PERSONAL: Married Sharon Weinstock (an attorney); children: two. Education: Graduate of Dartmouth College.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Putnam, Inc. 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Journalist. New York Times, New York, NY, researcher in Washington, DC, beginning 1981, reporter in New York, NY, 1993-99, national education correspondent, beginning 1999.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting, Education Writers Association of America, 1998.
The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Jacques Steinberg began his career with the New York Times as a researcher and assistant to long-time Washington columnist James (Scotty) Reston, and moved to New York in 1993 to cover a variety of beats. Beginning with the 1996-97 school year, Steinberg devoted more of his time to covering education when he spent much of that year inside a third-grade classroom and wrote about children's efforts to read. In 1999, Steinberg was made national education correspondent for the newspaper, and since then he has covered a broad range of issues, including bilingual education in California, school vouchers in Cleveland, Ohio, the for-profit Edison schools, shortages of teachers and principals nationwide, and the educational pressures facing American children.
Beginning in the fall of 1999, Steinberg spent eight months in the admissions office of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. In his book The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College he follows the activities of admissions officer Ralph Figueroa and the application processes of six high school seniors seeking entry into the prestigious school. Most of the book covers the ten-week period during which Wesleyan admissions officers spend long hours reading applicant files, evaluating prospective students, and accepting the only one in ten of nearly 7,000 applicants who will be offered a place in the incoming class.
During this process, applicants who receive scores of "admit minus" or "deny plus" by two separate readers are resubmitted to the entire panel of officers, who then decide by majority vote. Steinberg notes that individual officers make their decisions based on scores, essays, accomplishments, affirmative action policies, and their individual values. While one officer might be more receptive to a student who has not experienced permanence, another might favor a student from a rural background. Children of college-educated parents are held to a higher standard than children from families unable to offer as many advantages.
Figueroa spends half the year promoting Wesleyan and the other half rejecting most of the applicants. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "what shines through in the portrait of Figueroa and his colleagues is their utter commitment to a Herculean, if somewhat paradoxical task."
"What Steinberg discovered," noted Joanna Schultz in an online review for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "was that although there is no single definition of merit, there is a great deal of thought, sensitivity, and nuance that goes into making each difficult decision." Schultz noted that Steinberg "explains clearly how and why Wesleyan searches for a perfect class rather than for perfect students. Like most private colleges and universities, it enrolls as diverse a student body as it can on the theory that learning in such a community produces the kind of education effective in production citizens for our increasingly global society."
Steinberg reports on the six students, using their real names, scores, and situations. "With permission, Steinberg describes students like Becca Janol, an outstanding leader whose adolescent flirtation with a marijuanalaced brownie creates a nightmare for Ralph Figueroa and the admissions committee," wrote Shannon Bloomstran forBookreporter.com. Janol wrote of her experience in her essay. Other students include Aggie Ramirez, whose grades had suffered because she concentrated on leadership activities, and Migizi Pesoneau, a Native American who overcame poor grades to attend a progressive experimental school in New Mexico. Steinberg also follows Julianna Bentes, a dancer being courted by many schools, and who scored a perfect 1600 on her SAT, and Jordan Goldman, an aspiring writer.
Steinberg waits, along with the six, not only for the decisions from Wesleyan, but also for those from other schools to which they have applied, like Brown, Goldman's first choice. Bloomstran concluded by saying that The Gatekeepers "provides a glimpse into the lives of some interesting, high-powered kids. It's a fascinating peek behind the curtain into a process that is sometimes unfair, sometimes fatiguing, but always compelling."
New York Times writer Patricia M. McDonough found one aspect of the book troubling. She said that Steinberg "is relatively silent on the inequity of most applicants' not having access to the kinds of school counselors he so richly describes." One of the applicants, Tiffany Wang, attended a public high school which, even though it was located in an affluent community, employed counselors who had too many responsibilities to afford students adequate advising time.
McDonough continued, saying that Steinberg "muses on Tiffany's choice not to talk about her passion for corresponding with death-row inmates and on whether it might have turned her rejection into an admission. I couldn't help wondering whether the college counselors at a private prep school might have coached her better on her essay topics and the messages thus conveyed. Morever, Mr. Steinberg uncritically accepts Mr. Figueroa's derision of 'counselors for hire' and the suggestion that they 'massage' students' application essays. This struck me as unfair in a book that describes how prep school counselors confer with their seniors on their essays."
Christian Science Monitor reviewer John Budris wrote that "Steinberg's research into the fierce competition for the few coveted spots at elite colleges will stagger the uninitiated, but his epilogue serves as a balm for all the anxiety. The students he profiles ultimately thrive and mature—regardless of where each was accepted and eventually enrolled. That lesson alone makes bearable the long wait until the April envelope arrives."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, p. 1899.
Business Week, September 23, 2002, William C. Symonds, review of The Gatekeepers, p.20.
Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 2002, John Budris, review of The Gatekeepers.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of The Gatekeepers, p. 1018.
Newsweek, September 23, 2002, Barbara Kantrowitz, review of The Gatekeepers, p. 70.
New York Times, September 27, 2002, Patricia M. McDonough, review of The Gatekeepers, p. E37.
Publishers Weekly, July 29, 2002, review of The Gatekeepers, p. 64.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (December 12, 2002), Shannon Bloomstran, review of The Gatekeepers.
Gatekeepers Home Page,http://www.the-gatekeepers.com/ (March 4, 2003).
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online,http://www.postgazette.com/ (September 15, 2002), Joanna Schultz, review of The Gatekeepers.*