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The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates [Paperback]

Daniel Golden (Author)
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A heavy-hitting, name-naming exposé by Wall Street Journal deputy bureau chief Golden concludes that Ivy League admissions offices do not practice meritocracy. Instead, top-drawer schools reward donor-happy alums and the "legacy establishment," which Golden defines as "elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves." Moreover, the "preference of privilege" enables wealthy candidates to nose out more deserving working- and middle-class students, especially new immigrants and Asian-Americans. Golden backs his assertions with examples comparing the academic records of entering students: e.g., Al Gore's son was admitted to Harvard despite his shabby record, although a better prepared Asian-American was rejected at all Ivy Leagues because he was "unhooked" (in admission parlance, not well connected or moneyed). Asian-Americans, notes Golden, are the "new Jews," for whom a higher bar is set. Golden tracks shameful admissions policies at Duke, where the enrollment of privileged but underqualified applicants has helped elevate the school's endowment ranking from 25th in 1980 to 16th in 2005; Brown is skewered for courting the offspring of entertainment industry notables. Golden suggests reasonable, workable tactics for resurrecting the antilegacy campaign in Congress (led by Senator Kennedy) and devotes a laudatory chapter to the equitable admissions practices at Caltech, Berea College (Kentucky) and Cooper Union (New York City). (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A delicious account of gross inequities in high places. . . . [Golden] is the Ida Tarbell of college admissions. . . . A fire-breathing, righteous attack on the culture of super-priviledge.”
–Michael Wolff, New York Times Book Review

“Deserves to become a classic. . . . Why do Mr Golden's findings matter so much? The most important reason is that America is witnessing a potentially explosive combination of trends. Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing.”
The Economist

“I was bowled over by The Price of Admission. Daniel Golden makes a frightening case for why the playing field in higher education is still not level, despite all the attempts during the past several decades to make it so. This book is essential reading for anyone connected with higher education.” -Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Harvard

“I didn’t want to believe that rich families and celebrities buy places for their children in America’s best colleges. But Daniel Golden’s evidence is overwhelming. This book should be read by everyone who cares about preserving higher education as a route for developing talent, not rewarding privilege.”
-Diane Ravitch, research professor of education, New York University, and author of Left Back

“If you did not attend or do not teach at a prestigious university, do not play polo well enough to pass it on, and do not have a cool million lying around to buy a place in the freshman class, your child might not make it into the school he or she deserves to attend. Daniel Golden explains why in this passionately written and bitingly acute book.”
-Alan Wolfe, professor of political science, Boston College, and author of One Nation, After All

“Daniel Golden makes a trenchant and convincing case that admission to America’s elite universities has too often turned into a system for reinforcing wealth and privilege, rather than opening new opportunities. He names names—and test scores, and family donation levels. In the wake of this book, the university establishment has some explaining to do.”
-James Fallows, national correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly, and author of Blind into Baghdad

“Anyone who believes that affirmative action for minority students is the big threat to college admissions by merit should confront Golden’s evidence that most elite colleges show much larger preferences for the privileged and the connected. I hope the book helps move colleges toward more equitable practices.”
—Gary Orfield, professor of education and social policy, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Daniel Golden pulls back the curtain on the world of selective college admissions, where the already privileged are the truly preferred. With vigorous prose and artful anecdotes, Golden tells a chilling story of double standards and double crossings. He reminds us that when elite college admissions go to the highest bidders, we all pay the price.”
-Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor, Harvard Law School, and author of Lift Every Voice

“If you or your child is applying to a selective college this year, here's a reading assignment: Pick up a copy of The Price of Admission , a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Golden. It'll either give you a useful view into how the elite admissions game works or just leave you disgusted about the whole enterprise. Actually, probably both. Mr. Golden's subject is the root unfairness in the way elite colleges choose who wins the coveted spots in their freshman classes. . . . Mr. Golden, himself a Harvard alum, details the ways colleges chase after the children of the rich and powerful, like paparazzi pursuing Paris Hilton.”
–Joshua Benton, Dallas Morning News

“An important new book. . . . With clarity and moral force, Golden shows that our greatest universities have been sacrificing their highest ideals on behalf of base pursuits unworthy of their names.”
–Education Sector

The Price of Admission is perfect for those curious about what goes on in college admissions offices because it shatters assumptions about acceptance to elite colleges. . . . The Price of Admission forces the reader to wonder how affirmative action can be deemed controversial when favoritism of the white and wealthy is overly prominent in elite colleges. . . . [F]or those interested in the injustices in higher education, this book is a must-read."
Kansas City Star

“[Golden’s] book arose from a series of investigative articles written for the Journal about how the wealthy, the famous, and the well-connected receive preferential treatment in getting their kids into elite colleges. Golden's goal, which he achieves with an overwhelming amount of solid evidence gleaned from two years of tireless research, is to spotlight ‘a reality elite universities pretend doesn't exist - that money and connections are increasingly tainting college admissions, undermining both its credibility and value to American democracy.’ . . . Who suffers in all this? Golden calls them ‘the unhooked,’ middle- and lower-income students who might have outstanding academic records or tremendous potential but who get squeezed out because their families aren't rich, famous, or politically connected. At elite colleges, admissions is ‘a zero-sum game,’ says Golden, and self-congratulatory rhetoric about level playing fields and socioeconomic diversity runs up against the reality that ‘a large proportion of slots at these universities are reserved for the rich.’ So, in higher education, as in politics, access to healthcare and so much else in America, money talks. And, as the gap widens between the haves and the have-nots, money shouts. If you're ‘shocked’ by this, you haven't been paying close attention.”
Boston Globe

“Golden has fun making trouble in the best journalistic sense. . . . The Price of Admission is a powerful reminder that the public will increasingly require selective colleges to defend their preferences; that not all are prepared to make their complex case well; and that some of their practices, finally, seem indefensible today.”
Harvard Magazine

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400097975
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400097975
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #106,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Daniel Golden
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Customer Reviews

34 Reviews
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Average Customer Review
3.4 out of 5 stars (34 customer reviews)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 101 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A juicy, provocative, principled book, September 5, 2006
While it's widely believed that the rich and powerful can buy their way into top colleges, this book replaces rumor with hard evidence: dozens of specific, juicy examples, captured with a Pulitzer Prize winner's journalistic precision. This is a difficult job, since it can rarely be said with certainty that someone would not have been accepted without their big financial donation or famous parent. Golden understands this, and doesn't stretch facts or pound points. He just presents dozens of cases of apparent corruption, letting the facts speak for themselves.

The author repeatedly contrasts the academic records of wealthy students who were accepted with the records of better but poorer students who did not get in at the same college in the same year. Sometimes, these stories are even supplemented by internal evaluations made by the admissions offices themselves -- as when Golden notes that Senator Bill Frist's son got the lowest possible rating from Princeton's admissions office for academic achievement, and was admitted anyway. While it is standard for college admissions staff to point out the "complexity" and "context" of each case to defend seemingly incongruous outcomes, the author makes these acrobatics difficult with his relentless stream of examples and hard facts.

Golden manages to weave this rigor and precision into a sharp, interesting narrative, moving easily from Princeton and Harvard's affinity for the undistinguished and undisciplined sons of Bill Frist and Al Gore to Brown University's pandering to the children of movie stars to Duke's wooing of the children of the rich. It is a juicy read. Undoubtedly, at least part of what drives this book is the author's muckraking anger. He admits to being outraged on behalf of the Asian students who have to meet higher standards than the wealthy children of white donors and politicians. This outrage, from my perspective, was a plus and not a minus.

Golden's idealism is also evident in the positive chapter about Caltech, The Cooper Union, and Berea College, three institutions where wealth, connections, and power play no role in admissions. He lauds Caltech for being one of the nation's best private colleges despite having an admissions process based on merit alone. It is certainly tempting to believe that this purist idealism could spread to other institutions, too. Still, everybody admits that giving handouts like easier admission is a simple way for universities to cozy up to money and power. Golden is honest about the fact that the only way to deal with corruption in the long run is to institute conflict of interest rules similar to those which exist in law school admissions and other fields.

This is a smart, scathing, provocative, and angry book that shines a bright light on affirmative action for the rich and is guaranteed to produce some embarrassing questions for those who perpetuate it.

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book...Disturbing Truth, January 2, 2007
After reading this book I was embarrassed by my naivety. I had always thought that our country's "premier" colleges were special places where the best and brightest gathered. Obviously that is not the case. The admissions practices outlined in the text appeared to me to be little more than discrimination by wealth.

I must confess I am very grateful to Mr. Golden for writing this book. As disturbing as it was to read, I could not put it in down. It has changed the way I look at higher education, the business world, and politics.

In the future when I see the resume of a CEO or political leader I will be looking for a state university as a mark of merit and real world experience.

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A Ten Star Read on a Five Star Scale, October 13, 2007
This review is from: The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges--and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates (Paperback)
Daniel Golden's The Price of Admission is a ten star read on Amazon's five star scale-- a triumph of hard-hitting investigative reporting combined with thoughtful suggestions on potential reform of college admissions policies.

The thesis of The Price of Admission is simple: a talented "unhooked" student is at a disadvantage in gaining admission to a prestige college, versus less talented alumni legacies, the scions of wealth ("development admits"-- while colleges may contend that admissions are "need blind" with respect to students, the colleges' own financial needs are keenly considered during the admissions process), faculty and staff children, and players of sports of wealth favored under the federal Title IX program, such as crew, polo or lacrosse. The only edge favoring "unhooked" studients is the preference for federally-designated minorities, including blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans-- a group that excludes Asian Americans and poorer immigrants.

Golden proves his thesis handily, using both broad-based admissions statistics and individual case studies. To my mind, Golden's willingness to name names and cite individual cases is a plus-- it is hard to brush off repeated instances of highly-credentialed "unhooked" candidates denied admission for less-talented but better connected children of donors, celebrities and alumni. As a result, this volume is a must-read for college admissions counselors, parents and college applicants. The sting of a college rejection of a talented "unhooked" student will hurt less if the context of that rejection is understood more fully. And perhaps the lure of the Ivy League plus Stanford and Duke will abate a bit if the public realizes that admissions to these institutions are hardly decided on a level playing field.

Especially heartbreaking in The Price of Admission are the stories of top tier students, frequently but by no means uniformly Asian American, rejected at multiple Ivies, while lesser-credentialed but better connected classmates are admitted. Poor foreign immigrants and, ironically, unhooked applicants whose parents have sacrificed to move to strong public school districts or to send their offspring to elite private schools (where they are more likely to compete with "hooked" classmates), are also disadvantaged in college applications. The Price of Admission offers must-read information for such students and families by helping them to realize that the college admissions process is biased and that rejection from top colleges does not signal personal failure. On the basis of personal experience, I would also suggest that talented students who are not admitted to Ivies will typically do well in life on the basis of their talent and drive, and should not let college admissions decisions define them.

Golden also highlights three colleges that do not admit on the basis of alumni preference, family wealth or athletic prowess, illustrating that alternative admissions systems can work effectively. Cooper Union admits strictly on academic and artistic merit, while Caltech admits solely on mathematical and scientific ability. Berea College, which serves a need-based population in the Appalachian Mountain area and in part of Ohio, admits students on the basis of merit, financial need and place of residence. The stories of Berea, Caltech and Cooper Union demonstrate that alternative admissions policies can and should flourish.

Golden concludes The Price of Admission with recommendations for moving college admissions more fully in the direction of merit. Many of his recommendations are thoughtful ones and deserving of careful consideration by college admissions staffs and policymakers.

Altogether, a ten star read on Amazon's five star scale. Recommended with keen enthusiasm.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars How journalism is supposed to be done
Golden's research ability and ability to write is clearly superior than the any journalist working in mainstream American journalism that I know.
Published 1 month ago by Nan Chen

4.0 out of 5 stars good expose of modern universities' admission practices
Good expose of the hypocrisy of modern universities, and public perception of affirmative action. Lots of detail on all the different preferences (upper-class sports like...
Published 4 months ago by bottomofthe9th

2.0 out of 5 stars Not really a lot there....
Please understand--I'm one of the "non-elites" who got passed over, and wound up going to Podunk State instead.

That being said--this book is pretty bad.
Published 11 months ago by Greenman72

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not fair or balanced
This book makes for interesting reading and gives many fascinating anecdotes of admissions preferences and discrimination; however, it should not be mistaken for an even-handed...
Published 11 months ago by Salamander

1.0 out of 5 stars Duh!
Why would it come as a surprise to any observer that the rich and famous can gain entry to our elite colleges? However, this fact misses the point.
Published 14 months ago by R. J. Notebaert

4.0 out of 5 stars Great journalism, flawed argumentation
This book is written magnificently, and the journalism is first-rate. Golden has certainly done his homework, and he provides the reader with revealing quotes from interviews with...
Published 15 months ago by Joshua D. Rosenberg

5.0 out of 5 stars Lays Bare the facade of the ivy league
I loved this book. It lays bare the admissions process of the ivy league and "better" colleges and helps people re-think the status of those institutions.
Published 22 months ago by kerry D

1.0 out of 5 stars higher education is not a right but a commodity
Obviously the author is a great journalist who really dug out every piece of dirt related to the themes that he was writing about: donor preference, relational preference...
Published on December 13, 2008 by Z. Cai

5.0 out of 5 stars Daniel Golden: great job! I'm going to start buying the Wall Street Journal again!
This is a great job, and I see Dan wrote it while working at the Wall Street Journal. This means I shall start reading the WSJ again: Dan, ask for a raise, willya...
Published on June 12, 2008 by Edward G. Nilges

4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, documented, dry
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in college admissions and egalitarianism. While I do disagree with part of the premise (and certainly, this book is much more a dry...
Published on April 12, 2008 by H.

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