There’s a review in today’s The New York Times of Crazy U, a book written by a father, Andrew Ferguson, whose son recently applied to colleges. The review, penned by Dwight Garner and entitled “Application Adventure: A Dad’s College Essay,” is overwhelmingly positive. But buyer beware: This is an example of a book on college admissions to avoid at the bookstore! In the movie Billy Madison, the principal says, “At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.” That is the case here, but let’s add a disclaimer. We didn’t read the book. Yet just from reading the father’s quotes in the review and elsewhere in the press, it’s obvious this book presents falsehoods about the college admissions process. And is it any wonder? Just because a parent has helped his child navigate the churning waters of college admissions doesn’t make him an expert on the process. As the saying goes, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”
Let’s dissect a couple of the inaccuracies about the college admissions process that Ferguson has presented on his press tour. Ferguson “fears for [his son] in a process that’s become a nationwide talent hunt favoring teenage extroverts and self-marketers.” Wrote Ferguson, “I wasn’t sure my son had the personality for it.” Is it important to market yourself? Yes. Welcome to the real world. How does his son expect to ever get a job if he can’t market himself? But do extroverts stand a better chance of admission than introverts? Absolutely not.
Mr. Ferguson seems to be under the impression that students who “dislike talking about themselves, whose every sentence is not ‘a little stink bomb of braggadocio’ are at a disadvantage.” He goes on to say, “Once the larger culture considered reticence a virtue.” Mr. Ferguson couldn’t be more off-base. Applicants who brag about themselves throughout their applications put themselves at a significant disadvantage…not an advantage. Human beings are reading these applications. Human beings are going to advocate for people they like. And “braggadocios” are inherently unlikeable. Bragging in college essays can in fact doom one’s candidacy.
Studies show that a little under half of the general population is considered introverted. And studies also show that a majority of the gifted population, those students who admissions counselors crave, are introverts. So, Mr. Ferguson, you’re saying that admissions committees are overlooking the majority of the gifted population because they don’t brag about themselves in every sentence of their applications? Of course not! If what Mr. Ferguson was saying were true, how did the girl who enjoys reading poetry under a tree on the campus green get in, or how did the computer wizard who spends hours programming in his dorm room earn admission? Come on now!
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