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College Admission, Hogwarts, Harry Potter, and a Lesson in Marketing

An editorial in today’s New York Times is written by a prospective college student, Lauren Edelson, who laments that every college in America is now comparing itself to Hogwarts.

And she’s right: they do. For two reasons. First, today’s college students grew up with J. K. Rowling, just as I grew up with Dr. Seuss. Students today quote lines from the books and movies, just as students my age regaled in singing the song from “Brady Bunch” or “Gilligan’s Island.” Times have changed, icons have changed, but kids have not.

Second, and because Harry Potter and Hogwarts are so iconic, colleges craft marketing messages around J. K. Rowling’s settings and characters. If Hogwarts is every kid’s idea of school, then it’s only natural for university offices of communications to use Rowling’s language to entice potential applicants.

I don’t disagree with the editorial one whit. And I applaud the author’s desire to focus her college search on what really matters in a school: academics.

But the writer is both unusual in her focus and naive in her understanding of how colleges and universities operate. The comparisons to Hogwarts are lost on this young woman, but they resonate with the vast majority of prospective students today.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant in Colorado

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