Another look at the college-admissions process—this time through the experiences of an influential Long Island guidance counselor and seven of his students.
When Pulitzer Prize–winning education reporter Marcus moved from U.S. News & World Report to Newsday, he noticed that the area’s highest acceptance rates were coming from a relatively small, unknown school—the diverse Oyster Bay High School—and that the mitigating factor was an especially committed counselor named Gwyeth “Smitty” Smith. To determine what made Smitty so successful, Marcus followed him through the process, focusing in particular on seven students. There was the underachieving athlete with the big heart and difficult home life; the engineering hopeful with an overbearing mother; the well-rounded Jewish girl who worried that she wouldn’t stand out; the overworked African-American who would be the first in her family to go to college; the intellectual Korean-American who wasn’t sure he could live up to his family’s expectations; the free-spirited girl who couldn’t focus; and the valedictorian who never had to worry. Marcus’s portraits are honest and interesting, and some of the outcomes are quite surprising, thanks in part to the counselor who encouraged the students to think outside the box, even when it meant defying parents or preconceived notions about reputation. Smitty is clearly an excellent counselor who goes to great lengths to make sure his students make the right choices—negotiating work hours with a student’s employer to make sure she had enough time to study, seeking out admissions officers at conferences to talk about specific students. But while it’s encouraging to read about a counselor more committed to the students’ well-being than the number of Ivy League acceptances on his rap sheet, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary or illuminating about his practices, and readers may struggle to find a takeaway message that hasn’t been covered in countless other college-admissions books—including Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers (2002) and by Jay Mathews’s Harvard Schmarvard (2003).
Engaging and inspiring, but without significant purpose in an overcrowded topic.