Irena Smith - The Golden Ticket (Ferry Building)

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Irena Smith

The Golden Ticket

In-Person Event • Book Passage (SF Ferry Building)

Sun., May 7th • 2:00pm PT

This event will be hosted live at Book Passage's San Francisco Store. Please contact with questions regarding live events.

Palo Alto, California, is home to stratospheric real estate prices and equally high expectations, a place where everyone has to be good at something and where success is often defined by the name of a prestigious college on the back of a late-model luxury car. It's also the place where Irena Smith--Soviet émigré, PhD in comparative literature, former Stanford admission reader--works as a private college counselor to some of the country's most ambitious and tightly wound students . . . even as, at home, her own children unravel.

Narrated as a series of responses to college application essay prompts, The Golden Ticket combines sharp social commentary, family history, and the lessons of great (and not so great) literature to offer a broader, more generous vision of what it means to succeed.

Irena Smith is a Bay Area-based college admissions counselor, former Stanford admissions officer, and first-time author. She was born in the Soviet Union in the waning days of the Brezhnev regime and emigrated to the United States with her parents when she was nine years old. There, in spite of her fierce insistence that she would never, ever learn to speak English, she went on to receive a PhD in comparative literature and taught literature at UCLA and Stanford before transitioning to college admissions and writing.


Some praise for The Golden Ticket:

Tackling childhood and parenting in a new way, The Golden Ticket shows that growing up in America is an increasingly difficult job. With humor and pathos, Irena Smith draws the reader behind the curtain of college admissions, where life is more complicated than any kid's file.”
—Malcolm Harris, author of Palo Alto and Kids These Days

“At a time of an unprecedented youth mental health crisis, Irena Smith's addictively engaging, literary, witty, and heartrending memoir couldn't be more timely and important. Thank goodness she had the courage, smarts, and  perfect perspective—at "the intersection of unbridled ambition and family dysfunction"—to create it.”
—Katherine Ellison, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention


Irena Smith photo courtesy of the author.



Book Passage Ferry Building
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
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The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essays By Irena Smith Cover Image
ISBN: 9781647424640
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: She Writes Press - April 18th, 2023