36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2011
You love this book if you ever have been through the college, if you have kids going to college! College admission is never easy!
This is a story of a orderly, obsessive, well-meaning dad and his procrastinating son, and you laugh out loud over their college-app fight. The son tells his high school counselor that he wants to major in beer and paint his chest the school colors for football games, ...and when his father hears this,he says:: "It'll be a big help when he writes your recommendation."
Ferguson's son applies to the Big State University, couple of stretch schools (Georgetown, Villanova) and some safety schools (Virginia Tech, Indiana University).
Then there's Dad handing his lazy a book on successful college essays and watching the boy vacantly turn the book over in his hands. "I thought of the apes coming upon the obelisk in the opening scene of '2001: A Space Odyssey,' " Dad writes. "He did everything but sniff it."
And then the father meets a mother with a daughter gloating that they worked three months on the essays every day after school, plus weekends. The father says, "We did three months of work all in twelve days."
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.' "
This is a one parent's view of the college admissions and the whole process is seen through the father's point of view. It is funny, but there are also the facts of the serious process behind this story.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2011
First, the book needs to come with a serious Warning label....I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard reading a book.
Chortles, wheezes, guffaws and various other snorts were heard to come from my corner of the couch.
Second, having survived the process with my oldest, and currently suffering through the critical junior year with two children (yes, twins) I can attest to the veracity of the material inside the book. It should be the only book you need to read if you are anywhere near a college decision...a fact-filled, indispensible guide for the journey.
Lastly, this book is a sum greater than its parts. Mr. Ferguson skillfully reveals the huge flaws supporting our crazily constructed towers of values and beliefs in society today. Like rats in a maze, we seldom stop to think about that cheese, and whether it's actually worth the race.......
A rollicking great read!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2011
Back in the Eighties -- Man, was that a long time ago! -- I had 2 criteria for choosing Cal: 1) it was in the UC system and 2) it was at least 300 miles from the parental home. I applied to one school, and I got in. Fortunately, my parents were immigrants and hadn't been too college, or else, there's no way I would have gotten away with cockiness, i.e. ignorance. Still, I suppose that's how a lot of us got into college any time before the Internet Age took over our lives, and we came to recognize how every decision became 1,000 decisions. Whatever the reason, there's no way that we'll let our kids make a decision about college that takes less time than deciding what ingredients go into our Chipotle burrito. Case in point, I'm reading Ferguson's book, and my oldest child is seven.
I heartily recommend Ferguson's book. I realize that I got into Cal on a fluke, but I have no illusions that my kids will have it so easy. Ferguson makes fun of all of us for catching this neurosis, which has no physiological or psychological origin, but purely originates from a social disease, which inflicts anyone who resides in the "bottom quintile of the lower upper middle class" or greater. Ferguson's style is breezy, witty and detached, making "Crazy U" a quick read, but poignant and personal enough to make the lessons he learned during the college search process real and hard-hitting. If you don't read Ferguson's book while going through the college admissions process -- or about ten years before that process starts -- I'm pretty sure it will drive you insane.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Look past the National Lampoon title, this is a serious effort to educate the uneducated: parents. Many no doubt assume that they know what is coming, many presume that they are prepared - and all of them are basing their info on their likely college costs and experiences - from twenty years ago. As someone in this line of work, higher ed, even I am a little stunned at many of Ferguson's revelations. This book is invaluable if for no other reason than it delivers a good smack to parents' misplaced ideas about the current realities of this unchecked monolith.
Higher education, as Ferguson painfully unpacks for the reader (and with enough pithy asides to keep the parent from imploding before page 19) is not about a sensible approach to learning a skill, developing a career path, finding one's place in the real world - no, these colleges are about the best way to become the 'working elite' and not the 'working poor.' And it starts with the right preschool, the right prep school, the right AP classes, the right extracurricular committments during their K-12 years. Screw up on any one of these stages and you are condemned to attend - gasp - the community college or some such similar abyss. Regardless of your own abilities and efforts, these colleges cannot provide the needed name credentials for you to claim one of those working elite slots with its prerequisite entry level income in the six figures. You would be better off starting your own business, and I am not being sarcastic here.
Although Ferguson's expose can be read by any parent it does track the absurdities presently infesting a particular type of college education: the "elite" schools, ruinously overpriced and so selective that they pride themselves on the staggering numbers of "SuperKid" students that they gloatingly toss onto their "deny pile." Who isn't good enough for them is their gold standard, and these schools vie with each other as to who rejects more of your precious "SuperKids."
Among the highlights of this well constructed journey has to be that wonderful review by the "independent college admissions counselor" - where the SuperKids's resumes are savaged for their none too obvious but fatal flaws. Then there is the section on college rankings, (particularly p.48-9) where an elite institution, should it falter in these rankings, will be forced to deal with fewer applications from the better-than-SuperKids - and worst of all, "is forced to accept a higher percentage of them, and then it sees more of its offers declined by those who do get in. The acceptance rate goes up, the yield goes down - and the money rolls out."
One of the results of these revelations is that the reader becomes more than disgusted, they become angry. Fortuantely, Ferguson is a patient writer, flustered when he has to confront fraud and "gaming the system," and more than a little overwhelmed by these truly petty machinations in higher ed, but since he is a relatively happy man overall, a good father, loving husband and resilient he somehow believes he and his wife will be able to manage - even if it meant confronting such oddities as the "call message boards like College Confidential" on the internet. A brave new world beckoned and Ferguson, to his credit, didn't tell the son to just go into politics, where discernible, constructive talents and abilities are unlikely requirements for their CV.
Rather than give away too much of the content I can sum it up in this way, Ferguson is a warrior, a Braveheart for the modern era; he met the Beast and it is HigherEd; now, he just has to pay for it. For the reader who is not dealing with a college bound child this book can be hysterical, almost a pratfall a minute in the absurdities the author veers into, almost on every page. It isn't their problem, but in a way, ina larger sense, it is. SO READ IT anyway!
And to the reader who is dealing with this mess, keep in mind something I tell every student that I have: YOU are the consumer, YOU pay the bills, YOU are the empowered party here. If you feel the prof is wasting your time, the dean and the department(s) unresponsive, the courses either too lax or too restrictive due to a lack of real debate or tolerance of varying opinions and even questions, well, then, take it to the college president, and if he/she doesn't quake at the idea of you exposing it all online, to the rankings publications and authorities, to the local papers, to whatever avenue you choose to take, then you transfer to a college that will actually worry more about educating you and not keeping their denial pile healthy. Get outraged and stay that way. It is your money, your future.
Ferguson I hope follows up this little tutorial with a further expose on why college has become so obscenely overpriced - really get into the meat of it - and it will continue the work begun here with his wistful and pained revelations. Others have been haranging the citizenry, and the parent population, about the problems with higher ed for some time, such as David Horowitz for one notable example, but Ferguson's real asset and contribution is that he is the Every Parent, anyone and everyone can relate to his eye-opening experiences. It doesn't hurt that he writes with such a easy sense of humor that even the most ludicrous ordeals he and his wife and the son encounter is manageable for the reader's own growing alarm and anxiety that this could all be too true.
BTW, I recently caught him on Cspan for an author interview with Brian Lamb; under Lamb's trademark barrage of questions, where everyone flinches and gasps for air, Ferguson seemed a bit helpless; 'obviously' he should have gotten his son into the right preschool, the right AP classes, the right committment causes, etc etc etc. Lamb, probably meaning no real offense (it is just his style) would make any of us wonder if we have a clue about anything; so read Ferguson, without a guillotine blade over his head he can recount the ordeal of higher ed with much charm and humility.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Remember the Doublemint commercials: this is two, two, two books in one. On the one hand it is a personal memoir of AF's son Gillum's search for a college, his father's efforts to advance the process and Gillum's eventual, successful admission to the University of Virginia (here called BSU--big state university). It details the by turns zany and poignant process, the heart-string tugs and the craziness. Ferguson reflects on his own experiences at Occidental College as he, his son, his wife and daughter enter the changed world of the contemporary college admissions rat race. The story is sweet, funny, heartfelt and beautifully written.
At the same time, Crazy U is an analytic survey of key aspects of contemporary university `life', business and economics. Ferguson has done his homework. In his discussions of several elements of the now-run-as-a-business university (the history of the SAT's, their uses and abuses; the USNews rankings, the academic admissions counseling industry; financial aid and the pomps and works of the FAFSA; ever-rising tuition and the helicopter parents hovering over the process) the analysis is spot-on. Ferguson is, in part, a humorist, but he is also a professional reporter and his discussions of key aspects of the ways of modern higher education in America are both acute and, in general, precise and on the mark. The statistical data is deployed with a light touch, but it is there and it is accurate.
So read the book as a personal account of a crazy process and, along the way, learn about modern (or sometimes postmodern) higher education in detail. This is a quick read but it is packed with information along with the smiles and tears.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
As a father of twin daughters eager to go to a great college, we've done it all. Test prep classes, AP courses in high school, figuring out which activities and interests will further their goals and build their resumes. Strangely, we thought we were charting a course that few were following. Until I read Crazy U, and realized that we weren't slowly going insane. Nope. Just experiencing the insanity of the college bound family.
As Ferguson points out, getting into college isn't difficult. Getting into a college that you are interested in is more difficult, and being able to pay for the college you want to attend is becoming almost implausibly difficult. My favorite statistic, in a book loaded with statistics: in 1958 Richard Vedder, attended Northwestern University (my wife's alma mater) and paid $795 for annual tuition, about 15% of median household income then. In 2003, the annual tuition was $28,000, about 53% of median household income. If the rate of increase holds, by 2048 Northwestern's tuition will be priced at double the median family income, "meaning that the average family would have to work two years to pay one year of tuition at a selective university". (pages 169-170).
Ferguson details all the steps he took to "help" his son prepare for the college-prep experience, and what he (Ferguson) learned along the way. In what can be described as funny only because it is true he pulls back the cover on consultants who charge $40,000 to prepare a student to apply for college, the wide array of college rankings ("Top 368 Colleges"), how the SAT and other assessments were once considered a great leveling device and are now considered laden with artifacts that create barriers to the breadth of students they were once assumed to help.
If you are in the throes of planning to send a kid to college, read this so you know you don't travel the path alone. Read it for insight but also for humor and inspiration. If you aren't preparing to send a kid to college just yet, or are past those days, read it and laugh at how outrageous the path and expectations have become.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I simply love the way Andrew Ferguson writes. Do you have a friend whose voice you love to hear? You don't care what they are talking about you just find the sound of their voice and the cadence of the speech so pleasing you just want to hear it? I feel that way about Ferguson's writing. Fortunately for me, I also like the things he writes about. He has that wonderful combination of interesting and well researched information, fresh insights and analysis, and laugh out loud humor.
In this book he takes us through the journey of getting his son into college. My wife and I have raised six kids and have gone through this process with each of them. But not with the same degree of anxiety the Feguson family had or their panic about getting into a top school and how to pay for it. Why? Because I never had the money to pay for a big time school and couldn't borrow enough money to pay for all them to go anyway. And my kids are working their way through college more slowly and finding that when they have their own skin in the game they pay more attention and take learning more seriously anyway.
Nevertheless, we received the glossy pieces in the mail, we read the various rankings journals, and of course had to fill out the excruciating FAFSA horror show. There was the satisfaction of recognition as I read how all this affected Ferguson and his family. But beyond the mere experience of these things common to us all, Ferguson digs into how these things all came to be, what's behind them, and how the industry uses them to manipulate us to impoverish ourselves to get our kids an education or at least a diploma.
But there were also aspects of this process I did not know. I come from a working class background and the idea of taking classes to help your SAT or ACT scores was not unknown, but hiring counselors that cost up to $40,000 to help you get into the "right" school was not only unknown, it was completely impossible financially. And, frankly, it seems more than a little ridiculous to me. Apparently, it does to Ferguson, too, because he makes such beautiful fun of the process.
I am also very grateful for the way Ferguson investigates the ridiculous cost of higher education. For the past several decades it has been released from the bonds of economic gravity. I recommend the book for you on the strength of this information alone. You will see how it is partly our parental illogic in wanting the best for our children no matter how much we have to pay. The strange signal a high price sends about educational quality to us as purchasers. This, despite the research showing how little real education and learning goes on in the four years of undergraduate work. And how government efforts to lower costs through grants and especially loans have actually contributed to the rise in prices because it increases our ability to pay now (if not repay later).
There is one aspect of this, though, I think the author has missed. Everyone likes to say that a college grad will earn something like a million bucks more over his or her lifetime. First of all, not all majors earn equally. Degrees related to business, medicine and science I would bet push the average higher while degrees in literature, music, and the arts push it lower. What difference does an undergraduate degree in trumpet really mean if you can already play your horn? And what help will it be if you can't? So, we would need to see the return based on the degree earned.
And to travel into the weeds of finance just a bit, there is the whole idea of PRESENT VALUE. That is you pay out the money now (or over time with interest), but you earn the money over a lifetime, much of it comes decades down the road. So, to really compare the cost to the benefit you have to bring back to the present the payments and interest and subtract that from the present value of your lifetime income. The difference will tell you the value. And it won't be anything like a million dollars.
But there really can be more to an education than the weak signaling Ferguson discusses, but too few students really take advantage of it. I did my music studies a bit older than my peers and my MBA in my 40s. I can tell you that being married with kids focused my energies on learning the material I was shelling out precious dollars for. My oldest daughter, now also married with two kids, is working on her bachelor's degree and she told me the other night how much more seriously she is taking school now and how much more she is learning because she is sacrificing so much to get it. Hooray for her.
I mean, really, you can get a marvelous education by reading and thinking on your own with occasional tutoring. If all we are doing is creating a vast institution of credentialing and signaling rather than real education, why bother anymore? It is clearly overpriced and not achieving any really meaningful ends for most students. Especially not at the vast cost it now demands.
I highly recommend this book to you and think you will not only get a lot of good information, you will enjoy the read. I know I did. Good luck with school!
Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Saline, Michigan
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2011
There is plenty to be cynical about in the college process, and Mr. Ferguson's dry, witty observatons do that approach justice. He gives authentic, insightful, and entertaining voice to the frustrations many parents feel when trying to guide their teenagers through the college process these days.
I am concerned, however, that parents reading this book will be further discouraged about a process that is already pretty daunting. I wish that his book had included some more balanced and hopeful information.
To families in competitive, affluent communities, the college process must feel like a form of torture dreamed up by elite, marketing-savvy colleges or a conspiracy of avaricious college consultants.
The truth is not so cloak-and-dagger. Plainly, baby boomers had babies, and they all became teenagers, in a society where a college degree is becoming more of a standard expectation than it once was, where technology allows students to apply to more college than in the past. Demand way outpaces supply now, and makes it much more difficult for even the most accomplished students to gain entry to elite colleges than "back in the day."
I am a college consultant, but my motivation is to humanize this stressful process, rather than to exploit parents' and students' anxiety or egos, like the consultants caricatured in Mr. Ferguson's book. The simple fact is, that there are 2500 or so accredited four year institutions in the USA, and there is a school out there that will meet just about every student's needs. There are many hard-working, principled guidance counselors and independent consultants who regard it as their mission to help students find the right match.
This book is fun, satirical commentary, but it should not stand alone. There are many straightforward, helpful, hopeful books on the market that are great resources to help students and families identify and gain admission to appropriate colleges.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2011
I've put 2 kids through college (and professional schools) with 1 applying this fall, so Ferguson's book was both deja vu and here it comes again. We too went through the anxiety attacks, and we too - and our kids - survived and prospered. So we are being super cool with the third one.
The truth about college is: Wherever you go, that's where you have to do well. That place becomes your home for 4 years. Unless you plan to run for President, it really doesn't matter much if you go to Harvard or your state U. Just do very well wherever you go, so that you have options for graduate study. Neither of my first 2 got into their first choices for college - or professional schools - but one is now a doctor, the other a lawyer. Both are gainfully employed, practicing exactly what they want to practice.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Crazy U is a hilarious book about a father's journey through the process of getting his son into college. Some of it may make you laugh and some may make you want to scream because of the injustice of the system. The book is very well researched and the facts are accurate. Mr Feguson discusses the SAT's and The College Board and the price of colleges.
I bought the book because I went through the process last year with my son and I wanted to see if someone else shared my pain. I found the book entertaining, funny and really relevant to what I had experienced.
I would recommended this book to all parents of high school students as well as to those of us who already have kids in college. It is entertaining, well written, and very informative.