Of Harvard and Hogwarts: Ivy League Schools Using Harry Potter to Whore Themselves Out

A precocious high school student: upset, and writing into the Times! On college tours of schools like Harvard and Dartmouth, she heard comparisons to Harry Potter's magical school, Hogwarts. And she didn't like it. And people don't like her. Muggles!

Meet the decidedly non-magical Ms. Lauren Edelson, whose first New York Times byline came last week with an Op-Ed entitled 'Taking the Magic Out of College.'

It boiled down to her hearing comparisons to Harry Potter on her college tours, and her being upset with the respective tour guides resorting to (magical) children's literature comparisons touting the whimsy and atmosphere of their schools, instead of things that matter. And we're not talking about the drugs.

I was surprised when many top colleges delivered the same pitch. It turns out, they're all a little bit like Hogwarts - the school for witches and wizards in the "Harry Potter" books and movies. Or at least, that's what the tour guides kept telling me.

Harvard: Compared "intramural sports competitions there to the Hogwarts House Cup." Also, told student tourists to imagine the under-construction freshman dining hall as "Hogwarts's Great Hall."

Dartmouth: One room was compared to "the Hogwarts feel it was known for."

Cornell: "I read, in Cornell's fall 2009 quarterly magazine, that a college admissions counseling Web site had counted Cornell among the five American colleges that have the most in common with Hogwarts. Both institutions, you see, are conveniently located outside cities. The article ended: "Bring your wand and broomstick, just in case."

Boston College: Has a "Hogwarstesque" library.

Colby: Has a "'Harry Potter'-themed dinner party."

Unnamed Liberal Arts School: "Students had voted to name four buildings on campus after the four houses in Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin."

Various Schools: "Several colleges let it be known that Emma Watson, the actress who plays Hermione Granger in the movies, had looked into them."

Nice. As the price of tuition goes up with endowments and scholarships going down—not to mention the descending value of a degree with regards to the amount of jobs in the marketplace—pricey schools are using the appeal of a magical world to get kids to take out enormous student loans and pay up.

Naturally, people are upset....at Ms. Edelson! For being such a motherfucking Muggle! The kids who think they're getting a fair shake of the wand have written into the Times to defend the honor of their Hogwarts-like institutions. It took two Penn students to come up with this one. They even managed the word "proclivity" at one point:

As students at the University of Pennsylvania, we take issue with Lauren Edelson's attack on Ivy League and partner institutions' Harry Potter marketing...Harry Potter is one of many symbols that are common throughout recruitment, and it is a powerful one that resonates with all people, especially those who grew up with Harry.

Yeah, so take your Mudblood leanings and stick 'em up your ass. Also, from a rising college student to-be:

What I still don't understand is why Ms. Edelson thinks "selling" Harry Potter is a problem. As my dad says, you're old for a very long time. So what's the harm in a little magic?

What's the harm? indeed! Is there anything so wrong with wanting to lend life a little bit of a narrative, of coating it with a marginally delusional sense of storytelling and relationship to a world we only wish existed? Hell no! In fact, this is decent preparation for the rest of your life, when you realize your parents, your god, your ideals, and your faith that It'll Get Better are all dead and always have been. One person doesn't think so, however:

College reputations are never college realities - or never complete realities, at least. Prospective college students would be very well advised to spend less time drinking in "the tour guide's every word" on claims of Hogwarts or otherwise, and more time asking tough questions, doing extensive research and introspection, and most important, talking to actual college students and recent graduates.

Something I have personal experience with. As a prospective student of the University of Utah (go...Fighting Utes?), I was not assured magic, but that every day would be an Après-ski of BC's best imported KBs, the corruption of young, sex-starved Mormon girls, an endless river of (3.5% by weight) beer, and the cachet that comes with being one of seven Jews in Salt Lake City. Needless to say, it was a blue-balled three semesters of frustrated, futile alcoholism, with all the good weed coming in off the I-15 from LA, just like it did in high school. Like most people's college experiences, while enjoyable, there was nothing magical about it. And you're a moron if you think college is going to be incredible and magical and a total shift in reality from what you live through every day. You're also like every other high school student out there. Hopes! Let people have them. More important, however, is that for what little of an issue this actually is, the problems will inevitably work themselves out: anybody who decides what college they're going to go to based on its likeness to Harry Potter's Hogwarts will (A) have far worse problems than using terrible rubrics to make bad decisions with and (B) definitely will not end up at Yale. All colleges are "magical" in their own ways. Tulane has the best drugs. FSU's penchant for producing student-athlete-criminals goes unparalleled. Chico State...is called "Chico State."

Maybe these kids are just reading the wrong stuff. May we suggest Time book critic Lev Grossman's fantastic novel The Magicians, which is essentially Harry Potter meets The Rules of Attraction with some Kicking & Screaming thrown in for good measure. It's about a kid from Brooklyn who finds out he's magical and goes to a magical university in upstate New York. Thankfully, the entire middle section of the book is devoted to all the drugs they do in Manhattan after they graduate and realize that, compared to the network of alumni they have, the skills they learned in college kind of don't mean shit as far as getting a job goes unless they're out there fucking up some evil spirits. Crushing! Also, some girl gets eaten in half their sophomore year, which sounds about right. The real issue with Harry Potter and college comparisons, however, is that it's just incorrect. Because with lines like this...

"That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog. To tell you the truth I'm kind of glad he hit you."

Maybe this entire problem could be solved if kids just grew up reading the right books.