Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites

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Overview

In real life, Mitchell Stevens is a professor in bustling New York. But for a year and a half, he worked in the admissions office of a bucolic New England college that is known for its high academic standards, beautiful campus, and social conscience. Ambitious high schoolers and savvy guidance counselors know that admission here is highly competitive. But creating classes, Stevens finds, is a lot more complicated than most people imagine.

Admissions officers love students but they work for the good of the school. They must bring each class in "on budget," burnish the statistics so crucial to institutional prestige, and take care of their colleagues in the athletic department and the development office. Stevens shows that the job cannot be done without "systematic preferencing," and racial affirmative action is the least of it. Kids have an edge if their parents can pay full tuition, if they attend high schools with exotic zip codes, if they are athletes--especially football players--and even if they are popular.

With novelistic flair, sensitivity to history, and a keen eye for telling detail, Stevens explains how elite colleges and universities have assumed their central role in the production of the nation's most privileged classes. Creating a Class makes clear that, for better or worse, these schools now define the standards of youthful accomplishment in American culture more generally.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Stevens is a storyteller, an ethnographer who takes readers on an 18-month journey as an admissions counselor. He skillfully paints a rich description of how admissions officers at a private, highly selective, liberal arts college make decisions, and explains why the ability to assemble strong applications is not evenly distributed across the population...Stevens states that his book is about privileged families and the organizational machinery in place to pass comfortable social positions on to their children. The book does much more...This text is a must read for undergraduate students, faculty, and parents.
— A. A. Hodge

First Things

Mitchell Stevens gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how prestigious colleges make [admissions] decisions and shows how what they decide has shaped the lifestyle and values of upper-middle-class America...It is his first-hand experience that makes the book such a gem—Stevens' narrative brings us into the thought-world of the admissions office itself, allowing the reader to view the process from the inside out.
— Jordan Hylden

Education Week
Merit may have displaced money as the primary calling card for admission to an elite college, but readers of this book may wonder if much has really changed.
Howard Gardner
Skillfully blending facts and figures with evocative case studies,
Mitchell Stevens illuminates the process of admissions to an elite college, and shows how vexed and conflicted it is.
Lloyd Thacker
At the most influential American colleges, growing competition to be selective and to be selected is undermining the democratic values traditionally entrusted to higher education. Rather than serving as routes to social mobility, many college admission offices end up perpetuating the status quo. Mitchell Stevens's thoughtful and eloquent book illuminates the machinations of the system-- and its consequences.
Susan Coll
This fascinating book uses fly-on-the-wall reporting to show how decision-makers at a prestigious liberal arts college unwittingly perpetuate an American elite. Mitchell Stevens has done a real service by pulling back the curtain on the secretive college admissions process.
Choice - A. A. Hodge
Stevens is a storyteller, an ethnographer who takes readers on an 18-month journey as an admissions counselor. He skillfully paints a rich description of how admissions officers at a private, highly selective, liberal arts college make decisions, and explains why the ability to assemble strong applications is not evenly distributed across the population...Stevens states that his book is about privileged families and the organizational machinery in place to pass comfortable social positions on to their children. The book does much more...This text is a must read for undergraduate students, faculty, and parents.
First Things - Jordan Hylden
Mitchell Stevens gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how prestigious colleges make [admissions] decisions and shows how what they decide has shaped the lifestyle and values of upper-middle-class America...It is his first-hand experience that makes the book such a gem--Stevens' narrative brings us into the thought-world of the admissions office itself, allowing the reader to view the process from the inside out.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674026735
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mitchell L. Stevens is Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) Sociology at Stanford University. He is the author of Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. A School in a Garden

2. Numbers

3. Travel

4. Sports

5. Race

6. Decisions

7. Yield

8. The Aristocracy of Merit

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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