From Publishers Weekly
The emphasis in college applications on balancing grades and extracurricular activities appears benignly positive at first glance. Yet, as Karabel explains, the top Ivy League schools created this formula in the 1920s because they were uncomfortable with the number of Jewish students accepted when applicants were judged solely on their grades. The search for prospective freshmen with "character" was, with varying explicitness, an effort to maintain the slowly declining Protestant establishment. At one point, Karabel says in this stimulating study of admissions policies, Harvard codified a policy of accepting applicants with weak academic credentials who could better appreciate the school's social opportunities, while Princeton promised to accept any alumnus's son with even the faintest hope of graduation. Karabel, a sociologist who once served on UC-Berkeley's admissions committee, extensively covers the "Jewish problem" at the Big Three colleges, but also tackles the cultural shifts that lowered the barriers for African-American students and ultimately led to the admission of women. The detailed analysis of the role of university presidents and other campus administrators in first stifling, then abetting ethnic diversity in the student body is so comprehensive, however, that his final remarks on the remaining lack of socioeconomic diversity feel like tacked on. (Oct. 26)
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When gifted high-school students apply to the nation's most elite universities, they often have no idea just how admissions officers will determine their fate. But after poring over countless applicant files and institutional memos, one relentless Berkeley sociologist has unraveled the mystery. Focusing on America's Big Three (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton), Karabel recounts how the admissions office first emerged in the 1920s as an academic innovation designed to protect WASP privilege against the claims of the bright but socially marginal children of Jewish immigrants. By the time these anti-Semitic admissions policies ended, administrators had discovered the institutional utility of nonacademic admissions standards: Karabel shows in provocative detail how for decades the very university executives who have preached equal opportunity have extended special advantages to the offspring of wealthy alumni. He also addresses the first significant attempts to diversify student bodies in the 1960s and assesses the complex effects of affirmative-action policies. A useful overview of a still-controversial subject. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved