By Charlene Giannetti
NYC Prep, Bravo’s newest entry into the reality field, premieres on Tuesday, June 23. You may be ready to dismiss the show. It has nothing to do with you, right? Well, if you live in New York and have a child who will apply to college in the near future, you might want to watch. “The show lumps all the kids into a category,” said Dr. Michele Hernandez, of Hernandez College Consulting. “It’s already not great to be from New York. It’s not good to show such conspicuous consumption.”
So tune in and listen up.
Snippets from the show are running repeatedly on Bravo to give viewers a taste of what is to come. The first episode was screened at the Paley Center on June 1, followed by a Q&A with the cast. NYC Prep focuses on six high school students described by the producers as “privileged teenagers who are key players in Manhattan’s elite high school scene.” (The photo above shows two of the students, Peter, a.k.a. P.C., and Jessie).
In the program and in person at the Paley Center the students came across as a little condescending and somewhat naïve. “I think all of us could care less what people say about us,” said Taylor, the only public school student in the bunch. Yet besides talk about their social lives, the students spent a lot of airtime obsessing about college admissions. Camille, a junior at an all-girls school, opened her SAT scores on screen and said more than once that she has to get into Harvard. She and her TV mates, however, seem oblivious to the fact that their college applications could be affected negatively by appearing on NYC Prep.
“Colleges are trying to get more minorities, less privileged kids,” said Hernandez, a former assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth College. “They really have been doing that for the last ten years. Whoa to the kid who comes across as a kid drinking fancy Champagne in a nightclub.”
Judging by the first episode, conspicuous consumption and hard partying dominate the lives of these students. “I don’t want to apologize for having money,” said Camille. “It’s good.” Jessie, a senior, stated matter-of-factly that she has had a personal shopper at Barney’s since she was thirteen and treats her “clothing like my children.” Sebastian, cast as the player of the group said: “I hook up a lot. I hook up with two or three girls a night. Maybe more. I’m not sure.”
“A lot of admissions directors come from modest backgrounds and already have a bias against privileged kids,” said Hernandez. While at Dartmouth, Hernandez said she “fought the battle, not to vilify New York City and Westchester.” She doesn’t feel this show will do much to correct the stereotypical images of that “spoiled Westchester kid or rich New York City kid.”
At a time when college counselors and job placement experts are advising young people to sanitize their Facebook pages and watch where and what they post, these young people starring in NYC Prep are unafraid of putting themselves out there in a major way. “The whole shift from our generation having private thoughts in private to having private thoughts in public is incomprehensible to us,” said Jean Hanff Korelitz, whose new novel, Admission, has as its narrator a 38 year-old admissions officer at Princeton. Korelitz said she was concerned when her daughter wanted to have an online diary. “It horrifies me that she could write something that an employer could see ten years from now,” she said, noting that material on the web lasts forever. “If you Google me, you see a horrible review of a novel I wrote ten years ago.”
Korelitz once worked as an outside reader for Princeton. “Like other competitive colleges, Princeton hires adjunct employees at the height of the admissions season and trains them to provide first readings of applications,” she explained. What would she have done, being presented with an application from one of the stars on NYC Prep? “I would have called on my training which was to exclude extraneous information not in the application, unless it’s something illegal,” she said.
Ironically, Bravo’s efforts to focus attention on the show may come back to haunt its stars. The more popular the show becomes, the more difficult it may be for college admissions officers to ignore the behavior of the students. “If I wanted to be taken seriously, I wouldn’t put myself on a reality show,” said Korelitz. What impact the show’s buzz will have on other students from New York hoping to go to Harvard, Princeton, or Dartmouth, remains to be seen. The experts believe these students will have to work harder to distance themselves from being portrayed as part of an elite clique. Public service could reflect well on a student, but that work should spring from a passion rather than a desire to impress admissions officers. (In the first episode, Camille noted that she needs to do more public service in order to enhance her college package).
During the presentation at the Paley Center, one audience member asked the producer, Andy Cohen, whether these young people were being exploited. He shrugged off the criticism. While these teens keep saying that young people grow up quickly in New York, most of us who have parented adolescents in the city recognize such talk as youthful bravado. Kids still need parents and responsible adults in their lives. And they need to be able to make mistakes without everyone watching.
“Who knows if we [as teens] wouldn’t have said, `Great idea! I’m going to get blind drunk and put it in everyone’s home,’” said Korelitz. “We were all stupid teens. We just didn’t have the opportunity to do it before a global audience.”
Dr. Michele Hernandez’s company, Hernandez College Counseling, works with high school students from the New York City area and as far away as New Zealand. Her book, A Is for Admission (Warner) is a bestseller. Her website is www.hernandezcollegecounseling.com
For more information on Jean Hanff Korelitz and her book, Admission, go to her website, www.jeanhanffkorelitz.com