Five Things the Netflix Show “Never Have I Ever” Got Right About College Admissions (And the One Thing They Missed!)

“This little college thing, this is just a bump in the road”

Dr. Jaime Ryan from “Never Have I Ever”

I enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s Netflix program, “Never Have I Ever” that chronicles a teenager, Devi Vishwakumar, through her high school career. As Devi and her peers approached the college application journey, I thought the show did some great things to highlight different aspects of college admissions. (Spoiler alert, if you haven’t finished the final season, you might want to stop reading). Here are some of the things that they got right:

  1. They profiled Arizona State University. One of the leads in the show, Paxton Hall-Yoshida, attends this school, has a rough start and withdraws. When he wants to go back, he calls the school and starts to explain why he left. They tell him that there is no need to explain and they welcome him back by saying, “Congratulations on being a Sun Devil again”. ASU is well known in higher education as a school that admits all sorts of students and has strong outcomes. They have an 88% acceptance rate and they retain 86% of their first year students. I think it is awesome that they showcased a school like this on the show. 
  1. One of the most popular kids in the school, Paxton Hall-Yoshida, goes to ASU and struggles. That happens! Confident students can go away to college and have a challenging time.
  1. One of the characters, Fabiola, is admitted to Princeton University. She is interested in robotics and learns that Howard University has a program that is exactly what she wants. After careful research, she chooses to forego the more selective school because she feels that Howard has the better program for her. Sometimes the less selective school is a better fit.
  1. Devi’s friend, Eleanor, decides that college is not for her and pursues a career out of high school. College is not the best option right after high school for every teenager.
  1. Devi only applies to colleges in the Ivy League and she is not accepted to any of them. She is only waitlisted at Princeton. This is not an unusual outcome. One of the hardest things to convey to families is the reality of ultra-selective college admissions. Students that apply to selective schools cannot count on being admitted. And I thought it was great that they modeled this reality on “Never Have I Ever”.

So what aspect of the series did I think that they missed the mark? In the end, Devi is in constant contact with the Princeton admissions rep and ultimately gets off the waitlist. I am not saying that this is impossible, but it is highly unlikely (and the fact that Devi is in regular phone contact with her admissions representative is also not something I have ever seen.) Take a look at some data on acceptances from the Princeton waitlist over the last ten years:

YearWaitlist OffersWaitlist Acceptances% Accepted From Waitlist
Average 2012-2021117284093.40%

As you can see, most years, there is a minuscule chance of Princeton accepting students from the waitlist, specifically a 3.4% chance. If you take away the numbers from 2021, the admit rate drops to 2.4%. So kudos to Mindy Kaling and the crew that produced this fun series. Just remember that the waitlist is usually closer to a no than a yes!

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