#NACACreads: Frank Bruni Urges New Approach to College Admission

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whereyoullgoLife isn’t scripted, and neither is success.

Yet, increasingly, students and families engaged in the college admission process fall prey to the idea that only a certain set of elite colleges can provide the necessary education and experiences, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni told #NACACreads participants Monday night.

The result? Undue stress, regimented resume-building, and an unsettling shift in values. It’s a trend Bruni wants to see changed.

“Success isn’t where you got IN,” he noted during the Twitter chat. “It’s what you do with it.”


Counselors, college admission officers, parents, and educators also shared their insights during the hour-long online discussion of Bruni’s latest book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.

Over the past decade, the process of applying to college has become more stressful — and confusing — for students, they noted. Factors driving the shift include a growing preoccupation with status, misleading college rankings, helicopter parents, and worries about post-college employment.

“I remember when ‘going to college’ was a phrase packed with exhilaration, not the dread of WHERE that would be and whether the name of the school would impress people sufficiently,” tweeted Bruni, a New York Times columnist. “In trying to buoy/advance their kids, parents have inadvertently stolen from them: a sense of wonder, an attention to EDUCATION.”

Strategies used by counselors to help push back against that trend include straight-talk about rankings, a focus on character education, and one-on-one chats with students highlighting lesser-known colleges.

Shifting perceptions can be challenging, said Alicia Oglesby, noting “people associate knowledge (with) prestige.”

But for that reason, the role of college counselors is doubly important, added Oglesby, a counselor at Emerson Preparatory School (DC).

The stakes are higher, she said. Without a cultural shift “the focus on love of learning is lost,” tweeted Oglesby. “We must help teens reclaim that.”

In his book, Bruni uses statistics, surveys, and personal stories to show that no one school has cornered the market on success. The paths traveled by today’s top business leaders, politicians, and scientists are varied, with many hailing from public universities and small private colleges.

Bruni urged parents, educators, and admission officers to rethink the way they present college choices to students.

After graduation, individuals are judged on their performance, skills, enthusiasm, and character, he noted.

“The media tells selective truth: Harvard, Yale, etc.,” tweeted Bruni, who completed his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We must trumpet all the OTHER paths to happiness.”

Read the full chat transcript.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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