Education Crazy U's Andrew Ferguson on How to Get Your Kid into College w/o Going Insane


Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of, most recently, Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College.

Drawing rave reviews from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Crazy U is a very funny yet very serious look at the higher-education industry, especially the status anxiety college invokes in parents. Ferguson roams the countryside with his diffident son, touring various campuses and meeting characters such as a sharp-tongued counselor who charges $40,000 to shepherd high schoolers through an increasingly competitive and byzantine admissions process.

Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Ferguson and his son Gillam, who is now a sophomore at the University of Virginia (discussed as "Big State University" in the book). Shot by Jim Epstein and edited by Josh Swain.

Approximately 5 minutes. Go to for downloadable versions and subscribe to our YouTube channel for automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Ferguson is also the author of Land of Lincoln and Fools' Names, Fools' Faces. For more on those books and the author, go here now.

In 2008, Gillespie interviewed Ferguson as part of an experimental interactive media studies class taught via videocam for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Watch the discussion with Ferguson, Gillespie, and the students of IMS 390B by going here. Among the topics covered: Land of Lincoln, Ferguson's dislike of Twitter, and his years as a speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush. About 50 minutes.

3/11/2011 Update: Ferguson's book is temporarily sold out at Amazon. To purchase at Barnes & Noble, go here.

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  1. It used to be colleges just let in whoever was the most intelligent. But that was found to have a disparate impact on minorities. So colleges stopped relying on standardized tests (and I am not talking about the SATs). Colleges used to just give objective entrance exams. After they stopped doing that and judging people purely on intelligence, they have been reducing to judging applicants on who can be the most PC lefty snot nosed brat with the most socially acceptable extraciricular activities.

    If you are in FHA or JROTC, fuck off. If you are working on an organic farm and home for transgendered Mosiquito Indians funded by your trust fund red diaper baby parents every summer, you are golden.

    1. Yeah, a colleague’s kid signed on for a four hour stint at my wife’s Habitat project. The volunteers took months to build the house but the student got her four hour contribution onto her college applications.

    2. “It used to be colleges just let in whoever was the most intelligent.”

      do you really believe this, or are you just more at home in just-so stories?

      1. They have always let the idiot sons of donors in. But it used to be if you did well enough on the entrance exam and didn’t put them over their quota of Jews, you got in. Now you could score a 1600 on your SATs and if you are not a protected minority you are not getting into the very elite schools without a bunch of bullshit extra ciriculars. And even then you won’t get in if you put them over their Asian quota.

        1. “Elite” schools are overrated. You are paying for the name when you can get an equivalent education at a fraction of the cost from a good state school. The only advantage of the “elite” schools is better networking connections if you plan to go into something like investment banking or business consulting.

          1. It’s not hard to weasel in to investment banking with the internet these days.

          2. They may be overrated, but they can still offer some advantages like internship opportunities not avaialble elsewhere. Also, the contacts made there can be a significant help later. It’s an option that should not be casually dismissed.

            My daughter made it onto the wait list at one of those schools, but decided to go elsewhere.

        2. you’ve left out a few other important factors, but i am not one to evict people from their just so condos.

          1. I prefer to bask in my own just so-so world.

    3. FHA?

      1. Future Harmers of America

      2. I meant FFA. They have actually found a negative correlation between participation in JROTC and FFA and entrance into elite colleges. As I said, it must be lefty shit or it doesn’t count.

        1. You say correlation in the second sentence but then seem to imply causation in the third.

    4. Seriously, come on. Legacies? And do you really believe those various entrance exams were reliable, objective measures of intelligence?

      1. Legacies still exist. And yeah, I think how much shit you know and how competant you are at doing things like algebraic equations says more about how smart you are than how many fucking soup kitcheans you worked in.

        1. I was a Legacy at Princeton and just look where I am now.

        2. “I think how much shit you know and how competant you are at doing things like algebraic equations says more about how smart you are than how many fucking soup kitcheans you worked in.”

          I can’t disagree with that…still, I’m makin’ like dhex, allowing you to continue squatting in your “just so condo.”

    5. The key is to not look at top schools. There are still middle of the road schools that are trying to become top schools that will pay to attract smart kids.

  2. GI bill

    1. “GI bill”

      I don’t giv a rat’s ass who’s cock you sucked in a public restroom this morning.

      1. ur a perfect example of why open head wounds need treated immediately.

        1. Says the one who composes sentences in a manner that indicates severe brain trauma.

  3. I’m just going to apply for all the fed money I can get, the Ayn Rand I took Medicare/Government Health care Scholarship, and the John Stossell Saved a Stash on my Gubment Houseboat Insurance grant.

    1. Anything free and legal, I say “Go for it!”

    2. Taking a government bennie that is offered generally, and opposing the government offering that bennie at all, doesn’t cause me heartburn.

      But, I would say that anyone who takes the position that libertarians should refuse any and all government bennies, is in no position to argue for higher taxes without making some voluntary contributions to the Treasury, first.

      1. Shorter RC Dean: Hate the game, not the playa.

      2. But, I would say that anyone who takes the position that libertarians should refuse any and all government bennies, is in no position to argue for higher taxes without making some voluntary contributions to the Treasury, first.

        What? Are you arguing a person who honors their principles (by refusing subsidies) should be penalized by paying extra taxes?

      3. I’d agree with that if there was a way to opt out of paying into those taxes as well.

  4. A friend of my wife was making $50/hour for SAT tutoring, and that was with no actual experience or track record. Rich, white Philadelphians will pay out the nose to make sure Johnny gets into HYPS.

  5. If he’s editor of the Weekly Standard, shouldn’t his son be going into the military? Wouldn’t that be the manly thing to do?

    1. I don’t know Venneman. What is the douchbag thing to do? Why don’t you tell us that? I am sure you know that.

      Shouldn’t you be out working on your new Sherlock Holmes novel or something?

    2. No,only sons of the Monarch in Great Britain are expected to serve in the military. Hey, you didn’t see the Bush girls volunteering – even for safe state-side positions – did you?

    3. He’s probably their best writer, alongside Matt Labash. Ferguson’s articles are hilarious and usually quite fair-minded even while he’s undermining political opponents. I sometimes wonder why he’s stationed in neo-con central, as something tells me that if Kristol put Ferguson in charge, it would start looking a lot more like Reason.

    4. Where the heck is heller? That was really too stupid.

      heller, may I?

  6. The key is to not look at top schools.

    Twenty years ago, or so, the University of Idaho had a really good (free market oriented) Economics department. That’s where I learned about stuff like regulatory capture and public choice. I have no idea if any of those guys are still there.

    I took Money and Banking (probably the single most useful class I took in Biz Skool) from a Fed economist who was, if I recall correctly, on a teaching sabbatical. I would be extremely interested to hear his opinion of the Timmay and Bennay Show.

  7. The population of college-age kids is at an all-time high, thanks to the echo boomers, so the competition for admittance has gone surprisingly far down the collegiate ladder.

    I’m not sure the cost/benefit ratio for private college (without scholarships) makes sense anymore unless you get into Yale or Harvard, and even then it’s questionable. Coming into adulthood already 200 grand in debt seems a pretty questionable choice. It would take a lot of “networking” to overcome that.

  8. No,only sons of the Monarch in Great Britain are expected to serve in the military. Hey, you didn’t see the Bush girls volunteering – even for safe state-side positions – did you?

    1. While in college, my first wife donated a lot of Bush. I still wonder what type of degree she received for taking so many on the chin?

  9. I used to work in higher ed administration myself, and am sometimes asked by families of college-bound students for advice. Here is what I offer:

    1) If it is an EDUCATION that they want for their student, they must realize that actual learning is something that goes on within the student’s mind. What the student really needs to do is read and study intensively, work math problems, and write. With free public libraries and virtually free internet access, real learning is pretty much entirely a matter of time and motivation and effort rather than money. Good instructors can guide, but ultimately it is up to the student. A motivated student at a mediocre college can and will learn far more than an unmotivated student at the finest institution in the world. There have been people like Eric Hoffer that have managed to entirely self-educate themselves and become serious intellectuals without ever having set foot in college.

    2) If it is a CREDENTIAL that they want, then any 4-year degree from the nearest campus of a state university will do. For most employers, the first cut of the applicant pool is simply between those with a degree vs. those without a degree. The identity of the institution awarding the degree weighs in the balance very late in the process, and most often not at all. I tell people that if the goal is simply to earn a 4-year degree, there is an inexpensive way to do it:

    a) Have the student take advantage of any AP courses available in high school. They might as well, anyway, given the poor state of high school instruction these days.

    b) Attend the nearest community college for the first two years. Community colleges are tremendously inexpensive and a great value. True, you are not going to get lectures from Nobel lauriates; neither are you going to get classes taught by TAs with minimal English competency. You will be able to live at home and thus save money, and the class schedules are flexible enough so you might be able to work part time at something more lucrative and resume-building than waiting tables or washing dishes. Community colleges have worked out articulation agreements so their credits will transfer to state universities, so why pay the higher tuition for the same courses at the university?

    c) Transfer to the state university for the final two years. If possible, attend the campus closest to home so that you can live at home and commute. If course availability is a problem, one can sometimes fill in with some credit by examination or online correspondence courses. If one really studies hard and plans carefully, and takes courses during the summer, it may be possible to even earn a 4 year degree in just 3 1/2 years (I did), thus saving a semester’s tuition.

    The above advice only applies to those not pursuing a career in science or engineering or a few other highly quantitative fields like economics. Those students really do need to attend a full four years at an excellent four-year program.

    3) If it is CACHET that they want for their student – the old school tie, and a big database of valuable networking contacts – then yes, they will have to shoot for one of the elite institutions. They had better be good enough to cut it academically, though, for the worst possible outcome is to become indebted for the huge amount this entails and then wash out without the degree. (This is a dirty secret of those “minority preference” programs – getting in is one thing, but getting out with an earned diploma is something many fail to achieve.) This means, as undemocratic as it may sound, that elite schools really are for the elite. Average students from average families need not apply – nor should they. The elite schools are not really about earning more money anyway. It is more of a tribal initiation rite, from my perspective.

    4) If it is FUN that they want for their student, then there are hundreds of public and private colleges and universities that offer this. The huge amounts of money spent on intercollegiate athletics is Exhibit A, but there are plenty of other exhibits too, as I’m sure you know. This isn’t at all cheap, it is a hugely expensive way to experience four years of fun. Too expensive for increasing numbers of middle-class families, I’m afraid.

    There is an alternative, and I think it is a better one: follow my suggestions under 2) above, reserve a portion of the money saved by not going for four years of on-campus fun, and send the student abroad for a year. Far too few US students spend even a semester abroad, let alone an entire “gap year”. If they did, they would have far more fun, would master one or more foreign languages (something we are really weak at, but that is going to be hugely important in the future), would really learn some useful things about the world and about life, and would have a far more impressive resume than would any of the kids who stayed on campus and partied for four years.

  10. The entire premise of the article is fucked. You have no business getting your kid in anywhere: If the kid is worthy, he doesn’t need you to do one damned thing.

    If he needs your help, he’s an intellectual back bencher, and your efforts to advance him over worthier candidates are despicable.

  11. awesome. your post is great. its worth reading. thank you.

  12. Film is a different medium than print. Rather than characters making speeches, Rand’s philosophy ought to be shown via the characters doing something interesting.

  13. Whoa…since when did you guys start doing game commentary?

  14. Whoa…since when did you guys start doing game commentary?

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