Richard Moll was brokenhearted when he was rejected by Princeton University. Now he sings about it.
Moll, a former college admissions officer, has written a musical review on the unlikely subject of trying to get into college. His is the only musical known to include references to the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Last week the 53-year-old educator presented his mini-musical, "Playing the Selective College Admissions Game," to 500 college aspirants and their parents at Beverly Hills High School. It was the second performance of the show for Moll, who has lectured and written extensively about coping with the admissions process.
Nobody left the auditorium humming "Take Me," Moll's rousing number about the plight of the nice but not notably gifted high school student who doesn't know how to persuade the prestigious college of his choice to choose him.
But the show appeared to be a hit nonetheless. "He explained things very well, and he kept us entertained," said Brett Walkow, a 15-year-old sophomore who wants to go to the University of California at Irvine.
Moll said his academic musicale is an attempt to relieve some of the anguish most students and their parents experience while they apply to colleges and wait for the results. A former dean of admissions at UC Santa Cruz and Vassar and Bowdoin colleges, Moll said he decided to add original songs to his presentation because he loves to write them and they seem to "lift kids' spirits and give them confidence."
"We would beg you to have a few moments of not taking this too seriously," he advised the audience.
Moll begins his show by telling the audience, "I am a Princeton reject." A graduate of Duke University and Yale Divinity School, Moll describes his disappointment, still vivid after 35 years, at being rebuffed by Princeton, the only college he applied to.
"My parents and I were stunned when the letter from Princeton was so thin, which means rejection," he recalled.
"I was so destroyed at the time," he said. "Now that I'm in the business, I'm glad it happened because now I know what a rejection letter is."
Princeton sent Moll a form letter with the rejection box checked. As a result, he said, he always took great care to write rejection letters that were as unhurtful as possible.
Whenever Moll's talk threatened to turn tragic or tedious, he pounded out a song. During the performance he was joined by Beverly Hills junior Jennifer Gordon. Moll, who divides his time between Manhattan and San Francisco, had rehearsed with Gordon over the telephone. The audience roared as Gordon belted out:
I need Stanford or my life is done.
Texas State's not my idea of fun.
Power, money, self-respect's at stake.
I need a break. Give me a break.
According to Vivian Saatjian-Green, head counselor at Beverly Hills, about 60 of the school's 620 seniors apply to Stanford. Some years 15 are admitted, she said. Last year, only three got in.
"Part of my message is, 'Life doesn't end, kids, if you don't get into your first-choice college,' as people in this pressure cooker probably think," Moll said before the show.
Moll dedicates his program to mothers, including his own. "We in admissions know that it is the mothers who are applying for college," he said. He praised mothers for leading their offspring through the application process.
It is important for parents and children to communicate at this time, Moll believes. "Parents feel as judged as young people," he said.
Moll said he realized just how serious and stressful the admissions rite could be when a man died in the waiting room at Bowdoin in the course of his son's admissions interview.
Moll's program contained practical advice on how to survive applying, much of it based on his experience inside admissions offices. He told the students that they are lucky to be applying to college at a time when there is a relatively small pool of students to choose from. (The number of American high school graduates is expected to drop about 25% between 1980 and 1990, he said). He warned, however, that the most selective colleges are more selective than ever.
He advised the girls in the audience to consider women's colleges, where, he said, there is often less sexism than on co-ed campuses. He urged students to resist the pressure to go to the most prestigious college that accepts them if it doesn't really fit their needs and wants. Some of his tips were as basic as: "If you are asking a teacher to write for you, find a teacher who can write."
He reminded students that if they choose to go to Bowdoin, which is in Brunswick, Me., they will be there for four cold Februarys as well as for four fine Octobers.
Moll, who looks like an Ivy League kind of guy in his bow tie, began writing songs in high school and wrote two original musicals at Duke. He also wrote music and lyrics for various political campaigns. "I've never written for a candidate that won," said Moll, citing George Lodge, who lost a U.S. Senate race to Ted Kennedy despite Moll's satiric "Are You Ready, Teddy, to Walk Out on the Senate Floor?"
Moll said his hero and role model is Tom Lehrer, the mathematician and writer of topical songs who was his colleague at Santa Cruz. "When Tom Lehrer first heard me doing my musical numbers, I felt I was pitching to Joe DiMaggio," he said.
Now a writer and free-lance academic consultant, Moll plans to take his admissions musical on the road. His next stop locally is Wednesday at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks.
Moll left his audience with a blessing.
"May you all get into everywhere!"