Washington Post: Both a hilarious narrative and an incisive guide to the college admissions process

April 13, 2011

From Steven Levingston writing for the Washington Post:

Ferguson cuts through the muddle to elevate the discussion and deliver some powerful big-picture analysis. We learn the tortured history of the SAT and how it has become “the most passionately controversial element in the world of college admissions.” We get a stark portrait of the one-way trend in college costs. Ferguson recalls that his annual tuition bill in 1978 at the small liberal-arts college he attended was $5,100. Adjusted for inflation, his price tag today would be $16,500 – far below the $40,000 his alma mater now charges. He combs over College Board handouts explaining how to pay for school and is repeatedly reminded that $143 billion in financial aid awaits students. He wonders for all of us: “Maybe it’s good news that $143 billion was available for aid. But isn’t it bad news that we need the $143 billion in the first place?”

It may seem strange to say that a book so full of heartache is a pleasure to read, but Ferguson’s storytelling is irresistible. You root for the obsessive, well-meaning dad and his lackadaisical son, and you laugh out loud over their college-app tug of war. There’s the son telling his high school counselor that in college he wants to major in beer and paint his chest in the school colors at football games, prompting Dad to snap later: “It’ll be a big help when he writes your recommendation.”