickened to hear about the workplace gender discrimination! Horrible. I’ve had a couple of friends go through similar things and it’s not only depressing but shocking that such antics can take place in this day and age.

      I love the way you conclude your musings, though: “I’m much more grateful today because of not being able to control the outcome of everything.” It reminds me of another quote that I keep returning to:

      “You may not see it today or tomorrow,

      but you will look back in

      a few years and be absolutely

      perplexed and awed

      by how every little thing

      added up and brought

      you somewhere wonderful — or

      where you always wanted to be.

      You will be grateful that things didn’t

      work out the way you once wanted them to.”

      Thank you so much for sharing!!!

      xxx

  6. This post is so timely given. The college bribery scandal has me thinking a lot about choice colleges and my path. I was also a top-performer in my class, had high test scores, and participated at varsity level in a couple sports, however, college for me was never going to be about where I wanted to go, but about what I could afford. It still stings that I was waitlisted at my university when several others were accepted on less merit and lower test scores. I was required to disclose my single mother’s finances on my college application. Admissions knew that I would require significant grants and student loans (my mom would not be eligible for a loan) to attend. I do believe this was a factor in my admission. Ultimately I realize colleges need to have tuition-paying-students, so I can’t be disappointed with the school, but I find the admissions process unsettling. Having a “choice school” at all is privilege that many students (and adults) have yet to recognize.

    1. Hi Amy — Wow; thanks so much for sharing your experience here. These wounds still sting. College affordability is a beast. Honestly, I see college debt as maybe the single most pressing issue that will impact our generation, and we haven’t yet fully unpacked it or understood the extent of it, but people are marrying and having children later, living off of their parents for longer, and generally deferring all kinds of economic decisions because of it. One of the biggest complexities I grappled with while working for several years on the issue of post-secondary educational attainment was balancing the notion that, in an ideal world, education should be accessible to anyone who wants it and the fact that college may not be right for everyone (and may in fact be a bad financial/career-related decision) and that there are a lot of scummy and deceiving practices enticing lower-income students to big for-profit (often online) universities, which are essentially built to suck up federal subsidies for education but do not yield a strong educational outcome. That was super wordy but I just mean to say that this is such a complicated social, ethical, financial quagmire and the system is frankly a mess. We are incentivizing the wrong kinds of things/outcomes with it.

      This isn’t exactly what you’re commenting on here but it’s all of a thread and it’s a dark and challenging one at that.

  7. This is something I still think about often so I apologize in advance for the long response.

    I had no idea what I wanted at 18 but had my heart set on an east coast private school. I was surprised when I didn’t get into my top choice, in hindsight more due to comparing myself with other students that got in (I went to a competitive private high school that was actually wrapped in a local clout scandal about 10 years ago) than because I really wanted to go there.

    Ultimately, everyone ends up where they are meant to be. While it is important to place some emphasis on getting into a college/a good school as it gives students something to work for, revolving your life around getting into certain schools, the amount of pressure we (and our schools/communities depending on where you live) place on ourselves as high schoolers is unhealthy.

    I reflect on this in my 30s because I don’t know that I would have had the same college experience had I gone across the country to a small, private school. I don’t believe the experience would be bad, but different. Our lives are shaped and directed in many ways by where we go to school. Not because a school is Ivy League, private, public, etc. but by the people we meet and the way we mature in college. The school I attended gave me scholarships that took away any potential financial pressure and allowed me to get involved and excel in ways I may not have at a more competitive school. I may not have met my husband, ended up back in Chicago or be in the career I’m in now if I went to the east coast school I dreamt of.

    Finally, and I think this is something the celebrities and millionaires wrapped up in the latest scandal lost sight of, where you go to school is only a potential contributing factor to success. Many of the most successful people in the world didn’t attend a fancy, top university, they attended some other school, or didn’t go to college, and worked for their success.

    I am sure I will continue to reflect on this topic and it will be interesting to see how our feelings evolve as we raise our own children !

    1. Hi Jen! So many great insights here and I’m happy to see I’m not the only one who still thinks about this seemingly ancient topic from time to time. There is so much to learn when reflecting on it. I completely agree with your point that different kinds of schools expose us to different kinds of people and different paths towards maturation. Your point about leaving college without a huge burden of debt is also compelling to consider. I worked for years for a billionaire (legitimate billionaire!) who insists that were it not for the fact that the U.S. government paid his tuition as a part of a tuition reimbursement program offered to former members of the military, he never would have been able to afford to take the risk to start his own business, which turned out to be a ridiculous success. He felt strongly that risk tolerance and entrepreneurship will not thrive as well among our generation of student debtors. So interesting to think about how these financial, social, and academic trade-offs shape our lives. At any rate — I completely agree with all of your takeaways here. xx

  8. First of all, on the off chance that you’re reading this prior to your shower: I really do love that Ulla tunic! The ruffled sleeves add major interest and (in a possibly dorky, gendered way on my part), I personally love that it’s made of blue denim for a celebration of your little boy.

    Anyway. I can so relate to your musings on college admissions. I was a similar academic overachiever throughout my childhood & adolescence, and much of my identity was tied to my academic performance. I didn’t aim as high as perhaps I should have — I don’t think I was Harvard material, and I felt that most of the other Ivies were too close to home (I wanted to be around 4 hours away from my parents, or further) — but I applied to seven schools (!!), most of which I felt confident I’d have a good chance of attending. I applied early action to 3 of them, one reach, one “good fit” that was also my top choice, and one safety. I got into the safety and was deferred from the other two. The most painful part of that process was that my best friend was admitted to my top choice, even though she had no plan to attend and also got into her top choice early action as well. That drove me nuts! I wrote a five-page letter (!!!) to my top choice, expressing my deep desire to attend — the vulnerability of this letter brings tears to my eyes! I did, in the end, get into (and matriculated at) my top choice, but had I not gotten in, I would have attended a very different school in the South that is actually, for all intents and purposes, a “better” school, rankings-wise. I haven’t thought about this as much in my 30s, but in my college years & throughout my 20s, I often reflected upon how different my life would be if I had gone to school in the South. I’m sure the academics would have been similar, but the social scene would have been TOTALLY different (the university I attended did not have Greek life, for one). I was just crazy fortunate that my parents stressed the importance of going to the best school possible (and the one that I liked best), costs be damned. So many other students are not so lucky.

    On a similar note: there’s so much to be said on the topic of “first choice schools”, and I’ve been thinking about the admissions process a lot this week, of course, because of this crazy bribery scandal. It still drives me completely insane to witness the uncovering of the ways in which the system is rigged against people without the same means as wealthy, privileged students (of which I was certainly one) — both legal and illegal. My parents didn’t bribe anyone (!) or even make donations to my university, but did I have an SAT tutor? Yep. It’s made me think about the line between giving your children the best shot possible and giving them an unfair advantage. SO MUCH TO UNPACK. xo

    1. Hi! Wow — when you wrote about your friend getting into your top school it brought back a flood of other memories I’d forgotten about. I remember that there was some controversy around students applying to dozens of schools because the thought was that their applications might dilute or diminish the potential for other classmates to get into those same schools, i.e., if Judy has straight As and applies to 14 schools even though she’s only seriously interested in 2, then what about Betty with a mix of As and Bs who might have a better chance of getting into one of Judy’s non-top-choice schools if Judy were not to apply? Ugh, the whole thing is annoying and exhausting. I’m glad, at any rate, that you’ve landed roughly where I have: grateful that things turned out the way they did though mildly curious about what would have happened if if if…

      Probably healthiest to stay in the realm of gratitude.

      xx

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