Saturday, July 23, 2016


This book doesn't argue that it doesn't matter where you (read: "your kid"; this book is aimed at parents) end up at college; it does argue against the notion that if your kid doesn't go to the Ivy League/Stanford/MIT, they're doomed to a lesser life. On the surface, that doesn't sound like much; but the anecdotes about the crazy things that happen during the college admissions process (Bruni has plenty of good ones, including one about a girl who wrote in her Yale admissions essay about urinating on herself rather than leave an engaging conversation with a teacher, to prove her passion for education) makes me think the premise is worth examining. He also reminds us that in the name of recruiting, universities do things that are misleading bordering on unethical to drive up the number of applications, in order to lower their acceptance rate, which increases their bond rating; and he exposes the flimsiness of the basis for the USNews rankings. Bruni (U of NC) provides plenty of examples of people who have not gone to the Ivy League and have done very well, including senators, Fulbright scholars, CEOs and your average famous folk: Condoleeza Rice (Denver); Joe Biden (Delaware and Syracuse); Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb (RI School of Design); Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks (Northern Michigan U), etc. What emerges from their stories (which he relates in detail) is that during the college years, they all had a solid work ethic--a desire to find mentors, explore new interests, develop their leadership skills, and so on, which is--perhaps--more likely when one is not quite so small a fish in a huge college pond. At the very least, it argues for at least considering colleges beyond the highly competitive ones. At one point he notes that this is all driven by fear--a quite illogical one--that without this ivy-green ticket, the kid won't be happy. And that's what we all want for our kids, right? Fair enough. But as he points out, happiness is often the way we conduct the journey, the *way* we attend college; and the focus on *getting in* to the exclusive college sometimes leads the kids to feel like, "Ok, I did it. I'm done." Bruni's story about how he taught at Princeton and was pressured to overlook a student's cheating, to give him a do-over, feels really bad to me. Of course it happens elsewhere, too; but what are we teaching our kids? That once your ticket is punched, you can sit back and wait out those four years? What a sad thing--when those four years can be a dedicated time to think and reinvent and get out of our comfort zone and grow.

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