Would Harvard Have Rejected Rory?

In ‘Application Anxiety‘, Rory learns from the University applications seminar that she’s not prepared to apply for Harvard, or any other school. During the seminar, Rory’s face falls when she hears that they laugh about “yet another Hillary Clinton essay” (which was Rory’s topic), about students who circle all interests (showing a lack of focus) and immature applicants with college paraphernalia on their walls. Everything Rory is and plans to do.


Rory, after this, goes into a panic and tries to figure out how to change her strategy. She inevitably does, but do you think Harvard – or other schools – would have rejected Rory if she had applied with her Hillary Clinton essay and many interests? Or is it just not possible to know?

Watch this episode of Gilmore Girls on TheWB.com here.

Image: TheWB.com

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    • Josh

      I only say this to answer the question, but I am a Harvard alum. I can only tell you that when I was there the student body was diverse. Students with a wide array of experience were admitted with lower test scores, and students with high scores and little other experience were admitted. I’m sure many applications look the same to the admissions committee, but students are admitted for a variety of reasons, including based on recommendations.

      So of course there’s no way to know.

      What I always found odd about the series was that, as far as we know, Rory was the only Chilton student admitted to “Harvard.” If Chilton had a reputation for Ivy League admits, Rory’s teacher’s speech singling out Rory for that “immense honor” would have also acknowledged that students were admitted to other schools, such as Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Cal Tech, MIT, etc., in the “banner year” for Chilton…

      I think it shows that the writers were hyping her going to Harvard so that in Season 3 she’d go to Yale to keep the series going, but that the decision would be a surprise. It was a very detailed storyline started back in Season 1, which mostly showed how controlling Lorelai was (dressing Rory in Harvard clothes as a baby), leading to her embarrassing blow-up in Season 3.

      So yes, I think “Rory” would have gotten into Harvard — just for dramatic tension. Without seeing her full application, her SAT scores, etc., there’s no way for us to know otherwise.

    • Wonder Y

      This is a weird question. Part of the problem is that the Gilmore Girls universe, while rich, has many holes. For example, almost no males of mention go to Chilton. I think it is absurd that a presigious Northeastern private school would have no one go to Harvard. My school on Long Island was public and not particularly distinguished and we had two graduates go there. So let’s just say for sake of argument that the show leaves out the handful of people who did get in.

      Moving on from that, I suspect that Rory would not have gotten in if her application was weak. If her essay looked like it was bought from rentapaper.com, the admissions people would have seen right through it. However, I also think it is realistic to think that somewhere along the way, Rory would have figured this out and corrected the situation. Between her teachers, guidance counselors, family, and fellow students, something invariably would have clued her in.

    • http://bravofan.com Maria Diaz

      I’ve always thought about this since I went to a small, academically rigorous liberal arts college and always thought Rory would have liked that more than Harvard or some of the other Ivies. I’m sure Rory would have gotten into any number of schools right below the Ivy League, like Amherst, or Middlebury. Obviously her obsession with an Ivy school was a plot device for her character to be everything Lorelai never was but should’ve been, but that fact always irked me a bit.

    • Marie

      Nicely put, Wonder Y and josh.

      I think the “holes” theory explains that the series, while great, did have signs of weakness like this one even in Season 3, which was one of its best. But this explains why when Rory got to college, some things may have been authentic, as I’ve heard Yale students say, but Rory’s whole course of story fell apart. Amy-Sherman Palladino didn’t go to college she has said, and could not draw upon her life for ideas. I assume Daniel Palladino went to college (and probably took philosophy, given all the philosophy classes Rory took) because he is the only other writer on board consistently from Seasons 4-6, I think. And we know they read Hemingway …. a lot.

      But having Rory not take advantage of the International Studies department Yale is known for to prepare her to be a foreign correspondent was shockingly bad, and as the show became more of a soap opera than a show where school was detailed and richly presented, the show lost a lot of its luster.

    • http://stacypitchers.blogspot.com Stacy Pitcher

      I really can’t imagine that one person would actually get into Harvard, Princeton and Yale. In the show, Rory is very intelligent but not a genious. I do thinks she would get into Harvard.

    • Josh

      It’s actually very possible, Stacy. Many people I know got into Harvard, Yale, and another top school.

    • Josh

      Just wanted to add that what happened later this season (“The Big One”) and season 7 to Paris (with her grad schools) actually was realistic. I had applied to five universities and did overkill with grad schools and both times my packets all came in within days of each other.

    • Veronica

      The thing that always bothered me was Rory’s lack of extra-curriculars and/or notable experiences.

      If I were Harvard, unless her essay was SPECTACULAR and her LORs were incredible, I might have rejected her.

      Harvard sees a lot of applicants with perfect grades and high SATs, but she didn’t do that much else to set herself apart. She didn’t work and only did two extra-curriculars, neither of which showed much about her personality. As a current undergrad at an Ivy, I’ve heard a lot about Ivy-accepted students’ high school experiences, and most of them include more than just getting good grades and writing for the school paper.

    • mcityrk

      I think in addition to grades, test scores, and extra-curriculars, most upper-tier colleges are looking at the capacity of a student to intelligently communicate what they think and know [on-site as well as written interviews] as this gives some measure of their ability to think quickly on their feet, formulate ideas for discussion, and take on leadership roles. The more positive these traits, the more likely the student has a large upside to their future accomplishments [which is most of what the universities really care about as this enhances their reputation].

      As to test scores over the last few decades, the insane overpreparation for these events has so compressed the absolute test numbers as to make them of only limited value and something similar can be said for grades due to “grade inflation” and the inability to compare grades from different schools of differing curricula.

      However to “Rory’s” case — Top of her class at an institution totally inbred with the IVYS [check], top scores in the placement tests [check], coherently conversational and nonconfrontational during interviews [sorry Paris, check], extracurricular activities [vague beyond belief though Rory seems a bit too self-centered to do much more than what is believed to be required], capacity for leadership [sorely under-developed by conclusion of high school, there is a difference in being on the student council and actually driving the agenda to accomplish something]. Conclusion: A little bit of a coin-flip. Rory would probably could get into a fair percentage of schools applied for but no guarantee it would be her first choice and unlikely she would get in everywhere she applied.

      This does not rebut Josh’s remarks, some select students really are fought over for by every school they apply to, others simply have to wait their turn until the high-flyers have made their decisions and the actual number of open spaces to still be filled comes into play. I think Rory would fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

    • Josh

      Just to follow up:

      Harvard did not routinely do interviews for university admissions, at least not by university officials, and I doubt they do them now. Harvard admits an estimated 6,700 students each year, and to interview all of them in addition to all applicants that made several cuts in the review process would take far too much time.

      As the Harvard website explains:

      “When and where possible, we try to arrange for applicants to meet with alumni/ae in or near their school communities. No candidate is at a disadvantage if an interview cannot be arranged. In the U.S., Canada and the U.K., an alumnus/a will contact an applicant directly by phone, email, or letter if such an interview is possible” (the bold face is mine)

      Here’s the translation – NO, we don’t do personal “interviews.” Try to meet with a well-placed alum (as Rory did), who may help admissions identify a special candidate. I always assumed Paris — because of her way of doing things — insisted on an interview of some kind — again with an alum — and that liberty was taken with that for comedic effect. But Rory was (correctly) not portrayed as doing interviews. My sister and I were not related to Harvard alums, but both she and I were admitted without interviews (She went to Stanford. She was not interviewed for the law school either and got in there, too.)

      As to what Harvard considers, this is direct from the Harvard website, and confirms my experience – that Harvard is looking for a diverse class.

      There is no formula for gaining admission to Harvard. Academic accomplishment in high school is important, but the Admissions Committee also considers many other criteria, such as community involvement, leadership and distinction in extracurricular activities, and work experience. The Admissions Committee does not use quotas of any kind. We rely on teachers, counselors, headmasters, and alumni/ae to share information with us about applicants’ strength of character, their ability to overcome adversity, and other personal qualities–all of which play a part in the Admissions Committee’s decisions.

      On extracurriculars specifically:

      “Each case is different. Harvard seeks to enroll well-rounded students as well as a well-rounded first year class. Thus, some students distinguish themselves for admission due to their unusual academic promise through experience or achievements in study or research. Other students present compelling cases because they are more “well rounded” — they have contributed in many different ways to their schools or communities. Still other successful applicants are “well lopsided,” with demonstrated excellence in one particular endeavor — academic, extracurricular, or otherwise. Some students bring perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances or experiences. Like all colleges, we seek to admit the most interesting, able, and diverse class possible.”

    • mcityrk

      @Josh : Thanks for the followup. From the description it looks like the admissions office is opening up the possibility of admitting any “qualified” prospective student where “qualified” is entirely at the discretion of the admissions committee thus simultaneously blunting the critisicms of those unhappy that they did not gain admission. Smart move.

      My own experiences were at a smaller college and for graduate school where on-site interviews were used not so much for initial admission decisions, but for differentiating scholarship and financial aid decisions among a much smaller pool of students. I can see why that would be a prohibitive step for general admissions on a large pool of applicants. Thanks again.

    • West

      Do you remember that scene where Rory sits in on a class at Harvard and fits right in? She belonged.

      In Secrets and Loans Rory’s PSAT scores were revealed and she did very well. Higher than Paris. Since schools wish to diversify their student body for undergraduate degrees picking a select few from a desired skill set is probably normal practice. In reality there are many prep schools in that geographical area and I would assume, many comparable candidates. So I wasn’t shocked she was the only one who got in (who knows how many other students even applied from Chilton). Also, Rory possessed superior communication skills so her reference letters were probably above average.

      I think one thing that has been overlooked is Rory’s part-time job at her mother’s inn during the first season, plus her community work in Stars Hollow. She in fact had a lot of extra curricular activities through town council that would set her apart from other candidates.

      Back to the question: Universities do not frown upon undergraduates with many interests. It’s expected. Those first years of post-secondary studies are a time for exploration, especially in the States where liberal arts degrees are the norm. The Hilary Clinton essay could have been a concern however depending on how the paper was written or the angle taken there could have been a brilliant piece there. Who knows really.

      I have to agree with Josh on this. She would have been accepted without changes to her application. Reworking her essay and doing extra volunteer work post anxiety attack only ensured this.

      I’m glad Rory didn’t go to Harvard because it showed growth in her character to think beyond rankings. What she really wanted was a thrilling and fascinating academic experience which she no doubt have received at any of the top-tier schools she applied to.

    • Veronica

      @Josh I’m not sure that the interviews are quite the way Rory made them; I don’t think that they’re requested by the student. I think they’re pretty much mandatory, unless the student lives in an area where alumni are inaccessible. Actually, many of my friends who applied to Harvard had to go through not one, but two rounds of alumni interviews. (Those who were accepted also got follow-up calls from their interviewers the day the decisions were released.)

      I didn’t apply to Harvard, so the above’s speculation, but I was interviewed by alumni for Georgetown and Brown and it was NOT optional. The alumni had to formally report back to the schools, so I believe there was some influence on the admissions decisions. One of my friends who was waitlisted by Georgetown had her interviewer contact the admissions committee. The interviewer was able to advocate for her admission.

      @West I don’t really think dropping Harvard for Yale is showing “growth in her character to think beyond the rankings.” Yale is still a very high-ranked, very well-recognized name, and I’m not sure that the experience there is considerably more thrilling than it would be at Harvard or Princeton.

    • Josh

      Veronica, it is speculation, as you say you didn’t go. I did, my sister was admitted (didn’t go), and my cousin was also admitted. I’m just trying to tell you what I know for a fact.

      The official Harvard University website is correct (you can go there and look). There is no such thing as a mandatory interview. Again, there are 6700 admits and tens of thousands of applicants, and probably about 10,000 — let me emphasize TEN THOUSAND — that make the cut that are deserving of admission (many who are admitted choose to attend other schools).

      Again, I say, it is simply impossible for any requirement for interviews. Harvard is a big place but has no army of officials or alums signed up to handle that many interviews. As I actually AM an alum who has done a couple of interviews, I can tell you for a fact that the ones I have done have been requested by students who want to talk to an alum in the hope that the alum will make a recommendation.

      If your friends did them, it may be because someone told them they needed to reach out to alums to make them stand out.

      And let me just say again, I was admitted without an interview. My sister was admitted without an interview, both to the University and the law school. And I emailed my cousin, who was admitted in 2000, shortly before Rory, and she was admitted without interview. Those are just facts.

    • West

      I was just trying to say Harvard has been ranked #1 for years. Check out the QS rankings for proof. Rory, in the end, chose a school that fit her better personally rather than picking the highest ranked school she was accepted to. She broke with her childhood dream because something more appropriate was available to her. This is shown in “A Tale of Poes and Fire.”

      To me, this shows growth and a better understanding of oneself. Plus of course Yale is comparable that’s why I said she would have received a thrilling education at ANY of the top-tier schools she applied to.

      Josh – is your family a Harvard legacy family? I mean you, your sister and cousin… smart bunch?

    • Josh


      No, we’re not Harvard legacy. Our grandparents were immigrants and had a very hard life. My mom and my uncle were in and out of orphanages their entire lives; they were dragged around the country and my mom had to drop out of school. But she worked hard and made her children study in a loving way. We were lucky.

      My sister is a genius. It’s just natural to her. She taught me how to read when I was 2, so any smarts I have I owe to her. (She was valedictorian; I was salutatorian) We also lived in a small town, went to a parochial school, took classes at the local college and we had top test scores and each were competitive at sports. We also both had an academic extracurricular activity (debate and drama). And our father died when we were young, so my mother raised us by herself. Harvard looks for students with our backgrounds and test scores to make the class diverse.

      In fact, if you test really well on standardized tests, for better or worse, you rise to the top of the applicant pile. Rory’s PSAT scores were good but our experience says if one’s SAT scores are even higher (say, a perfect score on a section or close to it), the odds of getting in are really high.

      My cousins have similar stories, although my uncle did manage to finish high school and work his way through college. Somehow my grandparents, through all their struggles, instilled in him (and my mom) a desire for learning and appreciation for art. It gave him an incentive to learn and he passed it on to his kids. They went to Berkeley and Harvard.

      Other students, like Rory, often have it more difficult because they all look the same — generations in the Ivy League are large when class sizes are large. The students clustered in the Northeast where education is generally better have a lot more competition. And while Lorelai’s story might have helped her, depending on what showed up on her application, the Gilmore legacy might have canceled that out. But she clearly had the support of her headmaster and probably other teachers, her work on the paper, her life in a small town with all of her civic activities. If her scores were fantastic, she could have easily been at the top of Harvard’s list.

    • dianebs

      @Josh : Congratulations for being in Harvard.
      Your story is pretty tough, specially your moms. It’s like my mom’s story. She was raised in Istanbul, my grandmother did her best to raise her and her sister and brothers with a bit of money while my grandfather, even if he was the sweetest man ever with my mom, was with other women. She came in Paris with 80 euros, not speaking french, at the of 18. She did little jobs, and then, she learned french,entered at SciencesPo, had her cabaret at 20 and was pregnant of me at 21. My father left us alone when I was 2. When I was 4, I started to miss to have a father, so my mother, seeing this, stayed with my stepfather. She taught me all the values of the life, told me that I have to have a great education so I could have the life I want. at the age of 13, I had a detachment of my left retina, and during summer, a man runned after her because he wanted to rape me, now, he is in jail for 2years and is categorised as a pedophile “thanks” to me. This year, I have an accident with my bike and a car who drove on my hand. Being a piannist since I’m 4, I was really sad. During all this rest, I started to realise all the things my mom taught me, and I started to catch up all the two years I wasted because of what happens to me. That is the thing my mother always told me : even if something happens to you, it is nothing, it has to raise you up and never has an impact of what you really want. Now, I am a salutorian, I succeed in my solfege exams, I went to HMCE (as a Harvard student, I think you know what this is), I am going to Columbia this summer to study psychology, I play golf, I am skiing, I do drama at Cours Florent in Paris. I sent an article to NYTimes, telling why I turned vegetarian and they told me it was a compelling argument for vegetariasm, and thanks to this, I went to visit the NYTimes with an important staffmember. I made my mom the proudest mom ever and am really happy of this.
      Do you think I can go to Harvard, Stanford or Berkeley ? I didn’t take the SATs yet since I am a sophomore.
      Thank you,
      hoping you will reply.

    • Babe Chandler

      Rory was a good student, but nothing special. Considering how selective Harvard is, I find it hard to believe that she got in.

      She ended up going to Yale, and she struggled there. She was never brilliant, she was just an avid reader and got good grades.

      It was for the sake of the show that she ended up getting into Harvard. In real life, she would have been considered too generic to get in. I thought it was ridiculous that everyone was acting like she was such a shoo-in for Harvard when in reality, there is no such thing as a shoo-in for Harvard as it is so selective.