“The Gatekeepers… should be required reading for any student or parent who seeks insight into what Steinberg correctly describes as a process hidden ‘behind a cordon of security befitting the selection of a pope’”.
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"Two of the author's approaches make this book compelling: the side-by-side stories from the institutional and student perspectives and the decision to change neither names nor personal facts. We know in scathingly honest detail the students' records and thinking, as well as the tactics, rationales and goals of [admissions officer Ralph] Figueroa and his colleagues. This forthrightness adds an enticing authenticity. "Another nice touch is Mr. Steinberg's description of the details of the admissions process at Wesleyan, in Middletown, Conn., and the ways it is similar to or different from that of its direct competitors (Amherst, Hampshire, Williams) and indirect competitors a notch higher in status (Harvard, Yale, Stanford)....These comparisons make the book less about a single institution and more about how premier colleges select their classes. By showing Mr. Figueroa and his colleagues at work, Mr. Steinberg artfully makes clear why so many students with 4.0 averages and great SAT scores can still be unsure of their admissions chances. His book provides the deep insight that is missing from the myriad how-to books on admissions that try to identify the formula for getting into the best colleges.... "The power of Mr. Steinberg's work comes from his ability to capture the reader's imagination...It's testimony to the power of "The Gatekeepers" that each of these people seeps into your thinking and leaves you wondering what happened to them, much as the characters in a good novel stay with you after you finish it. I really didn't want the book to end."
--Patricia M. McDonough, The New York Times, Sept. 27, 2002
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"A gripping account....A thoroughly engrossing drama depicting how nine overworked members of the Wesleyan admissions office accepted roughly 1,800 applicants from almost 7,000...If you're still determined to seek the prize of a prestigious college, The Gatekeepers will at least help prepare you for the ordeal.''
--William C. Symonds, Business Week
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"Brisk and revealing...Sharp, smooth and detail-rich writing...'The Gatekeepers' will probably find its place alongside 'The Fiske Guide to Colleges' and Princeton Review workbooks on the shelves of anxious teens and their parents."
Blake Eskin, New York Newsday
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"Steinberg is a good suspense writer. He organizes his story in something like the way Thornton Wilder wrote ''The Bridge of San Luis Rey.'' We follow several teenagers -- a Jewish boy with a gift for writing from a large Staten Island public school, a magnetically intelligent girl with a white mother and a Brazilian father of African descent who attends a prestigious private school in Los Angeles, a passionate film buff at the Native American Preparatory School high on a mesa in New Mexico -- and watch them converge on a rendezvous with the gatekeepers in Middletown."
Andew Delbanco, New York Times Sunday Book Review
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"JACQUES STEINBERG'S The Gatekeepers, an account of the admissions system at Wesleyan University, is enormously readable. It is also revelatory, if not always in ways the author intends. The process it describes is opaque to most students applying to college, and Steinberg, a New York Times reporter specializing in education, plainly scored a coup when Wesleyan agreed to give him a close-quarters look at how it all works at one, presumably representative,elite institution.
Over a span of eight months, ending in the spring of 2000—the period when the class of 2004 was being selected—Steinberg was given more or less unlimited access to one of the college’s nine admissions officers, an experienced, hard-working chap named Ralph Figueroa. He also received bountiful cooperation from other major players in the admissions process; got to see the applicants’ grades, test scores, and essays; spent time with many of these students; and even met some of their high-school college counselors. More dramatically, Steinberg was allowed to sit in on the conferences where the critical votes were cast—accept, reject, wait-list—and to observe the admissions officers’ strategies for helping or hurting controversial candidates.
His cast of characters is huge, and real names are used throughout."
--Dan Seligman, Commentary Magazine
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Education reporter Steinberg presents a compelling tale in this account, told from the perspective of Ralph Figueroa, an admissions officer at Wesleyan University. Expanding on a series of articles in the New York Times, Steinberg provides an insider’s look at how Figueroa and the school’s admissions committee factored grades, test scores, essays, extracurricular activities and race into account as they winnowed 700 students for the class of 2004 from nearly 7,000 applicants. Using real names, applications and interviews, Steinberg follows six applicants of varying backgrounds from their first encounter with Figueroa to their final acceptance or rejection. Although not a how-to book per se, Steinberg’s work does include helpful advice, such as “there’s no way to outthink this process” and “if you’ve got something you want to write, then write it the way you want.” Steinberg portrays Figueroa and the other admissions officers as doing the best they can to give each applicant a fair assessment, despite their responsibility for 1,500 of them. Among the book’s surprises are that supplementary material, no matter how impressive, carries no weight in deciding who gets in, while honesty about a mistake – in one case, an incident involving a pot brownie – can influence an admissions officer to admit. Wesleyan’s high standards – e.g., a 1350 combined score on the SAT – may put some readers off, but the process that Steinberg describes is similar at most private colleges and universities.
– Publishers Weekly July 29, 2002

New York Times education reporter Steinberg demonstrates that character is not always fate for the students who apply to elite Wesleyan University.
“Here is what American society looks like today. A thick line runs through the country, with people who have been to college on one side of it and people who haven’t on the other.” The author takes this quote from Nicholas Lemann, who wrote a sobering study of the SAT (The Big Test, 1999), as the starting point for his microscopic examination of how Wesleyan, a prestigious liberal arts institution in Connecticut, composed its Class of 2004. Running with Lemann’s thesis that higher education in the US is the great determinant of class and social mobility, Steinberg takes a disparate group of high school seniors, from a cinephiliac Native American male in New Mexico to a relatively privileged female at L.A.’s prestigious Harvard-Westlake private school who has one damaging incident with pot in her record, and follows the fate of their applications through the decisions of Wesleyan’s “gatekeepers,” the admissions officers. The clashing points of view of the students and the college form a tragicomic undercurrent here. One factor in particular influences Wesleyan’s admission process: the need to rank high in such influential compendiums as The US News Guide to Colleges. Since these texts rate schools partly on the number of students they refuse, Wesleyan, like other colleges, has created a mechanism for generating many more applications than it can possibly accept. Admissions officers like Ralph Figueroa, whom Steinberg shadowed for this study, spends half of his year selling Wesleyan and the other half rejecting most applicants. What shines through in the portrait of Figueroa and his colleagues is their utter commitment to a Herculean, if somewhat paradoxical, task.
Puts human faces on the often impersonal and obscure college-admissions process.
– Kirkus Reviews July 15, 2002

“Impressive in its detail… [The Gatekeepers] chronicles the ins and outs of the admissions officers’ way of building each class”.
– Chicago Tribune

“Absorbing… At the same time that he [Ralph Figueroa] begins to know and care for these high school seniors all around the country, Steinberg brings them to life for us. We come to know six seniors well enough so that we can empathize with them throughout the admissions process as well as empathizing with Figueroa’s agonizing about their futures”.
– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A compelling human drama…Steinberg gets informants on both ends of the [admissions] process to reveal their unlovely as well as inspiring emotions…and he presents each with empathy and dignity. The result is riveting: One wants all involved to, if not attain their dreams, at least gain some portion of what they hope for”.
– San Francisco Chronicle

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