If you are upset that your child didn’t get into a certain selective college, I have a book for you.
If you are asking other parents where their children will be going because it gives you a chance to gloat about where your kid was accepted, I have a book for you.
If all this angst about Ivy League and brand-name schools makes you want to holler because, well, you’re praying your kid gets into any college, and one that you can afford, I have a book for you.
It’s the time of year for tears when not getting into a prestigious public or private college seems tantamount to failure. That’s because the message to many students is that where they go — or do not go — could catastrophically affect their futures. They’ve embraced the idea that their worth and wealth are forever tied to the higher education institution that accepts them.
And that’s just wrong, says Frank Bruni, a New York Times op-ed columnist and the author of this month’s Color of Money Book Club selection, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania” (Grand Central Publishing, $25).
“For too many parents and their children, getting into a highly selective school isn’t just another challenge, just another goal,” Bruni writes. “A yes or no from Amherst or Dartmouth or Duke or Northwestern is seen as the conclusive measure of a young person’s worth, a binding verdict of the life that he or she has led up until that point, an uncontestable harbinger of the successes or disappointments to come. Winner or loser: This is when the judgment is made. This is the great, brutal culling. What madness. And what nonsense.”
Having said that, this isn’t a book that argues an Ivy League education doesn’t matter. The message is that we should realize that a good education at hundreds of colleges across the country can be a life-changer for just about any student who puts in the effort.
Bruni brings sanity to a process that has become insane. Even if your kid doesn’t want to go to an elite school, the “where are you going” query can make your child’s college choice seem second-rate.
And Bruni makes his case by profiling people who didn’t go to highly selective schools. Their stories aren’t of people who had to settle but instead settled into schools that did well by them.
Really, this is a book you need to read long before your child starts applying. Before the expensive tutors, SAT prep courses, sports programs and summer enrichment camps. It’s also for parents who don’t have the resources for all this but worry that their child is going to be left behind if he or she misses out on a certain college.
It’s soothing to read Bruni’s anecdotes and learn from his conversations with high school counselors, parents, professors, researchers, college consultants, former admissions officers and college graduates. He’s bringing reason to a process that has become unreasonable, demanding and far too heartbreaking for too many.
Ultimately, Bruni is reminding us why college matters.
“The nature of a student’s college experience — the work that he or she puts into it, the skills that he or she picks up, the self-examination that’s undertaken, the resourcefulness that’s honed — matters more than the name of the institution.”
I needed to hear this advice. My son has autism, and although he’s high-functioning, for many reasons it limits where he can go to college. He’s a junior in high school, and I was becoming anxious about which schools might accept him.
“Education is indeed everything, but it happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways,” Bruni writes. “It starts well before college. It continues long after college. College has no monopoly on the ingredients for professional success or for a life well lived.”
It helped to read this book. Now, when people ask me where my son is going, I no longer feel like I have to make excuses for the schools we are considering. There is a place for him. And where he goes does not solely define the life path he’ll take.
I’ll be hosting a live online chat about “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be” at noon EST on April 23 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Bruni will join me to take your questions.
Write to Singletary at The Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.