University of Toronto

LANE: Just don’t let her [Lorelai] change the date [of her wedding].
RORY: Not going to happen. Max is teaching a summer course at the University of Toronto, so if you’re back by the end of the summer, it’ll be fine.

The University of Toronto is a public university in the city of Toronto, Ontario. It is one of the oldest universities in Canada, and is the highest ranked university in the country, named among the best in the world. First founded by royal charter in 1827 and controlled by the Church of England, it changed its name in 1850 after becoming a secular instiution.

The university’s summer programs take place over 3-6 weeks, which fits in with Max being away until early August (so in fact the wedding could be moved up, causing Lane to miss it). Presumably Max is teaching classes in English Literature.

Gilmore Girls was first filmed in Unionville, on the outskirts of Toronto, so this seems like a gesture towards the show’s beginnings (at one time, they considered filming the show in Toronto permanently).

“I need to find a retarded kid”

DEAN: Well, Rory, it’s summer. I mean, summer’s the time to hang out and kick back.
RORY: I can’t hang out or kick back. I need to find a retarded kid and teach him how to play softball. Oh God, listen to me. I am horrible. I am under qualified and horrible.

This is the girl that Lorelai calls “the sweetest kid in the world”. Either Lorelai has rose-coloured glasses when it comes to her only child, or Rory has already been corrupted by her zeal to get into Harvard. Maybe both.

“I thought that was enough”

RORY: I’ve been studying my butt off my whole life and I really thought that that was enough, but then Paris tells me that everyone makes good grades and it’s the extras that put you over the top. And I thought that she was messing with me like she always does, but she’s right. I mean, it makes total sense.
DEAN: What does?
RORY: Good grades aren’t enough. I need to do things. I need to volunteer. I need to work for charity, I need to help the blind, the orphans, I don’t know. I just need to do something.

Rory has been truly naive in thinking that all she needed to do to get into Harvard is to study hard and get good grades. Her teachers should have given her far greater guidance on getting into college; it seems as if they are leaving it all until senior year. Both Rory’s grandparents went to university and could have given more help, but then again, their knowledge of college applications is out of date.

Rory herself has not given the reality of college much thought at all, so going to Harvard is almost purely a fantasy for her, where she strolls around historic buildings and gets to feel smart and important. At some point, surely when she started at a private school, she should have come to realise what would be needed to get into college.

Because of this gap in her knowledge, Rory believes Paris implicitly that she needs thousands of hours of volunteer work to apply to Harvard, and panics. She should have at least checked with her teacher and her mother’s boyfriend, Max Medina before freaking out, or done a bit of research on the subject.

Paris and Volunteering

PARIS: When you apply to an Ivy League school, you need more than good grades and test scores to get you in. Every person who applies to Harvard has a perfect GPA and great test scores. It’s the extras that put you over the top. The clubs, charities, volunteering. You know.
RORY: Oh yeah, I know.

Paris explains to Rory what she should already know – to get into a top university like Harvard, you need something to set you apart from all the other excellent candidates.

Paris has been volunteering since she was about nine, and began by handing out cookies at the local children’s hospital (possibly the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford). By the age of ten she was running a study group for teenagers, probably through Chilton. She has also been a counsellor for a children’s summer camp, organised a literacy program for seniors, worked at a suicide prevention hotline (a truly terrifying thought), and a residential centre for runaways and homeless youth.

She has also adopted dolphins (you just send money to an organisation like The Oceanic Society), taught American Sign Language (perhaps through the American School for the Deaf in Hartford), and trained guide dogs (volunteers raise puppies and give them socialisation and basic training before handing them back so they can be trained as guide dogs; Paris may have done this through Guiding Eyes in Hartford.) We know Paris likes dogs, because her dog Skippy is said to have had a litter of puppies on Lorelai’s mini-dress that she borrowed: weirdly (or perhaps lazily by the writers) her dog has the same name as Rory’s unfortunate hamster.

Paris has done an insane amount of volunteering for a 16-17 year old girl, but in fact choosing this as a good method of getting into Harvard is almost certainly wrong. Colleges don’t seem to be really be that impressed by you doing huge amounts of random volunteer work (probably because anyone with half a brain and no life can rack up hours of unpaid work fairly easily).

What they really want to see is how your extracurricular activities demonstrate the kind of person you are, and the unique skills and interests that you have. For example, Paris wants to work in medical research, so the children’s hospital was a great start, but she didn’t stick with it. It would have been better to continue volunteering with just one or two organisations, and demonstrate that she had gained a leadership role and given real help to the community – maybe even won an award of some kind. Paris’ volunteering CV looks as if she’s desperately taken any role offered (and sending money to dolphins doesn’t look impressive to anyone).

Furthermore, it depends on the university how highly they rank volunteer work when assessing applications. It doesn’t seem to be extremely important for Harvard, which makes Paris’ efforts even more pointless.

Rory’s Summer School Classes

RORY: Oh, Henry, hi. Nice to see you.
HENRY: You too. What classes are you taking?
RORY: Shakespeare, physics, obscure Russian poetry.

Rory got a D for her first English Literature assignment, so it makes sense for her to enrol in two Literature classes to improve her grades further. One is the ubiquitous William Shakespeare, while the other is “obscure Russian poetry”, which doesn’t sound like a real subject. Possibly Rory is being facetious, and the subject is actually Nineteenth Century Russian Poets, or Modern Russian Poetry, or something like that. It may seem obscure to Rory, but probably isn’t – Chilton seems to cover the classics rather than anything left-of-field.

Rory has also enrolled in Physics, quite possibly towards credit in the next academic year, as she didn’t study Physics at Chilton in her sophomore year (Biology and Chemistry were her science subjects).

Henry is taking Trigonometry at summer school – just like Lane, this is his worst subject (an aversion of the stereotype that people of Asian heritage are gifted in mathematical subjects). Rory offers to help Henry with Trig, but we never see if she actually does so. It seems plausible enough since they’re both at summer school and Rory has experience in helping Lane with the subject.


Summer School

MADELINE: You doing the summer school thing too?
RORY: Uh, yeah.

In North America, schools and universities can offer academic programs which take place during the summer vacation. In high school, students may enrol in classes for credit which can improve their grade point average or be included on their academic record. Summer school can either make up for credits lost through absence or failure, accelerate progress, or lighten the course load for the year.

Summer school usually lasts for 3-5 weeks, although Louise complains about spending “the summer” at Chilton; she’s probably exaggerating. You don’t normally have to wear a school uniform to summer school, so Chilton is very unusual in expecting this. In fact, most schools make money by attracting students from outside their school, especially international students, so a uniform would actually by impractical.

Rory missed the first few weeks of the academic year at Chilton, and at first struggled to keep up, so it makes sense for her to enrol in summer school.

Princess Grace

PARIS: You have to go to college.
LOUISE: Princess Grace didn’t go to college.

Princess Grace, born Grace Kelly (1929-1982) was an American actress who began her career on television and starred in several Alfred Hitchcock films, such as Dial M for Murder (1953), Rear Window (1953), and To Catch a Thief (1955). She also starred in the classic western High Noon (1952) and the musical High Society (1956), winning a Best Actress at the Academy Awards for The Country Girl (1954).

She retired from acting to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, and having three children. As a princess, she founded children’s charity AMADE, formed the Princess Grace Foundation for artisans in Monaco, and became known as a fashion icon, being inducted into the Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1960.

Louise is correct – Princess Grace, who came from a wealthy family and attended prestigious private schools, was rejected by Bennington College in 1947, due to her low scores in Mathematics. However, she graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, the oldest acting school in the English-speaking world, so she did have a distinguished tertiary education.