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Teen Upset After His Ivy League Cousin Gives Him A Blunt Reality Check About Applying To Harvard

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We all know that one of the best ways to help the people we love is to be honest with them.

But there are limits to how honest we have to be, or how we go about communicating those truths.

One guy clearly didn’t understand that brutal honesty wasn’t his only option, according to the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.

Redditor throwaway8875555 decided it was time to be honest with his cousin about his chances of being accepted by Harvard University.

But when he was criticized for his brutal honesty, the Original Poster (OP) wondered if he could have responded in a nicer way.

He asked the sub:

“AITA for telling my cousin, ‘Don’t bother applying to Harvard, they’re gonna take one look at your application and throw it on the ‘reject’ pile’?”

The OP recently received a text from his cousin.

“My cousin (17 [Male]) is a senior in high school and he just started the college application process.”

“I (20 [Male]) only see him during the holidays, so we’re not particularly close.”

“When I was in the middle of a very nasty problem set, he texted me, asking for advice on preparing his Harvard application.”

“I think he wanted to ask for my advice in particular because I’m currently attending an Ivy.”

The OP tried an indirect approach first.

“I asked him for his GPA, class rank, and extracurricular activities.”

“He said that his GPA was 3.65, his class rank was 125/491, and he doesn’t do anything after school besides play Valorant and League.”

“I tried dissuading him by saying that Ivies routinely reject people with perfect GPAs.”

“He didn’t get the hint and asked me if I could take a look at his first draft.”

Then the OP became brutally honest.

“I was already in a not-so-great mood after being interrupted, so I straight up told him:”

“‘Look, when I was a freshman, my roommate was an International Mathematics Olympiad medalist, and the guy across the hall was ranked #6 nationally in his sport. That’s the caliber of people you’re competing with. So don’t bother applying to Harvard, they’re gonna take one look at your application and throw it on the ‘reject’ pile.'”

“I then turned my phone off and went back to my problem set.”

The cousin was hurt by the OP’s honesty.

“Well, I woke up to a barrage of texts from my aunt and uncle.”

“They said my response was beyond rude and made my cousin extremely upset, as he has been dreaming about attending Harvard for the past 5 years.”

“I told my aunt and uncle that it was about time someone gave him a reality check.”

Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some said the OP should have gone with a kinder option.

“There were a couple of different excuses/reasons OP could’ve used.”

“Excuses. ‘I don’t have the time to look at it,’ or ‘This is something your counselor can help with,’ or ‘Your (English) teacher can look over your draft, I can’t.'”

“He could have found a way to gracefully exit the conversation. Even if aunt and uncle came down on OP, he could have repeated an excuse or not responded.”

“Redirect. ‘Harvard is a really hard school to get into, do you have a plan B? Keep/start working on it,’ or ‘Harvard requires x, and you have y. I’m not sure you could even apply,’ or ‘Would you be interested in starting college at your Plan B, then transferring over to Harvard after x happens?'”

“OP could have added to cousin’s game plan without being insulting or degrading. If OP’s cousin shrugged OP’s redirection off, then OP can revert back to excuses.”

“Not respond. This was a text from OP’s cousin. OP could have simply ignored the text until he had some free time, or OP could have just used the excuse, ‘I never got your message.'”

“Or OP could have said, ‘This is a good question. Can we schedule a time where I can help you more thoroughly?’ This was not an in-person confrontation, where OP was cornered. This was a text message, where OP could have waited to respond to it.”

“This is why OP is TA. He could have dodged or redirected. But instead, he was overtly rude and snapped with little provocation from his cousin.”

“OP, you had a lot of different options to deal with your overly enthusiastic cousin but you were very cruel and hurtful to him. YTA”iamasaltshaker

“I also want to throw one other possible response into the ring:”

“‘It’s hard for undergrad acceptance, but did you know if you apply yourself during your bachelor’s, you could get there for grad school?'”

“I know 4 people personally off the top of my head who went to lower-tier universities for undergrad but went to finish their studies at Ivies.”

“Just follow the universal rule: Don’t be a d**k just because you can.”


“Maybe the OP’s cousin was doing his best the whole time. Even if the cousin doesn’t have what it takes to get into Harvard, the OP was downright rude and hurtful.”

“This isn’t ‘coddling to an idiot,’ it’s about having common decency! Telling his cousin, ‘I’m a bit busy and can’t help you,’ or just proofreading the letter would have been so much less hurtful!”Born2Explore11

Others said the OP also could have given the advice the cousin asked for.

“Or, he could have given genuine advice! Seriously, it doesn’t take much time to text him, ‘Try to write an essay emphasizing what makes you unique and what you could bring to Harvard that most people can’t.’ It’s one text – the cousin just asked for advice!”

“Yes, it wasn’t a great time – OP was busy. …so he could have just said that. ‘Sorry, really busy right now, I’ll get back to you later this week.’ And then sent over some advice.”

“Advice is cheap.”

“To me, seems like the cousin caught OP at a bad time, when he was busy and already frustrated for other reasons. Part of becoming an adult is being able to control anger and irritation when things like that happen (perfectly reasonable question, just asked at a bad time).”DKBDV

“I had a 3.9 GPA in high school and I was dissuaded from applying to ivy type schools by my cousin who had graduated with a 4.0.”

“While it might be true that I wouldn’t have gotten in, I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering. Unless someone is asking for a ridiculous amount of money to apply to colleges or has genuinely done poor in high school, they should not ever be discouraged from applying to the schools they hope to attend.”supercharr

“I just started at Harvard as a freshman, and while OP is correct that his cousin wouldn’t get in just based on his grades and scores, not even taking extracurriculars into account, he could’ve worded it a little more kindly.”

“A lot of kids I know who want to go to Harvard and realistically don’t have the grades and scores to get in (or the extracurriculars) ask me for advice.”

“I usually just give them some statistics about the average GPA and ACT/SAT of incoming Harvard freshmen and tell them the kind of extracurriculars people here had to do to get in. That usually helps them gain perspective.”

“There’s no need to make it personal and be harsh about it. Just give the numbers, and that usually makes it clear to those who realistically don’t have much of a chance. I also tell them to make sure they apply to match and safety schools, not just schools with very low acceptance rates.”mariposaballine

Some, on the other hand, thought the cousin should have known better already.

“On the other hand, if something has been your dream for 5 years, why hasn’t be been working towards it? How can it be your dream for that long and you not have the first clue how hard it is to get in?”

“I’m not even American and even I know that without a millionaire daddy donating a new library building, this kid is not getting in.”

“Since when is coddling idiots who are being wilfully ignorant a good thing?”_-Loki

“I gotta say though, if the kid has been DREAMING of going to Harvard but put little effort in, what did he expect?”bobdown33

“OP may have been blunt, but c’mon dude, how dense are you to know nothing about applying to/the requirements for your supposed dream school?”Redundant_fox221

“As a senior, he just doesn’t have time to improve himself at this point.”

“It seems kinda true that Harvard was a ‘dream.’ People who actually attend Harvard don’t dream about it, they put their nose to the grindstone and work on that future. Dreams do not get acceptance letters, only hard work (or privilege).”Dirtydirtyf**

The OP was sure that he did the right thing by setting the record straight with his cousin, but his cousin’s family didn’t see it that way, and the subReddit predominantly didn’t, either.

Though a few Redditors agreed with him, most said he could have simply given his cousin the advice he asked for, or he could have put the tough news in nicer words, something to comfort his cousin during what would likely be a difficult time.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit