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

Crazy U by Andrew Ferguson
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's review
Mar 06, 12

bookshelves: 2012, essay, culture
Read in January, 2012

PSAT, AP, SAT, GPA, FAFSA. Yep, this book is about a dad’s quest to help his son apply to colleges. It hits all the points you’d expect: rankings hype and the US News and World Report, financial aid (lol, wut aid?) and cost inflation, cost/benefit “is it really worth it” analysis of college itself, a bit of historical background on the founding of the American university and those ideals as they changed into what they are today with some GI Bill and something about multiculturalism that’s caused all this such that white males can stand to benefit from affirmative action, plenty of anecdotes, college-as-marketed-commodity/college-as-firm, the hypocritical nature of no post-college exit exam to measure the gain of knowledge, etc.

When I write “etc.,” it’s usually because I’ve ran out of things to say.

So that’s somewhat standard fare as far as writing on college goes. The reason why this book succeeds is not because of its subject but because of the way that it is related. Ferguson characterizes himself and his family well. It’s easy to see scenes through his eyes, from the time he interviews the $20k admissions counselor to the time he orders a ghostwritten essay online to all the times he seems to hail from another planet than his son (neurotic parent/character-disordered child dichotomy), in all these cases, he is consistently funny and interesting.

He has a low tolerance for any kind of pc-speak in his outlook, so anyone who’s already somewhat cynical or disillusioned by the process (and who doesn’t want to think that the world is difficult and stupid—it’s so much easier that way!) of college application and admission would naturally understand and enjoy what he’s saying here. Why do the colleges continue to hike prices? No market demand against them not doing so! Why do the USN rankings perpetuate? Fear! Why are they meaningless? Because they’re easy to hack! Why are the me-question variety of application essays inadequate? Because they favor the showy, gregarious, selfish types who have the ability to talk about themselves in flattering terms, a characteristic that does not follow from “will succeed in life” or even “in college.” Why are colleges and the college experience overhyped? Because wherever you go you will get essentially the same 7, 9, or 11 a capella groups covering the same shady brick-building-laden campus with the students that know how to study and how to have fun and the professors that are leaders in their field who are very available and the classes that are sized just right and the diverse student body and, well, etc.

His conclusion is great, the 2.0 of cynicism: yes things are flawed and to some degree the higher ed industry is marred by branding and advertising and profit-hunger, but on another level that’s not all that goes on when your boy takes the step from high school to college, finally moving away from home into a new life of freedom; the fact that it is a similar experience and an overhyped, overidealized one does not cut away from its basic significance as life transition and rite of passage.

Crazy U is a short, easy read and his tone is light and lively. It also serves as a nice intro to the process, if an exaggerated one (the FAFSA took him four hours??!? It took me maybe one hour!).
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