Columnist Frank Bruni criticizes college craze

Columnist+Frank+Bruni+criticizes+college+craze / Grand Central Publishing

College-bound high-school seniors are nervously waiting for their college decisions, which are trickling in. Of the many college replies, students and parents await to hear back from the most prestigious of colleges. As the years progress, it seems as if the anxiety to win the ticket to admissions to one of these elite colleges, to which less than six percent of American students attend, rises, seemingly with no limit.

Sources of this increased craze and obsession may be the unprecedented, record-low acceptance rate that decreases with every admissions cycle. Percentages for acceptance simply go down as colleges actively advertise and prompt students to apply, and in Bruni’s words, “ginning up desire in order to frustrate it, instilling hope only to squash it.”

In his recent book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be and New York Times article adapted from the book, columnist Frank Bruni sends a message to all students and parents about dealing with college decisions that are soon to come. He writes, “Where we go to college will have infinitely less bearing on our fulfillment in life than so much else: the wisdom with which we choose our romantic partners; our interactions with the communities that we inhabit; our generosity toward the families we inherit and the families that we make.”

Bruni was initially inspired to write the book by friends with sons and daughters in high school and the incessant conversation about colleges from his nieces and nephews. “I was watching this and comparing it to my own life and the successful people I know. I wondered if there was anything in their résumés, a uniform attendance at a few select schools, and I didn’t see it. It wasn’t the case. It was a patchwork of educational pedigrees,” he said.

The author confronts the notion that successful people attend elite colleges with examples and statistics—specifically, the alma maters of the chief executives of the top ten companies ranked by Fortune 500: University of Arkansas, University of Texas, University of California, Davis, University of Nebraska, Auburn, Texas A&M, Kettering University (previously known as the General Motors Institute), University of Kansas, University of Missouri, St. Louis, and Dartmouth College.

His talk with Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, a well-known seed-funding provider for startups, further proves his point. When asked which colleges produced students who had the greatest success with their ideas, Altman replied, “The University of Waterloo…To my chagrin, Stanford has not had a really great track record.” In addition, Penn State, Texas A&M, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were the top three of the 25 schools whose graduate students recruiters rated.

The success from students from these “non-elite” universities depends not on their alma maters’ names but on the individual’s experience at college. Bruni says it is the “work that he or she puts into [the college experience], the self-examination that’s undertaken, the resourcefulness that’s honed” which matters to the education. “Education happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways, and college has no monopoly on the ingredients for professional achievement or a life well lived,” he added.

However, in an interview with the Huffington Post, Bruni acknowledged the advantage Ivy League students have over non-Ivy League students when it comes to résumés. “There is some pixie dust, but the question is how much are we exaggerating it. I mean, but with all other things being equal, I think you do enjoy a slight advantage, maybe even more than slight, if you go to one of those [Ivy League] schools in terms of networks, in terms of associations, but it is not be all end all. It’s not make or break, and that’s the message we’re giving kids,” he said.

Though this obsessive attitude may take long to change, Bruni writes in hopes of communicating to students and parents the essence of this journey to college beyond prestige, and what it does and does not entail.