Frank Bruni, an op-ed columnist for “The New York Times,” authored a book a couple of years back entitled “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.” Yesterday, he discussed that book and its premise on “MetroFocus” so we figured we’d share our thoughts on his assertion that attending an elite university will not, in itself, set a young person on a path towards life success. While we’ve disagreed with many things Mr. Bruni has written over the years on the topic of highly selective college admissions, it may surprise him — and our readers — to learn that we absolutely agree with the notion that attending an elite university will not, in itself, set a young person on a surefire path towards success.
Where You Go To College Matters
Let’s take the example of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of Theranos, the Silicon Valley-based biotechnology firm that intended to revolutionize blood tests. Just yesterday, Theranos closed its doors for good. This news came after an extensive investigation by a “Wall Street Journal” reporter, John Carreyrou, uncovered that Holmes was making false claims and purporting to have groundbreaking technology when in reality that lofty technology did not in fact, well, work. For those familiar with Holmes’ story, one recounted in breathtaking detail in “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by that very reporter, her company was birthed on the Stanford University campus. It was one of her Stanford professors who helped her secure her early funding. It was fellows of the university’s Hoover Institute who would fill some of the company’s impressive board seats.
Yes, Holmes may have dropped out of Stanford to pursue her
dream fraud. But Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and few will deny there would be no Facebook without Harvard (and a certain set of twins!). Few would deny there would be no Microsoft for Bill Gates without Harvard either. You see, these schools — filled with engaged, intellectually curious students who endeavor to change the world as we know it — served as incubators for innovation. To deny as much is deny the history of some of America’s greatest entrepreneurs, a group that most certainly does not include Elizabeth Holmes. But you get the idea. Do change agents attend lower tiered schools? You bet. But an ordinate percentage of our world’s future change agents have attended Ivy League and other highly selective universities like Stanford. Even if they haven’t always graduated.
Mr. Bruni raises the causation argument when confronted with evidence that contradicts his assertion that where you go to college doesn’t matter. Presidents H.W. and W. Bush would have led our nation even if they didn’t attend Yale; it was in their blood, he argues. We imagine he’d argue similarly about the justices on our nation’s highest court, who all attended either Harvard or Yale Law (and, yes, the current nominee for the Supreme Court attended Yale Law too).
What You Do During and After College Matters, Too
Would all of these folks have reached the heights of their respective professions even if they didn’t attend such elite institutions, if maybe they went to a local state school? It seems Mr. Bruni would argue that they would. We strongly disagree with him on that point. Where you go to college matters. It matters when a job interviewer is deciding between a candidate who went to Dartmouth and one who went to Syracuse. If all else is even, our bet is the Dartmouth grad will get that job every time out of ten — and early jobs, well, they matter. But we strongly agree with Mr. Bruni that what you do while you’re in college and in the years thereafter matters a whole lot too. Of course it does! For every President of the United States who attended an Ivy League school, there are dozens of Ivy League graduates who aren’t anymore successful than graduates of a local state school.
And yet it’s no coincidence that so many of our world’s highest achievers tend to come from the same batch of highly selective American universities. Where you go to school…it matters. What you do in college and thereafter…it matters, too.