Deconstructing the Ivy League
November 9, 2005
by T.J. DeGroat
Being interviewed is a new and slightly odd experience for Marc Zawel. But with his first book earning him increasing media attention, he better get used to it.
The 23-year-old freelance journalist and past HATCH contributor, who is used to asking questions and writing articles, is the subject of news stories now that his 550-page tomb Untangling the Ivy League 2006 has hit the shelves of the country’s book superstores. “It has been a little bit weird having the spotlight shone in the other direction,” he said.
The guide, published last month by College Prowler, is noteworthy because it was written for college-bound students by a recent college graduate with real insight into the college experience. Zawel, who graduated from Cornell University, one of the eight Ivies, in 2004, began his two years of work on the opus during his senior year. An editor of his college newspaper who already had written for national publications, Zawel planned to write College Prowler’s guide to Cornell. Someone else beat him to the punch, but the upstart publishing company, which aims to produce works geared toward high schoolers rather than their parents, decided to work with Zawel on a much larger, more exhaustive look at the venerable Ivy League.
The timeframe was one of the major surprises of the publishing industry for Zawel. “As a journalist, I’m used to having relatively quick turnaround. For a newspaper, that can be a couple of days, the next day. For magazines, a little bit longer,” said Zawel, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Teen People and Business 2.0, among others. “The book — at certain points I thought it was never going to end. The process was just very, very long.”
The experience was invaluable, though, he said. And he hopes readers find the information in the book invaluable, as well.
Most people can’t even name all of the schools in the Ivy League (only four out of 100 polled by Zawel and his research team), which began about 50 years ago as an athletic conference, But these days, the group of eight colleges and universities (Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania) is known for high academic standards and powerful alumni networks.
The book contains information about urban legends, secret societies and the history of the group. But it also offers guides to each of the eight schools with information about admissions and more youth-oriented nuggets such as how hot students are at each campus.
“We wanted to make it accessible to younger students,” Zawel said. “A lot of guidebooks out there are written in stodgy, old language. We wrote it in a way that, hopefully, makes it accessible and interesting.”
The college-admissions process interests Zawel, who said his was “characterized by very poor planning and large mistakes.” Among his other interests is politics. Zawel traveled to Florida during the summer of 2004 to work on a presidential campaign. He chronicled his experiences for HATCH. Zawel hopes to continue working in politics in addition to pursuing opportunities in journalism -— both in print and broadcast.
Another book is a possibility, but not right now. After putting together 550 pages, he’s ready for a break. The process was tiring, but worth it, he noted. “One of reasons it took us so long to write is because we wanted it to be the most comprehensive college guidebook on the Ivy League ever written,” Zawel said. “And I think we succeeded.”