First stop: another elephant. This time, the privilege that separates the middle class from the super-rich – in the form of “Dr. Cohen,” an overdressed ex-Brown University admissions officer in Manhattan who charges $40,000 for the “platinum” package of admissions help. For one child. Her advice? Treat the process like a marathon: start young (preschool), get involved in school activities, and “early on in high school” start sucking up to the teacher you’ll be asking to write that all-important recommendation.
So discouraged is Ferguson when he meets with Cohen that he lies about (inflates) his son’s PSAT scores, breaking a vow he’d made to keep from getting caught in the race. Cohen herself is nervous about an interview for her own child – a 9-month-old seeking a spot in an exclusive day care. Shaking his head over the craziness, Ferguson asks Cohen, “How did all this get started?”
“All what get started?” she responds, without cynicism. Ferguson writes: “[Cohen] had spent most of her professional life in this world of high competition, where children quite often served as proxies for status and parental self-worth, and she took the world as she found it. She ignored my question.”
Ferguson’s search leads next to the vast storehouse at US News and World Report, whose landmark 1983 ranking of US colleges spawned an entire industry, mushrooming into books about colleges, books about rankings, and books about books about colleges and rankings.