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The Gatekeepers

100 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670031351
ISBN-10: 0670031356
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Education reporter Steinberg presents a compelling tale in this account, told from the perspective of Ralph Figueroa, an admissions officer at Wesleyan University. Expanding on a series of articles in the New York Times, Steinberg provides an insider's look at how Figueroa and the school's admissions committee factored grades, test scores, essays, extracurricular activities and race into account as they winnowed 700 students for the class of 2004 from nearly 7,000 applicants. Using real names, applications and interviews, Steinberg follows six applicants of varying backgrounds from their first encounter with Figueroa to their final acceptance or rejection. Although not a how-to book per se, Steinberg's work does include helpful advice, such as "there's no way to outthink this process" and "if you've got something you want to write, then write it the way you want." Steinberg portrays Figueroa and the other admissions officers as doing the best they can to give each applicant a fair assessment, despite their responsibility for 1,500 of them. Among the book's surprises are that supplementary material, no matter how impressive, carries no weight in deciding who gets in, while honesty about a mistake in one case, an incident involving a pot brownie can influence an admissions officer to admit. Wesleyan's high standards e.g., a 1350 combined score on the SAT may put some readers off, but the process that Steinberg describes is similar at most private colleges and universities.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Steinberg had unparalleled access to the admissions process for the class of 2004 at Wesleyan, an elite liberal arts college in Connecticut. Originally presented as a series of articles in the New York Times, the stories were so compelling and the subject matter so topical, that he was convinced to expand them to book length. He followed Ralph Figueroa, a veteran admissions officer, for eight months, encompassing initial "marketing" trips, contacts with high school guidance counselors, the early-decision process, reading thousands of applications for final admissions, wooing reluctant candidates, and fighting for specific marginal cases. Evident throughout is the truth of Figueroa's assertion that there is no way to guarantee admission or any one thing that will make a certain candidate successful. Several high school seniors allowed the author to record their thoughts and concerns as he simultaneously followed the progress of their applications. While the close examination emphasizes the seeming inconsistency of the process, the resulting epiphanies and changes in perspective of the individuals followed in the year's march to college allow readers to see that a big name is not necessarily everything and that some students are much happier in a different atmosphere. The stories are so well written that teens will find this title a pleasurable read in the midst of much practical advice.
Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (September 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670031356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670031351
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jacques Steinberg has been a staff reporter for the New York Times for more than ten years and currently is a national education correspondent. In 1998 he was awarded the grand prize of the Education Writers Association for his nine-part series on a third-grade classroom on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 94 people found the following review helpful By BeachReader on November 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewer who is an admissions officer that this book could have been about any private college. The methodology and procedures are the same everywhere, I am sure.
The book only reinforced what I already believed...that parents of those kids who are not star material are the ones who end up paying the bills for those who are at elite private colleges. I am one of those parents who paid! AS Steinberg says: "To help offset their financial losses due to increased costs for financial aid, colleges initiated an intense search for other 'customers' who could pay full price, whether from the U.S. or abroad."
I think the author did a marvelous job of making this a really interesting book, and immediately recommended it to my sister and brother, who both have boys in high school now. I did warn them, however, that what they read might be somewhat discouraging.
First, these admissions officers are very subjective (and how could they be anything else?)with a huge case load to handlein a very short period of time.
Second, I was appalled that one of the most important issues for college admission staffs seems to be how their rejection/yield rate is perceived by U.S. News and World Report.
And third, the way admissions standards are tweaked for academic stars or to achieve diversity can seem very unfair to those who have sons who fall into neither of these categories (a star or a minority).
I think there are many lessons about the college application process to be learned from reading this book. Perhaps the most important lesson is not to set your heart on one school.
I suggest this book as "must" reading for parents, students, and high school guidance counselors.
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By P. Meltzer on February 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, let me say that I thought that this was an excellent book and would recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in the college admissions process. Second, I was surprised at how many of the reviewers seemed shocked--shocked!--that applicants got bonus points for coming from minority backgrounds. Was this some kind of revelation? However one thing that surprised me a little bit is how--even moving beyond race entirely--the more advantages you have had in life, the more disadvantageous it will be for your admissions process. For example, I was unaware that having successful parents would be, in essence, held against you on the theory that more would be expected of you. While other reviewers have (jokingly?) said that they would advise their white kids not to check the "Caucasian" box, I might advise my (still very young) kids to say that their parents have been unemployed their whole life.
I suppose that the main issue which this whole process really boils down to is the following: As a college applicant, is it more important to succeed in life relative to the world around you (i.e. relative to your classmates, to others of your race, to others of your geographical area, to your own parents' life and accomplishments, etc.) or is it more important to succeed absolutely and not on a relative scale. This book clearly informs us that the answer is the former and not the latter. Whether that should be the answer is another question.
For example, say that a student's entire life could be distilled into 2 numbers each on a sliding scale from 1-10. The first number is simply your academic performance (grades, SAT's, course load, etc.) The second number is your background (race, economic circumstances, gender, etc.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Dan Lickly on February 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A must read if anyone close to you is thinking about applying to one of America's elite colleges. (Full disclosure demands that I admit that next fall my son will enter college, and his first choice at that.) A few facts to keep in mind before panic takes over.
1) Of the 3000 colleges in USA, one can find at least 100 good colleges, many nearby and easy to get into, where one can get a fine education.
2) There are only about 50 or so elite colleges that play these admission games. I call them the Orwellian colleges based on George Orwell's book, not 1984, but Animal Farm. You remember the famous quote, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Animal Farm should be required reading of all admission officers. Did Orwell saw this coming?
3) This book illustrates in a gripping story all the ups and downs of the admission process at one of the Orwellian schools. The racial and ethnic preferences can be disturbing if you were expecting merit to matter. Jonathan Kozol questions on the back cover, "Whether it is actually a 'meritocracy' at all." That is a euphemism for "It sure ain't."
4) Are all the elite colleges like that? I am afraid so. Only a few elite have avoided this fate. CalTech is still strictly merit. The CalTech admission officer said recently, "Race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. do not count at all." And Cornell gives a fairer shake than the other Ivies. My alma mater, MIT, is about the worst of all. MIT's admission policies are abysmal. If you can believe the president (Don't ever believe admission people!), over 75% of those accepted at MIT are based on preferences. I had thought it was only about 60%.
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