I don’t usually read horror books, but I made an exception for this one: Who Gets In And Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo. I have two high school juniors and am already mired in the fun process of watching my daughters try to get into college. Who Gets In And Why is an in-depth look at how we got to this point in time, where the most selective schools in the country admit increasingly fewer percentages of their applicants, less selective schools are left spending money on marketing campaigns to attract talented applicants, and no one really has any idea how much it all is going to cost. Who Gets In And Why was written after the Varsity Blues scandal, but before covid (other than the introduction), so Selingo doesn’t even cover the horror show that was the 2020-2021 admissions season.
Why I picked it up: I am trying to learn what I can about the admissions process so that we can make smart decisions next fall.
My main takeaway from Who Gets In And Why is just how subjective and capricious the college admissions process is. Selingo goes behind the scenes at three admissions offices – Emory, Davidson and The University of Washington, watching them evaluate candidates and make increasingly more difficult decisions as the regular season deadline approaches. What matters most – scores? grades? ability to pay full price? athletics? legacies? The answer – it depends. Sometimes a school needs to fill a gap or balance out a class. Sometimes they are overextended on financial aid and need more people paying full freight. Sometimes a less rigorous curriculum from a school with fewer resources can outweigh a student with a perfect GPA and many AP classes on the transcript. There is simply no magic formula. And that is incredibly frustrating for kids who have worked hard for four years and expected to get into their dream schools.
Another takeaway from Selingo is that there are a lot of schools out there that are just a tier or two below the most selective schools that deliver an excellent education, and that students would be smart to expand their lists beyond the brand names their parents have always talked about. There are also ways to lessen the financial burden on students and their families if they pursue “seller” schools instead of “buyer” schools, where financial aid is harder to get.
I didn’t come away from Who Gets In And Why with a clear sense of how to achieve success in college admissions. In fact, if anything, the book made the process seem even murkier. So maybe the best advice is just to stay calm. don’t get overly invested in any one school, keep a very open mind and try to enjoy high school. (Good luck with that!)
Who Gets In And Why was the 20th book of 2021.