Who Gets In and Why

A Year Inside College Admissions


From award-winning higher education journalist and New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Selingo comes a revealing look from inside the admissions office—one that identifies surprising strategies that will aid in the college search.

Getting into a top-ranked college has never seemed more impossible, with acceptance rates at some elite universities dipping into the single digits. In Who Gets In and Why, journalist and higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo dispels entrenched notions of how to compete and win at the admissions game, and reveals that teenagers and parents have much to gain by broadening their notion of what qualifies as a “good college.” Hint: it’s not all about the sticker on the car window.

Selingo, who was embedded in three different admissions offices—a selective private university, a leading liberal arts college, and a flagship public campus—closely observed gatekeepers as they made their often agonizing and sometimes life-changing decisions. He also followed select students and their parents, and he traveled around the country meeting with high school counselors, marketers, behind-the-scenes consultants, and college rankers.

While many have long believed that admissions is merit-based, rewarding the best students, Who Gets In and Why presents a more complicated truth, showing that “who gets in” is frequently more about the college’s agenda than the applicant. In a world where thousands of equally qualified students vie for a fixed number of spots at elite institutions, admissions officers often make split-second decisions based on a variety of factors—like diversity, money, and, ultimately, whether a student will enroll if accepted.

One of the most insightful books ever about “getting in” and what higher education has become, Who Gets In and Why not only provides an usually intimate look at how admissions decisions get made, but guides prospective students on how to honestly assess their strengths and match with the schools that will best serve their interests.

Photograph by Jay Premack

Jeffrey Selingo is an award-winning journalist who has reported on higher education for more than two decades. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal. He’s a special advisor to the president of Arizona State University and a visiting scholar at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Selingo is the bestselling author ofThere Is Life After College and College (Un)Bound. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family.

  • Publisher: Scribner (September 15, 2020)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982116316

“A fascinating, useful, and important book—fascinating because of its wealth of vividly reported detail on how the college-admission system works (for instance, why little Amherst College admits more athletes than mighty University of Alabama), useful because of its clear-eyed view of how students and families can calmly get through the winnowing process, and important because higher education has become so central to American opportunity and mobility.”
—James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic

“For nearly twenty years, Jeff Selingo has been one of America's most trusted voices on higher education. This is his finest work. He pulls back the curtain on all the code words, awkward secrets, and noble hopes associated with college admissions today. Each chapter can help college-bound families turn confusion into clarity.”
—George Anders, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of You Can Do Anything and The Rare Find

“Jeff Selingo has done it again….[he’s] managed to lift the veil from the ‘inner sanctum,’ showing how admission officers deal with the challenges presented by talented and diverse applicants. From the committee rooms that Selingo has penetrated come stories of compassion for students balanced by institutional priorities and mandates. Who Gets In and Why offers a great insider’s view, making a complex process much easier to understand.”
—Robert Massa, former Dean of Enrollment, Johns Hopkins University

“A valuable outsider-as-insider’s eye view of the college admission process, spotlighting what applicants will never see.  Pushing past the fairy tale of how a student's application is reviewed, Selingo finds more.  For the dedicated professionals who do this tireless work, the students and parents trying to understand it, and anyone in between, there are great lessons to be learned here.”
—Emmi Harward, Executive Director of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools

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