Well, for those of you who aren’t avid followers of our Tumblr (yeah, enjoy that shameless plug), I have exciting news: I had the great pleasure of having dinner with and then listening to Jacques Steinberg this past Tuesday night.
Some of you might already be turning green with envy (and yes, you should be jealous). Most of you will be scratching your heads. Who the heck is Jacques Steinberg? Well, dear prospies, I will explain that to you now.
Part 1: Yeah, Lily. Who the Heck Is Jacques Steinberg?
Steinberg is the man behind The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, a book featuring the Wesleyan Office of Admissions (because seriously, what other college is ballsy enough to let a New York Times reporter write about their admissions practices?).
During the 1999-2000 admissions season, Steinberg followed the Wesleyan admissions staff during their application reading and then decision making seasons as they pieced together Wesleyan’s Class of 2004 one student at a time (literally). Steinberg’s book showcases all the issues with the admissions process in general (not just those specific to Wesleyan): affirmative action, the holistic process, and fighting on behalf of certain students, to name a few.
In addition to following the plights of Ralph Figueroa, an admissions officer, Steinberg also follows journeys of six high school seniors/Wesleyan hopefuls. Steinberg’s book, as you probably guessed, was a hit, earning a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since then, Steinberg has written a second book that does a complete 180, titled YOU ARE AN IRONMAN: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon.
As if he couldn’t get any cooler, Steinberg also founded NYT‘s college admissions blog The Choice (a website I know you all frequent an abnormal amount). After almost 25 years at the Times, he left The Choice in January 2013 to become a senior consultant for Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit that seeks to raise high school and college graduation rates amongst low-income students by eliminating many of the financial and personal obstacles that stand in their way. Wow.
Part 2: Lily Freaks Out More
Needless to say, as a college admissions blogger who frequents The Choice more than Morgan Spurlock frequents McDonald’s (bad joke alert), I was excited that Steinberg was making his first appearance back at Wesleyan in five years. Even better: I was invited to join the committee taking him out to dinner at Typhoon, a Wesleyan student favorite (wooo!).
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what Jacques Steinberg was going to be like. Was he going to be pretentious, quiet, ridiculously intelligent to the point where I wouldn’t understand what he was saying, weirded out by my obsession with admissions and the fact that I’ve read The Gatekeepers three times? Was conversation going to be awkward within our group? And as a business woman, how was I going to bring up this teeny tiny website called The Prospect without seeming uuber aggressive?
It turns out Jacques (you know, we’re on a first name basis now) is super down to earth, chill, and wicked insightful. Our table discussed many of the issues he talked about in his speech later that night: the affordability and necessity of the college education and the work people across the country are doing to make funds more accessible to students. Steinberg spoke from his own experiences at Say Yes to Education, and he also discussed his time writing about higher education and education at large.
In addition, in the middle of the conversation my friend Wayne yelled, “LILYWANTSTOBEAJOURNALIST” and then “SHERUNSACOLLEGEADMISSIONSBLOGCALLEDTHEPROSPECT.” So that saved me from being totes awk. Thanks, Wayne. Another plus: Wayne and I got to drive with Jacques in his car to show him where to park on campus. Can YOU say you’ve been in a New York Times bestselling writer’s vehicle?
As noted above, Steinberg (going back to formalities) spoke on many topics, including one of the major issues with higher education today: it’s too expensive, without any real “guarantee” of employment/success like there might have been a decade or two ago.
An even more important point he raised: a four-year university might not be for everyone. People are afraid of sounding politically incorrect or snobby by saying something like this, but it’s true. Some people just want a two-year degree or technical training. And that’s great! Our country has been putting too much emphasis on getting people into four-year colleges no matter what, and as a result, many students drop out while still amassing obscene amounts of debt.
In addition, Steinberg talked on an issue that has been ravaging at Wesleyan for the past year: need-blind admissions. Steinberg played Devil’s Advocate, defending the need for the need-aware model. He discussed the small number of colleges that are labeled as need-blind schools and the even smaller number of those colleges that are actually need-blind. In Wesleyan’s case, we are trying to be more financially responsible and sustainable; for now, that means cutting one program to ensure the continuity of many others.
Furthermore, Steinberg gave a small update on what happened to all of the students he followed during his years of writing The Gatekeepers. Many of them have become lawyers (Wayne: “Why does everyone want to be a LAWYER?! Like, WHAT IS THAT?!”), and in case you were wondering, Becca Jannol (the girl who wrote about the pot brownie) just had a baby (CONGRATS, GIRL!).
Bottom Line: Jacques Steinberg Is the Bomb Dot Com
Need I say more?