In 1935, according to documents
recently released online by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
and Museum, Harvard asked JFK a question all of us who've applied to
college should recognize: why did he want to attend Harvard?
This is how Kennedy responded:
The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I felt that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a “Harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.
surprisingly vapid answer has turned many people into amateur admissions officers. How could someone who would later
inspire his fellow Americans--albeit with the help of a speechwriter--to "ask not what your country can do for
you--ask what you can do for your country" write something so incredibly uninspiring? And how did Harvard accept him?
JFK was "kind of a dunce," says Eve Binder at IvyGate:
Kennedy's application really skimps on smarmy, sycophantic adjective-dropping, a sure sign that he has no idea what he’s talking about. This shit would never pass muster on the Common App. Not to mention the fact that he sounds more eager to own an embossed Harvard money clip than he does to have a Harvard education--although that's pretty much true for all Harvard students, so pass.
College consultant Barbara Cooper, as quoted by The Huffington Post, says that while Kennedy's legacy status would give him an edge, he would have a hard time getting into Harvard today:
The essay itself, from today's point of view, is missing a true understanding of the unique features of Harvard's offerings. It's not even clear if he visited or attended the information session, which many schools say is essential to indicating that you have an interest.
It's "hard to imagine a more slap-dash effort," claims Ralph Alter at American Thinker:
The lack of seriousness is surprising, considering that ol' bootlegging Daddy Joe was likely to be hovering imperiously in the background. Kennedy's essay sounds more like the response one gets from a beauty pageant contestant than that of a young man serious about his future ...
One must remember, however, that the family's hopes were still pinned on Joe Kennedy Jr. who was considered the political standard bearer for the Kennedy progeny.
Today's college applicants can learn from Kennedy, asserts Ryan Brown at Campus Progress:
If JFK is any indication, early academic trajectory isn't always revealing of someone's abilities. Our 35th president finished his four years [of high school] at the Choate School in Wallingford, Conn., with a cumulative average of 68, placing him in the third quarter of his class. But by the time he graduated with honors from Harvard five years later, he'd written an international affairs senior thesis that would go on to become a bestselling book, Why England Slept. By his 30th birthday, he was a U.S. congressman.
application also includes a note from Choate's headmaster, who assures
Harvard JFK "can be relied upon to do enough to pass."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.