Once again, The New Republic is featuring an article that discusses the pros and cons of an Ivy League education. This time, the article comes in the form of a review of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s new book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.
In the TNR review, called “It Doesn’t Matter if Your Kid Doesn’t Get into Harvard,” author Nick Romeo claims that Bruni is too focused on the ability of college grads from non-Ivy institutions to achieve material success on a par with Ivy grads.
“He’s not asking his readers to examine a cultural obsession with success, so much as assuring them that they can still impress others without attending highly selective undergraduate institutions,” Romeo writes. “Just look at all the people who run huge companies or work at prestigious consulting or law firms, he says. Not all of them went to Ivy League schools! There are ‘myriad routes to a corner office,’ as he puts it. He never seriously considers the possibility that college might shape students into adults who are not interested in a corner office.”
Romeo prefers the earlier challenge to Ivy education published in TNR: William Deresiewicz’s now famous article “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” which appeared on July 21, 2014, and has now been “shared” more than 200,000 times. Deresiewwicz’s article argues that many less elite schools, such as public flagships, allow bright students more latitude to discover themselves in the midst of fellow students who are not all driven or overly-focused on channeling their lives toward one thing: an Ivy admission.
The fact is that college at its best is not an either/or proposition that pits learning for its own sake against training for a career. In almost every college in the nation there are at least three broad types of students–those who are in alive with self-discovery and intellectual excitement, those who want to get out in a hurry and find a high-paying job, and many others who are open to intellectual expansion but are acutely aware that the “real world” awaits.
The subtitle of Bruni’s book is “An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.” But Nick Romeo argues that what Bruni describes “is not a bracing cure; it’s a soothing balm for upper-middle class parents whose children do not quite manage to scale the highest peaks of prestige.”
We see Bruni’s book as less an antidote than a balancing argument to the one proposed by Deresiewicz. While many smart “kids” do and should value intellectual stimulation, they and their parents need to be practical as well. If Bruni over-emphasizes the “antidote” of achieving career success equivalent to that of Ivy grads without attending an Ivy school, his message is one that parents and prospective students need to hear.
As we have noted many times, there are far more bright students than there are places at Ivy institutions, and these bright students should be able to find, and should know that they can find, both intellectual and career equivalence at colleges outside the Ivy League, including public honors colleges and programs.
It is well known that admission to any highly selective college can be capricious, subjective, and even approach the formulaic. Ivy colleges are wonderful, in most cases, for students who are both brilliant and fortunate. Students who are “merely” brilliant at one brief point of their lives need to know that the rest of their lives can be as fulfilling in all ways as the lives of their more fortunate counterparts.