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This article is about the 2002 nonfiction book concerning US higher level education. For information on the Gatekeepers in children's fantasy novel series, please see The Power of Five
The Gatekeepers  
Author Jacques Steinberg
Cover artist William Mercer
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) nonfiction, journalism
Publisher Penguin Group
Publication date 2002
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 292 p.
ISBN 0-670-03135-6
OCLC Number 49283806
Dewey Decimal 378.1/61 21
LC Classification LB2351.2 .S72 2002

The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College is a 2002 nonfiction book written by education reporter Jacques Steinberg that examines the inner workings of admissions committees at prestigious colleges and universities in the United States and addresses the changing face of American higher level education in the 21st century. Steinberg was granted unprecedented access to admissions officers, school administrators, guidance counselors, and high school students and their parents during the writing process. The book itself expands upon a series of articles Steinberg wrote in the New York Times. Steinberg follows the life of a Wesleyan University admissions officer Ralph Figueroa and various college applicants for almost an entire year as they undergo the stressful and tiring college admissions process. He touches upon such hot button issues such as affirmative action, recruiting, standardized testing and the significance of the SATs. His book also highlights the importance of essays and personal statements in a college application in conveying the individual behind the test scores and numbers.


Individuals Profiled


Wesleyan University Admissions Staff

  • Ralph Figueroa
Former admissions officer and central figure of the book
  • Nancy Hargrave Meislahn
Current Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
  • Barbara-Jan Wilson
Current Vice President for University Relations
  • Greg Pyke
Current Senior Associate Dean of Admission

High School Students

  • Julianna Bentes
A gifted multiracial student and dancer from the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School weighing scholarship offers from several elite institutions; attends Yale University
  • Migizi Pensoneau
A Native American who overcomes a rough background and a checkered transcript to succeed in a preparatory school; attends Wesleyan University
  • Jordan Goldman
An ambitious writer from Staten Island; attends Wesleyan University; later attends Oxford University; and creates a series of best-selling college guidebooks, Students' Guide to Colleges, from Penguin Books, as well as Unigo -- a free online college resource guide
  • Becca Jannol
A talented student from Southern California who confessed to accepting a pot brownie as a sophomore and writes her college essay on her experience; attends Cornell University; wait-listed by Wesleyan
  • Aggie Ramirez
A Dominican and natural leader from an impoverished neighborhood in New York City whose grades suffer from being stretched too thin; attends Muhlenberg College; rejected by Wesleyan
  • Tiffany Wang
An Asian American and National Merit Scholar struggling to live up to her father's high expectations; attends New York University; waitlisted by Wesleyan


Although The Gatekeepers was not a best-seller, it was however named as one of the New York Times Book Review's 'Notable Books of 2002'. In general, very well received, with many critics lauding Steinberg's ability to shed light on the human component of the college application process and the ordeal of students, parents, and admissions officers alike. Shannon Bloomstran saw the book as a "fascinating peek behind the curtain" and admits that before reading she "really had no idea of the extent of agony and debate that takes place in the admissions offices of these highly selective schools. Steinberg invokes empathy for both the admissions officers and the students"[1]. Edward B. Fiske, editor of the highly popular Fiske Guide to College, also agreed, praising Steinberg for articulately reporting on a "distinctly American rite of passage"[2].

Other critics noted its seemingly cathartic effects; John Bundris describes The Gatekeepers as a "fitting denouement after the college applications are in the mail - for parent and student alike"[3].

However, some critics adamantly claimed that the admissions practices of a specific Northeast, highly selective liberal arts school was not an accurate portrayal of how colleges and universities throughout the country select their incoming freshman class. While the book "showcases Steinberg's consummate skill as a journalist", a fellow admissions officer felt that his work itself "would be more helpful to those applying to Wesleyan (as either prospective students or gatekeepers) than to the vast majority of those seeking assistance in interpreting the current realities of college admission". She argues that in contrast to Wesleyan's admissions practices, many college emphasize a numbers approach in evaluating a candidate, citing the University of Michigan's highly publicized point system [4].


  1. The Tortilla Test
  2. Don't Send Me Poems
  3. Istanbul(Not Constantinople)
  4. Considered Without Prejudice
  5. Read Faster, Say No
  6. Thundercats and X-Men
  7. Nothing to Do with the Dope
  8. Things Seem to Have Gone Well
  9. 420-ed
  10. Unnamed Gorgeous Small Liberal Arts School


If your life experience makes you value education, which mine does, then you care about who's getting access to education. And if you've had a really good undergraduate education, it's quite attractive to attach yourself to an undergraduate institution that matches your values.
— Greg Pyke, Wesleyan University admissions officer
If they spent a month with you and rejected you then you could feel bad about yourself. They're only rejecting a bunch of pieces of paper, not you.
— a high school guidance counselor consoling a rejected applicant
I have big plans, but I also have contingency plans. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou's mother advised her to "hope for the best, be prepared for the worst, and you'll be ready for everything in between".
— from the personal statement of an applicant


  1. ^ Shannon Bloomstran, " Review" web:
  2. ^ Edward B. Fiske, web:
  3. ^ John Bundris, "In 'Gatekeepers,' a real-life peek behind closed doors of college admissions offices", web:
  4. ^ Beth Provinse, Journal of College Admissions, web:

See also

External links


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