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Dad turns college admissions nightmare into comedy

By Stephen Walsh, CNN
Andrew and Denise Ferguson with their son Gillum who made it into college.
Andrew and Denise Ferguson with their son Gillum who made it into college.
  • Andrew Ferguson writes book on how to survive getting your kid in college
  • Ferguson: Admissions process is about helping one you can't live without, live without you
  • No ironclad rules, but take advice from "RodtheBod69" with a grain of salt
  • It's chiefly a problem for the prosperous, he admits, but other income levels deal with it, too

(CNN) -- Andrew Ferguson makes the college admissions process feel a lot like an M. Night Shyamalan movie: Plenty of drama and tension. Maybe a little terror. And plot twists that will leave parents saying, "I did not see that coming."

Ferguson's new book, "Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course Into Getting His Kid Into College" is part comic memoir and part parental prep guide.

Ferguson, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, jokes that the book is primer on how to prevent a murder. "This isn't a book about how to get your kid into college," he said. "It's about how to survive getting your kid into college."

But with all the sage advice on navigating the potholes and mazes of college admissions, "Crazy U" also is a poignant read about parents helping their beloved son leave home and find success at a decent school.

Ferguson chatted with CNN and the following is an edited transcript:

CNN: A lot of the application process seems to be about mom and dad and not about the student.

Ferguson: It's sort of parenthood concentrated. It's all of the ironies of parenthood put together because, of course, the job of a parent is to teach the people that you can't live without, to live without you. You sort of fulfill yourself by denying yourself. That's what goes on in this college admissions process. You're trying to help the kid leave you. There are some parents who think that's great, but most of the parents I know feel pretty torn about that.

On one hand I'm writing about the struggles my son had getting through the process. On the other, I'm writing about the struggles my wife and I had. Two sides of the same coin.

CNN: How much of the research and application process should be the student's and how much should be the parents?

Ferguson: Every parent and child are going to have to determine that for themselves. Even against your best intentions, the process has a way of sucking you in. There are little trapdoors built into the process that demand the parent get involved. My son assumed the posture of one of those bodies floating face-down in that scene of "Titanic." I think that was a reaction to my over-aggressiveness. But I knew I was going to have to poke him once in a while.

CNN: Does he understand now why you did what you did?

Ferguson: I really don't know. I do know that he's extremely happy where he is and he's thriving. How much of that entails gratitude to his mother and father is not clear. He's read the book and he hasn't tried to murder me or anything, so I assume it wasn't entirely offensive to him. I've often thought the key to the whole process is how to keep your kid from murdering you, and how to keep from murdering your kid. If you can get through this thing without homicide, I think that's a victory in itself.

CNN: You write that for every piece of advice you get, there's another piece of advice to counter it.

Ferguson: That's how everybody ends up. They may not admit it, but that's what everybody does. I talk about this law of constant contradiction which seems as ironclad as anything Newton or Einstein came up with. That's partly because there's so much advice out there. It's almost inevitable that someone will say, "Proofread your application." And someone else will say, "Put a bunch of typos in your application so that you can say something original."

The problem with a lot of the advice on the Web is that it may be good, but you don't know where it's coming from. Are you supposed to trust someone who calls himself Puppy Wuppy or RodtheBod69?

CNN: The problems you describe mainly concern those applying to higher-end universities, right?

Ferguson: I don't want to sound ungrateful. These are high-class problems. The kind of craziness and frenzy that I describe is something well-to-do or prosperous people put on themselves. But it's seeping down into income levels where you wouldn't expect it. A lot of this is caused by things that are very admirable, like our love for our children and our desire to see them get ahead.

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