New Books to Read on Higher Education and College Admissions

Each admissions cycle families ask me to recommend books on higher education and the college admissions process. Here are a few new releases that are among my favorites:

Can College Level the Playing Field?: Higher Education in an Unequal Society by Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson. Examining the limits of higher education’s ability to correct inequality in the U.S., the authors dismiss “sound-bite” policy proposals like free college tuition or online education. Instead, they suggest that greater investment in the postsecondary institutions that educate low-income and marginalized students will have a bigger impact on dismantling inequities than just getting more students from these backgrounds into the most prestigious colleges and universities.

Poison Ivy: How Elite Colleges Divide Us by Evan Mandery. Mandery, a professor at City College, offers a scathing critique of elite colleges and universities, contending that they contribute to social and economic inequality in the U.S. Examining college recruitment and admissions, the preferential treatment of legacy, standardized testing and financial aid policies, he argues that there is an “apartheid educational system” in the U.S. While provocative, he offers only small solutions (like ending early decision) to what feels like a huge societal problem. Still, the book is a worthwhile read.

Rethinking College Admissions: Research-Based Practice and Policy edited by OiYan A. Poon and Michael N. Bastedo. Poon and Bastedo, professors of education, have edited this collection of essays examining postsecondary admissions practices and structures in the U.S. and exploring many factors that affect college access and educational equity. Topics include race-conscious admissions, holistic review without standardized test scores, and student test preparation. 

The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation about Education, Parenting, and Race by and Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown. Fields, an admissions officer at Emory University, and Herndon-Brown, an independent educational consultant, discuss specific concerns for Black families that are not often addressed by school counselors or other resources. I heard them present their work at a conference recently and found the conversation illuminating.

The Real World of College: What Higher Education Is and What It Can Be by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner. Fischman and Gardner conducted more than 2,000 interviews with students, faculty, staff, parents, and other stakeholders at ten institutions ranging from highly selective colleges to less selective universities. Despite what is often depicted in the media, students are less concerned with “big” issues and more focused on their GPA and career prospects.