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Princeton student: Ivy League made me a ‘social-climbing weasel’

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You won’t catch Scott Newman whistling “Old Nassau.” He gave preppy Princeton University the finger and fled as far away from New Jersey as he could just one year before graduation. The class of 2021 history major, who is finishing his degree remotely, is now living nearly 10,000 miles off-campus in sunny Sydney, Australia, and he hopes to never darken Tiger territory again.

“One of the best things about Australia is that no one even knows what Princeton is,” the 22-year-old told The Post. “I’m grateful that I got such a great education, but I regret going to Princeton. I wouldn’t send my kids there, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.”

On paper, Newman is just the sort of kid you’d expect to excel at a school like Princeton. A triplet, he grew up in a wealthy family on the Upper East Side. He went to boarding school at Lawrenceville, in New Jersey, and spent summers in Paris or the South of France.

But as a freshman, Newman was horrified by the unfriendly, uninspired and corporatized culture on campus — where prestige-intoxicated students are groomed for soul-crushing careers in investment banking, consulting and tech. Now, in his senior year, he’s published a provocative memoir, “The Night Before the Morning After” (New Degree Press), that spills the beans on the supposedly high-minded institution and its sycophantic students.   

“Princeton, at least to a degree, made me into a social-climbing weasel and it was f - - king disgusting,” writes Newman in his book, channeling his literary heroes Hunter S. Thompson, Jay McInerney and fellow Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Like everyone else, I got sucked into the vortex — going to all the dinners, sending all the follow-up networking e-mails and taking for granted that investment banking was where I was headed. Eventually, I had the will power to pull myself out, but it wasn’t easy.”

He’s not dropping out of school this late in the game, but upon reflection, Newman said that his time would have been better spent hitchhiking, chatting to strangers in dive bars and making mistakes, rather than in pursuit of a distinguished diploma. He now plans to write full-time after graduation.

“I regret not making friends,” Newman wrote of the sacrifices he made to get to Princeton. “I regret not taking sports seriously and getting the experience of really being a part of a team. I regret skipping birthdays and plays, school dances and social events, and I regret keeping my nose so f - - king clean… It wasn’t worth it. More than anything, I regret not getting into any trouble.”

His tell-all, among other formative life events, also reveals how he, and other privileged kids, game the elite college system — not through bribery a la last year’s college admissions scandal, but by putting on a show.

They play an angle

Newman got into 19 of the US’s top universities and six out the eight Ivies through a process that often felt like a deeply cynical exercise in résumé padding, flattery and playing an angle.

“I looked at it rationally,” he said. “When you have single-digit acceptance rates, when you take just six out of 100 kids, it’s not about being smart or well-rounded, it’s about knowing how to play the game better.”

Newman claimed that Ivy League schools prefer students “who are super devoted to one super specific progressive cause.” So, as a writer and burgeoning historian, he focused on crafting the world’s most superabundant curriculum vitae that played to those strengths.

He wrote for the student newspaper and literary magazine. He was the editor-in-chief of Lawrenceville’s history publication. He was on the diversity council and did mock trial. He was invited to the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Bread Loaf. Over the summers, he took classes in Paris on the French Enlightenment and creative writing at the Paris American Academy. He joined a program called Seeds of Peace that facilitated dialogue on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He got a scholarship from the State Department to study Arabic in Jordan. He interned in the office of Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise — who he calls “a real-life Frank Underwood.”

He even co-founded his own international news company with 12 staff editors in 10 countries.

Scott Newman
Scott Newman
Zoe Kemp

“Colleges ate that up, because it shows leadership and initiative,” he said, “and it looks like you are making the world a better place by bringing global perspectives together. Basically, it was an exercise in résumé padding. Sure, I cared about these causes, but looking back now, in the words of Walter White: ‘I did it for me.’ I wasn’t trying to save the world. I was trying to get into school.”

They’re chameleons  

A college essay is “no different than creating a Tinder, Bumble or Instagram profile,” Newman said. “You are presenting a version of yourself that you know the colleges are going to like.”

So to get in, you’ll need to bludgeon your inner Holden Caulfield and be a phony.

“They don’t want genuinely interesting people,” Newman writes of the nation’s top schools. “All they want is some kid interested in the flavor of the day, which at the time that I was applying to colleges and dealing with this, was save-the-world pandering.”

In reality, Newman wrote that he’s the type to “spill beer on fellow Guns N’ Roses-loving concert-goers.” Shakespeare is fine, he added, but for him, Charles Bukowski is just as good. And the day he got the call that he’d been accepted to Princeton, he was kicking back in bed in his boxers, watching Netflix and drinking a Corona.

Needless to say, those details never made the cut.

They exploit contacts

Newman was ultimately rejected from Yale and waitlisted at Harvard and Princeton. What tipped the scales, he said, was relentless networking.

“I was going crazy,” he said. “I felt cheated. So I visited [Princeton’s] campus over spring break, and I charmed my way into their pants, metaphorically.”

Newman said that his campaign to secure his spot began with gushy letters to professors. He told them he was a high-school senior fascinated by their research who would love to sit in on a class. After sitting in, he introduced himself and kept the conversation going over e-mail.

He contacted “a girl who had won a big student prize” and asked her to give him a tour of campus. He introduced himself to the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. And he leveraged all of those contacts into letters of recommendation and clout that he included in a Hail Mary letter to admissions.

It said: “I’ve been admitted to some great schools, yada yada yada, but my heart lies with Princeton.”

“I sent a version of the same letter to Harvard,” he said with a laugh.

They sell their souls

Newman describes his college peers as socially stunted “weirdos” who worship at the altar of Mammon. Ironically, they started out as progressively minded dreamers, he said.

“A lot of Princeton students started out wanting to be doctors or do good in the world,” he said. “But that goes away really quickly under the pressure to work in the Holy Trinity of banking, consulting or tech.”

Newman, for instance, had dreamed of becoming a writer, but after a little time at Princeton, he “felt that banking was the thing to do.”

Worse still, Newman said most of his peers don’t even need the elevated income. A year at Princeton (including tuition, room and board, and more), will currently set you back $75,210. While most elite schools provide aid for low-income students, kids like Newman have family that can afford that and then some. It’s all about status.

“They’re not doing it for the money,” he wrote. “They’re doing it for the prestige. That desire to get a prestige orgasm, I think, pervades all of Princeton.”

To keep up, socially ambitious students live in fear of making a mistake or even thinking a thought that might hurt their chances of ascending the corporate ladder.

“It’s an environment that stifles any kind of creativity,” he said. “Kids aren’t talking about Kierkegaard or Hegel. They are strategizing about how to look good for Goldman Sachs. It’s all about being part of an elite club.”

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