Preparing for College

Act Naturally

Remember that Beatle hit?

They're gonna put me in the movies

They're gonna make a big star out of me . . .

And all i gotta so is act naturally

"All I gotta do is act naturally." That seems to be what a group of prep schoolers are doing on the Bravo! channel. These high-living youth have agreed to be featured in a new reality series that follows the life of well-to-do students at a New York City prep school. The program is called NYC Prep and it has caused a stir, especially for those in the know about college admissions.

So what's the big deal? The New York Daily News' Rosemary Black explains:

They sashay through a fairytale life most teens can only dream about, enjoying freewheeling spending, freedom and, since “NYC Prep" began, fame. But the high school students featured in the show -- Camille, Taylor, Kelli, Sebastian, PC and Jessie -- may find that starring in Bravo's high-profile reality series doesn't guarantee a happy ending.

“It definitely will hurt them for college admissions," says Katherine Cohen, Ph.D., founder of IvyWise, a college admission counseling company. “If you're putting yourself out there as someone who spends most of the night partying and drinking rather than making a positive impact on your school and your community, this will affect their chances of getting into a selective college. It simply can't help these kids."

Selective schools seek out students who are genuinely interested in good causes, not just those with high grades, Cohen notes, and admissions officers can tell when kids do community service just to get into college.

“These kids on 'NYC Prep' may think they will get into college based on their connections and their ability to give large donations," she says. “That's not realistic. Schools want students who are helping others, maybe by learning American sign language to work with impaired students. You don't see the kids on 'NYC Prep' doing impactable things."

Besides potentially having a negative impact on their future educational plans, the show could also affect the teen stars' relationships with their peers, says Dr. Jennifer Austin Leigh, PsyD, author of “Laid or Loved?".

“Today, kids just want to be famous and it's a big deal to glorify a celebrity," Leigh says. “The peers of the teens on 'NYC Prep' may want to rub up against them just because they are famous. But these friendships may not be based on true feelings for one another."

Some of their friends may be jealous because they weren't picked to be on the show, which sets up the relationship for even more problems, she says.

And the show may give the teens a very unrealistic future, Leigh says. “They may start acting out in ways they don't normally, in order to get more attention and more publicity," she says. “They'll feel the pressure from not just being themselves, but being a brand. This can be a very tricky role for teens who are already trying to decide who they are and what they believe in."

Down the road, their “NYC Prep" appearances may disrupt the teens' ability to lead a normal life, says Jeff McCall, media studies professor at DePauw University and author of “Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences."

“The show might be funny and edgy now, but in a few years when these kids want to get a job with Americorps, they've got a history on video of airhead moments and people talking about their hookups," he says. “It's a lot harder to distance yourself from this than if you are an anonymous high school student."

Teens may not realize that colleges look online to learn more about prospective students, Cohen adds. “They want to know how you spend your summers and what you do outside the classroom," she explains. “So students need to be very careful about the public persona they put out there."

McCall says he wishes the show could have been done as a documentary rather than a series because he feels it would not have been detrimental to the students who star on it.

Says McCall: “Fifteen years from now, these kids may look back and say, what was I doing?"

I've been counseling seniors for many years and I'll add my two cents to those who think this is a bad decision by the prepsters. "Entitled" students who have lived a life of privilege should try to de-emphasize their lifestyle perks in their applications, putting emphasis on the contributory aspects of their lives -- what they have given back to others, their schools, and their community. It's not all about them. It should be about others too.

No doubt some enterprising journalist will survey admissions offices (inevitably from the Ivies and other "elite" colleges) to find out what school gatekeepers think of NYC Prep and the like. However, having seen myriad examples of the irrationality of college admissions, these young Bravo! stars may do better than we naysayers have predicted. After all, ours is a celebrity obsessed culture, and, for better or worse, these kids are becoming celebrities. They're gonna make big stars out of them.

So, flip a coin. Heads: You're a NYC "Perp" loser. Tails: You're a NYC Prep winner! Go figure!

Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.