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Book Review: Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be

This quick read can be soothing for stressed-out students and their parents with tips for surviving college admissions mania.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   20-03-2015
Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni, published by Grand Central Publishing.

For stressed-out students waiting to hear from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and other elite schools, this time of year is nerve wracking. In the coming weeks, college acceptances will start rolling in for students vying to get into the top 10 elite colleges in the U.S. These elite schools can afford to turn down applicants who are “excellent in all of the ordinary ways” in favor of the utterly extraordinary — "Olympic athletes, authors of legitimately published books, Siemens prize winners, International Tchaikovsky Competition violinists."

If you are hyperventilating at the prospect of rejection, it might be time to turn to New York Times columnist Frank Bruni's soothing, insightful new book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.”

Does it Really Matter Where You Go to College?

Bruni points to the emphasis on admission to the Winner's Circle of a very small number of elite colleges and universities — status symbol schools where the average rate of acceptance hovers around 7 percent. By May we’ll hear yet again from those campuses bragging about how they set records for the number of applications they received this year and how few students they accepted — likely about one out of every 10 applicants.

But does it really matter where you go to college? It doesn’t, according to Bruni. He exposes as myth that there are only 10 worthy colleges in America, that this is the most important decision of a young person's life, and that those who don't get their ticket punched for the Harvard gravy train are doomed! He does this with such strong stats and moving stories of hugely successful people who didn't attend the most exclusive schools, that he will have the gratitude of anxious parents and students everywhere.

"We have become brand-obsessed. We convinced ourselves, or at least parents did, that if their kids didn’t get into the right colleges, they wouldn’t have as bright futures, they wouldn’t make as much money," Bruni says.

"We somehow bought that this moment in late March, early April, when you find out where you’re going to go to school, sets the whole trajectory for your life. It’s so untrue and it’s the source of so much unnecessary anxiety. "

It's in the success stories of Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and many more that Bruni is at his most convincing, demonstrating that success in life is the result of the effort of an individual, not an elite education.

Bruni's thoughtful bestseller has examples to demonstrate that the Ivy League has no monopoly on corner offices, top government positions, or prestigious academic grants. Bruni shows that many kinds of colleges — large public universities, lesser known schools in America — serve as ideal springboards for meaningful careers.

Let the Numbers Do the Talking

Consider the Fortune 500 and the alma maters of the heads of the 10 companies with the highest gross revenues. There was only one Ivy League school on the list (Dartmouth), Bruni says in his book. Similarly, when you look at the Fortune 500 executives in the top 30, you see Cornell, Princeton and Brown, but also the University of Central Oklahoma, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Minnesota, points out Bruni. Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, graduated from Ithaca College, and unlike many other top executives never got an MBA.

Bruni points out that when the Wall Street Journal asked recruiters the best universities for their entry-level hires, the top five were Penn State, Texas A&M, the University of Illinois, Purdue, and Arizona State. They are all public universities and hardly elite.

It's Okay to Be Rejected

Author Frank Bruni sorts through college admissions mania so you don't have to.

"It’s okay to be rejected for many reasons, one of which is through that experience you learn a talent more important than anything else, which is resilience," says Bruni.

"Most of life is about rebounding from mistakes, rebounding from failures, rebounding from disappointments. And to have that happen to you when you’re 17 or 18, and to master it, I mean, that’s an incredible gift. But there are other reasons why it’s good for you, too — or not necessarily good for you, but not bad for you. There is no one school that’s going to be right for you. There are many different kinds of schools, and sometimes kids who are rejected from their top choices and end up at their second or third choices or fifth choices approach those schools with an appetite and with an insistence on getting a good education that leads them to a better education than they might have gotten at their top choice. Kids who get into their top choice sometimes think, OK, my work is done and now I have it made, which is not true," adds Bruni.

The author writes about places like Arizona State University, where if you’re an exemplary student, you can end up in the Honors College there. The book helps students understand that there are terrific colleges among the more than 2,200 institutions in the U.S. and highlights the real promise of higher education. It's a jewel in the crowded field of college admission books.


Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism at the University of Westminster, in London.

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