Mar 24, 2013

Princeton Dean Janet Rapelye Makes her Screen Debut in “Admission”

Princeton University
If you blinked at just the right moment, you might have missed Princeton Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye’s big screen debut in “Admission,” a newly-released comedy starring Tina Fey.

Hitting local theaters the weekend before admissions decisions are due to be sent to thousands of Ivy hopefuls, “Admission” pokes fun at an admissions process that appears to benefit wealthy, connected or otherwise “distinctive” students.  

And the film makes admissions professionals look a little self-centered, silly, and very disconnected from the students over whom they hold great power.

Even the tour guide is insufferable, but very familiar if you’ve ever had the experience of walking a campus with an undergrad who applied to 21 colleges and got into all 21 after achieving perfect SAT scores and founding several nonprofit organizations—as we did several years ago during a tour of none other than Princeton University.

But Dean Rapelye’s appearance midway through the movie in a scene with Tina Fey proves that even admissions professionals can take a joke at their own expense.

According to insiders at Focus Features, the on-campus footage shot at Princeton was left toward the end of production.  With full cooperation from the university, various campus locales such as Blair Arch, Whig Hall, Holder Court, and Firestone plaza were captured on camera.

And as evident from the rhododendron in bloom, access to campus facilities became feasible after school-year classes ended.

Along with Dean Rapelye, Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman, soon-to-retire university president, and Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr., whose history with Princeton was told in the Academy Award winning film, “A Beautiful Mind,” also stopped by the set but stayed out of camera range.

Focus Features reports that scenes during which final admissions decisions were hotly debated and voted on were shot on a soundstage—the real Princeton committee room does not feature a trap door or so we are assured.

For admissions junkies, another cameo appearance worth noting was the on-screen close-up of Admissions Matters, an outstanding guidebook authored by Sally Springer, Jon Reider, and Marion Franck, who just finished a third edition due out in coming weeks. A handful of other guides and one poor bonsai tree completed the backdrop.

Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, who graduated from Dartmouth and was a part time reader for Princeton’s Office Admission during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, “Admission” touches on a familiar range of human emotion that surface during the college application process.  And it’s good we can laugh about it.

“I did apply to Princeton, because it was a dream of my mother’s that one day I would try to go there,” Tina Fey reveals to Focus Features.  “I was a good student, but I wasn’t ‘Princeton material,’ as Wallace Shawn’s character [Shawn plays the dean] would say…So I did not get into Princeton, but I went to a great school—the University of Virginia.

While it may be a little scary if you’re waiting for a real decision from Princeton, “Admission” is a funny film with a good message—more about a parent’s love than college admissions.

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