Academics

Frank Bruni soothes college nerves with Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be

Stress over college is at its peak in American culture, giving life to multibillion dollar test prep and essay writing industries, questionable college ranking systems, and devastated parents and children across the country. Frank Bruni, an American journalist, dispels the myth that a student’s life will be determined by which colleges send them a shiny acceptance letter with his book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.

Where You Go UpdatedBruni argues for a powerful thesis: that one’s undergraduate education will not control one’s successes and failures, even if America has fallen into college-obsessed craze that convinces it otherwise. Organized into chapters targeting different aspects of the college admissions process, from the unfair roles that legacy plays in determining acceptance or rejection, to the obscene amounts of money pouring into the pockets of businesses claiming to write the “perfect” personal essay, Bruni’s book exposes just how corrupt the college process truly is.

However, Bruni also provides a source of hope for readers to take away long after they have finished the book. By mentioning prominent politicians as well as anonymous sophomore-year college students who have paved their ways to success despite attending colleges that “don’t cause applicants’ hearts to go pitter-patter,” Bruni changes the reader’s mindset about the college experience and encourages the reader to think of college as a step toward personal growth rather than the monster in the closet.

Though Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be is a game changer and a survival guide for approaching the college process with some sanity, it is bursting at the seams with statistics and facts, and a reader looking for a light read will not be at home with Bruni’s book. The book’s reliance on factual evidence is balanced nicely with a few personal anecdotes and experiences from Bruni as well as from well-known writers such as John Green, but this book is written for a reader ready to commit to listening to all of the ins and outs of the college process, from beginning to end.

The juniors in Dr. Julia Bucci’s AP English Language and Composition classes read this book over Thanksgiving break and engaged in thoughtful discussion about the college process over the course of two weeks in December. Though many of my classmates, like myself, found the book reassuring and helpful, some of my classmates found the book to be an attack on the Ivy League colleges rather than a positive boost for lesser-known institutions. However, I believe that pointing out the flaws of elite colleges and humbling them for the reader was crucial for his argument. By removing colleges like Harvard and Princeton from their pedestals for a moment, Bruni makes the college process less frightening, and this feeling eclipsed my critiques of the book.

Bruni’s target audience describes me perfectly: a stressed-out junior in the midst of SAT testing, AP juggling, and extracurricular managing. As he predicts, I ignorantly approached this book believing that composing the perfect application equaled an acceptance letter. In my mind, my high school years were to follow a predetermined script, the precise formula for schools of my liking. Being the student he spotlights as the common victim of today’s most ridiculous contests, I expected to feel more alone than ever, but now I feel reassured by the data that proves that the particular school one goes to is insignificant to one’s career in the long run. However, despite the fact that a college’s prestige shouldn’t matter, Dana girls are still pitted against each other in an unfair system that only gets more competitive by the decade, undermining the sisterhood and friendship that we should be developing during our last four years our college careers. Dana Hall isn’t the only school that is affected by the toxic culture; it affects schools across the country, and it only seems to get more suffocating by the year.

However, I believe that America’s flawed approach toward college can be changed if the points that Bruni makes are talked about with more frequency in high schools, starting with private institutions like Dana Hall, the homes of college stress and anxiety. If teachers, college counselors, parents and students engage more with each other about a student’s interests and passions rather than strategies for getting into schools and fabricating flashy applications, we will become a happier, healthier school that participates in making America a happier, healthier country. Until then, I will try to use Bruni’s philosophies to rise above the stress in Student Affairs come senior fall next year, and maybe I’ll even give this book another read.

Images: College Admission Office sign from Bevill State Community College; book cover from Amazon.com.