Q&A: Admit One Student (and Parent)

Jean Hanff Korelitz researched her richly detailed fourth novel, Admission, by interviewing deans and working as a part-time Princeton application reader. Here, Korelitz, 47 and a mother of two, offers a peek behind the scenes at elite schools.

By Caryn James
Photograph: Photo by: Bryan McCay

MORE: Your protagonist, Portia, an admissions officer, recruits students who are not cookie-cutter Ivy League types, as if she’s trying to put together a great dinner party.
Korelitz: We have preconceived ideas about admissions officers — that they love to say no. When I interviewed the dean of admissions at Middlebury College, I asked him what kind of person goes into admissions. I was surprised when he said, without hesitating, "We are all do-gooders. We’re out to find great kids."
MORE: What do you think is the biggest mistake parents make?
Korelitz: It sounds awful, but caring too much. My generation seems to be raising its kids as a science project — with constant stimulation. Personally, I find it much more compelling to read about a 17-year-old who is passionate about one thing and less important that they also play tennis, volunteer at the animal shelter, and tutor neighborhood kids.
MORE: Your teenage daughter is gearing up to apply for college. What tips do you have for her?
Korelitz: Don’t just apply to the places that people speak of admiringly. There are schools you may never have heard of that might be perfect for you. More than anything else, don’t attach your sense of self-worth to whether a handful of colleges admit you.
MORE: How effective are those high-priced coaches who help kids fill out applications?
Korelitz: Admissions officers are deeply suspicious of them. If they sense that a coach is involved, it’s a huge turnoff. There is no buying your way in. There is no secret handshake. There is certainly not, as Gossip Girl recently implied, a dean’s question that kids have to answer correctly at a cocktail party.
Originally published in MORE magazine, April 2009.

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