In Frank Bruni’s cautionary tale about the American pursuit of the perfect college admission, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be (2014), he lays out a strong argument that there is no one path to success. Despite the obsessive pursuit of admission to elite colleges, Bruni illustrates the successful path of successful CEOs like Howard Schultz (graduate of Northern Michigan) who create their own path to success.
Bruni argues that these unique paths are not accidental. These non-elite environments are more personal, often more nurturing, and don’t foster an entitled attitude that an elite college fosters. In fact, Bruni argues that many students at elite colleges believe they have done enough once they have been admitted. He argues that the world cares about who you are and what you’ve done, not where you went to college.
The book is a fascinating peek at the obsessive pursuit of admission to elite colleges. This pursuit begins in pre-K and continues through high school, involving tutoring, outside consultants, and even service projects to enhance a student’s resume. The sociological angle of the book makes it enjoyable.
But it also should cause school administrators to pause. When an obsessive focus on college can begin in elementary school (“College and heaven”) we need to temper those expectations to make them more realistic. We cannot make those expectations so high that students understand that only elite colleges matter.
In the process, Bruni makes a cogent argument for the value of college:
We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. We live in the era of the Internet, which has had a counterintuitive impact: While it opens up an infinite universe of information for exploration, people use it to stand still, bookmarking the websites that cater to their existing hobbies…and customizing their social media feeds so that their judgments are constantly reinforced, their opinions forever affirmed. And college is indeed a ‘perfect place’…to push back at all that, to rummage around in fresh outlooks, to bridge divides. (112)
The undergraduate experience is formative, unique, and valuable. Bruni values all colleges and cautions against an unnecessary obsession with elite colleges.