Sunday, April 12, 2009

Admission, or Tips on How to Get into that Prestigious College

I spent the last week traveling between East Coast cities on one of those overly-analyzed and dreaded parental excursions: the college tour. My 16-year old daughter and I trooped from New York City to New Haven to Middletown to Providence to Amherst and then Boston (read Columbia, Yale, Wesleyan, Brown, Amherst and Tufts) in search of that elusive, perfect college.

We were not alone. In every city, on every tour, we joined hundreds of other anxious parents and high school juniors and listened to surprisingly funny and eloquent descriptions of some of the nation’s most elite schools. We traipsed in large hordes behind backwards-walking student tour guides and peeked in numerous Gothic and Georgian buildings.

The entire tour was becoming a blur until I went into the newly-renovated Brown University bookstore. I was in search of Dexter Filkins’ book, The Forever War, because my editor in New York said it was an unputdownable kind of book. I had brought two new releases on my trip from California, but hadn’t been able to get into them, so I was in search of something great.

It took the bookstore staff awhile to locate Filkins’ book, and I poked around while I waited. I picked up a book on the front table and immediately knew I had to buy it. It was called Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, and it tells the story of a Princeton University admissions officer who goes through a life crisis. Tidbits about the kinds of applicants who apply to Ivy League schools are scattered throughout the book, as are snippets of admissions essays and thoughtful musings on what distinguishes a remarkable student from the merely great. How can I not buy this book, I thought? It’s what I am living through.

Korelitz, of whom I had never heard, but who must be talented since her agent is Suzanne Gluck, worked as a reader for Princeton in 2006 and 2007. (It turns out she is the cousin of Helene Hanff, who wrote 84 Charing Cross Road. Her husband, Paul Maddoon, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2003) She draws heavily on her experience in this novel, which almost reads like a (fun) manual on how to apply to a prestigious university.

The book saved me. Suddenly the dreary task of driving hundreds of miles between pristine campuses seemed easy. The drone of the admissions officers made sense. The state of the dorms and the taste of the food were put in context. In short, the book was a delight, a fun read, and an informative tome for a mother of a junior in high school. And for aspiring applicants as well. My daughter and I kept fighting over who got to read Admission. In my mind, that is high praise.

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