“Admission” by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Grand Central Publishing)
Before the soon-to-be-released movie “Admission,” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, there was the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Princeton faculty wife and sometime admissions reader
If you’ve always wanted to know what happens behind the doors of Ivy League college admissions offices—and prefer reading novels to non-fiction—this book’s for you. Author Jean Hanff Korelitz spent 2006 to 2007 working as an application reader at Princeton University to do her research for this fact-filled fiction. In her novel “Admission,” first published in 2009 and due to be reissued soon as a movie tie-in, she takes us inside the secretive process.
Like the author, the book’s protagonist Portia Nathan works in admissions at Princeton and is obsessed with her job. When the story opens, she’s headed to New England—her new territory—where she’ll be visiting the elite prep schools, some public high schools and one new progressive private school based on a farm. As she flies north, we look over Portia’s shoulder while she reads through students’ application folders and considers whether they are Princeton material. It is just the first of many such sessions.
The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg (Penguin Books)
First published a decade ago, Jacques Steinberg’s book “The Gatekeepers” still offers a revealing window into how the college admissions process really works
Every fall, as almost three quarters of American high school seniors prepare to apply to college, a new crop of teenagers and their parents wonder: who gets into the top schools and why? As anyone involved can tell you, it’s not based only on grades and test scores. Those are just two of many factors, some quite mysterious. In fact, how admissions offices at the most competitive colleges weigh those factors and make their decisions has long been a closely guarded secret. Oh, to be a fly on one of those ivy-covered walls!
A little over a decade ago, New York Times education writer Jacques Steinberg convinced Wesleyan University to let him be that fly. At the time, Wesleyan was a well-respected and up-and-coming school profiting from the rapidly multiplying number of college applicants in this country. As Steinberg describes it, the pyramid of elite colleges worked like a tower of champagne glasses, with applicants who didn’t quite make it into the Ivy League spilling down into the next tier of schools, which included Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Middlebury, Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore and Wesleyan.
If you’re concerned with quality education, that’s a simplistic way to think about any of these schools, each of which offers an excellent education and has unique qualities of its own. But if you’re tracking admissions statistics and developing marketing strategies, the image of a champagne pyramid makes perfect sense.