As a Princeton parent, I’m always on the lookout for anything Princeton. I noticed that there’s a new novel coming out about the Princeton admissions process that may be of interest to those of you aspiring to Princeton or elite schools, in general.
Here’s an excerpt from a review:
>>“Admissions. ‘Admission.’ Aren’t there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides … It’s what we let in, but it’s also what we let out.”
So begins “Admission,” a new novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz that is scheduled for release on April 13. Korelitz drew inspiration from her time working as an outside application reader for the Office of Admission to create her fictional main character Portia Nathan, a 38-year-old Princeton admission officer who is coming to terms with a painful secret that threatens both her professional and personal lives.
Korelitz said that, though her time at the University helped spark the idea for the novel, her work is not autobiographical.
“In terms of the specific characters in the novel and the plot of the novel … absolutely none of the book was drawn from my experiences as outside [first] reader,” Korelitz said in an e-mail. “There are no admissions officers over in West College who are the real-life counterparts of Portia and her co-workers.”
Korelitz explained that the internal conflict the novel’s protagonist faces is similar to what she experienced on a daily basis while reading and evaluating applications for the University.<<
I’ve always enjoyed reading both fictional and non-fictional accounts of the Ivy admissions process, so this should prove to be enlightening, even though some aspects may be slightly colored for effect.
There was a book review in the WSJ on Saturday on this book. Book review mentioned a section that contrasted the approach of Oxford to admissions and that of Princeton. Oxford admissions couldn't understand why American elite Universities placed emphasis on athletics and ethnicity. Seemed like Oxford's sole emphasis was on finding the most intellectually curious students.
I must admit I wonder that as well. You wonder if our elite Universities are attracting or even want to attract the best and the brightest. There seems to be very little in the admissions process that would make one think they are trying to find the brightest.
From my own personal experience at our private school the students that got into Princeton were nice kids but they were not in the top 10% of the class. They did have interesting ethnic backgrounds or interesting athletic credentials however.
I just finished the novel and thought it very entertaining and, as a new Princeton Parent, I was so proud that my daughter's story had resonated with the admissions committee as I felt swept up in Korelitz's scenes. I was most struck by how difficult a job it must be to sit in judgment of these spectacular students.
These days, as I read the list of students names of those admitted on various websites, it is clear that my daughter will be educated with a global perspective, even though she'll sit in ivy-clad classrooms. Having attended Harvard/Radcliffe as an undergraduate in the 80s, I was in a class not nearly as internationally/ethically/socio-economically well-represented and though it certainly makes the competition more stiff, the end result will create a community unlike any she will probably be a part of for the rest of her life.
The ending of the story left me unmoved, but I enjoyed the story.
sm74, an important thing to keep in mind is that Oxford and Cambridge are public schools while the virtually all of the Ivy Plus schools are private - and therefore have more freedom to define what kind of student they want - they have no obligation to admit kids who are deemed to be the "brightest". Also, at those schools, you apply directly to the department you wish to study in, not to the University in general (and a department cares a lot less about your non-academic stuff).
A lot of these schools have never claimed to be meritocracies and are very concerned about maintaining a certain kind of image, which they believe would be hurt if they just took those who were most intelligent (it'd be like 50% white, 40% asian, 10% other)... most of whom probably couldn't play sports and would spend all day studying.
In other words, it would be more difficult to maintain the "appropriate" levels of diversity (something that is important in American society but not so much elsewhere), with regards to race, extracurricular interests, socioeconomic background, geographic spread, etc. if Ivy Plus schools were to focus on finding the most intellectually curious students.
ray121988: The only problem with that analysis is that it assumes that Oxbridge would love to do admissions in the American way if only they had the freedom. They don't act the way they do because they are public. Just like those US universities Oxbridge want to maintain a certain kind of image, but in their cases it is to be an intellectual powerhouse.
And then there is the frequent but baseless accusation that because Oxbridge admit on intellectual grounds that they are full of boring students who "probably couldn't play sports and would spend all day studying". Anyone who's actually been to Oxbridge will know the immense range of ECs they get involved in - sport, music, drama, politics etc etc. It's just that the universities don't seem to need to manage the admissions process to achieve it.
For those of us that love Monty Python I really don't think Oxbridge is full of boring kids. If Princeton limited the number or percentage of kids it accepted based on athletic, ethnic, or legacy/celebrity to say 10% and persued the remaining 90% based on Oxbridge type criteria then I think I would be satisfied that it is not compromising its academiic excellence mission. Problem is from what I have seen the percentage is closer to 90% than it is to 10%.
Eh - I thought it was weak. It's just a fictional story capitalizing on those obsessed with college admissions. I thought it was also WAY too long. The writing style is nice for fiction however. Don't buy - go to the library if you want it.
It may not be great literature, but I enjoyed it. The admissions material is fun for those obsessed with the topic and the parallel story is at least unconventional. I second the library recommendation.
Just finished it. Very enjoyable. A very good read. I agree it's too long; she does go on and on sometimes . . . I thought there were a few weaknesses in the plot that I won't go in to here (it would reveal too much for the next reader).
As a Dartmouth spouse and a Dartmouth parent, I enjoyed all of her descriptions of Hanover and Dartmouth traditions. She summarizes the applicants very well and makes each of their applications a mini-drama. I also really enjoyed the italic quotes from their applications at the top of each chapter. My favorite was the quote about how "my greatest pride is being an accompanist to the A Capella choir."
I've read the book, and while I enjoyed it, I think it doesn't give a very good sense of Princeton's real on-campus vibe.
If you're a parent in search for more genuine information about Princeton than is evident on the school's website, I recommend that you check out The Princeton University Press Club's blog, The Ink. The blog has daily postings about campus goings-on, Princeton in the news, and all of the little idiosyncrasies that make Princeton such a great place. As an undergraduate, I use the site a lot, and I know that if I'd been aware of it during my application process, it really would have helped increase my interest in the school and vanquish all those pre-frosh fears I had about Princeton's social scene.