“For the sake of college admissions, vast forests have died and whole continents could be denuded.” It is with this level of sauciness that Frank Bruni, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing and New York Times opinion columnist, breaks down the impossibilities of today’s college admissions process in “Where You’ll Go is Not Who You’ll Be.” The 2015 New York Times bestseller, which received positive reviews, assures the reader that the college admissions process is arbitrary and not a reflection of their own academic capabilities, and that many people from all ranks of life have still managed to lead successful and fulfilling lives despite having attended less “prestigious” colleges.
Verde had two staff writers read Bruni’s novel separately — Frances, a sophomore who has yet to begin the college application process, and Elana, a senior who has just finished the process and will be heading off to college in the fall.
While Bruni’s book fails to offer a solution to problems surrounding college admissions, it definitely broadened my horizons by swimming upstream through the recent deluge of “How to Get Into The Ivies” books.
Speaking from my position of relative naiveté as a high school sophomore and the first in my immediate family to apply to university in the United States, I found this book incredibly helpful. To be frank, my family rarely discusses college, but when they do, only a select few universities, like the Universities of California and the Ivies, are mentioned. Bruni’s book, which includes stories of seniors who were rejected from their dream colleges but still led fulfilling lives as adults, taught me that the options for college are practically limitless and that it is always possible for someone to find happiness and success in college, regardless of which school they attend.
While I initially disagreed with Bruni’s definition of success, which was heavily loaded with Fortune 500 CEOs and household-name politicians, my final interpretation of his message is ultimately more inspiring. If Nikki Haley, the first Indian-American female governor of South Carolina, who attended Clemson University, where the acceptance rate is over 50 percent, or anyone else on Bruni’s list could have acquired such lofty achievements without being “draped in ivy,” then I can accomplish whatever goals I dream of, regardless of the college I attend.
When Bruni provided empirical evidence that hard work and passion trump the college on one’s diploma, I felt a weight lifted off my chest and a reaffirmation that I should pursue my own interests without the compulsion to be perfect. Bruni also gracefully highlights serious problems in the status quo, like the trend of applying to an absurd number of colleges and the sheer subjectivity of the process used to create the infamous college rankings.
However, Bruni usually neglects to address the solution itself. Had he presented a solution, he might create more positive change in the destructive college admissions process.
Despite Bruni’s lack of solutions, I would highly recommend this book to all sophomores, juniors and even parents who might be more stressed than their children about the college admissions process.
When I picked up “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be,” I was not expecting the book to be enlightening. My opinion did not change throughout the first half, especially because he does not say much about how current applicants can help fix the college process.
While applying, I heard that I needed to apply to colleges that were a fit for me just as frequently as I had felt pressure to apply to the highest ranking colleges, so I didn’t feel like Bruni’s overall message about college was particularly new. However, I realize it’s possible that Bruni’s advice about “finding your fit” had become so widely agreed upon that I was getting his advice without knowing it was coming from him. While I was initially disenchanted by his anecdotes, Bruni’s conversational writing style eventually grew on me and I found myself eagerly flipping the pages.
My opinion on his book also improved when I found myself encouraging a conflicted friend to choose a less highly ranked school by quoting his anecdotes. Having backup from someone of Bruni’s stature definitely helped give my argument more weight.
However, people who look to apply to higher ranked colleges regardless of fit they are do not represent a large segment of the population. He talks about people who choose to go to honors colleges at less elite schools, but ignores the people who don’t have the scores to get into those schools in the first place. I was also disappointed at his exclusion of community colleges.
Bruni’s definition of “success” is also questionable. At times, I felt like the thesis of the book was “It doesn’t matter where you go to undergrad, because you can still get into an elite graduate school and become traditionally successful.”
My biggest qualm wasn’t with the book itself, but in the afterward, where Bruni makes his only reference to Palo Alto, talking about the multiple suicides of past years. Though he otherwise addressed tough topics respectfully, Bruni missed the mark here, talking about Palo Alto only in relation to suicide and seemingly linking those issues to educational pressure. Unfortunately, since this was the last section of the book, it left me with a bad taste as I finished what was otherwise an enjoyable and fairly enlightening experience.