Get­ting in: Books ex­pose col­lege ad­mis­sions ma­nia

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Pastimes - TINA JOR­DAN AND GAL BECKERMAN

The col­lege ad­mis­sions scan­dal that erupted March 12 in which fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors charged 50 peo­ple in a scheme to buy spots in the fresh­man classes at Yale, Stan­ford and other big-name schools has ex­posed the lengths to which rich, en­ti­tled par­ents – in­clud­ing Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties and prom­i­nent busi­ness lead­ers – are will­ing to go to get their prog­eny into the “right” uni­ver­sity.

But it was also a re­minder of just how filled with mys­tery and anx­i­ety that process is – so much so that un­lock­ing it was worth mil­lions to those who could af­ford it. For a more af­ford­able price – or for free at your pub­lic li­brary – check out these books that pro­vide a glimpse into to those back­rooms where col­lege ad­mis­sions take place in Amer­ica to­day.

‘CRAZY U: ONE DAD’S CRASH COURSE IN GET­TING HIS KID INTO COL­LEGE,’ BY AN­DREW FER­GU­SON

Fer­gu­son cap­tures the world of higher ed­u­ca­tion for what it truly is: an in­dus­try, one re­plete with con­sul­tants, high-priced tu­tors, coaches and strate­gists. The pur­suit of get­ting into the best schools has long ceased be­ing a ques­tion merely of merit. But Fer­gu­son ap­proaches this pan­icked sub­ject in a style that makes it a “calm, amus­ing, low-key med­i­ta­tion,” Dwight Gar­ner wrote in his re­view. It’s a book many par­ents are sure to grip “as if it were a cold com­press they might ap­ply to their fevered fore­heads.”

‘EX­CEL­LENT SHEEP: THE MISEDUCATION OF THE AMER­I­CAN ELITE AND THE WAY TO A MEAN­ING­FUL LIFE,’ BY WIL­LIAM DERESIEWICZ

In this scathing take­down of higher ed­u­ca­tion, Deresiewicz, a for­mer pro­fes­sor at Yale, ac­cuses our coun­try’s most elite schools of fos­ter­ing a learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment de­void of cre­ativ­ity and crit­i­cal think­ing. In his re­view, Dwight Gar­ner noted that Deresiewicz “spends a long time con­sid­er­ing col­lege ad­mis­sions be­cause a vast num­ber of crimes, he sug­gests, are com­mit­ted in its name.”

‘THE BIG TEST: THE SE­CRET HIS­TORY OF THE AMER­I­CAN MER­I­TOC­RACY,’ BY NICHOLAS LEMANN

No con­ver­sa­tion about col­lege ad­mis­sion can avoid the out­size role played by the SAT, the exam cre­ated to pro­vide an al­legedly level play­ing field and en­sure a mer­i­to­cratic sys­tem. Lemann’s book puts the lie to that no­tion by of­fer­ing a his­tor­i­cal look at the test’s ori­gins and the ways it has been used over the decades to ce­ment class and racial di­vides. One of Lemann’s pre­scrip­tions still seems res­o­nant: “Test-prep should con­sist of mas­ter­ing the high­school cur­ricu­lum, not learn­ing tricks to out­wit mul­ti­ple-choice ap­ti­tude ex­ams.”

‘THE PRICE OF AD­MIS­SION: HOW AMER­ICA’S RUL­ING CLASS BUYS ITS WAY INTO ELITE COL­LEGES – AND WHO GETS LEFT OUT­SIDE THE GATES,’ BY DANIEL GOLDEN

Golden, a Pulitzer Prizewin­ning re­porter, ap­plied his in­ves­tiga­tive skills to try and un­der­stand the ad­mis­sion process. Af­ter two years and hun­dreds of in­ter­views, he re­vealed just how of­ten qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants get passed over in fa­vor of wealthy stu­dents with lesser cre­den­tials. Writ­ing in the Book Re­view, our re­viewer called the book “a de­li­cious ac­count of gross in­equities in high places.”

‘WHERE YOU GO IS NOT WHO YOU’LL BE: AN ANTIDOTE TO THE COL­LEGE AD­MIS­SIONS MA­NIA,’ BY FRANK BRUNI

New York Times colum­nist Frank Bruni tries to un­der­stand the thick coat of anx­i­ety that cov­ers ev­ery­thing re­lated to col­lege ad­mis­sion, the sense that this one de­ci­sion could make or break a whole life. His aim is to get par­ents and stu­dents to re­lax and put higher ed­u­ca­tion and what it rep­re­sents into proper per­spec­tive.

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