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Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College

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“The most honest, most helpful book I’ve ever read on applying to college” (New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant), Valedictorians at the Gate offers empowering advice and humorous asides that demystifies the college application process and encourages students to select a school that best reflects their personal values, academic pursuits, and potential career goals. “The most honest, most helpful book I’ve ever read on applying to college” (New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant), Valedictorians at the Gate offers empowering advice and humorous asides that demystifies the college application process and encourages students to select a school that best reflects their personal values, academic pursuits, and potential career goals. After spending years as a college admissions director at Dartmouth, Becky Munsterer Sabky had seen it all. The perfect grades, the perfect scores, and the perfect extracurriculars. Valedictorians were knocking at the gate, but Becky realized that in their quest for admission many of these students were missing something. Their transcripts were golden, their interviews polished, but they weren’t applying for college, they were competing for it—and in the end they didn’t know what prize they were really striving for. In Valedictorians at the Gate, Sabky looks beyond the smoke and mirrors of the intimidating admissions gauntlet and places the power firmly where it should be: in the hands of the students themselves. Offering prescriptive, actionable advice for students and their (hopefully not helicoptering) parents, Sabky illuminates the pathway to finding the school that is the ideal match. Witty and warm, informative and inspiring, Valedictorians at the Gate is the needed tonic for overstressed, overworked, and overwhelmed students on their way to the perfect college for them.


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“The most honest, most helpful book I’ve ever read on applying to college” (New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant), Valedictorians at the Gate offers empowering advice and humorous asides that demystifies the college application process and encourages students to select a school that best reflects their personal values, academic pursuits, and potential career goals. “The most honest, most helpful book I’ve ever read on applying to college” (New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant), Valedictorians at the Gate offers empowering advice and humorous asides that demystifies the college application process and encourages students to select a school that best reflects their personal values, academic pursuits, and potential career goals. After spending years as a college admissions director at Dartmouth, Becky Munsterer Sabky had seen it all. The perfect grades, the perfect scores, and the perfect extracurriculars. Valedictorians were knocking at the gate, but Becky realized that in their quest for admission many of these students were missing something. Their transcripts were golden, their interviews polished, but they weren’t applying for college, they were competing for it—and in the end they didn’t know what prize they were really striving for. In Valedictorians at the Gate, Sabky looks beyond the smoke and mirrors of the intimidating admissions gauntlet and places the power firmly where it should be: in the hands of the students themselves. Offering prescriptive, actionable advice for students and their (hopefully not helicoptering) parents, Sabky illuminates the pathway to finding the school that is the ideal match. Witty and warm, informative and inspiring, Valedictorians at the Gate is the needed tonic for overstressed, overworked, and overwhelmed students on their way to the perfect college for them.

30 review for Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College

  1. 5 out of 5

    Terry Cowdrey

    A perfect combination of entertaining and informative! Sabky shares her perspective on the hyper-selective college admissions process while revealing the humanity of those tasked with conducting the business of enrolling a class each year. Readers will come away with practical suggestions and, more importantly, reminders that it’s not where you go but what you do with the opportunities you are provided.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    As a writing coach for students applying to college, I often find myself wishing I could help my clients bypass the stress associated with the process. Sabky’s comprehensive guide demystifies a great deal of what goes on, particularly on the college side of the application dance, delivering candid advice and rooting for aspiring college students to find their best selves as they navigate the search. Sabky, who was an admissions director at Dartmouth College for 13 years, is a gifted storyteller, As a writing coach for students applying to college, I often find myself wishing I could help my clients bypass the stress associated with the process. Sabky’s comprehensive guide demystifies a great deal of what goes on, particularly on the college side of the application dance, delivering candid advice and rooting for aspiring college students to find their best selves as they navigate the search. Sabky, who was an admissions director at Dartmouth College for 13 years, is a gifted storyteller, and she weaves colorful anecdotes with her tips in several categories, including making the most of college visits, writing a genuine personal statement, and deciding what school to attend. I suspect anyone who has been through or supported someone else through the college admissions process will recognize some aspect of themselves in these pages—I know I did—and I highly recommend Sabky’s book to both applicants and their parents.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ng

    My first book about college admission was The Gatekeepers by Steinberg, which I read in the year 2010 when my eldest was 14 and in middle school. Twenty-six books and two college applications later, here I am again, reading another book on this complicated but interesting topic. Although I understand the process a bit more than any typical parent, both applications were stressful and heart-wrenching. This Fall we are going to start the process all over again since our youngest is a high school se My first book about college admission was The Gatekeepers by Steinberg, which I read in the year 2010 when my eldest was 14 and in middle school. Twenty-six books and two college applications later, here I am again, reading another book on this complicated but interesting topic. Although I understand the process a bit more than any typical parent, both applications were stressful and heart-wrenching. This Fall we are going to start the process all over again since our youngest is a high school senior. Two older siblings with great college matches, eight productive college years and successful jobs still had not made this third time a charm. College application itself is just stressful, complicated and ambiguous, not to mention that each school has its own bias, rules, needs and selection process. Is this new book worth reading? Definitely. The author is an admission officer at Dartmouth. The fact that she is a female and was rejected by Dartmouth years ago made her writing more personal and compassionate. Having a sense of humor also helped. It was a fun and informative read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    Publisher provided for an honest review. This book was surprisingly fast and readable. Many examples and stories are included to keep the reader engaged (even though any story has facts changed, ex Peter, a trumpet player from Nebraska: name is not Peter, doesn’t play the trumpet, and they’re not from Nebraska). Fresh read on mysterious process of college admissions, that can help parents and students learn and it also offers advice to help them create the best application possible.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diane O'Brien

    A perfect combination of entertaining and informative! As a development officer at a #20 private school, I found this book to be a peak behind the Admissions curtain. I would recommend this book to any new development officer working with parents or to any student applying to university. A great book that I would recommend! Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tameka Fleming

    Thank you to Henry Holt and Co. and NetGalley for an ARC for this review. This is a great story about the US college admissions process. The story is told from the perspective of an admissions director (not sure if she is former or not). Becky Munsterer Sabky is engaging and provides anecdotes to hold your interest along the way. The main message I got from the book, is to focus on the person and not the college. I do see how competitive college admissions can cause some to forget that fact. Thi Thank you to Henry Holt and Co. and NetGalley for an ARC for this review. This is a great story about the US college admissions process. The story is told from the perspective of an admissions director (not sure if she is former or not). Becky Munsterer Sabky is engaging and provides anecdotes to hold your interest along the way. The main message I got from the book, is to focus on the person and not the college. I do see how competitive college admissions can cause some to forget that fact. This is a great source for students and parents alike, to provide insight on how a potential student is seen by prospective colleges and universities. Sabky used care and compassion to discuss how and why not every student will be chosen and sometimes it does not mean they are less qualified. I like the stories she told about the young students she met. How they had personalities and were good humans to be around. Overall, I would recommend this book to everyone about to embark on choosing a college. I also think this is a good book for young people in general, to read. It teaches you that it is the person who matters--not their statistics. A young teenager, about to start their first job, could also learn something from the messages in this book. Great read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Munsterer

    This book should be in the hands of every high school student...their parents...guidance counselors..and everyone involved in the process of applying to college!! It is a great insight as to what really matters in the college admission process! It is also a really enjoyable read!!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    joyce w. laudon

    We are now entering the stressful season for rising junior and seniors in high school. These teens often believe that their worth is intimately bound up in where they will go to college. They also often face (way too much) pressure from parents about where they ought to go and what they ought to do there. It can be a very difficult rite of passage. The author of this guide to admissions has a good sense of what is involved on many levels of this process. About twenty years after her applications We are now entering the stressful season for rising junior and seniors in high school. These teens often believe that their worth is intimately bound up in where they will go to college. They also often face (way too much) pressure from parents about where they ought to go and what they ought to do there. It can be a very difficult rite of passage. The author of this guide to admissions has a good sense of what is involved on many levels of this process. About twenty years after her applications were submitted, she still remembers what it was like not to be admitted to Dartmouth. She tells readers that she ultimately went to her fifth choice school, Colby College. At the time, Ms. Sabky took this to mean that there was something wrong with her. But…guess what, she still managed to thrive in college. This is what she wants for her readers. Ms. Sabky has also worked in college admissions and brings that perspective to this guide. And guess what (again), after working at St. Lawrence, she went on to work in admissions at Dartmouth. The book opens with a description of a meeting to review student applications. Many may find the way it was run to be somewhere between horrid and ridiculous. It does show, however, that admissions officers make decisions in a way that can be a bit capricious. To me this means that, if a student does not get into a given school, it can and will hurt but that trying to find a meaningful reason of the decision may just lead to unnecessary soul searching. I take from this that the same student will be admitted to one school only to be deferred from another equally “good” school. The process is to serve the school’s needs; if they can serve the student as well, that is good but that is not their motivation. This book has a lot of practical information about applying to college. It also includes a plethora of anecdotes about students and the work of admissions officers. This book will be valued by those who are looking for a personal account from admissions and are willing to accept the process can be flawed. Some may feel discouraged however. The author’s intended takeaway is that there is a good school for a student even if it was not their first choice school. It is clear that she felt good about Colby and feels that, for her, things worked out well. She wants this for others. So, read this book if you are brave enough. It is helpful. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mira

    This book was very informative on how to stand out and apply to colleges. It has lots of insight and tips and I would recommend to those who are looking for more information about how to excel in academics.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bridgette

    As a parent of two high school students, I found this book the most helpful tool in preparing my children for college. It calmed a lot of my worries about whether I am pushing my kids too hard or too little. It provided a lot of insight in what the kids need to focus on and help prepare them for college admission. This book is a must have for all parents of high schoolers! Highly recommend!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Scout College Consulting

    I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the book this past spring. Sabky's experience in the Dartmouth admissions office adds credibility to what other authors have been telling us for years. At that is: You can't control what goes on inside the admissions office. Priorities change year to year, and even within the same admissions cycle. Admissions representatives are trying to build a cohort to complement the existing classes already in place. It's impossible to guess what that looks l I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the book this past spring. Sabky's experience in the Dartmouth admissions office adds credibility to what other authors have been telling us for years. At that is: You can't control what goes on inside the admissions office. Priorities change year to year, and even within the same admissions cycle. Admissions representatives are trying to build a cohort to complement the existing classes already in place. It's impossible to guess what that looks like from year to year. Your best bet is to look beyond the college rankings and find the college that is truly the best fit for your child. 

  12. 5 out of 5

    PL

    Entertaining and informative. Very helpful if you have kids in high school and have college applications ahead. Clear, concise, and readable. 4.5 stars

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tina Panik

    Helpful, practical, and well organized. This was an ARC

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stacie Moore

    I was thrilled to receive this one, as the mother of a 16-year-old. It was so incredibly informative, while never dragging. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who wants a behind-the-scenes look into the admission process. It’s so interesting to see what things truly set applicants apart. Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Co. for the arc in exchange for my honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Molly Gentine

    The best advice I've ever read. Thank you Becky Sabky for sharing this with the world! The best advice I've ever read. Thank you Becky Sabky for sharing this with the world!

  16. 5 out of 5

    William

    I understand why other readers have liked this book, and two of my friends who are college counselors speak highly of it. The writing is breezy, often witty, though a little too cute in places. My reservations are that while there is useful information here, it is scattered here and there, and must of the book is pretty common knowledge. I also was disappointed that for most of the book the reader does not get an honest sense of how very competitive Dartmouth admissions is, though by the end it c I understand why other readers have liked this book, and two of my friends who are college counselors speak highly of it. The writing is breezy, often witty, though a little too cute in places. My reservations are that while there is useful information here, it is scattered here and there, and must of the book is pretty common knowledge. I also was disappointed that for most of the book the reader does not get an honest sense of how very competitive Dartmouth admissions is, though by the end it comes through, if only partially. The greatest utility for the book will be for people working in college admissions (in admission offices or serving as college advisors). There are quite a few things I did not know about Dartmouth: a 2% admission rate for international students, their willingness to match financial aid from "peer colleges," the high value they put on "demonstrated interest (unusual for a college this rejective) and a few more. I question how helpful the book will be for students. There is a lot of advice, but more than I think they can deal with. Explain why you did not take an AP course? Where and how, and there is a risk of making a negative impression as a "whiner." Visit when colleges are in session? How much school can the kid afford to miss? I agree with the major theme of the book that students should work at being the best version of themselves they can be, rather than thinking about what college admission processes might want. But this creates cognitive dissonance for them, since they will hear the opposite so much more often. Sabky clearly cares about the students and wants to help. It's too little known that this is true for most admission officers. But admission processes at the most competitive schools don't leave much room for intangibles, despite the claim of being holistic. Sabky correctly states that communities need followers at least as much a leaders, but admission processes do not implement that concept very often at the most competitive level. I was also a bit sad that she encouraged students with no chance of admission to apply. To Sabky's credit, she is very honest about how the admission process at Dartmouth works and it jibes with my experience in admissions at similar institutions. Dartmouth clearly always wants more applications. Why, oh why? They are concerned with competing statistically with the other Ivies and similar schools. Again, why? They are test-obsessed, and even more so for international students. They are very concerned with the test scores in their profile of the entering class. This is, of course, not unique to Dartmouth, but it is unfortunate. The central problem, to me, is that what Sabky earnestly wants to accomplish in this book cannot be done in a mere 200 pages, especially when much of the text is devoted to being humorous. I do agree that for admissions professionals, or people specifically interested in Dartmouth admissions, it is worth reading, but I worry about suggesting it to students.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Debora

    Mostly this book made me anxious. It contained many examples of students with excellent college applications being denied admittance. I expected more concrete advice on how to submit a strong application. My biggest take away from this book is that the college admissions process is mostly the luck of the draw. Of course students are expected to meet certain minimum standards, but those standards can be slightly different for various students based on the needs of the college at the time. Basical Mostly this book made me anxious. It contained many examples of students with excellent college applications being denied admittance. I expected more concrete advice on how to submit a strong application. My biggest take away from this book is that the college admissions process is mostly the luck of the draw. Of course students are expected to meet certain minimum standards, but those standards can be slightly different for various students based on the needs of the college at the time. Basically, it's all a big business, and rejection from any college is not necessarily a reflection on the applicant, but an indication of a filled quota. The author applauds human elements in an application, such as evidence of kindness, courtesy, selflessness, but those traits do not necessarily make a difference in getting the student admitted. She admits she likes to see originality in a personal statement, but then elsewhere in the book says that a haiku is not a college personal statement. Although this book was just published this year (2021), it does not address the impact of the pandemic on the college admissions process at all, which was disappointing, and not realistic. The author speaks of campus visits as if nothing has changed. This book did make me realize that much of the application and application process, such as teacher's recommendations, the school report, counselor's letter, and the college quotas is out of the student's control. The book was only minimally helpful.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth Marksteiner

    It’s a long time since I read a book in one sitting, but this will be my new go to for all students and parents wanting to have advice on US colleges and applications. For those of us in the field, It was refreshing to have an honest voice of the realities of the BUSINESS of college. I couldn’t help but think of 1984 - some animals are more equal than other animals… Whether you’re an experienced counselor, new to the game, a parent, a student, definitely head teachers, you should read this!

  19. 4 out of 5

    MauiBeachReads

    I received a Review Copy of this book from MacMillan and have found so much good advice! I have a high-achieving teenage son who’s a Sophomore at a local college prep school - and when your child has high aspirations for attending a top college, knowing what’s in store next year as he begins the process of visiting and applying is helpful. So far, this book is great! It’s extremely readable and relatable with useful tips and real-world examples. I’ve already marked several passages I know I’ll w I received a Review Copy of this book from MacMillan and have found so much good advice! I have a high-achieving teenage son who’s a Sophomore at a local college prep school - and when your child has high aspirations for attending a top college, knowing what’s in store next year as he begins the process of visiting and applying is helpful. So far, this book is great! It’s extremely readable and relatable with useful tips and real-world examples. I’ve already marked several passages I know I’ll want my son to revisit in the coming years as he gets more serious about the application process. There’s information about testing, school visits, essay writing, and much more in addition to just filling out the college application. I’ve suggested that my son’s school invest in multiple copies for the library. Great for students, parents, and administrators / teachers / college counselors to read. Highly recommend for anyone who will be involved in the college application process in the near future!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mal

    Nothing that I didn't know already. Nothing that I didn't know already.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    As the mother of a high school senior, I enjoyed reading this insightful book about the college admissions process. As a former admissions officer for Dartmouth, Ms Sabky gives helpful anecdotal information about the business-minded approach to admitting students. They are trying to build a class of students to best fit the needs of the school, and acceptance or rejection of applicants is not solely based on academic strengths. The many personal stories (with details changed to protect confident As the mother of a high school senior, I enjoyed reading this insightful book about the college admissions process. As a former admissions officer for Dartmouth, Ms Sabky gives helpful anecdotal information about the business-minded approach to admitting students. They are trying to build a class of students to best fit the needs of the school, and acceptance or rejection of applicants is not solely based on academic strengths. The many personal stories (with details changed to protect confidentiality) frequently caused me to smile or to get a bit emotional thinking of my own sons.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marcy

    This is a good introduction to the American admissions process, however, if you've read other recent books by Jeff Selingo and others there isn't much new in this book. There are some nice anecdotes and pieces of advice here and there, but much of this ground has been covered by other books. This is a good introduction to the American admissions process, however, if you've read other recent books by Jeff Selingo and others there isn't much new in this book. There are some nice anecdotes and pieces of advice here and there, but much of this ground has been covered by other books.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ron Frampton

    A book on how to for the prefect college search.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    College admissions deconstructed in a helpful, practical manner. A feel-good admissions guide :)

  25. 5 out of 5

    P L

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jill

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alison Bauer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Grecco

  29. 4 out of 5

    Polly

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hillary

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