There is an op-ed in today’s “New York Times” written by Frank Bruni entitled “How to Survive the College Admissions Madness” that we figured we’d comment on. In his piece, Mr. Bruni underscores, through sharing the stories of a couple of students, how our society places too much emphasis on the Ivy League. He shares the story of Peter, a graduate of New Trier High School who aimed to attend schools like the University of Michigan and the business school at the University of Illinois. Both universities denied Peter admission and so Peter ended up attending Indiana University. Peter came into his own, it seems, at Indiana. He wasn’t intimidated by all of the super smart, high achieving students he went to high school anymore. At Indiana, he was at or near the top, it seems. And he thrived because of it, gaining newfound confidence.
As Mr. Bruni writes in his op-ed that essentially focuses on the Ivy League and career success, “He went to Indiana University instead. Right away he noticed a difference. At New Trier, a public school posh enough to pass for private, he’d always had a sense of himself as someone somewhat ordinary, at least in terms of his studies. At Indiana, though, the students in his freshman classes weren’t as showily gifted as the New Trier kids had been, and his self-image went through a transformation.”
We suggest Mr. Bruni take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” because his book shares a similar story. We absolutely do not disagree with the point that Mr. Bruni is making, but he’s making his case based on the anecdotal exception, not the rule. Of course students can be successful in their careers — and in life — irrespective of whether or not they attend an Ivy League institution. There are indeed studies that we’ve cited on the pages of our blog in the past that illustrate the mere fact that a student applies to Ivy League colleges serves as a strong indicator of that student future career success. And while Peter, the young man that Mr. Bruni writes about, ends up getting a job at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), as Mr. Bruni correctly points out, the vast majority of hires for firms like BCG, Bain, McKinsey, etc. are from the Ivy League or schools such as MIT, Duke, etc. Does that mean that there are not exceptions like Peter? No. But to rely on the exception rather than the rule isn’t always best.
Just check out the Ivy League’s influence on salaries. Or, if you prefer the anecdotal, listen to stories of how Dartmouth alums hire Dartmouth alums or how Yale alums hire Yale alums. Don’t think that happens? It sure does. Why press forward with some anecdotal evidence that demonstrates that people can be successful without attending an Ivy League school while ignoring other evidence that supports the Ivy League’s strong influence on career. It seems silly to us. But we’re curious to hear what you think so let us know by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.