Malia Obama, perhaps the nation’s most eligible 2016 college applicant, is winnowing a list of Ivy League schools, liberal-arts colleges and at least one top-ranked public university.
WASHINGTON — It is college-application season in America, including at the White House, where Malia Obama, a senior at the elite Sidwell Friends School in Washington, is in the middle of the pressure-filled process of writing personal essays, asking for teacher recommendations and narrowing her choices.
Reports from college newspapers and conversations with campus tour guides indicate that Malia, 17, perhaps the nation’s most eligible 2016 college applicant, is winnowing a list of Ivy League schools, liberal-arts colleges and at least one top-ranked public university.
Her current grades and SAT scores are not publicly known — the first lady’s office declined to comment for this article — but President Obama told students in Des Moines, Iowa, that his daughter was a “hard worker” and that he does not expect her to “start feeling a little slack” in her senior year.
“One piece of advice that I’ve given her is not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college,” Obama told the group that included high-school students this past month. And, he added, “Just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.’’
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In 2009, when Malia was all of 11, Obama announced to the world that she had gotten a 73 on a science test. “So she came home, and she was depressed,” the president said during a speech in Madison, Wisc. But Malia, he said, studied hard and soon earned 95 on another test.
So far, Malia has toured six of the eight Ivies — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania and Brown — as well as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. She has also visited New York University, Tufts, Barnard and Wesleyan.
Not surprisingly, Obama and his large entourage have not tagged along. On some trips, even Michelle Obama has stayed behind, letting family friends show her daughter around. Students have still angled for selfies and Snapchats when they recognize Malia, but a low-key search process is most likely what the White House is aiming for, said Lisa Caputo, the press secretary to Hillary Rodham Clinton when the first daughter, Chelsea (Stanford ’01), was looking for colleges in the 1990s.
“You want to let them get a feel — what’s the vibe on campus — without being followed by a whole swarm of people,” Caputo said.
The colleges have happily cooperated. At Columbia, the president’s alma mater, Malia was shown around by Zila Reyes Acosta-Grimes, a third-year law-school student serving on the university senate whose father is a prominent New York jurist. At Yale, the college’s head student tour guide, Jeremy Hutton — once a competitor in the Mr. Yale beauty pageant — showed off the Gothic campus. At Harvard, Malia toured the Yard with Taylor Nides, a fellow senior from Sidwell and the daughter of Thomas Nides, a former deputy secretary of state under Hillary Clinton, and Virginia Moseley, the deputy Washington bureau chief at CNN.
Many schools Malia has visited have a claim on her potential interests. Stanford offers a chance to spend four years away from the East Coast under the radar. NYU boasts the best film program. Princeton, Michelle Obama’s alma mater, continues to have close ties to her family (the first lady’s niece, Leslie Robinson, now plays on Princeton’s women’s basketball team).
And then there is Harvard, where her parents both went to law school.
Strong extracurricular activities are important, and Malia Obama has exotic ones. This past summer, she had a brief internship in New York City on the HBO series “Girls,” and in the summer of 2014 was a production assistant on CBS’ “Extant,” a series produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Halle Berry.
“Without question, the places and people she has been exposed to would be fodder for a more curious mind and wider personal knowledge than her peers — and that can’t help but be apparent in her college-entrance applications and interviews,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian of presidential families at the National First Ladies’ Library.
When Malia was spotted in August 2014 wearing a Stanford T-shirt on a bike ride in Martha’s Vineyard, bloggers declared the contest all but done.