This is the story I tell whenever someone asks me how I got into Princeton, mostly because that question is always awkward and begets SAT score questions, which isn’t a very exciting topic. Anyway, back to 2003.
We had an array of hall monitors in my high school, most of whom were older women who had retired or wanted a relaxing not-quite full-time job. Some were moms of classmates, others locals. They were all generally friendly, some a little cranky and more on the disciplinarian side.
One though, Rose, was the sweetest woman. She would always chat us up at lunch, make sure we were staying out of trouble, ask how classes and sports were going. Just a really friendly lady who knew we were good kids and cared about our success. We didn’t know much about her other than that she was the “cool” one and took a liking to us. We appreciated that.
Come spring semester senior year, everyone is waiting on college admissions and Rose knew that I had applied early to Princeton. Around the week or so that you’d expect to hear back, she would ask me every single day. “Lev, did you hear from Princeton? Did you get in?” Without fail, every single day. She took an interest, but this was a bit much for me. “Rose, I’ll tell you when I know.”
One afternoon that week I came home early because I had a few free periods toward the end of the day and didn’t have sports practice or anything after school. I peeked in the mailbox and found a big fat letter from Princeton. Good sign. Open it up and the first word is “YES!”
Naturally, I was a pretty excited 17-year-old and drove back to school to tell everybody. It was still the middle of a class period so nobody was around. Except, of course, Rose, hanging out by the main hallway door.
“ROSE! I GOT IN!”
“I know! I’m so excited for you!”
“Huh? What do you mean, you know?”
“It’s been killing me these last few days not telling you, but I’ve known for the last week. That’s why I’ve been asking you every day.”
Ummm…what?! You’re the lunch lady, the hall monitor. What could you possibly know about my college admissions before I do? Isn’t that kind of sensitive information?
Turns out, before Rose retired she was the executive assistant to an important and wealthy business person who also happened to be a Princeton alumnus and had some power in the University.
When she found out I applied and it was around admissions time, she made a phone call to her good friend and former boss. He made his own phone calls and reported back that I got in, apparently on my own. I’ll never know if I got in on my own or not, but Rose and everyone else are convinced I did. I get the feeling that if I hadn’t, this guy would have changed that for Rose.
Either way, when people ask how I got into Princeton I tell them my lunch lady got me in. Or at least she would have had the need arisen.
Be nice to your lunch ladies, people. They’ll get you into college.
Lev Berlin graduated Princeton in 2007 and runs the food software business ReciPal.