All eyes on Malia's university choice

Mr Barack Obama advised Malia to not stress too much about having to get into a particular college and to keep her grades up until she gets in, and to make sure she passes after that.
Mr Barack Obama advised Malia to not stress too much about having to get into a particular college and to keep her grades up until she gets in, and to make sure she passes after that.PHOTO: REUTERS

Obama's daughter sifting through list including liberal arts unis, Ivies

WASHINGTON • US President Barack Obama recently had some fatherly counsel for his 17-year-old daughter Malia, even as he acknowledged that she might not listen to him.

"One piece of advice that I've given her is not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college," Mr Obama told a group that included high school students in Des Moines, Iowa, last month.

And, he added: "Just because it's not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn't mean that you're not going to get a great education there.''

His second piece of advice, the President said as the room broke into laughter, "is keep your grades up until you get in and, after that, make sure you pass".

It is college application season in America, including at the White House, where Malia, a senior at the elite Sidwell Friends School in Washington, is in the middle of the pressure-filled process of writing personal essays, asking for teacher recommendations and narrowing her choices.

GET OUT OF COMFORT ZONE

Don't go to college just to duplicate the same experience you had in high school... The whole point is for you to push yourself out of your comfort level, meet people you haven't met before, take classes that you hadn't thought of before.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, to his 17-year-old daughter, Malia

Reports from college newspapers and conversations with campus tour guides indicate that Malia, perhaps the nation's most eligible 2016 college applicant, is winnowing a list of Ivy League schools, liberal arts colleges and at least one top-ranked public university.

Her current grades and SAT scores are not publicly known - the First Lady's office declined to comment for this article - but Mr Obama told the students in Des Moines that his daughter was a "hard worker" and that he does not expect her to "start feeling a little slack" in her senior year.

What is known is that in 2009, when Malia was all of 11, Mr Obama announced to the world that she had got a 73 on a science test. "So she came home and she was depressed," the President said during a speech in Madison, Wisconsin. But Malia, he said, studied hard and soon earned 95 on another test.

So far, she has toured five of the eight Ivies - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Brown - as well as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. She has also visited New York University (NYU), Tufts, Barnard and Wesleyan.

Many schools Malia has visited have a claim on her potential interests. Stanford, where Ms Chelsea Clinton was an undergraduate while her parents finished their time in the White House, offers a chance to spend four years away from the East Coast under the radar. NYU boasts the best film programme. Princeton, Mrs Michelle Obama's alma mater, continues to have close ties to her family (the First Lady's niece, Ms Leslie Robinson, currently plays on Princeton's women's basketball team).

And then there is Harvard, where her parents both went to law school. There Malia would be the latest in a long line of other first children - multiple Roosevelts, many Adamses, a Kennedy, a Lincoln and a Bush (the business school).

Sidwell assigns each of its students a college admissions counsellor and, beginning in the spring of junior year, helps guide them through this series of hoops familiar to any college applicant. Strong extracurricular activities are important, and Malia has exotic ones.

This past summer, she had a brief internship in New York City on the HBO series Girls, and in the summer of last year was a production assistant on CBS' Extant, a series produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Halle Berry.

Add to that a cosmopolitan home life - Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping of China were recent guests - and you have a very competitive candidate.

"Without question, the places and people she has been exposed to would be fodder for a more curious mind and wider personal knowledge than her peers - and that can't help but be apparent in her college entrance applications and interviews," said Mr Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian of presidential families at the National First Ladies' Library.

At this point, few know Malia's college preferences, or even if she is applying to all of the schools she has visited. But the paucity of information has done little to tamp down speculation.

When she was spotted in August last year wearing a Stanford T-shirt on a bike ride in Martha's Vineyard, bloggers declared the contest all but done.

Others have pointed out that the summer internship in New York City may have tipped her hand.

But as far as the President is concerned, what matters is what his older daughter makes of her education.

As he told the students in Des Moines last month, offering what he said was a third piece of advice to Malia: "Don't go to college just to duplicate the same experience you had in high school. Don't make your decision based on, well, where are all my friends going so that I can do the exact same things with the exact same friends that I did in high school.

"The whole point is for you to push yourself out of your comfort level, meet people you haven't met before, take classes that you hadn't thought of before."

The President added: "Stretch yourself. Because this is the time to do it, when you're young.''

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'All eyes on Malia's university choice'. Print Edition | Subscribe