Admission: Chapter One
She didn't need much, she told him as he took her back outside. They were going to a meeting room in the library, a modern building designed to harmonize with the older structures around the quadrangle. Inside, he led her into the librarians' lounge and brought her some coffee in a Styrofoam cup. "Starbucks hasn't come to Deerfield yet," he told her apologetically. "We do our best to carry on."
"I totally understand," she said, smiling. "I'd like to show a DVD, if I may. And I've brought some applications. If they're on the fence about applying, sometimes it makes a difference if we get the application into their hands."
"I don't think you'll have very many on the fence," Roden said. "You had, what, twenty-five? twenty-six? from us last year. I expect you'll get about the same this year."
"That's wonderful," said Portia. "We love Deerfield students."
"They are remarkable," he agreed. "Now, let's see about the DVD." The DVD, in fact, was identical to the version on the Web site, but Portia had found that showing it to a group had an interesting effect. It made some students dreamy, others morose and uncomfortable, as if all those iron tigers and grand neo-Gothic buildings fringed by rippling ivy were a taunting Shangri-la. Kids got withdrawn or determined, she found, and while it nearly always came down to what was actually contained in the applications, there had also been times when a student had made such an impression, in just this kind of setting, that she had followed up and pushed things along. Just as Portia retained that little trill of excitement every time she opened a folder, so she still relished taking the temperature of a group like this. Undoubtedly, there were going to be future admits here. It was always intriguing to try to pick them out.
He took her DVD to the meeting room and left her with her terrible coffee, and Portia used the moment to review the numbers: in five years, 124 applications, 15 admits, 11 attends. Without doubt, Deerfield was a serious player in the construction of any Princeton class, and at a great school like this she wouldn't need to muster much of a sales pitch. On the contrary, she could walk into a room full of Deerfield seniors and tell them the university was a hole, the entire state of New Jersey sucked, and a Princeton degree was a poor return for the roughly $128,000 in tuition they'd have to come up with, and she probably wouldn't lose a single applicant (though she would undoubtedly lose her job).
"Is this a class period?" asked Portia when Roden came back for her.
"Yes, but we let seniors out. It's important."
Portia suppressed a smile and followed him into the meeting room: midcentury portraits of steely masters overlooking Williamsburg sofas and wing chairs. She didn't doubt that Princeton's admissions office was of vital importance to Deerfield. In spite of the laudable philosophy of the institution—the education of young minds or something of that nature—college placement was the raison d'être of every prep school, and the annual dispersal of students to the Ivy League and other selective colleges functioned like a stock market within their world; a prep school that found itself unable to place its students well would find itself unable to attract students in the first place. Indeed, these economically symbiotic relationships were so long-standing that they had attained the filmy gleam of tradition, Portia thought, allowing Roden to take her leather bag. But it was far, far more complicated now. And though there would undoubtedly always be Princeton students who hailed from Deerfield and Andover and Harvard-Westlake and Lawrenceville, it had also become harder and harder for those applicants to get in, a fact known to every single student waiting for her to begin her presentation.