Converse's Reviews > Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College

Crazy U by Andrew Ferguson
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Aug 15, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir, non-fiction
Read from August 13 to 15, 2011

In this amusing memoir of getting his son off to college, Ferguson asks himself a number of "why" questions. Why is getting ones offspring into a "selective" college thought to be so important? Why are all these young people taking the SAT? Why would one expect any relationship between a liberal arts degree and job success? Why does college cost so much? And why is it so difficult to determine the educational results of a college degree?

The author does not pretend to be immune from these obsessions. Despite his doubts about the relevance of his own degree to his work as a journalist, and his son's fairly relaxed attitude towards attending college, he too becomes caught up in the race to improve his son's SAT scores and write the perfect college application essay - though he doesn't spend the $40,000 required from a college application coach that he interviews (the coach has her own offspring to worry about - one of them is attempting to join an elite pre-school).

Ferguson suggests that the current obsession with attending college is in part a result of the general abandonment forty years ago of employer's testing perspective employees, a consequence of court rulings. In the absence of their own test results, employers started using a college degree as a signal (an expensive, inefficient signal) of a perspective employee's ability and reliability. As more young people attended college, the value of a degree from a selective college increases, to distinguish one's children from the herd. Ferguson doesn't refute the notion that a college degree increases lifetime earnings, though he seems skeptical of it. I was surprised he didn't devote more time to this, especially as he spends some time describing the rapidly rising cost of a university education. One would think that increasing costs would reduce the economic benefit of a degree. Ferguson is definitely focused on four year programs, barely mentioning community colleges.

Much of the book is devoted to the process of getting into college; consequently there is good deal of material on the SAT and other means of ranking potential students. The SAT was originally intended to reduce the effects of social background on getting into elite colleges. Many critics believe that it does no such thing. Ferguson is highly skeptical of alternative ranking methods being any better, and suggests that the critics are blaming the messenger, rather than addressing the possibility that lower socioeconomic status objectively reduces a young person's chance of success at an elite college.

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