Gross’s series is an example of using profile to examine larger social contexts or processes, in this case the college-admissions game. The style is airy, the content more weighty, the mix of which makes the piece both entertaining and substantive. While we’re engaged by the kids’ lives, we’re learning about the admissions process, how it’s changed, and the divergent challenges college aspirants face. Gross portrays her characters with both affection and detachment. She uses detail with economical skill, choosing those that are pertinent and telling. We liked this paragraph:

“Mr. Breimer, a graduate of Collegiate (’63) and Yale (’67) in simpler times, arrived at the family conference first, rumpled as always, toting paperwork in shopping bags. He lumbered past the bulletin board, with its postings for tutors and beach houses. He stopped to soothe an agitated mother, whose son, a senior, had been rejected. ‘Did he take the wrong classes?’ she wailed.”

We like the verbs in that paragraph: “lumber,” “soothe” and “wail.” (Verbs often show character better than adjectives or adverbs.) We like the “status details”: the tutors and beach houses. And we like the bold, sweeping characterization that tells us Gross has done her reporting and knows her character: He is rumpled “as always.”

Read “Getting In: At Last, College Answers, and a Few New Questions,” by Jane Gross

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