Yes. The problem is that you really do have to be superhuman to do this from outside the magic circle, as opposed to quite bright and ambitious, which is what you need starting off from inside that magic circle. (If you are that superhuman, your door at undergrad level is EA.) Who, then, is represented in higher and higher concentration up there at the top? Not those superhumans, who tend to have trouble empathizing with the less bootstrappy among us anyhow. I’d argue (and have) that it’s both bad for a democratic society and cruel to the vast majority of quite-bright reasonably-ambitious non-wealthy/privileged/etc. people who’re told routinely that if they just try hard enough, it’s possible for them, etc. – when for most it isn’t true. It isn’t a matter of “not that good odds”; it’s a matter of shutout. They aren’t brilliant enough at whatever’s wanted today by the middle-aged in the magic circle, meaning wealthy and, concomitantly, powerful to manage a thing like that, no matter how much work they put in, even though in more egalitarian times people like them were suitable for all sorts of society-defining work.
I’m acquainted with a young man, poor family/cruel immigration story, who’s been doing almost nothing but finishing his STEM PhD and studying for the LSAT for about a year. He’ll do nothing over the summer but LSAT prep. He wants a top school, he knows the stats, he’s been chipping and chipping away at them. I cannot think of a more ghastly waste of this very bright young man’s time. But he’s probably correct: if he doesn’t hit the mark, it probably won’t happen. It might not happen anyway. He’s stumbling around in that world and I can see from here that it’s unlikely his essay will sound right. He hasn’t had time to hang around in the right circles, right conversations. And he didn’t have time as an undergrad to notice that no, he doesn’t want to be a scientist – he was working fulltime, school fulltime. Hasn’t had time to figure out much of anything about what he actually wants, so he’s been trying to jam that in while doing everything else, trying this and that. Showing up in my office with novels and wanting to talk about them, self-improving to the point of exhaustion. The fiancée’s been neglected for years and is running out of patience. I think he’d actually make a magnificent science-agency upper-level administrator someday, which is achievable up the GS ladder if he gets moving, but we’ll see what happens first with the LSAT.
I really don’t think we need to turn this into Jude the Obscure for so many people, especially ones who are such able people and knocking themselves senseless, just trying to get in the door to make serious contributions and be recognized.
And yeah, my daughter’s ace in the hole is me. I will say, though – I spent a little time looking through the catalogue for her registration, and hoo boy, we got a whole lotta nothing here for the undergrads, especially outside certain STEM areas. I knew we’d taken a wrecking ball to humanities and that soc sci was never really it here, but man, I hadn’t realized it had gone this far. No wonder my students look so blindsided. We’ve got course after course that advertises frantically “this is easy and fun and kind of like social media, don’t worry!” or is essentially remedial. A colleague here and I have been joking about “do you want to watch football and not really go to college? Apply now!” but it’s gallows humor, and not actually funny. My kid’s really going to have to wrestle an education out of particular profs, I’m thinking – ones who’ll essentially be volunteering, since they’re paid to teach massive not-really-courses, not her. And leave town a lot, grab a lot of lapels and say “teach me, take me on.” I guess that’ll be the education, learning to grab lapels. All I can do is hope that by the time she gets herself somewhere, the kids will have put through enough revolution that she won’t have to face having her name badge checked over and over for having come through the back door.
I think the phrase will be: “Treat me like I’m a grad student.” Again, though, you shouldn’t have to have an insider to stage-mother you through like this. That is not a working university system for a large and important democracy.