How to Be Accepted by the College of Your Choice

(Completely Revised 1961-1962 Edition), by Benjamin Fine

Paperback – 419 pages, (March 1960), Popular Library – Out of Print

Now why would I review an out-of-print book from 1960? Well, because it’s great fun to see what the state of higher education was like four decades ago, when many current parents of college-bound high schoolers were just little kids. I rediscovered this tiny-print, now musty smelling volume in a box out in my garage, where most of my lost important stuff is hiding. I remembered it fondly because I bought it (for 75 cents!) when I was in ninth grade and obsessing about how I was going to get into MIT to study nuclear physics (yeah, right). See there, elite college admissions angst isn’t a recent phenomenon.

The cover blurbs proclaim “As many as nine out of ten applicants are rejected by the colleges of their first choice.” Things were tough even in 1960 for Ivy League and other selective school applicants. “The bestselling [sic] book in its field!” It may well have been one of the only books in its field back then, very unlike today. Also, “231 splendid colleges seeking applicants!” “Splendid”? ‘Gotta love those exclamation points. And let’s not forget “A Special Bonus Section showing for the first time how your application will be judged against others by nearly 1,000 accredited colleges in the U.S.A.” I’m wondering why I would want my application to be judged by nearly 1,000 accredited colleges. Time to call in Strunk and White.

A quick tour of the table of contents reveals a book not all that different from those of the same genre today. We find chapters on high school grades, the SAT, ACT, high school curricula, extracurriculars, recommendations, college visits, applications, an in-depth college profile (Connecticut College), money matters, and an application timetable. The usual fare. One chapter did catch my eye, though: Quota Systems. In it, I found this amazing statement from the author:

“I asked the country’s accredited colleges to tell me frankly if they employed quota systems. The 16% replying affirmatively were for the most part Southern institutions that either barred or discouraged Negroes from attending. No Northern universities admitted to quotas against the colored races, and yet it is common knowledge that such barriers exist in Vermont as well as in Virginia. No West Coast universities told me that students of Mexican or Japanese ancestry were denied entry-but surveys show that they are. An atmosphere of hush-hush and shame pervades when quotas are formulated on the basis of faith, nationality, or skin pigmentation; and it is particularly ironic that institutions of higher learning, which might be expected to lead the fight against discrimination, sometimes tend to foster it, in class, on the campus, and in fraternities and sororities.”

After reading this, I promised myself that I would recall those words whenever I pine for “the good old days” of my youth. It’s hard for me to imagine that that text was written a mere 40 years ago, here in America. We’ve come a long way.

Here’s the fun part. The book includes a large section called “The Fact Finder” that lists 976 colleges along with the weighted importance of such admission factors as grades, test scores, recommendations, interviews, legacy connections, and so forth. Most interestingly for me, though, is the posting of each school’s costs-tuition, room and board, and living expenses. Just for fun, here’s a sampling.

For each school listed here (in no particular order), the 1960-1961 total-school-year costs represent roughly the entire student budget of tuition, room and board, plus sundry living expenses. Following that are the comparable 2001-2002 school year costs (taken from Princeton Review’s The Best 331 Colleges (2001 Edition)) plus the percentage increase over 1960-61. Buckle your seat belt.

1960-61 Costs
2001-02 Costs
Princeton University
Harvard University
Yale University
Swarthmore College
Williams College
Amherst College
Penn State University
Penn State University
UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley
Michigan State University
Michigan State University
University of Texas
University of Texas
University of Chicago
Duke University


And there you have it, folks. Here’s one competition the Ivy League doesn’t win. It was close, but Duke University nips Berkeley at the wire by a mere 24 percentage points to win the Biggest Percentage Increase in College Costs Since 1961 Award, from those schools listed here. One has to wonder what other categories of consumer costs have outstripped higher education. Medical costs? Energy? Food? I presume that information is available somewhere on the Web, but I’m too lazy to look it up. Be my guest.

So there you have it, a sampling of what the wonderful world of college was like four decades ago. Was it better then? You make the call.