Friday, March 31, 2017

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

It's an annual ritual.  Anxious high-school seniors, their dreams of their future lives and careers on the line, start the grueling process of admission to the college of their choice.  From the time they are in elementary school, the importance of this moment and what it takes to be successful are pounded into kids.  You must have great grades.  AP classes are not a choice but a necessity and you better do well in those.  Your SAT and ACT scores will determine your future.  You need glowing recommendations from educators who insist you are the best student they've ever encountered.  Oh, and you better have tons of extracurricular activities, a driving passion for some subject, proof that you will shine.

Once all the grades and accolades have been collected, it's time to actually fill out the admission form.  Your essay is the most important paper you will ever write.  Because here's the truth.  For every spot in great colleges, there are scores if not hundreds of students who also want that seat.  Can you outshine the girl who has won her state's poetry contest?  The guy who has lettered in three sports while also doing groundbreaking scientific research?  The applicant whose parents and grandparents all went to this university?  Better apply to four or five colleges to be sure of getting in somewhere next year.

As familiar as this story is for most families, the one that Jean Hanff Korelitz tells the reader in Admission  is one they probably haven't heard.  Korelitz tells the story of Portia Nathan, an admissions representative at Princeton University.  Portia is consumed with a stressful career, the recruiting visits, the anxious questions wherever she goes, the reading and scoring of applications, the genteel wars conducted in the admissions committees as each admission representative fights for their favorites.  Outside of her work, Portia has lived a settled couple existence with Mark, an English professor at the university.  They are a quiet couple, no kids but work they love and a social live composed of other university couples.

Then everything changes.  Mark falls in love with a new professor and Portia's home life is threatened.  She meets a man on a recruiting trip who she is attracted to and who shares in that attraction.  She also meets a fascinating student at an alternative school whose paperwork and grades are unlikely to win him a place at Princeton, but a student who will shine and who will contribute to the university as he has a unique, brilliant mind.  Unsettled by her personal life, Portia is determined to push this student's application through regardless of all the shining applicants who will be pushed aside if she succeeds.

Readers will be intrigued to read this alternate view of the admission process.  It is such an all-consuming process for families that most have never stopped to consider the people who are actually making the critical decisions that influence the rest of their child's life.  Portia's quiet, settled life and her willingness to shake it up after years of contentment is interesting and the reader wants to get to know her better and understand her motivations.  This book is recommended for readers or literary fiction or anyone with a child who will be undergoing the admission process.

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