I think we overuse the word deserve. I know I do. We seem to always think that we deserve something just because. But do we really?

My Daughter will tell you that she has a two page resume, and she is not apologetic about it. Some of the things on her resume are:

  1. Three year GPA 97+, including 1st semester Senior year 99+
  2. 99th percentile SAT score
  3. 5 Leadership positions in clubs she has participated in since Fresh or Soph year
  4. 40+ hours service a year, mainly as tutor in Title 1 middle school
  5. Paid job as tutor
  6. 20+ writing awards/published (and writing is her hobby)
  7. 10+ awards for various activities
  8. Summers spent building houses in Costa Rica, program at Stanford Law School and Internship with Manhattan Borough President office

So someone recently said to her- “Well- you deserve a spot at an elite University.” To which my Daughter replied:

“I have a great resume. I work hard. But there are about 35,000 high schools in America. Assume that there is one kid just like me at every school in America.”

35,000 students.

“We know that there is a  Valedictorian (#1 in class rank) at every school”

We’re up to 70,000 students.

“And every school has a salutatorian (#2 in class rank)”

Total- 105,000 students

And then there’s home schooled children. And international students.

And my kid is quick to point out: “The kids with the two page resumes. There’s not just one at every high school” At her high school alone there are at least five. And she knows schools where there are twenty or more…

A school like Harvard only accepts about 1,900 students. Assume there are 105,000 qualified students (in reality Harvard received over 43,000 applications)….

Does my daughter deserve a spot?

Does anyone deserve a spot?

My Daughter will clearly tell you. “No one deserves a spot at an elite university. What they have done is earned the right to have an admission counselor look really carefully at their application.  They have a proven track record that shows that they are clearly qualified to take on the tasks and challenges that a school has to offer. But no one deserves a spot.

So how does a school choose its students? I have no idea. I spent a year helping my daughter navigate the system, and I know less now than when I started. Some schools truly are holistic in their approach. Some schools are numbers driven. Some schools focus on your special talent. Elite universities kind of do it all.

Here’s the one thing we did realize early on, and I have seen many people not grasp these simple facts (which only leads to heartache for your kid). All schools publish their range of academic criteria. They will list the range where test scores fall, and they will list the GPA range. You can separate the schools as follows:

  1. Reach: your test scores and GPA are at the middle or below
  2. Target: you test scores and GPA are at the mid range or top of the range
  3. Likely: you exceed the high range of GPA and scores

Apply appropriately. My Daughter had a whole bunch of reach schools, but she also had four likely schools which she was prepared to go to if she didn’t make a reach school. Because she knows how many qualified students there are right now. Even though she has a stellar resume she knows exactly how cruel the system can be.

And the system was cruel this year. Record high application numbers lead to record low acceptance rates. The Salutatorian at her High School is going to her likely school because she did not get into anything else.  Some people are saying that that’s not fair- she worked so hard. But guess what? LOTS of kids worked really hard. But the reality is: no one deserves a spot at an elite college- there are just too many qualified applicants for what amounts to very few spots.




24 thoughts on “Deserve vs Earn

  1. Blah. I hear you. This whole school application process is mentally taxing. I’m cynical so I don’t even want to get into it. 🙂

    This whole *deserve* thing delves into parenting, entitlement, general life…do I deserve a vacation? Yes I do. Can I afford one? No I don’t. SIGH.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What a shame it is that we even have to talk about this, but maybe there’s something to be learned from the college admission processes that do not seem to favor those who you’d hope they would. Same as it ever was, I suppose. Not that it makes it ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You can disappear all the words you like , but between you and me and Merriam-Webster you can’t erase a “new” American truth; for the first time in our nation’s history the zip code one is born into is most likely to be determinative in one’s future economic viability. And in a republic this large, that is not sustainable.

    Meritocracy, as now administered, is a myth managed to better protect and enhance the ever increasing upward flow of mammon. It’s a concentration of wealth buying a democracy on the cheap. We, as citizens, need I say, deserve better.

    Good post. And now off my soapbox to go box score, and go Mets as the Cubs are playing paltry.


  4. In my kids’ public high school, the teachers and administration pushed their college-bound kids to the very limit. Pushed them to take as many AP classes as possible, pushed them to apply to Ivy league schools and pushed them for high grades and test scores. High school was an incredibly stressful slog for both of my kids. Both graduated with +20 AP credits, both graduated with ridiculously high GPA’s because the school system adds bonus points for the AP credits. Both were in the top 5% of a class of over 1,000 kids.

    Having said that, the college counselor cherry-picked which kid was endorsed to apply for which scholarship. My oldest would have been ideal for a full scholarship to a fantastic university where we had amazing legacy. My mom, dad, uncle and cousin all graduated there. My dad attended law school there and my cousin had won the very scholarship she should have applied for. The counselor refused to endorse her pursuit of it. I found out too late, but man, I was livid because she got accepted…..sans scholarship.

    What was really interesting is how the universities look at these kids. My understanding was that not only do they compare the student with all admissions applicants, but they also compare them with their own peers from their own high school. “Oh no,” the admissions folks exclaim, “we don’t do that”. Malarkey. They do. If they take 2 kids from this high school, they want the best 2 kids, unless they think those kids are using the school as a safety choice. Or they want the best diversity choice available (my kids were a diversity choice for these schools).

    We have private high schools in South Florida where public universities won’t even consider those kids. Why? Because those kids rarely accept the public university and are only using them as a safety choice. The backlash is that now the public universities ignore all of those kids — even the ones that would love to go there.

    I am so glad that phase is over. It was stressful. By the way, medical school was twice as bad. The good news is they both got into the public university they wanted and both received a great education there with a lot less stress than high school caused. Both have gone on to prestigious post-graduate studies. As we told the kids, go to the public university so you can graduate debt-free. it will make post-graduate that much more affordable.

    Your daughter is a rock star, no matter what school she attended! Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I recently found there’s actually a term for a kid who gets waitlisted at a school they’re clearly overqualified for because the school knows they’re looking at it as a safe school. My daughters high school actually caps kids at 1 ap in soph year, and 2 in jr and sr. My daughter was allowed to take three in jr and sr year though. The thing is, the colleges want to see if you’ve taken the hardest classes your school offers. The whole process is ridiculous

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read about how toxic the idea of deserve is and the example is working an internship. If you say to yourself I was the best intern at the company because I worked the hardest and was there early and left late, when you don’t get the job you’ll be absolutely destroyed. It’s been engrained in your head that the position is yours and if you don’t get it it must be something that you have done wrong or there is something wrong with you. Meanwhile, it might be that they’re not looking to hire anyone full-time, or that full-time position is already slated for someone’s nephew (which isn’t uncommon).

    Point is when we think we “deserve” things and don’t get them, we think it’s our fault as opposed to the idea of I worked really hard for this and something didn’t go in my favor, I can just now put my energy elsewhere. I’ll find my groove.

    Great post and good luck to your family, school stuff is always so stressful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. Wow, your daughter did a LOT. Impressive and also impressive is her attitude. I hope she gets what she wants though! She’s worked hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, it sounds really complicated. Your daughter is a very accomplished young woman. I’m sure I wouldn’t get into my chosen career, if I were applying today…..there are so many smart kids out there…..it is so much more competitive now.

    Liked by 1 person

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