By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Nicholas Fandos, nytimes.com
Malia Obama, the older daughter of President Obama, plans to attend Harvard University beginning in the fall of 2017, the White House announced on Sunday, waiting until her father leaves office to begin her college career.
Malia’s much-speculated-upon decision, announced in a news release after months of official silence from the White House about her college search process, will make her the latest in a long line of presidential children to attend the elite university in Cambridge, Mass. Both of her parents attended law school there.
“The President and Mrs. Obama announced today that their daughter Malia will attend Harvard University in the fall of 2017 as a member of the Class of 2021. Malia will take a gap year before beginning school,” the White House said in a statement.
In deferring her start date until 2017, Malia, 17, is availing herself of the opportunity to take a “gap year,” a popular option for high school seniors who are seeking experiences outside the classroom — some in far-flung parts of the world — before they begin pursuing a degree. Harvard actively encourages admitted students to do so.
It may also yield a less scrutinized freshman-year experience for Malia, whose parents have worked vigilantly to keep her out of the public eye during her years in the White House and hope to shield her from such attention as a college student.
“When you’re a presidential has-been, the rest of your life you’re famous, you’re a target, you’re in a security bubble, but it’s not the same,” said Gil Troy, a presidential historian at McGill University and the author of “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.” “The kids can get to at least some level of irrelevance that they absolutely cannot get when they’re still in the White House.”
Malia visited Harvard and a handful of other Ivy League and liberal arts schools last March on the East Coast, setting off speculation about where she might go. But the White House has steadfastly refused to comment on her college deliberations, even last month when she accompanied Mr. Obama on a trip to California, prompting whispers that she was giving Stanford University a final look before committing herself there.
Harvard accepted 5.2 percent of applicants this year, making this admissions cycle the most selective in its nearly four-century history.
When she arrives at Harvard, Malia will join a long list of presidential children who have attended, including John Quincy Adams and his son, John Adams II; Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert; the sons of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt; Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy; and George W. Bush, who went to business school there.
The university has also long been a popular destination for the children of foreign leaders.
Malia, who turns 18 in July, is a senior at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School here. The school sends a handful of students to Harvard most years.