The Princeton student, whose name was Patrick, and Peter both took seats in the historian's office, and they talked. They talked about being twins and having twins (the professor had fraternal girls, so physically different that they barely looked like siblings). They talked about Peter's growing interest in cold war Europe and his recent class on the economic history of the Baltic states. They considered a couple of evolving ideas for Patrick's junior paper, compared and contrasted the schools' football teams, and discussed the relative merits of Bent Spoon and Thomas Sweet ice creams (the brothers had already embarked on a highly scientific study). They took a run at Pennsylvania Democratic politics and the failure of the Clinton health plan and the various repellent aspects of Karl Rove and the Blair scandal at The New York Times. They talked about the professor's daughters' obsession with Harry Potter and the twins' remembered literary obsessions from their own childhood, and they spent a good long while going over the paper the professor was readying for the AHA in two weeks, about the amateur photographs taken by British troops in the Boer War. And then finally, finally, the professor had looked at his watch, seen that it was nearly three o'clock, and announced that he had to go and pick up his children at school. Whereupon the twins burst into hysterical laughter, and Patrick turned to his brother and said, "See? I told you. I told you."

They had had a bet, the Princeton brother reported, when the two had at last stopped high-fiving each other. "Peter said I was always jerking him around when I talked about conversations I'd had with my professors. He said he never got past the TA in any of his classes, and he'd never be able to just knock on a professor's door and sit down and have a conversation. I said I did it all the time, so he bet me. Five hours! I have to say, you surpassed even my expectations. But don't worry." Patrick laughed. "I'll donate my winnings to charity."

"You ought to donate your winnings to me," said the history professor, but he wasn't really angry. In fact, there was definite pride in his face as he told this story, and Portia had happily purloined the tale.

"I'm telling you this," she said, "because I want you to think carefully about what you really want out of the next four years. Ivy League institutions may be wrapped up in one big ribbon, but these are very different institutions, offering very different experiences. Don't just apply to these eight schools because they created an athletic conference in 1954. You might be happiest in a huge university, or in a little college. You might want to see an entirely different part of the country when you go to university, or even a different part of the world. And let's not forget, some people just don't want to work that hard in college. They want to go, learn a little bit, play a little Frisbee, and get a halfway decent job when it's over. Not everyone is looking for the kind of intellectual environment Princeton is offering, and if you're not, I urge you to save yourself the effort involved in applying, not to mention the application fee. And I urge you to spare us the very distressing task of having to reject your application. Please be honest with yourselves, because this is about your well-being, and your goals, and your life."


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