A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2020
From award-winning higher education journalist and New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Selingo comes a revealing look from inside the admissions office—one that identifies surprising strategies that will aid in the college search.
Getting into a top-ranked college has never seemed more impossible, with acceptance rates at some elite universities dipping into the single digits. In Who Gets In and Why, journalist and higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo dispels entrenched notions of how to compete and win at the admissions game, and reveals that teenagers and parents have much to gain by broadening their notion of what qualifies as a “good college.” Hint: it’s not all about the sticker on the car window.
Selingo, who was embedded in three different admissions offices—a selective private university, a leading liberal arts college, and a flagship public campus—closely observed gatekeepers as they made their often agonizing and sometimes life-changing decisions. He also followed select students and their parents, and he traveled around the country meeting with high school counselors, marketers, behind-the-scenes consultants, and college rankers.
While many have long believed that admissions is merit-based, rewarding the best students, Who Gets In and Why presents a more complicated truth, showing that “who gets in” is frequently more about the college’s agenda than the applicant. In a world where thousands of equally qualified students vie for a fixed number of spots at elite institutions, admissions officers often make split-second decisions based on a variety of factors—like diversity, money, and, ultimately, whether a student will enroll if accepted.
One of the most insightful books ever about “getting in” and what higher education has become, Who Gets In and Why not only provides an usually intimate look at how admissions decisions get made, but guides prospective students on how to honestly assess their strengths and match with the schools that will best serve their interests.
Education journalist Selingo (There Is Life After College) examines "what it takes to get into a selective college today" in this comprehensive and ultimately reassuring account. Interweaving a behind-the-scenes look at how counselors at Davidson College, Emory University, and the University of Washington make their admissions decisions with profiles of three high school students in the midst of their college searches, Selingo concludes that where applicants end up "hinges largely on criteria beyond their control." Admissions officers, he explains, balance complex formulations involving "yield" (even at "top colleges," only one-third to half of admitted students actually enroll) and selectivity (which plays a significant role in determining a school's ranking), while giving special consideration to athletes, legacies, and class diversity. He classifies students as "drivers" or "passengers" based on their approach to the college search, and offers practical advice, such as applying to three or four schools in each of three categories ("safety," "foundational," and "reach"). Selingo also sketches the history of college marketing tactics and the rising influence of big data on financial aid decisions, and delivers the calming message that "success in college is about how you go, not just where you go." Anxious parents and students will be buoyed by this richly detailed and lucidly written guide.