Imagine seeing ‘Malia Obama’ on a college-admission application

The Washington Post

By Emily Heil
February 10, 2015

Malia Obama’s college search is ramping up. In a ritual familiar to many a high-school kid and her parents, the eldest First Daughter visited a couple of New York City schools last week, where she kicked the proverbial tires (what’s the cafeteria food like? do the dorms have WiFi?) of NYU, Barnard, and Columbia, according to news reports.

The globe-trotting Malia, now a junior at Sidwell Friends, isn’t confining herself to East Coast campuses — she toured UC Berkeley and Stanford (whose graduates include her fellow Sidwell/White House alum Chelsea Clinton-Medvinsky) last summer.

Thousands of other kids might be on the campus-tour circuit, too, but let’s face it — an applicant whose name ends with “Obama” isn’t just any high-schooler.

Malia’s college choices have been much discussed. Will she follow her parents’ footsteps? Her dad did his undergraduate work at Columbia, and her mom at Princeton. Is she looking for a good film-studies program (President Obama says she wants to study the medium)? She made headlines just by sporting a Stanford T-shirt on a family bike ride last summer.

And that famous name is certain to make admission officials take note. “Colleges will be vying for her,” says Steven Roy Goodman, a D.C.-based consultant who has advised plenty of kids whose parents rank among the elite movers and shakers. Goodman says, though, that children of celebrities aren’t automatically admitted to their dream schools. Even they have to prove they can do the work.

Still, an admission application bearing a recognizable name is often kicked up the chain of command, consultants say, to the admissions director or even a college president.

Another VIP difference? The college-tour experience. Goodman says it’s often tailored to meet a high-profile prospective student’s interests. It’s like travelling first-class: “One can fly coach to London and take the tube,” he says. “Or you can fly in the good seats and be greeted at the airport by your driver.”

Katherine Cohen, an New York admissions consultant favored by the moneyed Upper East Side set, says that despite its high profile and special-access perks, Malia’s college search should have the same focus as any kid’s. “Hopefully, they are making the process about her.”