• Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be, by Frank Bruni.

    Bruni, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, provides some welcome relief for the anxiety that many families feel when navigating the college search process.  The anecdotes are interesting and engaging (real people you will know and relate to), and will help dispel you of the notion that there is only one perfect place for your student to continue her/his education.  This book also costs about $12, but lucky for you, we have two copies here in the Drake library and I also have one of my own that I will more than happy to loan out. 

    Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be  

    Unless otherwise indicated, these are all direct or indirect quotes from the book:

    A sort of mania has taken hold, and its grip seems to grow tighter and tighter.

    Parents attach make or break importance to a finite circle of exalted institutions which is not supported by evidence. 

    An admissions decision from one university is not a life verdict.  

    Education happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways.  College has no monopoly on the ingredients for professional success or for a life well lived. 

    There is a widespread conviction that the road to riches is trimmed in Ivy, but no one told that to the Fortune 500.  Chief executives of the top ten Fortune 500 companies earned degrees from the U of Arkansas, UT, U of Nebraska, Texas A&M, General Motors Institute, Kansas, Missouri, Dartmouth and Davis.  Only one Ivy in the bunch.  

    There is no pattern when it comes to financial success in terms of colleges attended.  

    In 2014, of the 100 members in the US Senate, over 70 earned degrees at universities that were not Ivy League.  

    The qualities required for success in difficult and demanding occupations (like politics) require a blending of emotional intelligence and IQ, which isn't necessarily a virtue of the people coming out of the most elite universities.

    Exclusive schools (those that accept less than 25%) don't enjoy any monopoly on present talent or future glory.  

    Parents and students need to ask themselves: Does a prestigious college make you successful in life?  Or do you do that for yourself?

    You're going to get into a college that is more than able to provide a superb education to anyone who insists on one and who takes firm charge of his or her time there. 

    A degree is important, but is no substitute for other abilities: knowing how to relate to people, being comfortable with risk, managing ambiguity and being resilient.  

    Quote from Adam Weinberg, President of Denison University: "I think US News & World Report will go down as one of the most destructive things that ever happened to higher education"

    US News takes a far less thorough and scientific approach than Consumer Reports does when testing vacuum cleaners. 

    "Rankings tend to ignore the very criteria that may be most important to an applicant, such as specific academic offerings, intellectual and social climate, ease of access to faculty, international opportunities and placement rates for careers or for graduate and professional school."  Jeffrey Brenzel, Former Dean of Admissions at Yale for 8 years

    There is nothing in these rankings that addresses the quality of teaching or the students learning curve. 

    Here's how Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State, did her college journey.  She started out at 15 attending University of Denver because it was close to  home and her dad worked there, so she got a break on tuition.  Then she realized that she was a failed piano major, then she wandered into a class on International Politics taught by Josef Korbel, she realized foreign policy interested her, and the rest is history.  Rice says, "You will find faculty at almost every college who are vibrant and exciting.  I found Josef Korbel at the U of Denver, and it changed my life."  She returned to Denver to her PhD. She says, "I think there's a conceit, a myth, that  you can go and sit in a university and things will come to you.  They don't.  You have to go to them."

    Schools with the most Fulbright Scholars in 2013:  Pitzer, Smith, Oberlin, Pomona, College of the Holy Cross, Williams, Occidental, Vassar, Bates and Bowdoin.

    Schools with the greatest percentage of students venturing outside the country to study: Goucher, Soka U of America, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Centre College, Goshen College, Kalamazoo College, Pitzer, Carleton and Elon.

    It's not where you went to school - it's how hard  you work.

    Be as curious as you can, not just yielding to the familiar.  

    Go someplace that threatens to make you uncomfortable.

    Yale students have been smoothed by the advantages of growing up in an affluent or relatively affluent family.  More than half of Yale students come from families who make more than $200k per year, which means that more than 50% are from families in the top 5% in this country.  

    Too many kids get to college and try to collapse it, make is as comfortable and recognizable as possible, replicating friends and joining groups that replicate high school cliques.  Perpetuating your lifestyle should not be the guiding principle. Diverging into new woods should be. 

    Alumni of elite institutions were less clear about they they were at Harvard.  I ran a local political campaign and my friends who went to prestigious places weren't involved that way.

    At the U of Wyoming, you can meet professor from Cambridge, a sociologist from Sweden, a graduate student from Turkmenistan and another from Strasbourg, France.  Branch out beyond your comfort zone.  

    Great press for the Colleges That Change Lives (Sheila has a copy of this book to loan out as well).  It showcases lesser known schools with missions that include: classic erudition, rigorous though, intellectual development, social and emotional development, to name a few. 

    Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator (arguably Silicon Valley's most famous and influential source of first-step seed money for tech start-ups), seeks out individuals and ideas to provide funding for.  He attended (but never finished) Stanford.  He says, "to my chagrin, Stanford has not had a really great track record."  Most of the proposals from Stanford students don't hold much promise or pan out.  The biggest success to date, a little idea known as Airbnb, was started by graduates of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design).  The school that stands out as the source of students whose ideas sparkled the most:  The University of Waterloo.  Why?  They train really great engineers.  Altman says that the importance of attending an elite school is going down, not up.  

    The 2011 study by Alan Kruger, Princeton economist, is cited here.  After examining graduates earnings from a broad array of universities, they discovered that earnings differences disappear.  Their conclusion is that earnings are not related to college names, but the level of intelligence and competence of the individuals.  The ambitious student who has the scores that make them eligible for consideration at elite schools, hold their own keys to future earnings, which are not dependent on a specific set of schools. 

    How to get a job at Google?  No particular heed is paid to prestigious colleges.  Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job.  

    Success is typically determined by other factors: work ethic, hustle, instincts, communication skills, street smarts, character, creativity, persistence.

    People who've had to struggle a little will often develop more of these skills - especially persistence - and they don't have the same kind of entitlement and expectations you sometimes see from students from top schools. 

    Then he synopsizes Excellent Sheep, by William Deresiewicz (see my review on that book on separate page).

    Novelist John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), which all of us have read and cried while reading, discusses his experience at Kenyon (in Ohio) and how he had mentors who helped him forge a career as a writer.  He says it doesn't matter much where you go to school, but it does matter that you develop relationships with professors, and spend time thinking, reading, and taking criticism to heart. 

    Attend a school where your curiosity will be neither tamed nor limited. 

    College is not the end of your journey.  It is a learning experience.

    There is no map!  Be engaged.  Don't buy into the college admissions mania.

    Life is not a formula (GPA + SAT = University = Success).  It's a chance, an adventure, it's hard work, perseverance, failure, a few stumbles, a new direction, six months on a boat, curiosity, involvement, sustained interest, rejection, springboard, transformational, disruptive, a new version of yourself.  It is whatever YOU MAKE IT!