Getting in: Books expose college admissions mania
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.