March 2011

Surviving college admissions 101

By Andrew Ferguson
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Reading Crazy U—journalist Andrew Ferguson’s hilarious, scary account of his son’s college application process—made me think my own children should get cracking.

They are 6 and 3.

Ferguson, editor of the Weekly Standard, takes no prisoners as he writes about the big business that our higher education system has become. He eviscerates the inane, tightly choreographed college campus tours (try not to snort when he describes a Harvard admissions officer “shimmering” into the room for an open house). He meets a $40,000-a-pop private counselor who helps grease the wheels for admission into the Ivy League. He takes the SAT, earning a math score “somewhere below ‘lobotomy patient’ but above ‘Phillies fan.’ ”

All the while, Ferguson’s son is sweating through this in real time. He applies to the Big State University (they live in Virginia—draw your own conclusions), a couple of stretch schools (Georgetown, Villanova) and some safety schools (Virginia Tech, Indiana University). The application essays are just as tedious as I remember from my own college days: It seems nowadays colleges insist that every 17-year-old describe a life-changing epiphany in a 500-word essay. So what happens to those teenagers who are not yet in touch with their rich inner life, as required in our Oprah-fied society?

“I’m a white kid living in the suburbs,” Ferguson’s son moans. “I’m happy. My family is happy. My brother Timmy didn’t die.”

“You don’t have a brother Timmy,” Ferguson points out.

“Exactly,” his son retorts. “Then what am I going to write about?”

Ferguson makes a superb case for stopping the insanity in higher education, from the overblown marketing to the broken financial aid system. Yet Crazy U is not a diatribe, and in fact Ferguson doesn’t offer a prescription to cure what ails college admissions. He simply shines a (very funny) light on the issues, and offers an important reminder that not every young American needs a $200,000 degree to live a good life.

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Crazy U

Crazy U

By Andrew Ferguson
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781439101216

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