Small Admissions tells the thoroughly engaging story of three Wellesley roommates who embark on their postcollege lives in New York City. Chloe, the mediator of the threesome, gets a job at a homeless shelter. Vicki, determined to escape her small-town Midwestern upbringing, aims for a high-paying job in marketing and the glamorous apartment to go with it. Yet the story centers on Kate, the most bookish and romantic of the three. She gets the job of her dreams in an NYU lab. But just as she is about to start her Ph.D. in biological anthropology, something goes terribly wrong and she falls apart.
A year later, having barely left the couch, seldom showering, and working as the world’s most incompetent dogwalker, Kate lands a job as an assistant admissions director at a prestigious New York private school. Her job interview is cringingly funny—she sweats, admits to being perennially late, and says things like, “By nature I’m more of a T-shirt kind of girl, but I can tuck in a grown-up blouse when I have to. Of course, in some cultures, women don’t wear shirts at all, so I guess in that regard I’m way ahead of the game.”
Improbably, Kate gets the job, where she meets the various families and students applying for sixth-grade admission: the perfectly scripted perfectionist; the kid who’s duller than a loaf of bread, but whose parents think he’s brilliant; the delightfully creative boy whose parents underestimate him; and the genuinely kind and smart underdog whom Kate can’t help rooting for.
Kate’s Wellesley friends, along with her older sister, think they know how to fix Kate’s life. Of course, everyone has it wrong, but they learn to recognize their mistakes, learning more about themselves in the process. As Chloe says, “After we graduated from Wellesley … I figured … that our friendships would be far less complicated without the petty problems that stem from too much togetherness. I was relieved to move forward into something simple and more adult.”
Simple? Not so much. But they do become more “adult” as they recalibrate their initial plans and dreams. Small Admissions is a delight—it’s fast-paced, with laugh-out-loud moments, and every character feels real and unique. In addition to its pointed portrait of the world of private-school admissions, the book reminds us of the irreplaceable laughter and support that our female friendships give us.
Berk is a freelance editor and college essay application tutor. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.