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NY Times Columnist Speaks to the ‘College Admissions Mania’

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On Monday, New York Times journalist Frank Bruni visited M-A to discuss the themes of his new novel, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” as a part of the Parent Education Series. Students and parents alike attended the PTA-sponsored event and engaged in an informal round-table discussion guided by College Advisor Alice Kleeman.

Bruni introduced his topic by highlighting his perplexity with the current college process. Specifically, he underlined the discrepancy between the competitive atmosphere surrounding college and the actual educational backgrounds of ‘successful’ people. People often confuse correlation with causation; just because someone attended a certain school and then embarked on a successful career does not mean that that school directly ensured the job. Therefore where someone attended college cannot be a direct measure of their success, according to Bruni.

Bruni described the current trend of the competition as self-perpetuating. Generally, the more selective a college, the more it is sought after; thus the acceptance rate further decreases. Ivy league schools fit this model and most Americans consider them to offer the best education because of their selectivity. Bruni, however, did acknowledge that his talk was not meant to put down the Ivies, only to make the point that these schools are not the only ones that can provide a quality education.

After enumerating these issues, Bruni proposed a solution: change the conversation. He stated his belief in encouraging students to excel, but to take the focus away from a specific type of college.

In deciding which college to attend, students ought to think about what they will do when there and what they wish to take away from that college.

Unfortunately, while a large number of people in higher education positions express distress at the current situation, Bruni highlighted that they refuse to refrain from releasing information to college-ranking forums and thereby acting on their ‘distress.’ Such lists encourage the competitive atmosphere surrounding the application process by subjectively deeming some colleges ‘good’ while others ‘great,’ and often based solely on level of selectivity.

Ultimately, this pursuit for selectivity is unrealistic and our current society’s way to project the only solution for success and happiness; however, as Bruni stresses, there is no prescription for contentment. Despite the influence of one’s contextual environment, one’s open-minded and intellectually curious attitude translates into a meaningful college experience. In the end, you dictate the course of your life; the college you attend does not wield that power.


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