On Tuesday night, Jacques Steinberg spoke to a sweltering Memorial Chapel. He is the author of The Gatekeepers, a bestselling nonfiction account of the college admissions process that used Wesleyan as its backdrop, but the subject of the evening revolved around a more urgent issue in higher education than just the insane selectivity of the best schools — that of college affordability. Steinberg had recently left his post at The Choice, the New York Times education blog that he pioneered, to work at a New York-based nonprofit called Say Yes to Education that helps disadvantaged high school students get into college, pay for it, and graduate.
Many of the problems he described, he felt, were too urgent to simply stand by and observe as a journalist. With budget cuts, many college counselors’ caseloads in public schools have ballooned to over 500 students. The student loan/debt cycle is a familiar anxiety to many students here, as well as recent graduates, and he described how some graduates in debt don’t pay off their loans until their children are almost ready to go to college.
He reminded Wesleyan students of how fortunate they were, in spite of the controversy over need-aware admissions. Wesleyan remains one of the few institutions in the country that can meet students’ full demonstrated financial need. The question of the value of higher education, he said, is relatively new and wasn’t really circulating at the time that he wrote The Gatekeepers, but now it will likely become a key policy question in the next few years. He said it will probably become important to ask about vocational and differently-paced tiers of higher education without seeming racist or insulting.
Today, Jacques Steinberg returns to campus. We’re looking back at his classic book.
The man, the myth, the legend—Jacques Steinberg.
Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College is pretty much indisputably the most illuminating and insightful book written in the past few decades about elite college admissions, which Steinberg terms a series of decisions made “behind a cordon of security befitting the selection of a pope.” Conveniently, it also happens to focus on Wes. Steinberg, a journalist and education expert, tracks a diverse group of high school seniors and a then-Wesleyan admissions officer (Ralph Figueroa, currently Director of College Guidance at Albuquerque Academy) as they navigate the 1999–2000 admissions cycle.
Along with a handful of other Wesleying staffers, I read the book in high school, around the time I decided to apply to Wesleyan, and realized what I had already suspected: college admissions is about as complex, random, and ultimately meaningless as—well, the selection of a pope. It also makes for more thrilling drama than any reality show on TV. Before the rise of CollegeConfidential, The Gatekeepers was the most intimate glimpse at the people on both sides of the admissions process that existed. In fairness, it still is, because CollegeConfidential is a hellish underworld.
Mr. Steinberg, who also founded the New York Times’ “The Choice” blog, where he recently announced his departure from the newspaper after 25 years, is on his way to Middletown yet again. This time, he’s not writing a book about us (we think). He’s coming to lead a talk and Q&A in the Chapel, which is being hosted by the WSA. In honor of this glorious occasion, here’s a round-up of six things we learned about Wesleyan from The Gatekeepers—before even setting foot on campus.
From WSA Prez Zachary Malter ’13:
Interested in issues of education, college access and affordability, Wesleyan’s admissions, or journalism?
On Tuesday, April 9th, at 7:30 pm in the Memorial Chapel, the WSA will be hosting a talk by author and journalist Jacques Steinberg, titled “Beyond the Gatekeepers: The State of College Access and Affordability in America.” All student are encouraged to attend. Jacques Steinberg is the author of “The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College,” a New York Times-best seller about the Wesleyan admissions process. Jacques was a journalist at The New York Times for nearly 25 years, most recently as its senior editor for education initiatives. Jacques left The Times in 2013 to join the senior leadership team at Say Yes to Education, a national non-profit organization based in New York City that provides an array of services to families in low-income districts – all with the goal of raising high-school and college graduation rates.The talk is a part of the WSA’s New York Times Readership Program. A book signing in Zelnick Pavilion will follow the talk and books will be available for purchase there.
Date: Today, April 9
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Place: Memorial Chapel
RSVP to the Facebook event
I googled “college admissions stock photo” and this is what came up. Can you dig it?
It’s been a rather turbulent few days for Wesleyan in the news, so here’s some positive news for a change. According to the New York Times’ The Choice blog (which has been surging along since the recent departure of its dear leader/resident Wesleyan hound Jacques Steinberg), total applications to Wesleyan rose by 4.18% for a total of 10,942 applicants for fall 2013. Since we’re all suckers for a good comparison chart, here’s how that stacks up with a few peer institutions:
It’s a comfortable leap (and eerily close to last year’s 4.5% rise in applications), but it’s nothing compared to Skidmore’s freakish 42% rise in applications.
Hopefully the number of frosh sharing a Fauver room doesn’t also surge 4.52%.
According to a recent post on the New York Times‘ The Choice blog (maintained, as ever, by Gatekeepers writer and NYT admissions guru Jacques Steinberg), Wesleyan has received 10,437 applications for the class of 2016. That’s a 4.52% increase from last year, making this only the fourth year that applications have exceeded 10,000. It also means 2016 is damn close to topping 2014’s record 10,656 applicants—the most selective year ever. (With any housing luck, this year may well be more selective. Fauver’s looking pretty rough lately.)
Not that the article is all about Wes—Steinberg already wrote a book to that effect. You can view the handy application tally chart and see what’s up at a number of high profile universities across the country, from UC Berkeley (up nearly 17 percent) to Columbia (down 8.9%).
Early Decision I applications for Wesleyan were due November 15th. So how’d we do? Better. 3% better. Wesleyan received 515 applications in the ED I cycle, up from 500 last year. Yeah, 15 isn’t the hugest increase, but a 3% increase is better than any decrease. We’ll take what we can get.
In contrast, Williams went up only 1.3% and Amherst actually experienced a loss of 5.06%, making Wesleyan’s increase the largest of the Little Three. In the NESCAC, however, Hamilton tops it out with a 24.1% increase. In the category of “Universities with Binding Early Admission” so far, Lafayette had the biggest gain at 56.32% and Elon had the biggest loss at 14.7%.
In his post on the Times’ The Choice blog, Jacques Steinberg (who wrote a book featuring admissions at Wesleyan) notes what makes Early Decision special:
binding early programs continue to be a lightning rod for families and counselors; an applicant who applies under such a program, and commits to attend if accepted, loses the ability to not only field financial aid offers from other colleges, but also forfeits at least some potential leverage to persuade that institution to sweeten its scholarship proposals.
The chart I’ve extracted above shows the NESCAC results with Lafayette and Elon added in. Check out Steinberg’s post for information about other schools.
[NYT – The Choice]