Acceptance A Novel

Susan Coll




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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It’s spring break of junior year and the college admissions hysteria is setting in. “AP” Harry (so named for the unprecedented number of advanced placement courses he has taken) and his mother take a detour from his first choice, Harvard, to visit Yates, a liberal arts school in the Northeast that is enjoying a surge in popularity as a result of a statistical error that landed it on the top-fifty list of the U.S. News & World Report rankings. There, on Yates’s dilapidated grounds, Harry runs into two of his classmates from Verona High, an elite public school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There’s Maya Kaluantharana, a gifted athlete whose mediocre SAT scores so alarm her family that they declare her learning disabled, and Taylor Rockefeller, Harry’s brooding neighbor, who just wants a good look at the dormitory bathrooms.

With the human spirit of Tom Perrotta and the engaging honesty of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Susan Coll reveals the frantic world of college admissions, where kids recalibrate their GPAs based on daily quizzes, families relocate to enhance the chance for Ivy League slots, and everyone is looking for the formula for admittance. Meanwhile, Yates admissions officer Olivia Sheraton sifts through applications looking for something—anything—to distinguish one applicant from the next. For all, the price of admission requires compromise; for a few, the ordeal blossoms into an unexpected journey of discovery.


Praise for Acceptance

“For any American family with college-bound children, Susan Coll’s new novel, should be required reading. With this book, Coll has given her readers a witty and occasionally grave satire of the hysteria that surrounds a part of one’s life that is supposed to be rewarding and enjoyable—the college application process . . . The text is not overreaching, and she treats the subject with exactly the tone and elevation it warrants—biting humor and Hornby-esque wit peppered with instances of warmness and seriousness. The book’s ending perfectly exemplifies this terrific balance . . . The reader cannot help but chuckle with laughter at such an ending while also taking Coll’s serious point that the acceptance game is not played just among the upper-middle class; it is a fierce competition that pervades all rungs of American society.”—Mike Frechette, The Midwest Book Review

"Having just sent one kid off to college and with a second now preparing to apply, I had shivers of recognition again and again as I read Acceptance. Fortunately, each shiver came along with its corresponding several smiles and chuckles. Susan Coll has written a dead-on satire that's also full of heart, which is a rare achievement."—Kurt Andersen, author of Heyday

"I don’t know why anyone would bother with those big, ugly college admissions manuals when a novel as smart and savvy as Acceptance can give us the same tips, with laughs. Susan Coll could make hell fun—and she does."—Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries

"This book follows a handful of high school students throughout the year leading up to their graduation. It is a harrowing and hilarious story told from the points of view of the teens and their families as they navigate the maze leading to the holy grail of acceptance by a major university. Coll celebrates and skewers the people and the politics waged on both sides of the application process as the students pick their dream colleges and these institutions either pick them back or toss them onto the scrap heap of second- and third-tier safety schools. The characters evolve through their trials and learn about themselves and one another and accept the loss of one dream while embracing another. They include Harry, a scarily normal overachiever; Maya, the talented but seemingly least gifted of a wealthy Indian family; and Taylor, a girl teetering on the verge of self-abuse or self-discovery. These are teens who come from fairly affluent families and schools. They are treated with respect and love by the author, and readers will return the favor. YAs interested in the college selection process will find this book illuminating as they see in it their own fears acted out and resolved. It reads a bit like a Stephen King novel minus the horrific ending."—Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, California, School Library Journal

"Applying to and getting into college has turned into a deadly serious business for some students and their parents, but Susan Coll manages to make it funny and sometimes poignantly sad in her novel. The characters she describes—AP Harry, Taylor Rockefeller and Maya Kaluantharana, neighbors in an upscale Washington suburb—each react differently to the pressure exerted by their parents, teachers, counselors, peers and, most importantly, themselves as they live through April of their junior year to March of their senior year, by which time their fate is sealed along with their acceptance/deferral/rejection letters. Harry has lived his whole life with the goal of Harvard acceptance ruling his actions; Taylor's erratic mother is more obsessed with her daughter's future than she is; and Maya, as the fourth child of overachieving parents and siblings, must figure out for herself what she really wants and whether the school she chooses or that chooses her is going to really make the difference. Coll also tells the story through the eyes of an admissions dean at a small upstate New York college and reveals the politics and pressure from her point of view as well. Anyone who has been through, or is going through, the college admission process will find this novel hilarious at points, ridiculous at others and, most importantly, true."—KLIATT

"This latest from Coll is a hilarious novel about academe, following three high school students, their parents, and one dean of admissions in the year before the students' graduation. All three students are looking for the right college: Harry is driven but struggling to get into Harvard, Taylor becomes obsessed with stealing her neighbors' mail as she resists her mother's schemes to get her into a top school, and Maya tries to convince her family to let her go to a small liberal arts school even though all her siblings went the Ivy League route. Olivia, the interim dean of admissions at Yates College, which has just made the top 50 list of liberal arts colleges, works to maintain her admissions standards while under pressure from the college president to admit kids with wealthy parents. This extremely engaging story about the high-stakes, upper-middle-class world of college admissions is poised to become a popular book club selection and is recommended for most libraries."—Amy Ford, St. Mary's City Library, Lexington Park, Maryland, Library Journal
"A cheerfully pointed satire about the college-admissions process at a suburban Washington, D.C., high school where students and/or their parents have Ivy League aspirations. In the spring of their junior year, Harry, Maya and Taylor are surprised to find each other at an admissions-information session at Yates, a small upstate New York college each high-schooler assumes is below the others' expectations. Harry, better known as AP Harry, is one of those obnoxiously perfect kids who loves tests and has his heart set on Harvard. His divorced, hardworking mother, Grace, worries that Harry is too driven to excel, which is why she drags him to see Yates. Maya's not-quite-stereotypical East Asian parents expect swim-star Maya to follow her sister into the Ivies, but well-adjusted, easy-going Maya knows she is merely a good student, not exceptional. Taylor's mother, who never went to college, is desperate to have Taylor go somewhere more prestigious than Yates, but Taylor, whose relationship with her mother is prickly at best, falls in love with the school. As the admissions season progresses, Harry resents suggestions that he apply to the Univ. of Maryland as a fallback. Under pressure from her parents to raise her grades, Maya temporarily quits the swim team, but when she fills in at a meet, she breaks a state record. She is then wooed by USC, much to her parents' relief. Taylor, whose application essay is disarmingly honest, is deferred from Yates. Yates admissions officer Olivia has been overwhelmed by the surge in overqualified applicants since a technical glitch listed the mediocre school as 50th on U.S. News & World Report's list of top colleges. Bored and cynical about the process she oversees, Olivia is moved by Taylor's application and invites her for a personal interview that ensures Taylor's acceptance. While readers will root for these kids, Coll's affection for her targets does not detract from her bite."—Kirkus Reviews
"Coll sends up college admissions in an overstuffed social comedy. The novel tracks three juniors-going-on-seniors as they and their families run the gauntlet of SATs, admissions essays, campus tours and rejection letters. It begins with AP Harry (named for the large number of advanced placement courses he takes) and his mother visiting Yates College, a ramshackle school enjoying popularity after U.S. News & World Report erroneously put it on its list of top schools. Also on campus are Harry's classmates Maya Kaluantharana, who'd rather swim laps than prowl library stacks, and Taylor Rockefeller, whose sole criterion for a college is having a private bathroom in her dorm room. As the months tick by and the students wait for acceptance letters, the book meanders through career maneuvering and faculty bed-hopping at Yates, a lawsuit brought against Yates, Harry's obsession with Harvard and Taylor's mother realizing the cause of her daughter's ambivalence toward college. The narrative is heavily peppered with contemporary miscellany (Hurricane Katrina, echoes of the Larry Summers controversy, Facebook, disputes about the SAT's importance.)"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

"Mom, are you all right?" Harry whispered in her ear. "You look kind of funny." "I’m great," Grace replied, managing to pat him reassuringly on the knee. Another parent asked a question about the importance of grades versus standardized test scores, and then wondered aloud about how much weight would be given to her son’s fluency in three languages and his forthcoming summer internship at NASA. "Think of the application as a jigsaw puzzle," the tour guide said. "Grades are one piece, scores are another." He sounded bored with his own answer, as though he uttered these same
Read the full excerpt


  • Susan Coll

  • Susan Coll is the author of the novels A Love Story and Rockville Pike. She lives in Washington, D.C., and she and her husband are the parents of three college-aged children.
  • Susan Coll © Lauren Shay Lavin




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