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Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites 0th Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674034945
ISBN-10: 0674034945
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Skillfully blending facts and figures with evocative case studies, Mitchell Stevens illuminates the process of admissions to an elite college, and shows how vexed and conflicted it is. (Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University)

At the most influential American colleges, growing competition to be selective and to be selected is undermining the democratic values traditionally entrusted to higher education. Rather than serving as routes to social mobility, many college admission offices end up perpetuating the status quo. Mitchell Stevens's thoughtful and eloquent book illuminates the machinations of the system-- and its consequences. (Lloyd Thacker, President, Education Conservancy and editor of College Unranked)

This fascinating book uses fly-on-the-wall reporting to show how decision-makers at a prestigious liberal arts college unwittingly perpetuate an American elite. Mitchell Stevens has done a real service by pulling back the curtain on the secretive college admissions process. (Susan Coll, author of Acceptance: A Novel)

Stevens is a storyteller, an ethnographer who takes readers on an 18-month journey as an admissions counselor. He skillfully paints a rich description of how admissions officers at a private, highly selective, liberal arts college make decisions, and explains why the ability to assemble strong applications is not evenly distributed across the population...Stevens states that his book is about privileged families and the organizational machinery in place to pass comfortable social positions on to their children. The book does much more...This text is a must read for undergraduate students, faculty, and parents. (A. A. Hodge Choice 2008-05-01)

Mitchell Stevens gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how prestigious colleges make [admissions] decisions and shows how what they decide has shaped the lifestyle and values of upper-middle-class America...It is his first-hand experience that makes the book such a gem--Stevens' narrative brings us into the thought-world of the admissions office itself, allowing the reader to view the process from the inside out. (Jordan Hylden First Things 2008-04-01)

Merit may have displaced money as the primary calling card for admission to an elite college, but readers of this book may wonder if much has really changed. (Education Week 2007-10-31)

About the Author

Mitchell L. Stevens is Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) Sociology at Stanford University. He is the author of Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674034945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674034945
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Valerie J. Saturen VINE VOICE on May 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In an economy where a college degree is virtually a prerequisite for financial security, the process of college admissions carries many implications for social equality and inequality. In this highly readable book, education and sociology professor Mitchell Stevens offers a glimpse into the world of admissions, which he immersed himself in by working in the admissions office of an unnamed elite liberal arts college.

Perhaps more than anything, the book drives home the message that higher education--particularly the elite private college--is a business, and admissions officers look for students who will boost the institution's prestige for a minimal cost. As they pore over the files of prospective students, the officers prioritize "free" students over ones who need financial aid. They also look for students who will increase the school's status: talented athletes, minorities, and students whose parents are deemed likely donors or whose (prestigious) high schools the college seeks to woo. In some cases, the student's looks and popularity even come into play, since the admissions officers hope popular kids would advertise the college among their friends. Although Stevens portrays the admissions officers in a positive light--and there are times where an officer will advocate for a more "costly" student--they don't hesitate to divide the students into two bottom-line-driven groups: "good kids" and "schlocky kids."

It is well-known that most schools make it a priority to recruit quality student athletes (particularly football players), even those whose academics aren't the greatest. Stevens devotes an interesting chapter to this issue, explaining how the prestige of a given college is determined in part by which rivals it meets on the football field.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stevens does a very good job of portraying the setting of a small liberal arts instituion which works to create the best freshman class possible under competitive circumstances.

The author finds the process more complex than imagined as the admissions office is charged with bringing in a class to help improve the status of the college and to serve the needs of the development office as well as the athletic department. The book describes how elite colleges and universities have assumed a central role in producing the nation's most privileged classes. The author found that individual evaluation protocols do not create equal educational opportunity but subtly reinforce class privilege.

Overall, I think this book is a great read for parents of students, and students as well, in high school and many parts really captured the work we do each day to prepare our children to be competitive for this next step in their lives.
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Format: Hardcover
Creating a Class is an excellent read. It's much more thoughtful than many other books on college admissions, as its intention is not only to give its reader an "insider's view" of competitive admissions (based on Stevens' work in the admissions office of a small college), but to call into question how the admissions process may help create and sustain class inequities. As a result, I left the book with not only a better sense of how selective institutions make their decisions, but with a set of questions (some troublesome) about the class implications of the process.

Although the book raises some important sociological questions, it's not an overly 'academic' read. I found Mitchell's prose clear, easy to read, and often eloquent without being unnecessarily flowery. In fact, Mitchell's book is quite fun because his questions are raised through the characters (students, administrators, counselors, coaches, etc.) he encounters during his field research; this gives the book a novel-like feel. He treats those characters fairly and warmly.

Highly recommened for those who are going through the process (either as students or parents) or for those who have an interest in educational sociology.
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Format: Paperback
This well-written book will help parents of prospective college students gain an understanding of how a private college admissions office operates and that is essential for understanding your child's chance of admission. The particular school that serves as the subject of this study, while anonymous in the book, has been identified as Hamilton College, but it could have been any college. Hamilton College has made at least one change since this book was written, so it's important to realize that this book may not reflect the current situation. In particular, Hamilton College more recently improved its financial need policy and now claims to be need-blind. So the reader will have to determine whether he/she believes that the applications of bright, low/middle-class, white, non-athletic students will be rejected as handily as they were in the book.

91% of admission directors, as surveyed by Inside Higher Education, believe that their counterparts at other schools lie. When it comes to the terms "need blind" and "full need," I'm certain that is true. A University of Chicago admissions person warned us that not all need-blind schools are truthful but that Chicago was truly need-blind. U of Chicago gives aid to 67% of students, while Smith College, which is 95% need-blind (which puts it in the need-aware category), gives aid to 65% of its students. Grinnell gives aid to 87% of its students. Additionally, the reader should know that only 10% of families make over $150,000 per year, the income that is sometimes used for aid cutoff. So, it is confusing as to how Hamilton is need-blind when it provides aid to only 54% of its students.
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