The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College

By Jacques Steinberg


Welcome to our dive into The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg πŸ“šβœ¨. This book takes us behind the closed doors of the admissions office at Wesleyan University, offering an unprecedented look at the complex decision-making process that determines who gets in and who doesn’t.

Jacques Steinberg, a seasoned education journalist, spent a year observing the admissions process at Wesleyan, providing readers with a detailed, insider’s view of what goes on. The book is a non-fiction, making it a unique blend of investigative journalism and storytelling. Steinberg’s work shines a light on the often opaque and stressful process of college admissions, making it a must-read for students, parents, and educators alike.

The genre of this insightful book sits comfortably at the intersection of educational non-fiction and narrative journalism. Steinberg’s approachable writing style, combined with his comprehensive research, makes The Gatekeepers not just an informative read but also a compelling story about the dreams and realities of American higher education πŸŽ“πŸ”.

Now, let’s get ready to explore the plot, characters, themes, and much more in the following sections!

Plot Summary

The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College unfolds not as a traditional narrative with a linear plot but as an in-depth exploration and chronicling of the admissions process at Wesleyan University over the span of an admissions cycle. Here’s a detailed look into the main sections of the book:

  • Exposition β€” Jacques Steinberg introduces us to the inner workings of Wesleyan University’s admissions office, setting the stage for a year-long journey. Readers are introduced to the admissions officers and the daunting task they face: sifting through thousands of applications to select the incoming freshman class.
  • Rising Action β€” As applications pour in, the admissions officers, led by Ralph Figueroa, begin the meticulous process of reading and evaluating each application. Steinberg delves into the personal stories of several high school seniors from diverse backgrounds as they prepare and submit their college applications, hoping to be among the chosen few.
  • Climax β€” The climax is reached during the committee meetings, where admissions officers debate and decide the fate of each applicant. Tensions run high as the team struggles to balance the desire to admit students from varied backgrounds with the limitations of class size and institutional needs.
  • Falling Action β€” Decisions are mailed out, and the reactions from students and their families are portrayed. For some, there’s jubilation; for others, disappointment. The admissions officers reflect on the process and the decisions made, contemplating the impact on the lives of those they have and have not admitted.
  • Resolution β€” The book concludes with the arrival of the new freshman class at Wesleyan. The admissions officers begin preparing for the next cycle, having learned from the experiences of the past year. Steinberg reflects on the broader implications of the admissions process for higher education in America, suggesting areas for potential reform.

Throughout, The Gatekeepers provides a nuanced and detailed look at the complex, often subjective nature of college admissions, highlighting the human element behind every application and decision.

Character Analysis

In The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, Jacques Steinberg offers not only an insightful examination of the admissions process but also a deep dive into the lives and personalities of key figures involved. Here’s an analysis of the main characters:

  • Ralph Figueroa β€” As the director of admissions, Ralph is presented as a deeply empathetic and dedicated individual. His motivations stem from a desire to create a diverse and vibrant student body. Throughout the book, Ralph’s character development is significant as he navigates the pressures of his role, reflecting on his own experiences as a Latino student at an Ivy League college.
  • Becca Jannol β€” A high school senior from Los Angeles, Becca’s journey through the application process serves as a relatable story for many readers. Her personality is characterized by ambition and resilience, motivated by a desire to succeed and the pressure to live up to her own and others’ expectations. Her development throughout the book highlights the emotional rollercoaster of college admissions.
  • Michele Hernandez β€” A former admissions officer turned college consultant, Michele provides an outside perspective on the admissions process. Her character brings to light the industry that has grown around college admissions, motivated by a desire to demystify the process for students and parents. Her insights offer a critical look at the inequalities and pressures within the system.
  • Jordan Goldman β€” As a student who creates an online forum for college applicants, Jordan represents the changing landscape of how students navigate the admissions process. His motivations are rooted in a desire for transparency and community among applicants. His development reflects the increasing role of technology and social media in college admissions.

Here’s a summary table of their character analysis:

Character NamePersonality TraitsMotivationsCharacter Development
Ralph FigueroaEmpathetic, DedicatedTo create a diverse student bodyReflects on his role and personal experiences, grows in understanding the impact of his decisions
Becca JannolAmbitious, ResilientTo succeed and meet expectationsExperiences the ups and downs of the application process, learns about herself
Michele HernandezInsightful, CriticalTo demystify the admissions processProvides a critical perspective on the industry around college admissions
Jordan GoldmanInnovative, Community-focusedTo increase transparency and create a communityShows the changing dynamics of how students interact and support each other

This character analysis reveals the human aspect behind the admissions process, emphasizing the diverse motivations and developments each character undergoes.

Themes and Symbols

The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg is rich with themes and symbols that contribute significantly to the overall narrative and offer insights into the college admissions process and its broader implications on society.

  • Meritocracy and Fairness β€” The admissions process at Wesleyan University serves as a microcosm for the debate over meritocracy in higher education. The book questions the fairness of the process, considering the influence of socioeconomic status, race, legacy preferences, and personal connections. This theme challenges readers to reflect on the true meaning of merit and equity in college admissions.
  • Stress and Pressure of College Admissions β€” The intense stress and pressure faced by students, parents, and admissions officers alike are central to the narrative. Steinberg uses personal stories to highlight the emotional toll of striving for perfection and the high stakes associated with college admissions, symbolizing the broader societal pressures on young adults to succeed.
  • Diversity and Inclusion β€” Diversity in the student body is a major goal for the admissions team at Wesleyan, reflecting a broader theme of inclusion within higher education. The discussions around race, socioeconomic background, and life experiences symbolize the ongoing struggle to create equitable and diverse educational environments.
  • Change and Adaptation β€” The evolution of the admissions process, driven by technology and changing societal norms, is a recurring theme. The use of an online forum by students to share experiences and information symbolizes the shift towards a more transparent and communal approach to navigating the admissions landscape.
  • Personal Growth and Self-Discovery β€” Throughout the book, students and admissions officers alike undergo significant personal growth. The college application process is depicted not just as a means to an end, but as a journey of self-discovery, with applications serving as a mirror reflecting personal values, accomplishments, and aspirations.

These themes and symbols underscore the complexities of the college admissions process, inviting readers to consider its impacts not only on individuals but also on society as a whole. Steinberg’s narrative weaves these elements together, presenting a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of one of the most pivotal experiences in a young adult’s life.

Writing Style and Tone

Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College is characterized by a distinct writing style and tone that both engages and educates readers. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Investigative and Insightful β€” Steinberg employs a journalistic approach, offering a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the admissions process. His investigative style is thorough and insightful, drawing on interviews, observations, and data to provide a comprehensive view of the topic.
  • Empathetic and Relatable β€” Despite the complexity of the admissions process, Steinberg writes with empathy and relatability. He presents the stories of students, parents, and admissions officers in a way that readers can connect with, making the stressful and often impersonal college application process feel deeply personal.
  • Clear and Accessible β€” The prose is clear and accessible, making the book suitable for a wide audience, including those unfamiliar with the inner workings of college admissions. Steinberg avoids jargon, instead opting for plain language that conveys the nuances of the process without overwhelming readers.
  • Balanced and Reflective β€” Steinberg maintains a balanced perspective throughout, presenting the strengths and weaknesses of the current admissions system. He reflects on broader issues of fairness, equity, and the purpose of education, inviting readers to think critically about these themes.
  • Engaging and Story-Driven β€” The book is structured around the stories of individual applicants and admissions officers, adding a narrative element to what could otherwise be a dry examination of the admissions process. This storytelling approach engages readers, making complex issues more understandable and compelling.

Through his writing style and tone, Jacques Steinberg successfully demystifies the college admissions process, making The Gatekeepers not only an informative read but also an engaging and thought-provoking exploration of a topic that affects many people’s lives.

Literary Devices used in The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College

Jacques Steinberg’s approach in The Gatekeepers incorporates a variety of literary devices that enrich the narrative and deepen the reader’s understanding of the complex admissions process. Here are the top 10 literary devices used:

  1. Anecdotes β€” Steinberg uses personal stories from students, parents, and admissions officers to illustrate larger points about the admissions process. These anecdotes make the narrative more relatable and engaging, providing real-life examples of the themes discussed.
  2. Imagery β€” Through descriptive language, Steinberg paints vivid pictures of the admissions office, the applicants’ homes and schools, and the various settings in which the drama of college admissions unfolds. This imagery helps readers visualize the story and connects them emotionally to the characters’ experiences.
  3. Juxtaposition β€” The author places contrasting ideas and situations next to each other to highlight differences or to provoke thought. For example, the high-stress environment of the admissions office is often juxtaposed with the anxious anticipation of applicants, illuminating the multifaceted nature of the admissions process.
  4. Parallelism β€” Steinberg often uses parallel structure in his writing to compare and contrast the experiences of different students going through the admissions process. This technique underscores the diversity of applicants’ backgrounds and the varied criteria used in admissions decisions.
  5. Metaphor and Simile β€” Metaphorical language and similes are used to draw comparisons between the admissions process and other concepts or experiences, making the book’s themes more accessible and relatable to a broader audience.
  6. Pathos β€” The author frequently appeals to the reader’s emotions through stories of hope, disappointment, success, and failure. This use of pathos creates a stronger connection between the reader and the individuals featured in the book.
  7. Irony β€” Steinberg employs irony to highlight the unpredictability and sometimes the unfairness of the college admissions process. This device is effective in critiquing the system and invoking critical thinking among readers.
  8. Foreshadowing β€” The author occasionally hints at future outcomes or decisions in the admissions process, building suspense and keeping readers engaged throughout the narrative.
  9. Personification β€” Steinberg personifies aspects of the admissions process, such as applications “speaking” for the students or the college “welcoming” its new class. This technique adds depth to the narrative, making the process itself a character in the story.
  10. Alliteration and Assonance β€” The use of alliteration and assonance adds a rhythmic quality to the prose, making it more pleasing to read and emphasizing key points or themes.

These literary devices collectively enhance the storytelling in The Gatekeepers, making complex issues more understandable and engaging for readers. Steinberg’s skilled use of these techniques contributes significantly to the book’s impact, making it a compelling exploration of the college admissions process.

Literary Devices Examples

For each of the top 10 literary devices identified in The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, here are tables providing 3 examples and explanations for their use in the book:


The story of Becca Jannol’s application processThis anecdote illustrates the personal and emotional journey of a high school student navigating the admissions process, highlighting the individual stories behind the applications.
Ralph Figueroa’s reflection on his own college experienceBy sharing Figueroa’s personal experience, Steinberg provides insight into the motivations and perspectives of admissions officers, making them more relatable to readers.
A parent’s anxiety over their child’s admission decisionThis example shows the family dynamics and stress involved in the college application process, broadening the narrative to include the experiences of parents.


Descriptions of the cluttered admissions office during application seasonSteinberg’s vivid imagery helps readers visualize the chaotic environment, emphasizing the volume of work faced by admissions officers.
The tense atmosphere in the room during decision meetingsThis imagery conveys the emotional intensity of making admissions decisions, allowing readers to feel the weight of these moments.
The joy and disappointment on students’ faces as they receive their lettersThrough detailed imagery, Steinberg captures the contrasting emotions of applicants, making the impact of the admissions process palpable.


Comparing the admissions criteria of past decades to the presentThis juxtaposition highlights how the criteria for college admissions have evolved, prompting readers to consider the implications of these changes.
The contrast between a student’s dream college and their safety schoolBy juxtaposing these two types of schools, Steinberg explores the concept of aspiration versus reality in the college application process.
The differences in application essays, showcasing diverse backgrounds and experiencesThis comparison serves to emphasize the variety of stories and perspectives that admissions officers must consider, showcasing the human element of the process.


Narratives of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds applying to collegeSteinberg uses parallelism to compare these experiences, highlighting the disparities and challenges faced by applicants depending on their backgrounds.
The similar yet distinct processes of evaluating applications at several top collegesThis example shows how different institutions approach the same task, underscoring the subjectivity and complexity of admissions decisions.
Descriptions of multiple students waiting for their admissions lettersThrough parallel narratives, the tension and anticipation of waiting for decisions are amplified, illustrating a shared experience among applicants.

These examples showcase how Jacques Steinberg effectively employs literary devices to enrich the narrative of The Gatekeepers, making complex themes more accessible and engaging for readers. The detailed use of anecdotes, imagery, juxtaposition, and parallelism, among others, adds depth and nuance to the exploration of the college admissions process.

The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College – FAQs

Q: What is the main focus of The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg?
A: The main focus is on the admissions process at Wesleyan University, offering an in-depth look at how decisions are made regarding which students are admitted and which are not. It provides insights into the criteria used, the pressures faced by admissions officers, and the impact of these decisions on students and their families.

Q: Who would benefit from reading this book?
A: High school students preparing for college, parents navigating the admissions process with their children, educators looking for insights into college admissions, and anyone interested in the dynamics of higher education in the United States.

Q: Does the book provide tips on how to get accepted into college?
A: While not a guidebook on how to get accepted, The Gatekeepers offers valuable perspectives on what admissions officers look for in applications, thus indirectly providing readers with insights that could improve their applications.

Q: How does the book address the issue of diversity in college admissions?
A: The Gatekeepers explores the efforts made by admissions officers to create a diverse student body, including the challenges and complexities of evaluating applications with an eye towards diversity in race, socioeconomic background, and life experiences.

Q: Can The Gatekeepers help with understanding how to write a college application essay?
A: Through anecdotes and examples of application essays, the book provides a window into what makes an essay stand out to admissions officers, offering inspiration and guidance for applicants writing their essays.

Q: Is the admissions process described in The Gatekeepers applicable to all colleges and universities?
A: While the book focuses on Wesleyan University, many of the themes and challenges are applicable across a range of selective colleges and universities in the U.S. However, each institution may have its unique approach and criteria.

Q: How does The Gatekeepers contribute to the conversation about the fairness of the college admissions process?
A: By providing a behind-the-scenes look at the admissions process, the book opens up conversations about the fairness and transparency of college admissions, including the role of legacy admissions, athletic recruitment, and the weight of standardized test scores.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is the primary setting of The Gatekeepers?A high school senior’s homeAn admissions consulting firmWesleyan University’s admissions officeA college fairC
Who is the main character of the book?A high school counselorRalph Figueroa, an admissions officerA college applicantA parent of a high school studentB
What theme does the book explore through the admissions process?The challenges of distance learningThe impact of technology on educationThe quest for diversity in college admissionsThe financial aspects of higher educationC
Which literary device is frequently used in The Gatekeepers to highlight individual experiences?MetaphorSimileAnecdoteIronyC
How does the book address the stress associated with college admissions?By providing a list of stress-reduction techniquesThrough the stories of students and parentsBy criticizing the education systemNone of the aboveB
What aspect of college admissions is critiqued in The Gatekeepers?The food served during college interviewsThe design of college websitesThe transparency and fairness of the admissions processThe location of colleges and universitiesC
Which group of people would benefit most from reading The Gatekeepers?College sports coachesHigh school students and their parentsUniversity finance officersNone of the aboveB
What unique perspective does The Gatekeepers offer?A historical overview of universities in the U.S.Insights into the daily lives of college professorsA behind-the-scenes look at college admissionsA guide to choosing extracurricular activitiesC

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and engage readers with key aspects of The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg, highlighting the setting, main characters, themes, and perspectives offered in the book.


In this exercise, you are tasked with identifying literary devices used in a paragraph from The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College. Read the paragraph carefully and list the literary devices you find. Answers will be provided below the separator.

Paragraph for Analysis:
“In the dimly lit office, where the hopes and dreams of thousands flickered on computer screens, admissions officers moved like custodians of the future. Each application, a story waiting to be told, held the weight of a potential destiny. The silence was occasionally broken by the soft click of a mouse, a sound that could seal a student’s fate. It was a moment where time seemed to stand still, and the line between acceptance and rejection was as thin as the paper on which letters of acceptance were printed.”


  1. Imagery β€” “In the dimly lit office, where the hopes and dreams of thousands flickered on computer screens,” creates a vivid picture of the setting and the emotional stakes involved.
  2. Metaphor β€” “Custodians of the future” metaphorically describes admissions officers, highlighting their role in shaping students’ futures.
  3. Personification β€” “Each application, a story waiting to be told,” gives applications human qualities, emphasizing their importance and potential.
  4. Onomatopoeia β€” “The soft click of a mouse” uses a word that imitates the sound it represents, drawing the reader into the scene.
  5. Simile β€” “…the line between acceptance and rejection was as thin as the paper on which letters of acceptance were printed” compares the fine margin between acceptance and rejection to the thinness of paper, emphasizing the delicate balance of the admissions process.

This exercise aims to enhance your understanding of how literary devices can be used to convey complex ideas and emotions in writing.