Westchester Magazine

Behind the Ivy Curtain
Westchester Chronicles, Higher Ed
February 2006
by Laurie Yarnell

For his first book, Marc Zawel, a 24-year-old former resident of Purchase and Harrison, chose a subject the 2004 graduate of Cornell University knew well: the ins and outs of the eight elite Ivy League universities. While his classmates were busy writing e-mails, text messages and Facebook profiles, and even the occasional term paper, Zawel, the managing editor of The Cornell Daily Sun, spent his senior year busily researching a comprehensive 550-page student’s-eye guidebook to the Ivy League as an independent study project (neat trick: he even managed to receive course credit for his work).

The result, Untangling the Ivy League 2006, was published by College Prowler last fall, just in time for college application season. And untangle the Ivy mystique it does: “The advice offered on getting in (how to interview, write an essay, visit a campus, complete your application) could prove helpful to anyone applying to a selective school,” wrote on enthusiastic reviewer on Amazon.com. “Five stars!”

“The book is written and designed in a way that is approachable by a young college-bound student,” explains Zawel, now a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. “I wrote it so that my 16-year-old brother could sit down and pull out some things to get him excited about the college admissions process.” Organized with separate sections on each school devoted to the more common topics of academics, local atmosphere, housing, Greek life, and athletics, it also explores such lesser-known areas as secret societies, scandals and pranks, and Ivy urban legends.

Zawel almost didn’t make it to the Ivy League himself: his first choice, upon graduating from Rye Country Day School in 2000, was Wesleyan University, which rejected him. For his book, he conducted more than 1,200 student interviews on the inner-workings of the eight schools. (The Ivy League consists of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.) Among the topics he delved into were what admissions officers were really looking for in applicants (answer: brilliant, hard-working, and diverse) and how rigorous campus academics really were (very, especially in pre-med and engineering).

The most surprising thing that Zawel discovered about the Ivy League is how new the designation name really is. “I always thought that it had been around a long time, but it’s actually less than 50 years old. It was a term coined by a newspaper journalist pertaining to football,” explains. “So when people get caught up in the Ivy League mystique, they should know it’s just an athletic conference.”

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