After reading Risa Lewak’s Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer: How to Survive the College Admissions Process Without Losing Your Mind, there was only one question to ask myself before writing this review: Would I recommend the book to my little sister?
Emily, my 15-year-old sister, just started her sophomore year in high school and, thanks to more emphasis than ever on AP courses and college preparation, she’s already freaked out about the whole application process. It’s a little ridiculous.
So I thought about it. Is reading this book seriously going to help relieve some of her stress from the impending process? Or is it just another book to throw in her already stuffed Jansport?
The answer to my question is: Yes, I would absolutely recommend the book to her. And to all of her crazy-involved, stressed out friends, too.
The 200-pager is a quick and easy read, with chapters broken up by digestible charts and graphics, so even the most bogged-down applicant could spare a few moments to read something that isn’t on a Top 100 Classic Books list.
That’s not to say, though, that Lewak doesn’t provide quality information. Rather, she does just that, and does so in a manner that will make other college prep books jealous of their smarter, cooler sister.
A former pre-admissions counselor and recruiter for Hunter College, Lewak also is an alumni interviewer for the University of Pennsylvania. While her experience and expertise on the subject allow her to offer helpful insight, it’s her sharp use of humor that shows that she really does understand how insane and nonsensical the whole process is.
The book follows the chronological path of the application, starting with pre-app advice on choosing extracurricular activities in high school and ending with post-acceptance tips on navigating the nightmare known as financial aid. In between, cushioned by funny one-liners, is guidance on how to choose which schools to apply to, how to deal with annoyingly involved parents and how not to write your essay. Useful websites for standardized test prep and scholarships also frequent the pages.
The satirical examples of the SAT questions and the essay prompt are hysterical, and a fake, vomit-inducing application essay proves that admissions officers don’t care if you scooped ice cream at Baskin-Robbins or helped rebels of a tiny country overthrow its dictator during the summer as long as you’re passionate about it.
While none of the anecdotes or advice in the book is mind blowing, there’s just something about hearing things from someone who’s not your parent that makes you listen (sorry, Mom and Dad).
The college application process sucks. For everyone. But being able to laugh at it might make it a hell of a lot less terrible. And that’s something that I would wish for all applicants, not just Emily.
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