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An Ivy League admissions officer worries about her school’s eager applicants, even as she struggles with a past secret of her own.

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Anyone who thinks Ivy League admissions officers play darts to decide which lucky 9.8 percent of applicants gets in – or just throw all the applications in the air and see which ones land closest to the target – raise your hand.

Portia Nathan would be very disappointed in you. The admissions process, Princeton University’s New England representative would have you know, is rigorous, high-minded, and above all, fair.

And, while the orange-frosted brownies you sent in with your child’s application are both delicious and school-spirited, they aren’t going to help Betsy join the class of 2013. Oh, and if she says her favorite book is “Pride and Priviledge” by “Jane Austin”, she’s really not getting in.

For the past 16 years, Portia has been an admissions officer, first at her alma mater, Dartmouth, and then at Princeton, and is devoted to her job, as Judith Hanff Korelitz chronicles in her new novel, Admission. Portia gets her heart broken over and over during the reading season, longing to offer solace to these exceptional teenagers who just aren’t quite amazing enough.

“She wished, as she checked, again and again, the box reading ‘Only if room’ (a euphemism for no, as there was never room), that she could reach through the folder to the kid beyond and say, Anyone would be ecstatic to have their child turn out as great as you, and, Please, go and do all the things you say you intend to do.”


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