The new book "Where
You Go Is Not Who You Will Be," by Frank Bruni, is challenging
popular opinion about how much the particular college you attend actually affects
your overall success in life. Bruni, a columnist for
the New York Times, says that the college your kids go to won't
decide their destiny, and he's got the facts and figures to back that up. For
instance, contrary to popular belief, most CEO's and politicians in our country did not graduate from Ivy League schools.
At face value, this may feel like generic consolation
for kids who got rejected by their first-choice school, or maybe
something written by an envious state-school grad trying to devalue the
competition. But the book is much smarter than that. You can watch an interview
with the author here, and I definitely recommend reading the book.
The mistake we make, Bruni says, is that we equate a college's
exclusivity with quality—when it's just not true. How do these things get so
out of whack?
You could blame the test prep industry or blame the colleges
themselves, as they artificially inflate their rejection rates in order to
appear more exclusive. Rather than worry about blame though, I think the
message here is that parents and kids can all just relax a little bit about college acceptance letters.
If you ask me, the idea of a college alma matter defining a
person's career trajectory will be irrelevant by the time my almost-2-year-old
daughter is entering the job market. Here's why:
College is an industry and tradition that's in the
middle of tremendous change. New ways to be educated and measure
education are changing what colleges look like. The idea of attending a brick-and-mortar
college for four years used to be standard but is now becoming an unnecessary (though fun) lifestyle choice.
Maybe my opinion would mean more to you if I was writing it today as a rich woman, having made myself famous for being wildly successful.
there are still companies today, in many fields, who only hire from a select few
universities, no matter what. But that way of
doing business seems antiquated in a world where any ambitious student with an
internet connection can access learning materials, interact with experts and independently learn to excel in almost every field imaginable.
I chose to go to a state school even though my college placement
test scores had Ivy League Schools courting me. Then I didn't graduate from that state school, despite
being on a full-ride scholarship and consistently on the Dean's list. So, not only am I not Ivy League, I'm without a
degree even from the school I attended. Basically, I am way, way off this preconceived path of "how to find
And I have no regrets.
I have been supporting myself solely through creative
freelance projects like video blogging, writing and directing for the past 10 years. "Video blogger" wasn't even a
thing when I was in high school. Neither was a web series creator or most of
the other job titles I've held. I wonder what opportunities will invent
themselves in the next 20 years for my daughter's generation?
Maybe my opinion would mean more to you if I was writing it
today as a rich woman, having made myself famous for being wildly successful. I
haven't done that, at least not yet. But I have loved my work, and, more
importantly than that, I have been content with the opportunities and
choices that were available to me along the way. The path I took wouldn't be
advisable to most people, so I'm not telling kids to discard college
education entirely. I am saying that it's worth being fearless and going after
what you really want in the way you want to go after it.
Ivy League certainly didn't hurt them, but I don't believe it made them either.
There is value in the resilience and self-reliance that
comes from rejection from a larger school or having to prove your ability in
a job field based on your merit alone. There is also value in having a voice, a perspective, and a set of personal experiences that are true to yourself and perhaps different than the typical professional in your field.
I should mention that I have several close, extremely brilliant
friends who graduated from Ivy League schools. I have a
suspicion that these friends were on an inevitable path to be successful (which they are) based
on their wonderful personalities and high intelligence, although they would tell
you they have a lot to thank their college years for. Ivy League certainly didn't
hurt them, but I don't believe it made them either.
If 16 years from now my daughter Beatrice wants to
go to an Ivy League school, and she's accepted to it, then I'll be thrilled for her— if she's going for the right reason. Which is not because she is hoping it will
give her elite status or make her better connected, not because she's hoping it will make
things easier for her in intangible ways on paper and behind closed doors.
Instead, I would hope she chooses a school simply because that school the best place to learn what she wants to know.