In the book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, Frank Bruni, a New York Times op-ed columnist and restaurant critic, provides a fresh perspective on the college admission process. For those stuck in the application frenzy, it is almost inevitable to be drawn to colleges that have high ranking and low acceptance rates. Surely those numbers mean something, right?
How much of a determining factor should they be? Here at Blair Academy, so many feel the responsibility and pressure of getting into a “good” college. But what is “good”? Upon reflection it seems ridiculous that students who are struggling with the application process don’t even know why they are struggling to get into “big name” schools.
The Oracle recently interviewed this amazing journalist on the issues of education, politics, and food. Below is the section of our interview with Frank Bruni about college.
Chriss Liu: Here at Blair Academy, we’re boarding school kids, and right now we’re all panicking about college. Do you have any advice about the college process?
Frank Bruni: My advice is this: so much of the panic that you’re talking about getting into the “right kind of school,” getting into an elite school, getting into a selective enough school, …derives from two things. One… is the approach to colleges as if they’re affirmations of status symbols, and they’re not. They’re theaters of learning. And number two is this sort of fiction that the altitude in terms of its eliteness, the altitude of the school you go to– if the school has a 10% acceptance rate versus to a 35% acceptance rate– that is somehow going to give you this significant leg up in life.
My advice is to jettison that myth and to lose that thinking because it’s just not true. I wrote a whole book about this… The whole book is full of examples of extraordinarily accomplished, successful, fascinating people who went to state schools that had acceptance rates above 50%, [who] went to small colleges no one had ever heard of. My advice is if you took the energy that you’re spending and the agita that you’re lavishing on getting into the right school and you used it instead to develop a plan for using college, whichever college you go to, in the most fruitful way, you’re going to be way, way better off ten years from now.
Janice Negvesky: You mentioned planning what to do with a degree. How would you recommend starting that?
Frank Bruni: What I meant was you should spend your energy on how to get the most out of college, not planning what to do with a degree.
I think that it is very rare for people to know with any accuracy what they want to do with the rest of their lives at the age of 17 or 18. So my personal belief is that when you are choosing college, when you are entering college, to have a firm idea in mind of what you are going do for a living, and then to adapt what you are studying directly to that is to assume a sort of changelessness of you as a person from the age of 18 forward, is crazy. It also assumes that you know yourself truly well at 17 or 18.
You are going to know yourself so much better after two years of college than you do beforehand. So my personal prejudice is in favor of going to a college that can accommodate or bend a number of interests that you may discover and using your early years in college not to plot out your life in this very particular way, but to just take in an enormous amount of diverse information and then figure out, ok now I have learned about who I am better, now maybe I can talk about at least a short term plan.
Tys Sweeney: I noticed when you were in college you were a writer for your newspaper. How did you get interested in journalism? Did you know you were interested in it beforehand or was an example of the kind of growth you mentioned?
Frank Bruni: I was interested in writing before college, and if I thought I was going to be writer, I probably would have assumed that I was going to write fiction or something like that. I was a big music and movie fan, and when I was in high school, I read a whole lot of publications that ran movie reviews and music reviews, and I started writing movie and music reviews for my high school newspaper. That’s what I started doing in my freshman year of college. And then someone asked me if I want to start writing an editorial, and I thought that sounds interesting. So in a very organic and genuine way, I began to get deeper and deeper into different kinds of journalistic writing, not because I stood there on the precipice of college saying that I want to be a journalist, but I was just …building on an interest itself and kept building.
Many liberal arts colleges do not have journalism major. I went to a state university that did have a journalism major, but I didn’t take a single journalism class. I used my course time to study English, History, and, as I became more interested in journalism, I spent more and more time in the school newspaper. But I never learned journalism as a trade as an undergrad, because I felt like I want to feed my brain before I learn the trade. And I think there’s a lot to recommend that way.
There’s no doubt that statistics can reflect certain aspects of a university. But it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to discover what they want to do with those numbers. After all, the most important part of college is not the acceptance letter, but how you are going to use your years in college. That requires an insight to look beyond numbers and figures.
(Copyright 2016 The Blair Oracle. This is the second in a series of three interview pieces with Frank Bruni. This piece is a collaboration between Tys Sweeney (principal author), Chriss Liu, and Janice Negvesky.)