Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350
In her novel Admissions (2004), author Nancy Lieberman explores the cutthroat and intense private school admissions process that vexes Manhattan's elite. Each year on the day after Labor Day, the day when the admissions process begins, it is open season for New York's wealthiest parents who aspire to academic greatness for their children. These families approach admissions with single-minded determination, doing whatever it takes to secure a spot at the prestigious academic institution of their choice. Parents of prekindergartners take the process as seriously as others take college admissions.
Helen Drager, mother of Zoe, thinks the process should be an easy one because her best friend, Sara, is the admissions director at Zoe's current school, the sardonically named "The School." However, Helen soon learns that she will not have an easy time. After an early round of calls to potential high schools for Zoe, Helen is wait-listed—not for admittance, but simply for an application to apply. Furthermore, she will need to procure an endorsement and recommendation from the head of The School, Pamela Rothschild, with whom Helen does not have the best of relationships.
Helen, her husband Michael, and Zoe ultimately look at a number of fictional (but anchored in reality) New York City schools, including The Very Brainy Girls School, The Very Fancy Girls School, The Bucolic Campus School, The Quasi Country Day School, and even The Safety School. Helen learns that it is not enough for Zoe to have good grades when she is up against the Hapsburgian Von Hansdorffs, the Dondi-Marghellettis, and "the LD, ADHD, HIV-positive son of the type A, hepatitis B, Vitamin D-deficient trustee married to the CPA with TMJ and chronic PMS."
Lieberman shows readers that admissions in the New York City private school system is not really about the children at all; instead, it is all about the parents: Who has the most influence? Who can donate a new facility to a school? How far will a legacy go? Admissions takes a bitingly satirical, though ultimately very sobering, look at a competition that has become life and death to many elite New Yorkers.
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