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The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (.) Hardcover – October 26, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: .
  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618574581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618574582
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Maddi Hausmann Sojourner on March 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I was absolutely riveted to this book for 3 weeks. I read every single one of those footnotes that was more than a bibliographical entry, as well. Why? Because Jerome Karabel has taken a fairly esoteric subject and made it interesting, important, revealing, "juicy" and downright enjoyable.

Karabel shows how the current admissions policies of the Big Three (Harvard, Yale and Princeton) came about in trying to restrict admissions by the "wrong kind," namely Jews, in the 1920s. He follows the policies, unstated rules, and goals of the three colleges' admission departments to the end of the 20th century, covering outright racism, minority outreach, coeducation, the restrictions on Asians that paralleled the earlier ones on Jews (that never quite went away), and most of all, the search for academically qualified students who were capable of paying their way.

Karabel' discovered that the Big Three worried over the number of students with high SATs who also had family income sufficient to pay their tuition. Coeducation was not done in the name of women's liberation but to increase the limited wealthy applicant pool, and also to prevent desireable male students from attending other co-ed schools.

As one of The Chosen (Princeton '82), I often wondered why the Admissions Office made the decisions they did. Karabel went into the nuts and bolts of how all three of the college's Admissions Offices worked their way through an increasing number of applications. Why were 6 applicants admitted from my college-prep school but only 1 or 2 from the nearby public schools with four times the class size?
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Beatrix Potter on October 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree it was a little long, but still think it was a great book. For anyone who thinks they wouldn't be interested in the history of admissions to Yale, Princeton and Harvard, I would encourage them to approach it rather as a cultural/social history. What I found most compelling and interesting is the reflection of our own American society as it manifested itself (and no doubt continues to manifest itself) in university admissions policies. I was particularly surprised and disturbed by some of the overtly discriminatory policies implemented by persons of substantial education and keen intellect.
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66 of 77 people found the following review helpful By John Osander on October 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Never met Karabel, though I did admissions way back a decade after mid-century, and know most of the folks he quotes and profiles, and know the issues faced. I saw the atrocities and hints of better paths to social equality, as practiced in the three colleges he uses as a focus. Jerome Karabel, younger a bit than I, has compiled what stands as a full "social history," an inside look at how what we prefer not to call a class system (with bias, bigotry, discrimination, even virtues rewarded) characterized our recent past--and continues. Karabel's precise and factual; the good and bad show up in the work of selecting students for a college some while rejecting very strong other students (a pretty crazy practice, justified with much defensive rhetoric). But the good and bad practices have persisted, ebbing and flowing, very bad in the 1920s, not very academically oriented in mid-century, perhaps peaking with the positive movements in the late 60s and early 70s, only to level and then decline at century end.

Without indexing "Iraq," "CIA," "WMD," "blue and red states," Karabel provides enough material to initiate the needed National Public debate that might push at least one of political parties toward, indeed, a reasonable and enlightened 2008 Presidential Platform. We can hope.

John Osander, Director of Admission, Princeton 1965-1971
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kajetan on November 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best academic works I have ever read, and worth purchasing just for the treasure trove of research findings mined from the archives of Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Those findings are presented in a manner that would do any advocate proud -- by letting them speak for themselves in a very well organized fashion, Karabel makes them utterly compelling. It really should be required reading for anyone seeking to be a historian, as well as for all secondary schools seeking admission to an elite university (and their admissions counselors).

The taxonomy of the book, by era and theme, is the key -- and it is not something that you will want to sit down and read from cover to cover. But it rewards reading in essay fashion, starting with era and issues, most important to you -- and you can move back and forth within it quite easily to follow the threads or themes of most interset to you.

I purchased this in Harvard Square as my daughter visited colleges in her senior year of high school -- 30 years ago I attended one of these schools, and found the research findings (the writing can best be described as sufficient and workmanlike) to be like a series of epiphanies that explained much of what I did not understand when I attended. Schools, driven by a class system, now driven by a need for funds and for smart students, caught up in a kind of "parallel play" in their competition for students. Rank, articulated discrimination against applications of different stripes -- Jews, blacks -- public school kids. Biases in favor of alumni children, or those who could help with funding.
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