Lauren Edelson is a smart, high-achieving high school senior. She’s been visiting some of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, trying to imagine herself at each of these schools. Unfortunately, she’s been a little underwhelmed:
Back when I was a junior, before I’d printed off an application or visited a campus, I had high expectations for the college application process. I’d soak up detailed descriptions of academic opportunity and campus life — and by the end of it, I’d know which college was right for me. Back then, I knew only of these institutions and their intimidating reputations, not what set each one apart from the rest. And I couldn’t wait to find out.
So I was surprised when many top colleges delivered the same pitch. It turns out, they’re all a little bit like Hogwarts — the school for witches and wizards in the “Harry Potter” books and movies. Or at least, that’s what the tour guides kept telling me.
It seems that Hogwarts fever has infected the college admissions process, and, once again, they’re all marketing the same things. Middlebury students play Quidditch, J.K. Rowling’s mythical game where players fly around on broomsticks in search of the golden Snitch, only Middlebury students, obviously, do not fly. Harvard intramural teams play for a title a la the Hogwarts House Cup, Dartmouth compares its lounges to Hogwarts’, Cornell brags that it was named one of the top five Hogwarts-like schools in the country, Boston College’s library is “Hogwartsesque,” and Colby College hosts a Harry Potter-themed dinner party.
Edelson’s op-ed, clothed in references to a popular, fictional world of wizards, goblins, and flying broomsticks, says a lot about how our best colleges and universities market themselves. Rather than showing their diversity, that concept that is so celebrated in American higher education, they show just how strikingly similar they are. They compete to be the most like a mythical school that exists only in Rowling’s mind rather than competing to show their distinctive character or outstanding educational results. Good for Edelson for scolding colleges to focus on what’s important.