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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

That Other March Madness: College Admissions

Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into CollegeSince our son is only a Junior in HS, we are still a year away from that other "March Madness" -- namely, the time of year when most colleges announce their admittance decisions. The often hilarious travails of one parent are captured in the book, "Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College," by Andrew Ferguson.  George Will has a nice summary of the book in the SJ Mercury News ("The real March Madness: Was my child accepted?"), a piece that originally appeared in the Washington Post ("College daze: The insanity of the application process"). For instance,

[Ferguson] begins in Greenwich, Conn. — a hedge fund habitat — watching Katherine Cohen, an “independent college admissions counselor,” market her $40,000 “platinum package” of strategies for bewitching Ivy League admissions officers. “Everyone in the room,” writes Ferguson, “was on full alert, with that feral look of parental ambition. They swiveled their tail-gunning eyes toward Kat when she was introduced.” Kat introduced them to terror:
“There are 36,000 high schools in this country. That means there are at least 36,000 valedictorians. They can’t all go to Brown.”
What about your son's gazillion extracurricular activities? Kat sniffs:
“He’s a serial joiner . . . just running up the score. He was 'invited' to participate in a 'leadership' program in Washington? The invitation came in the mail, I guess. It said he was 'selected.' Do you know why he was selected? Your ZIP code. They knew you could pay.”
Will's recounting of Ferguson's story about a mom who is just bursting to share her child's SAT scores is humorous. The mom can't just tell everyone what the scores are. She has to be asked, and Ferguson evidently takes his own sweet time doing so. At the end of the column, Will offers some sage advice:
"The college admission process occasions too much angst. America is thickly planted with 1,400 four-year institutions. Motivated, selective students can get a fine education at any of them -- unmotivated, undiscerning students at none."
I suspect such wisdom is something many of us need to hear.

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