Behind the Admission desk

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd star in Admission, a comedy focused on an Ivy League admissions officer.

By Casey Gale

Upon being asked the key to gaining acceptance to Princeton University — a college that, according to its website, only admitted 7.8% of applicants for the class of 2016 — all that Admissions Officer Portia Nathan can offer hopeful students is, “There is no secret formula.”

Portia is not a real admissions officer, but a character played by Tina Fey in the comedy Admission. The film follows the uptight Portia as she reads through stacks of applications while simultaneously trying to obtain the position of Dean of Admissions. Along the way she runs into a laid-back teacher at a high school, John Pressman (Paul Rudd).

After witnessing his adventurous take on life and accepting some secrets of her past that he brings to light, Portia finds that perhaps she needs to start thinking outside of the box.

Though the world of admissions is but one piece of a larger plot, Admission provides a fairly realistic look into the exhausting process of gaining college acceptance. As Portia reviews a promising application, she pauses and grimaces as she asks, “But no AP Chem?” That is all it requires to take the student off of the shortlist, thus killing a dream because the student failed to choose a challenging enough class. It is nothing personal, Portia notes, it is just that Princeton wants to choose students who will succeed at school and in life.

Such a scene is familiar to many college students. In high school, those with high ambitions try to choose as many challenging classes as possible to better their all-important transcripts. Once the acceptance and rejection letters start being sent out though, it is difficult to stop oneself from thinking of the “what if” scenarios, like, “What if I had just taken one more AP class? Would I have been accepted?”

Though the end result can be undesirable, students are given ample consideration by the college of their choice. In the film, admissions officers are assigned to evaluate students from different regions of the country. Once top picks are chosen, the admissions officers gather to make the final decisions on whom to select.

Bill Larrousse, Rider’s director of undergraduate admissions, confirms that this is much like Rider’s approach to the admissions process.

A Rider admissions counselor is assigned to applicants in a specific geographic area.

“The counselor reviews each application, including academic transcripts, test scores, recommendations, essays and other information provided by the student and makes recommendations about admission,” Larrousse said. “The admission committee considers the counselor’s initial review and then makes a final decision, which is then reported to the student.”

This appears to be a huge undertaking. Careful consideration is given to each student in guaranteeing that the college to which he or she applied is a good fit. Though it may be true when John suggests to Portia that perhaps one’s background is just “a box” that should not determine one’s capability of success, it is, in fact, what determines if a school grants a student admission. The discrepancy between what the student feels is a good fit and what the college feels is a good fit, as many students know, can lead to some disappointment.

Heartbreak over not getting into one’s top school may be a misplaced response. With the desperate eyes of determined high school students and aggressive parents gazing upon her at a school tour, Portia suggests, “If this is the right place for you, it’s where you’ll end up.”

It is up to the interpretation of the viewer if Portia is genuine or simply wants to placate the eager crowd, as she makes no further comment on the matter. The same can be said of students who were either gleeful to find Rider to be their top choice or disappointed when another option fell through. For those who found Rider to be the right place and continue to have a positive college experience, Portia’s philosophy of ending up where one belongs rings true.

Printed in the 4/19/13 edition.

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