Malia Obama College Watch(TM)

Holy shit YOU GUYS, Malia Obama is a high-school senior. WHERE DID THE TIME GO? It seems like yesterday she was going apeshit over Nick Jonas as he and his virginity-pledge-taking brothers squeakily-cleanly played the President’s first inauguration. Now she’s an awesome, beautiful, likely brilliant teen who interns on Girls (I can’t believe she’s allowed to WATCH GIRLS!!!! DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS ON THAT SHOW BARACK?), and Nick Jonas has a smoldering Timberlake-esque solo career and appears — noticeably bereft of virginity ring — in explicit sex scenes.

As a higher-ed watcher (slash “critic” slash “journalist”), I am openly obsessed with Malia’s imminent college-application process, which already promises to be substantially more gripping than the increasingly ridiculous contest ‘twixt the doofuses trying to replace her father. To me, the choice of college for a high-achieving college-bound individual is intensely personal, and the first truly substantive autonomous expression of a young adult’s burgeoning identity. (Or at least, it should be.) Since POTUS and FLOTUS have understandably kept Malia and Sasha as sheltered from media attention as possible, Malia’s choice of college is basically her coming-out party. And for the Leslie-Knope-style Michelle/Malia/Sasha-obsessed woman of a certain age (AHEM), it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2016. (My book, Schadenfreude A Love Story, might come out in 2016, and still stand by this choice.)


Here is an extremely scientific overview of several of her top choices. Malia Obama College Watch(TM) may or may not be a recurring feature on the blog, depending near-entirely on my daughter’s level of bananas-dom.


Six Californias

LIKELIHOOD: Moderate. First Daughter College Watchers already threw a minor fit when Malia was seen riding her bicycle wearing a t-shirt adorned with the logo of Chelsea Clinton’s (and my parents’) alma mater, the Ayn Rand School of Glorified TED Talks.

PROS: Secret Service already knows exactly what kind Hawaiian shirt makes the most believable Stanfurd bro camouflage.

CONS: Two words: Hoover Institution. Also: Tech bubble may burst, meaning hundreds of newly-indigent former startup millionaires will “disrupt” Malia’s daily commute, to beg her for enough venture capital to buy new hemp ropes for their feral pit bulls. Also: way too close to way too many people who are way to into Burning Man.

ALTERNATIVE: If Malia is serious about applying to “at least one top-ranked public university,” as the New York Times reports, that university is almost certainly UC-Berkeley, Stanford’s archrival. Such a high-profile matriculant might force the UC administration to start attempting to staunch the decades-long budget hemorrhage. Eh, probably not.

BONUS: For a big state school, Cal is about as nerdy, socially-conscious, and serious-minded as you can get, so Malia is unlikely to morph into a selfie-snapping, dress-code-obsessing, flatiron-addicted, pre-gaming kegger enthusiast if she attends.


CONTENDER: Princeton


LIKELIHOOD: Medium-high. Princeton is Michelle Obama’s alma mater; Malia has been seen enthusiastically cheering on the women’s basketball team, on which her cousin plays.

PROS: Wearing school colors will make Tracy Jordan confused as to whether to be scared or proud of his cousin. Also: it’s Princeton.

CONS: Classmates will be on the precipice of nervous collapse from eighteen years of relentless striving, or else legacy preppies who accept her into one of their exclusive clubs, only to commit her to a psych ward after she discovers they covered up the murder of her best friend (all at the behest of Craig T. Nelson, the crooked politician who runs the whole shady enterprise).

ALTERNATIVES: Malia doesn’t need membership in some eating club to become powerful or influential. She’s already better connected than most Fortune-500 CEOs. Sure, one of the advantages of Princeton is that you’re taught by the finest faculty in the world, many whom are themselves Princeton PhDs. But you know where else has Princeton PhDs? Everywhere. So Malia should go somewhere the academics are stellar, but students are a little less aggro/destined for hedge funds/prone to inspiring the plots of excellent early-2000s Joshua Jackson vehicles. Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore are basically the Princetons of the liberal-arts world, minus the graduate programs and the snooty nine-generation social societies.

BONUS: No TAs for Malia to fall in love with.



LIKELIHOOD: High. The $70,000-a-year academic equivalent of Justin Bieber’s car collection is ranked a modest 32nd on US News’s national university list (well below, for example, Rice, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Washington University in St. Louis). NYU’s a good school (I have an MA from NYU, after all), but Malia can certainly do better (I have an MA from NYU, after all). That means she really wants to be in New York. The Times reports that Malia is interested in film, so she’s probably got an eye on the film program at the Tisch School of the Arts. (She has also reportedly toured her father’s alma mater, Columbia, and its women’s college, Barnard).

PROS: Close proximity to the Girls set.

CONS: The moment she introduces her 39-year-old boyfriend during Thanksgiving at the White House. (“He’s a DJ, and he says I’m really mature.”)

ALTERNATIVE: Just like she doesn’t need an Ivy League university to be successful in business, she also doesn’t need Tisch connections to become famous in film. All being a Tisch kid will bring her is a rotating coterie of sycophants, and several thousand unsolicited offers of cocaine. Maybe instead she can keep it something approximating “real,” and try Hunter College, a public school that has, per US News, a “large arts program.” After all, if Malia wants the New York experience, why doesn’t she go to college with some actual New Yorkers?

BONUS: She will have a zero percent chance of becoming BFFs with James Franco, as it is one of the few institutions in the city where he is not currently enrolled. She can also use the $220,000 she saves to finance her directorial debut.


naked party

LIKELIHOOD: ??? The famously progressive liberal-arts school in Connecticut—and, for that matter, any similar small liberal-arts college (or SLAC as they’re known in the higher-ed parlance)—will be the wildcard of Malia’s college search. Malia might be interested in the small class sizes, personal attention from actual, full-time faculty, and emphasis on intellectual enrichment and, erm, nontraditional fun endemic to the SLAC milieu. (Wesleyan was famous for having a lot of “clothing-optional” parties in the 1990s when I went to college.)

PROS: Did I not already mention the naked parties? Anyone who longs, with ever-increasing pessimism, for a return to the “education” emphasis in higher education (as opposed to the increasingly transactional and vocational trends of recent decades), is crossing any available limbs that President Obama’s oldest child will opt for a small school, and, in doing so, that she will inspire a new generation of college-bound kids to do the same, thus preventing the continuing instability of SLACs nationwide, and maybe, just maybe, creating a new generation of intellectually curious, proactive, thinking, feeling, college graduates.

CONS: Achingly SLAC-esque college-newspaper kerfuffles like this one (which is eerily near-identical to a kerfuffle I witnessed as part of the Vassar College Miscellany News circa 1996; Nietzche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, indeed).

ALTERNATIVES: If Barack and Michelle fear that too many naked parties will detract from Malia’s studies, they can encourage her to join the increasingly-convoluted fight to make Deep Springs College coeducational. Pretty hard to get your hands on PCP when you’re 300 miles from any conceivable city, and pretty hard to find a boyfriend when you’re always covered in cow manure.

EARLY FAVORITE: I hate to say it, but: NYU. UGGGGGGGGGGGGGH No Malia Please No.

7 thoughts on “Malia Obama College Watch(TM)

  1. As a woman studying at DS in the 90s, I would say cow manure only enhances the likelihood of boyfriends, and I think that’s true even if gender ratio evens up.


      • Oh yes, I heard the good news re Barnard unionization and even connected with an old prof through it. I am obviously behind on my blog reading, so I’ll have to catch up!


  2. Princeton does have TAs, and has since at least the era when Malia’s mom was at Princeton (for a recent example, see this Ph.D. candidate’s summary of his teaching evals: ). They’re called “preceptors,” or sometimes “discussion section leaders” (never TAs), but they’re TAs. The Orange Key guides apparently inhabit an alternate reality where precepts are led only by professors (well, either that or they’re lying), but most Princeton students encounter plenty of TAs, albeit by other names. Whether said TAs are likely to inspire love/lust is another question.


    • And now I see that you included that fact/assumption in the article itself. And yes, the postdoc-ish positions created to cover Princeton’s current approach to first-year writing instruction, though fairly cushy as such things go, are suspect, if for no other reason than they prolong the agony for Ph.D.s who may never land TT jobs (also, of course, they unload one particular kind of very labor-intensive teaching onto non-TT faculty, thus perpetuating — and, given that it’s Princeton, modeling — one of the more pernicious practices of research-intensive institutions).


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