The college-admissions process scrubs Weekly Standard senior editor Ferguson (Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America, 2007, etc.) like a Brillo pad in this droll, tart chronicle of his son’s progress to Big State U.
The letters started to arrive when Ferguson’s son was a junior in high school, glossy solicitations from colleges they didn’t even know existed. Investigating, the author was in for a rude surprise. While he had let his son fritter away his childhood being a kid, others had been prepping their children for college since kindergarten. Woefully behind the curve—one college prepper referred to him as a “baaaaaaad daaaaaad”—Ferguson quickly joined the ranks of the college-obsessed. This is well-worn territory, but the author, though neurotic, also proves affable, wry, modest and quite funny. Early on in the process, he realized that for every piece of good advice—and there is plenty—there is an equal and opposite piece of advice. During his investigation, he encountered the college rankings, the SAT, guidebooks and the grind of financial-aid forms (“they’ve made it inconvenient for me to get free money”). He took the SAT and was dismayed to find that his math score was “low enough to take your breath away…a level somewhere below ‘lobotomy patient’ but above ‘Phillies fan.’ ” Ferguson also confronted the application form, a harmless questionnaire wrapped around an explosive device—the personal essay, in which, according to samples tendered by experts, “every sentence contained a little stink bomb of braggadocio.” Throughout, the author astutely balances the wretched aspects of the process (“the latest admissions trend in American higher education is affirmative action for white men”) with pathos.
At a remove, Ferguson is downright smart and entertaining; in the thick of it, you feel his pain.