As parents, does it matter where your child goes to college? Frank Bruni, in his new book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, challenges the belief that the college you go to seals your fate and determines how successful you will become in the future. During the crucial spring months of late March and early April, as high school seniors around the country anxiously await their admissions letters, it is a maniacal season fraught with competition, hysteria, and stress. The belief is that if our students do not get into one of the outrageously selective universities, the repercussions will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Fortunately, this myth is not true. The college acceptance letter signals the beginning of life for a high school student, not the end. There are myriad pathways and possibilities that will lead to success. As Bruni urges us to shift towards a new perspective, he argues, “Life is full of people who bloomed later, who took different paths to success.” In this country, we have created a shared narrative where we incessantly hear about and notice more when a successful individual has gone to an Ivy League college. However, when we hear about successful individuals who have not, we do not weave this information into their biographies.
There are numerous profiles of individuals who have not graduated from the most prestigious schools, but who have become very successful people who live very accomplished lives. From journalist and ABC News co-anchor Barbara Walters, to Oprah Winfrey, the television host, actress, author, and CEO of Harpo Productions, to the co-founder, former chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs, to renowned writer and poet laureate Maya Angelou. Countless individuals have established very fruitful and very fulfilling careers without having graduated from the “ideal” college.
Rather than the name on a college diploma, characteristics such as resilience, grit, drive, and ingenuity, are what truly matter, according to Bruni. However, we are not communicating this message to our students; we are giving them a much more restricted message, one that will lead them to experience anxiety and stress in many ways.
When asked for his best advice to students and parents, Bruni responded, “Commit yourself to learning and when you’re coming up to college, ask yourself how much you can get out of that college, not how selective it is.”
Parents, it is our responsibility to teach our students that college is not just about the prestige in the name, but about the value that will be gained from attending a college that is the right fit. Rather than fixate on the prestigious name of the school, learn to use and take advantage of what any school has to offer, and employ what you’ve learned because your child will have a thriving and fulfilled career. I am confident your child WILL succeed.