Admission: Chapter One
"Look," she finally said, studiously avoiding the gaze of her wrapped-in-an-orange-baby-blanket applicant, "our alumni are very important to us. They're part of our university culture. They are our tradition. Yes, it matters, and if you look at the statistics, you'll see that your chances of being admitted are higher within the legacy pool than they are in the nonlegacy pool. But don't for one minute think that having a parent who attended Princeton means you get to walk in. Again, the statistics for legacies show that most legacy applicants don't get in. And believe me, you don't want to be sitting in my boss's chair when the letters go out and that phone starts ringing. We could fill every class just with legacies, but we won't, because that's not our mission. In fact, we have exactly as many students who are the first in their families to attend college as we have students whose families have been attending Princeton for generations, and a whole lot of students who are neither of those things. Okay? Here's my advice: If you're not a Princeton legacy, don't waste your time worrying about it. And if you are, it's still a very, very competitive process." She looked at the girl in the scrunchie. "You don't look happy."
The girl seemed to remember herself. "No, that's okay."
"Joanne?" said Roden. "You had a question?"
Portia looked where he was looking. In the front row, a heavy African- American girl sat cross-legged. Her Deerfield Lacrosse sweatshirt did not fully disguise something essential about her, a displacement. She lacked the sheen of money, the lean, muscular good health, good skin, good clothes. Prep for Prep, Portia thought right away, or one of the other programs that sponsored inner-city kids at some of the best high schools in the country.
"Yes?" Portia said. "Joanne?"
"Uh, well," Joanne faltered. "I was wondering about financial aid. Is it harder to get in if you can't pay the tuition?"
"Oh no." She smiled. "And I'm really glad you asked that question, because it gives me a chance to brag. Like most other selective colleges, Princeton is need-blind. We don't even look at your financial aid application until you've been admitted. Then we put together a package designed for you and your family that will enable you to cover your expenses. And over half of our students are on financial aid, so there's no stigma about it. Then in 2001 we eliminated the loan as part of our financial aid package. You know those student loans you hear so much about? The ones your parents are still paying off from when they went to college? We don't give them anymore. We give you a grant to make up the shortfall between what you can pay and what the tuition costs. We did that because we could. We could afford it, and we didn't think it was right to graduate our students already burdened by debt. Also, we trusted that our graduates would show their appreciation for our gesture, but later, when they could afford to do it. I'm being perfectly frank here. It's a little too soon to say whether we were right about that. Our first alumni to graduate since these changes were made are still at the start of their professional lives."
"So nobody's given you a building yet." It was Hunter, the smug kid on the sofa.