Review – Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve offered some lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone. Visit our Resources page for suggestions of important books for college parents and their students.

Jeffrey Selingo’s book, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions is an important book for both students and parents. It is a perspective altering book that will help families understand how the admissions process works – especially at more selective schools. If you have a high school student who is thinking of applying to college, there is no excuse not to read this book.

Jeffrey Selingo spent a year inside the admissions process.  He interviewed students who were applying to college, he interviewed high school counselors who were preparing students to apply, he interviewed college admissions personnel, and then he sat in the room while decisions were being made and watched how to process played out.  When you read Who Gets In and Why, you are there – with someone alongside you who can explain what is happening and how we got to this place.

According to Selingo, in terms of admissions, colleges are either “buyers” or “sellers,” and it is essential that students and their parents realize the difference. “Sellers” are the “haves” of admissions. They have something to sell that consumers want, typically a brand name that signals prestige in the job market and social circles.” “Buyers” are the “have-nots” in terms of admissions – although they might provide a superior undergraduate education. . . Rather than select a class, their admissions officers must work hard to recruit students to fill classroom seats and beds in dorm rooms.”

If you have a student who hopes to be admitted to a “seller,” this book will help them understand that the odds are that they may be rejected – but more importantly that the rejection is likely not a measure of their qualities. This book will also go a long way toward reassuring all students that there are many excellent schools who are “buyers” and that students need to expand their thinking and their college searches.

Who Gets In and Why helps us all understand that a college is a business, and that as humane and holistic as admissions officers attempt to be, they must produce a class that is good for the business – for the college. Jeff Selingo puts it this way, “What I hope to do in this book is show you that college admissions is a business – a big one – that you have very little control over. Top colleges are inundated with more well-qualified applicants than they can accommodate. You may not agree with admissions priorities of schools, but as a parent you need to accept the reality early on in the college search that getting into a top school is more difficult than when you went. Encourage your children to start with a wide-open list (and mind).”

This book is an essential read for families in the college admissions process. There is helpful advice about how to make an application stronger and how to expand the college search and students need this help. But perhaps more important, is the message that in spite of what we are told today about how hard it is to get into college, there are very good schools who would welcome your student and might be a much better match. Parents and students should both read this book – and then talk about it together.

“More understanding of the forces at play, I believe, can help us all navigate the admissions journey and ultimately find the right fit.”

About the author:

Jeff Selingo is an award-winning journalist who has reported on higher education for more than two decades. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal. He is a professor of practice and special advisor to the president of Arizona State University and a former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education. He has also served as visiting scholar at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Selingo is the bestselling author of There is Life After College and College (Un)Bound. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his family.

What the author has to say about the book:

“Over seven months, as I sat with dozens of admissions officers in their offices and conference rooms, and joined them for early morning coffees, casual lunches, and late-night drinks, I started to slowly pull back the curtain on what it takes to get into selective college today. In the pages ahead, I’ll give you that same backstage view of probably the most mysterious, misunderstood, and debated aspect of American higher education, and maybe its most important function.”

“This is a book about college admissions, and how it has become so ingrained, so entrenched in our culture of success and our winner-take-all society that we will do anything to play the game.”

“It’s worth reminding you that it’s much easier than you probably think to get into college these days. Yes, if you’re applying to a handful of elite colleges, seats are scarce and the demand for them excessive. And yes, if you’re a parent who graduated from one of these campuses, it’s definitely more competitive to get in than when you went. But there are plenty of seats available at U.S. campuses for the two million high school graduates each year who plan to go to college. Part of the aim of this book is to reveal the smoke and mirrors that have made applying to college a kind of mythical quest to get into the right schools at any cost when, in fact, plenty of good schools offer a top-notch education and have high acceptance rates.”

What others have to say about the book:

“The college admissions process can seem like a locked vault, but Selingo has found the key. Whether you’re a student, parent, or educator, this book is an illuminating and essential read.”

Daniel H. Pink, author of When, Drive and A Whole New Mind.

“[A] widely anticipated new book…Selingo was given extraordinary access to the selection process and the selectors at Emory University, Davidson College and the University of Washington. He uses it in his book to present one of the most nuanced, coolheaded examinations of the admission process that I’ve read. He explodes certain myths — for example, that SAT and ACT scores are absolutely pivotal — and confirms other suspicions, such as the ridiculous advantage conferred on middling students who play arcane sports.”

Frank Bruni, New York Times

“In his fascinating and timely book Who Gets in and Why Jeff Selingo breaks the seal on college admissions to reveal what really goes on, who gets a special look and why, what the colleges have at stake, and how a student can put their best foot forward. Frank and reassuring, Selingo presents a thoughtful critique of an outmoded system along with sound advice for students and parents who have little choice but to play by these rules.”

Julia Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult and Your Turn: How to Be an Adult

“This is Selingo’s finest work. He pulls back the curtain on all the coed words, awkward secrets, and noble hopes associated with college admissions today. Each chapter can help college-bound families turn confusion into clarity.”

George Anders, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of You can Do Anything and The Rare Find

“In this meticulously researched and evenhanded book, the author provides a unique mix of in-depth reporting, insight, and advice that may save readers needless frustration and thousands of dollars. One of the best books on college admissions in recent memory.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


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