"Who Gets In and Why" -- Book Review

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo is branded as a "revealing look from inside the admissions office" and indeed it is. One of the New York Times Notable Books of 2020, this book follows the college admissions journey of a small group of students and the admissions decision process for a handful of universities.

While Selingo's perspective is limited to select students and universities, his messages are highly useful for anyone embarking on a college admissions journey. He presents some historical context on how universities arrived at the current admissions landscape and he shows how many families are misinformed and unprepared to navigate the process.


Selingo is quick to point out that college admissions is not a "mythical quest" full of "smoke and mirrors." He argues that there are many top-notch schools with high acceptance rates that offer amazing experiences for many students.

By dividing all colleges into sellers (the most selective schools who have high brand name recognition and rarely discount tuition for top students) and the buyers (less selective schools without major brand recognition who use tuition discounts to entice top students), Selingo reveals that the $10B spent by colleges on recruiting students is a numbers-driven and strategically-planned operation.


Perhaps the most illuminating elements of this book are the multitude of inequities and paradoxes inherent in college admissions. For example, Selingo shows how high-income families with highly-educated parents, know how to play the game to find the right "fit" for a college while lower-income families with less-educated parents lack the support and information to explore a variety options. Similarly, Selingo argues that processes like Early Decision and Early Action seemingly favor the student but, in the end, really only benefit the colleges.


As a test prep tutor, I personally found few surprises in Selingo's book. Nevertheless, for someone not as familiar with the college admissions process, there is great information and anecdotes to help families learn the ins and outs of admissions, financial aid and the college search process.


What may be missing from this book is a call to action to upend the admissions process. Selingo deftly identifies the hypocrisy of college admission where the rich get richer (both schools and families) but he falls short of providing a path to a more equitable process for everyone. In Selingo's defense, his objective is not to change the world of admissions but to take a look under the hood to see how it works.


In sum, this is a book worth reading especially if you are preparing to embark on the college admission journey. If anything, Selingo's main point that there are hundreds of great options for all students is a refreshing, practical and useful message for all. What's more, Selingo offers useful approaches and tools to guide and help all families in the process of college admission.


So if you are shopping for a high school student or a parent of a high school student this holiday season, this book would be a practical and meaningful gift. And if you read it and want to share your perspective on this book or your college journey, let me know with a comment below or contact me here.


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