cover image ADMISSIONS CONFIDENTIAL: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process

ADMISSIONS CONFIDENTIAL: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process

Rachel Toor, Author . St. Martin's $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-31

A former admissions officer at Duke, Toor calls this a "Dear John" letter to her old job, but it's really a description of the relatively honest and complicated process by which thousands of eager, qualified applicants are evaluated every year by a typical "elite"university. While title and jacket scream "exposé," anyone looking for tales of under-the-table bribes or unopened applications in the shredder will be sadly disappointed. Human error sometimes creeps in—tired readers can make cranky decisions—but according to Toor, the system basically does what it's supposed to do: admit students who fit Duke's profile based on grades and the difficulty of curriculum, extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations and SAT scores. Like many universities, Duke supports affirmative action in addition to preferences for jocks and offspring of major alum donors, but such deviations from pure meritocracy should surprise no one. The only "shocker" here concerns the "BWRK"—the "bright well-rounded kids"—who're just too common in the applicant pool. The "angular" student, mediocre in some areas but outstanding in others, often has a more memorable application and is frequently preferred to the better-prepared BWRK. Structured to reflect the seasons of an admissions officer's life, the book reads easily, even if the personal reflections that preface each chapter (the ex-lovers, the pet pig, playing basketball, etc.) can be annoyingly irrelevant. Too benign to generate gossip in the guidance counseling/college admissions world and too superficial for social scientists' attention, the book's real audience is parents who will read anything that might give their kid an edge. (Sept.)