College Access Counseling

My firm, College Access Counseling, Ltd., works with adults and organizations who counsel and support first-generation and minority students on the way to college. I teach the ins and outs of the college process, helping them build social and cultural capital for their students. Click here for more information. I also write for NACAC's blog, Admitted. You can read my entries as well as some of my colleagues', here. Click here to read one of my entries in the New York Times's blog, The Choice.

November 17, 2005

Current Reading

I'm in the middle of a fascinating book on college admission and American life called The Source: The Secret History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Although it has an abundance of data, it's a thoroughly readable account of how the three major American universities essentailly created the "meritocratic" admission process we now take for granted. Unfortunately, much of that was initially related to their desire to exclude Jews and other "undesireables" who didn't live up to the WASP ideal. Jerome Karabel, the author, must have read every scrap of paper, every memo, and every report written in the past 100 years to produce this comprehensive tome. But it's a fascinating glimpse into university life in America, beginning at a time when most people in the US didn't go to college and didn't expect to go to college.
It shows us how easy it once was to get in to these now-all-but-impregnable institutions, how careful they were to try to preserve their populations of the privileged, and how they eventually realizaed that they'd have to admit some of those "undesireables" in order to stay in business. Also interesting is the very prominent streak of anti-intellectualism in the outlooks of all three schools until recently: they were explicit about not wanting too many "brains" or "grinds" or other "bookish" types. Often in the early days this was code for Jews, who often were at the tops of their high school classes, but it was also a way for the elite to preserve their own positions. Karabel makes the point that one reason Harvard began to recruit more boys from outside New England and the mid-Atlantic was that there were fewer Jews outside the urban centers like New York, so they could make up enrollments lost by keeping them out with non-Jewish boys from Iowa.
Constantly in mind was how to preserve privilege and power. The question comes up often: How many Jews could a school admit without alienating the WASP elite, either current students or alumni? There are passages Karabel quotes from memos and letters that make you want to take a shower after reading them, they are so vitriolic about non-elites who want to get into these privileged bastions of power.
I keep wondering if someone without direct experience in college admission would be interested in this book. I have to say that Karabel has done an excellent job relating what was happening at these schools with what was going on in the culture at the time. One could make the case that, like an excellent biography (say Reynolds' of John Brown that came out earlier this year), The Chosen compellingly weaves issues like immigration, democratic ideals, cultural expectations, and so on, into what could otherwise have been a very parochial book. I've recommended it to one of our history teachers who does a course on the Holocaust, for example. The book's excellence begins with the wicked title, an ironic play on Potok's The Chosen; here, "the Chosen" become "the excluded."
One of the best books I've read in a while, and certainly one of the most illuminating books on college admission and its place in American culture ever published.

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Blog Archive

Books About College, Teens, and American Culture

  • A History of American Higher Education
  • A Hope in the Unseen
  • Admission
  • Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic
  • African Americans and College Choice
  • Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture
  • Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
  • Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers
  • Campus Life
  • Class
  • College Access & Opportunity Guide
  • College Admissions and the Public Interest
  • College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family
  • College Gold: The Step by Step Guide for Paying for College
  • College Knowledge: What It Really Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready
  • College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy
  • Colleges that Change Lives
  • Consumed
  • Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing
  • Doing School: How We are Creating a Generation of Stressed-out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students
  • First in the Family
  • Fiske Guide to Colleges
  • Going to College: How Social, Economic, and Educational Factors Influence the Decisions Students Make
  • Harvard, Schmarvard
  • Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private & Social Benefits of Higher Education
  • Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood
  • I Am Charlotte Simmons
  • Increasing Access to College:
  • Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admission and Beyond
  • Leveling the Playing Field: Justice, Politics, and College Admissions
  • Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered America
  • Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams
  • Looking Beyond the Ivy League
  • Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions
  • Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class
  • Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
  • Race and Class Matters at an Elite College
  • Rescuing Your Teenager From Depression
  • Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education
  • Sophomore Guide to College & Career: Preparing for life After High School
  • Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It
  • Status Anxiety
  • Taking Time Off
  • Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education
  • The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy
  • The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive & Reconnect with Their Fathers
  • The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools
  • The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton
  • The Culture of Narcissism
  • The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College
  • The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in American Life
  • The Little College Handbook: A First Generation's Guide to Getting in and Staying In
  • The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College
  • The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfull a Dream
  • The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life
  • The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates
  • The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids
  • The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager
  • The Secret Lives of Overachievers
  • The Unintended Consequences of High Stakes Testing
  • Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens