Book Recommendation - The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College

 My favorite bookstore in the world, Asian chain Kinokuniya. This one located in one of the world's most ridiculous malls, the Dubai Mall

My favorite bookstore in the world, Asian chain Kinokuniya. This one located in one of the world's most ridiculous malls, the Dubai Mall

A family friend of mine recently sent a copy of journalist Jacques Steinberg's The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College

Published in 2003, the Offce of Admissions for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut grants full access to their admissions process. Little has changed at most selective universities, and Steinberg writes at the beginning of an upward trend in college applications. In 2000, Wesleyan and universities around the country saw record numbers. UT has doubled their total number of applicants over the past ten years.

In a process that often seems opaque, confusing, and above all, stressful, Steinberg injects humanity into the inhumane. From start to finish, he follows the biographies and careers of the admissions counselors assigned for recruiting and reviewing applicants. He interviews students before, during, and after acceptance. The student interviews are most telling because, during senior year, gaining admission to their dream university seems like a life and death struggle. Once they enroll, most realize they are doing just fine. Some even flourish in their second and third choice universities.

This book certainly opened my eyes to how "committee by review" works at highly competitive universities. Above all, admissions counselors care about "getting it right" and crafting a class that best suits the needs of their students and the institution. The counselors concede the myriad of reasons how admission is imperfect and unfair, and they emphasize students focus on factors they can control and not worry about the things they can't.

UT, however, does not review by committee. There aren't any arguments about takings this student versus that one. Instead, with almost 50,000 applications enrolling a class of 8,000, the process is more fragmented than Wesleyan's that seeks to enroll about 750 each year. Students are admitted or denied in "cells" based on how they perform on the Academic and Personal Achievement Indices. No "cells" are ever split up. One exception is UT Honors Programs that have complete leeway in who they admit and deny. 

I highly recommend reading this timeless investigation into the inner workings of an admissions office at one of America's premier institutions for undergraduate education.