Aidan’s Senior Year, Getting Past The Gatekeepers

Jacques Steinberg takes us inside the college admissions process.

I know I will have trouble completing this sentence, and Aidan started his senior year of high school yesterday.

Other parents may relate to the feeling of wonder both at the young adult their child has become and at how little time seems to have elapsed since I took him to the first day of first grade.

As with seniors the country over, Aidan is applying to college.  As is typical for him, he is carrying out the necessary tasks with extreme prejudice, to lift one of Joseph Conrad’s more memorable phrases.

In addition to filling out the FAFSA4Caster and wondering how the heck Dunreith and I are going to find the amount of money that tool says we should be able to pay the college of his choice, we are reading about college admissions.

The Gatekeepers, a suggestion from dear friend Dave Russell, is one of the most recent books I’ve read.  Dunreith is working her way through the book, which follows Ralph Figueroa, apparently a Stanford classmate of mine, and the rest of the admissions crew at Wesleyan University as they sort through the thousands of applicants.

New York Times education writer Jacques Steinberg has given us a helpful text that pulls back the veil of secrecy about college admissions and gives us an idea of the other side of the equation.

Much of the information is relatively common sense.

Starting early, before teachers and admissions officers are overwhelmed with recommendations and applications, is a good idea.  On the whole, officers are looking to find something in an applicant that gives a reason to accept her.  The essay should be written by the student and does not have to include some earth-shattering revelation made during the most dire moment of an Outward Bound mountain climb.  Diversity on many levels matters to admissions officers in assembling a class.

But Steinberg also shows the quirky nature of admissions, how a chance interaction during a campus visit or a tour guide can have disproportionate influence in influencing a student’s experience and ultimate decision.

Steinberg also follows a half-dozen seniors from throughout the country who apply to, and, in some cases, enroll in, Wesleyan.  They are a high-flying bunch-several of the students attend Harvard-Westlake, one of Los Angeles’ most tony prep schools at which childhood friend Hisao Kushi’s daughter started this fall-and, seemingly inevitably, hail from a wide range of circumstances and backgrounds.

Steinberg effectively conveys the stress and strain the process causes, even as he also shows that things seem to work out pretty well in the end for most, if not all, of the people on both sides of the process.  This is not so much an effort to tie ends up in a neat bow, but rather a comment on the slice of schools for which students are at a certain level are eligible.  In many cases, they gain admission, if not to Wesleyan, then to another school of similar caliber and fit.

After our trip to California, Aidan is poised to heed Horace Greeley’s advice and head West.  I hope the process proves fruitful and short for him. Steinberg’s book gave us some idea of what we might encounter along the way.

I’ll keep you posted.


3 responses to “Aidan’s Senior Year, Getting Past The Gatekeepers

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Aidan’s Senior Year, Getting Past The Gatekeepers | Jeff Kelly Lowenstein’s Blog --

  2. I also hope that Aiden’s process is fruitful and short. Meg applied early to Smith and the rest is history. Alice applied to a bunch, got in to some, and was happy to end up at Wesleyan. It is quite a process; I wish that it didn’t involve so much stress and strain for so many. Good luck to your family. Alice is just finishing two weeks with us today; I’m bringing her to the airport this afternoon. I’ll probably call you tonight.

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