Friday, July 24, 2009

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

As someone who has always been interested in college marketing, helping students find the right place for them to continue their education, and understanding the selection process, I was excited to learn of this new book and immediately put it on my "Wish List." I was even more excited when my daughter purchased it for me for Mother's Day. Admission is a multi-faceted novel based on some experiences of Korelitz who was an applications reader at Princeton University, the setting of the novel.

On one level it is a fascinating look at how the admissions departments at exclusive
institutions of higher education build their classes each year. For many of us who have spent our lives in the educational sphere, understanding how bright kids get passed over for admissions, has been a major concern. Portia Nathan is nearly forty, has worked for numerous colleges, and is sharing her life and her house with Mark, an English professor. It is a routine admissions trip to high schools in the northeast that proves to be the catalyst for all the action in the book. Portia travels to the Quest School, an experimental school in New Hampshire where she meets two people who will turn her life upside down. John, a teacher at the school, was in the class behind Portia at Dartmouth College and Jeremiah, a student who definitely marches to the sound of a different drummer, impact her life and the novel's progression.

On another level, the novel is an admission of what Portia's life has been and will be. The reader meets her mother, Susannah, best friend Rachel, significant other, Mark, and Helen, a dinner guest who was anything but gracious. Portia needs to balance all these relationships with the demanding job of reading and recommending for admissions a record number of applications. the insights into both are heart-wrenching and worth the lengthy read.

I was fascinated with the book. I never really thought about the role of a college recruiter as a double edged sword. On one hand s/he entices students to apply to a college, but then knows that not all qualified students can be accepted. It drives home the point that guidance counselors need to be proactive with admissions counselors, students need to show what they can bring to a college class, and parents don't help a son or daughter's chances by multiple contacts with admissions offices. Portia's journey takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions. It's a scary ride at times, full of ups, downs and curves that are unexpected.

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