Almost three decades ago, I applied to Cambridge university in England for an undergraduate degree. Just before my interview, a schoolteacher proffered some advice: “Don’t mention that your father went to Cambridge – or not unless you are asked!”
The reason? Back then in 1980s Britain, there was an aversion to the idea that family connections could help students get an elite university place. Indeed, the only thing considered more taboo by admissions officers was the idea that somebody could “buy” their way into a university with charitable donations, coupled with family ties.
How times change. Or, more accurately, how perceptions vary according to geography and social customs. This autumn, the children of several American friends entered a clutch of elite US colleges, such as Brown, Harvard and Princeton. Most of these kids have earned their places, in the sense of having high-performing SAT tests and a curriculum vitae packed with accolades. And yet these intelligent teenagers had another advantage: connections. More specifically, their parents and relatives are usually alumni of those elite universities, visibly involved in the alumni network and have often made philanthropic donations.