A boorish, cynical look at the college-admissions process, from a former admissions officer (with only three years’ experience).
Toor, a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education, is not a fan of the way candidates are screened by colleges—in her case, Duke University. She’s disturbed by the inequities, the class bias, and the ability of some students to buy their way in, not to mention the questionable qualifications of the judges. Here, she details the procedures by which Duke and, by extension, other colleges and universities, make their decisions about who gets the thin envelope and who gets the fat one. What strikes the reader, though, and surprisingly, is the amount of personal attention each application receives, from an evaluation of the quality of their high-school record to the attentive reading of their essays. This admissions department humanizes what might have been an enormously impersonal process. But Toor focuses on the less attractive elements of the process—“The reason we do recruiting is to get the BWRKs [bright, well-rounded kids] to apply so that we can deny them and bolster our selectivity rating”—and insinuates her own little mean-spirited commentary: of the pool of Asian students, “they were much of a muchness.” Some of her advice is sensible: be yourself, write your essay about what comes from the heart. Other comments feel insincere: She goes on about how elite schools are not the last thing in education, but mentions her Yale pedigree no fewer than a dozen times. Cruelest of all is having a kid’s entire life summed up in a telegraphed half page, with a jaundiced sensibility casting an aspersion here and poking fun there, then deeming the application wanting and tossing it on the reject pile.
When Toor bemoaned the qualifications of those who sit in judgment, she could have been looking in the mirror.