Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College
A father rides out his son’s college admissions process.
I shouldn’t admit this, but the first thing I did upon receiving Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College was to flip to the back to see which college his kid gets into.Skip to next paragraph
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Why did I care? Because having just gone through the same absurd process with my oldest child, I was not willing to listen to some guy wax poetic on how – “crazy” though it was – his bionic child clambered to the top and is now happily overachieving at, say, Harvard. And that all it cost was a few grand for SAT prep, private tutors, hired essay writers – things you, dear reader, can buy, too!
Fortunately, Ferguson is no such fool, and this delightful memoir had me laughing from the first page. It’s an honest account of a devoted dad who finds himself torn between wanting to help his son win the admissions game and not wanting to play by the contradictory rules forced upon them. It’s an unflinching look at the craziness of college admissions, the outrageous price tags of higher education, and, finally, how wonderful it is to watch our teenagers step into that new unknown that begins the rest of their life. (And ends our financial security as we know it.)
Ferguson, a respected journalist with Bloomberg News Service in Washington, D.C., begins by admitting the troubles he is about to detail are those of an already privileged family. At least his son has involved parents, safe schools, and is all but guaranteed college admission somewhere. Students in struggling inner-city D.C. schools may be only miles away as the crow flies, but light years away in opportunities available. So we leap over the
inequality elephant in the room and move on.
First stop: another elephant. This time, the privilege that separates the middle class from the super-rich – in the form of “Dr. Cohen,” an overdressed ex-Brown University admissions officer in Manhattan who charges $40,000 for the “platinum” package of admissions help. For one child. Her advice? Treat the process like a marathon: start young (preschool), get involved in school activities, and “early on in high school” start sucking up to the teacher you’ll be asking to write that all-important recommendation.
So discouraged is Ferguson when he meets with Cohen that he lies about (inflates) his son’s PSAT scores, breaking a vow he’d made to keep from getting caught in the race. Cohen herself is nervous about an interview for her own child – a 9-month-old seeking a spot in an exclusive day care. Shaking his head over the craziness, Ferguson asks Cohen, “How did all this get started?”
“All what get started?” she responds, without cynicism. Ferguson writes: “[Cohen] had spent most of her professional life in this world of high competition, where children quite often served as proxies for status and parental self-worth, and she took the world as she found it. She ignored my question.”
Ferguson’s search leads next to the vast storehouse at US News and World Report, whose landmark 1983 ranking of US colleges spawned an entire industry, mushrooming into books about colleges, books about rankings, and books about books about colleges and rankings.