It did what it set out to do, which is to inform the reader about the admissions process, and made it a grippingly human story by focusing on people, Wesleyan admissions officer Ralph Figueroa and six applicants he considered for the class of Some were accepted, some were rejected, and some were wait-listed, but whatever the outcome, incredible human consideration went into each decision. Contrary to what I thought, the admissions process is neither cold nor impersonal. Ralph and his colleagues really do read those entrance essays. In fact, he used to read his favorites to his wife.
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I met her in the winter of , when hers was one of nearly 7, applications for admission to the Class of at Wesleyan University, an excruciatingly selective liberal arts college in central Connecticut. The previous fall, Wesleyan had agreed to grant me an extraordinary opportunity: a close-up look at how a college with 10 times as many applicants as seats in its incoming class made the hard choices necessary to whittle down such a list. The only restrictions were that I not refer to the applicants by name in my articles or seek to talk to them, at least until they had received word from Wesleyan on whether they had been accepted, rejected or put on the waiting list.
Her essay was about being suspended during her sophomore year for accepting a brownie, laced with marijuana, from a fellow student. Nonetheless, it was the brownie that dominated much of the discussion. Ralph Figueroa, a veteran admissions officer and former lawyer from Los Angeles who had met Becca, championed her case by saying she had been the only student, among the two dozen who had accepted the brownie, to turn herself in.
My dilemma was this: Even without her name or that of her school in the newspaper, Becca would surely recognize herself in this dialogue, as would many of her classmates. I had not told anyone previously because I had not wanted to influence the decision, which was now final. Her response was immediate. They can write whatever they want about me. Indeed, she was one of six especially compelling applicants each representing a different aspect of the admissions process whose files had crossed the desk of Ralph, my main character, as I looked over his shoulder that year.
Her mother, who had been trained as a teacher, agreed to tag along, as suspicious of my intentions as Becca surely was. She was proud of all she had learned from her experience with the brownie and still bruised by the way her application had been received by some of the admissions officers at Wesleyan, and elsewhere. Like the five other applicants to Wesleyan profiled in the book, Becca came to trust me with the most intimate details of her life.
In the end, the process of getting to know her which had begun with a sheaf of papers containing her SAT scores, grade point average and essay came full circle, when Becca gave me unfettered access to her most guarded possession, the pages of her journal.
She had saved everything she wrote during high school, including the entry from that fateful day in October when she took a few bites of that brownie, something she had attempted neither before or since, she assured me. Any teenager or anyone who had ever been a teenager or the parent of one could surely relate to the internal turmoil she had somehow captured on paper that day. The scariest part is that I thought I knew myself.
I should accept that I am not a leader.
New York: Viking Penguin. At Say Yes to Education, Steinberg focuses on managing and growing the national compact of colleges and universities that provide financial aid to students and creating programming to help those students prepare for, apply to, pay for, and graduate from college. Summary Written by education reporter Jacques Steinberg, The Gatekeepers details the cycle of the college admissions process at Wesleyan, a selective liberal arts college in Connecticut. Aimed at a general audience, The Gatekeepers relies largely on profiles of individuals—primarily admission officers and students—in order to guide readers through the process. Notes Introduction — This section largely addresses the murkiness of the college admission process in highly selective schools. Bakke  xi , and a history of the college admission process in America from the s through the s xi-xiv. Need-blind admission became popular in order to admit students who could not necessarily pay for college.
The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College