YW 95 – Avoid the College Admission Stress with Frank Bruni

YW 95 – Avoid the College Admission Stress with Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni is the author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be and talks to Jason on the mania both parents and children experience when applying to an Ivy League school. He says many of these high-end colleges have a less than 7% acceptance rate and tells Jason how there are plenty of other options out there for kids to get a great college education.

Key Takeaways:
2:15 – Frank’s newest book tries to restore some sanity to the college admission process.
4:20 – Colleges have turned themselves into a country club, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful.
10:40 – Stanford’s college acceptance rate is 5%. For Harvard, it’s 6%.
15:00 – Frank recommends students to develop great faculty relationships and to study abroad if you can.
19:10 – Instead of worrying about where kids are going to college, focus on what kids are going to get out of college.

 

Mentioned In This Episode:
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni.
http://www.frankbrunibooks.com/

 

Tweetables:
“This notion that the only way to develop a valuable network in life is to go to an exclusive school is silly.”

“It can make a profound difference in your life to develop some close relationships with faculty members.”

“The bigger thing is going somewhere that’s going to challenge you, that’s going to expand your frame of reference.”

 

Transcript

Jason Hartman:
It’s my please to welcome Frank Bruni to the show. He is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, former chief restaurant critic, Rome bureau chief, and White House correspondent for The New York Times. He’s author of several best selling books and the one we’re going to mainly talk about today is Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. Frank, welcome, how are you?

Frank Bruni:
I’m good, how are you?

Jason:
Good, good. It’s good to have you on the show. Tell us a little bit about all your different books, just kind of give us a broad overview, if you would, and tell us about some of your writings before we kind of dive into this one.

Frank:
Well, I’ve been – just start with writings and where I am now, I’ve been at the Times for about 20 years and for the last four of those years, I’ve been op-ed columnist. I write a column twice a week, so I spend a lot of different subjects. My books similarly have been a lot of different things. My first best seller was a chronicle of George W. Bush’s campaign for the Presidency, which I covered for the Times. The second one was a memoir about my eating life. It was called Born Round and then the current book, which I’ve been fortunate is had about five weeks on the best seller list, is the one on college admissions. We’ve gone crazy in this country over college admissions. Kids and families are just so anxious about it and this book tries to give them some perspective and restore some sanity in the process.

Jason:
Yeah, so when you say we’ve gone crazy with college admissions, what do you mean by that?

Frank:
These days in a lot of communities, parents and their kids, oh, they just from a very early age begin focusing on gaining admission to just a handful of schools that the lowest acceptance rates and they seem to be in the grip of a belief that their feature would be entirely determined by whether they get admitted to one of these schools that is super exclusive. They pay in some cases, you know, tens of thousands of dollars to private tutors, to private admissions consultants to maximize their chances of getting in, you know, they lose sleep over this. It’s just a level of craziness that’s unfamiliar to those of us who went through this 20 or 30 years ago.

My book tries to demolish the myth that getting into the most exclusive school is going to have a profound and lasting impact on your life. It may help in the short term, it may reward you in certain ways, but my book makes the case that there are many different paths to success.

Jason:
I would even argue and feel free to disagree with me, Frank, that college isn’t even that important anymore, especially since it’s become such a rip off in terms of price! You look at tuition inflation rates versus the general inflation rate for the last couple of decades, this is insanity. I mean, there’s just too much money flowing at these colleges and a lot of it is the government’s fault, you know? Because that’s the classic definition of inflation, you know, a lot of dollars chasing a limited simply of goods and services, right, so you kind of can’t blame the universities for raising their prices and going into the marketing business and the branding business, which they’re in and wooing students with cool gyms and social opportunities. I don’t know. I think we’ve just gone far fueled for what education is about. You’re welcome to disagree with me.

Frank:
I don’t disagree with you at all that colleges have turned themselves in many cases into country clubs that are charging students lot of money for amenities and services that have nothing to do with education. You began though by saying you think college is even worth it and I would disagree with you there. For starters, there are any number of professions that you can’t enter without a college degree, while it is possible to make a life as an entrepreneur in many fields without a college degree, there are a whole bunch of things you can not, you know, graduate schools you can’t get into, professions that won’t admit you unless you have a college degree. I also don’t, myself, regard college as purely vocational.

So, when people do a cost benefit analysis and say, well, college costs this much, I shouldn’t go. I think if you can swing college, if it is something that’s within financial reach, you can figure out a way to bring it in to financial reach. I think college is a terrific and invaluable opportunity to learn better, how to learn to become more intellectually nimble, to become more flexible in navigating the diversity of the world. All these things that are ideal.

Jason:
Yeah, there definitely is an important, I think, social aspect. You know, the friendships that are created that may well last many years and the connections and the networking, that’s important too. I think a lot of this really goes on at the higher-end schools, which you talk about. I have several friends that are Harvard grads and, you know, I say, well, did you learn a lot more at Harvard than maybe some of your peers that went to other schools learned and he said, probably not. It’s just the connections and sort of the brand, really.

Frank:
I think people do go to a lot of fancy schools – fancy schools I think hold a promise to people, because they think they’re going to make greater connections there, have a better network, and there’s some truth to that, but what I argue in my book is networks are not the sole providence of fancy schools. I know a lot of people who have networked for great success through their state universities alumni. I know people who have benefited from the networks they established in highschool or networks they’ve established after college. So, this notion that a lot of people buy into that the only way to develop a valuable network in life is to go to an exclusive school, that’s just silly. It’s defied by common sense.

Jason:
Do you want to give, share an example of that?

Frank:
Like I said, I know people who have, you know, who have used college, I’m sorry, who have used highschool friends, even neighbors. I mean, networks are all over the place. They’re not just the providence of college and they’re not just the providence of exclusive colleges.

Jason:
Right, right and certainty social media is a great network. Do you think college will be reinvented at all? It seems pretty, you know, that whole system seems pretty slow to kind of respond to some of the technology and some of the changes. You know, I also want to ask you, Frank, about online learning in terms of college learning. You know, accredited online learning. I know so many students that have, are basically doing their college online and I think they are really missing out. If you’re going to do this online stuff, I think it ought to be a lot less expensive and it’s not! That’s the odd thing about it. You know, technology didn’t bring the price down as it has in so many other fields, but they are missing up on a lot of the social and networking opportunities, aren’t they that some of it’s about the experience, right?

Frank:
Well, sure they are, but sadly some of them don’t have that, they don’t have the option. I mean, a lot of the people who are doing this online, it’s not that they’re turning their nose up at the classroom experience. It’s not that they don’t want campus life. It’s that, you know, to kind of flashback to something we talked about earlier in our conversation, the price of college has become so prohibitive for some of them that they just don’t have an alternative to online. I agree that online is not ideal. We don’t really know how unideal it is yet, because online education is still being refined and it’s still its infancy that we don’t have great definitive information about how affective (#8:19?) can be, but sadly for a lot of the people who are going online, that’s the only option.

Jason:
It’s definitely good that people can have this opportunity that maybe don’t have the proper location to take advantage of the campus life opportunity, but what I’m referring to is, I’ll give you an example. I literally know students who go to ASU who live in North Scottsdale, which is 25 minutes away, and they take their classes online. I’m thinking they’re crazy. They’re paying the same rate, they should have the experience, you know?

Frank:
Here’s the thing. I’m glad you brought up ASU, because ASU, I actually write quite a bit in the book about ASU, because ASU has frequently derided, according to the stereotype, that it’s just a party school and you bring up the fact that there’s students there who are having a very sort of detached, remote experience. On the flip side, ASU has an honors college, the Barrett honors college, because it’s absolutely fantastic and the kids who get into that and to prioritize that, they have small classes, they have phenomenal faculty, and the larger point here, which everyone needs to keep in mind, is most universities, most colleges, are precisely what you make of them.

You can have a passive, mediocre education at any college university, even an Ivy League one or you can have a very engaged meaningful education if you become, you know, the captain of your education. We live in a country where we’re really blessed not only to have some of the top universities in the world, but we’re blessed to have hundreds of colleges and universities that have incredible merit and if you go to any one of them and you resolve to get a great education, if you know what you need, and if you are determined to extract that from that environment, you’re going to be extraordinarily well served.

Jason:
Yeah, I agree with you. It’s certainty incumbent on the student to take charge of their experience and to make the best of it. There’s no question about that. It really is. Well, what else can you tell us about this phenomenon that goes on with the admissions and, you know, are there any good tips on hacking the system, if you will.

Frank:
I don’t like to talk about hacking the system, because my whole point is people are buying too fully into. I mean, when you have schools – Stanford, over the last two years Stanford acceptance rate has plummeted to 5%, right, so 95% of the people applying to Stanford are not getting in. 94% or so apply to Harvard are not getting in. 93% or so of people applying Princeton/Yale are not getting in. When you’ve got odds like that, you need to divorce your self-esteem and your aspirations from only one of these schools because you are fighting the losing game.

You’re fighting a losing game even more so if you don’t have an incredible athletic ability or if you’re not the child of a generous alumnus. So, you need to think more broadly about the kinds of schools that might work for you. You just need to expand the of them. So, I don’t think the answer is to hack the system, the answer is to realize what is true, which is that your education, which is what we’ve been talking about, a great education is possible at a pretty broad array of schools, not just at those that are so exclusive that they inspire in you, oh, I got to get into that club, because it’s so hard to get into.

Jason:
Yeah, good point. I agree. So, are there any schools that maybe you want to mentioned that are really, you know, good opportunities that don’t have the submissions problem where they’re so impacted, you know, feel free to talk about different pricing and so forth, you know, I don’t know how deep into the topic you go in terms of that, so just wanted to throw the question out there.

Frank:
Well, I talk about a lot of schools in the book from small to large that I think don’t get looked at as closely as they should. I do at largely to profiles of people who have had great experiences of those schools and who maybe at one point in their lives wanted to go to the Ivy League, it didn’t work out for them and then regardless they got a great education and went on to a great career.

In that context, I want to talk about University of Maryland, University of Rochester. A number of state universities like that enter the book and then there’s some small schools that people have had incredible experiences at and they really run the gamut. Calvin college in Michigan was the cradle for a MacArthur Genius grant winner I interviewed who is now a professor at Stanford. Allegheny college.

I mean, there are, it’s a little bit misleading to single out schools, because there are really are scores of them that can be springboards to terrific careers. It’s end up being entirely about the character, the discipline, and the drive of the person you went to that school.

Jason:
So, any tips you want to share expanding on that idea in terms of how, you know, any more ideas on how one can take charge of their education, how one can really get the benefit. I mean, so many people when they are that age, they don’t fully kind of embrace a lot of that stuff, do they?

Frank:
Well no, they say, you know, there’s a cliche or an aphorism that youth is wasted on the young, right. I think I could make the argument that college is wasted on 17-18-19 year olds. When I went to college, I certainty wasn’t, I certainty wasn’t appreciative of just how magnificent the opportunities in front of me were and I certainty didn’t kind of pause in front of this, you know, bountiful landscape that is a university or a college and say, how do I romp across this terrain in the most useful way and extract everything from it that I can, but you know, I do go through some specific things in the book that young men and women should think about.

For starters, it can make a profound difference in your life, not just in career placement, but in terms of other kinds of guidance to develop some close relationships with faculty members and so when you arrive on a campus at a school, look around. When you do happen to meet and connect with a faculty member who seems like someone who is poised to be helpful and who is someone you have a rapport with really nurture that, really hone that, because that can make a profound difference not only on the quality of your education, but that’s someone who can really be a connector or, you know, we used the word network before, that sort of thing later in your life.

I’m a big advocate if you can do it at a given school, I’m a big advocate in studying abroad. Most schools studying abroad is not much more expensive or anymore expensive than doing a semester on campus and we live in a world where international boundaries are more (#15:05?) than ever where there’s more commerce between countries, where the economy really gives global and it’s hard to think of any sort of profession you could go into that wouldn’t be well served by you having a greater international influence. So, those are two things that I would stress, foreign experience if possible and faculty relationships.

Jason:
And in terms of foreign experience, I’m kind of assuming you recommend Italy as one option.

Frank:
No, not necessarily, because I mean, if you’re going to go to another country, just because you think the food is really good, that’s not a meaningful education experience.

Jason:
I was kind of teasing you , because you wrote a book about Italy. I thought that was one of your favorites, but yeah, any particular international, you know, study destinations that you recommend?

Frank:
Well, there are many that could be useful to a person. Certainty we live in a world where China is increasingly relevant. One could do that. I didn’t mean to dismiss Italy out of hand, because it’s in Europe and Europe is one of our greatest trading partners when you look at international corporations, many of them have strong presence in Europe as well as the United States. I think South America could be very valuable. The bigger thing is going somewhere that’s going to challenge you, that’s going to expand your frame of reference. I would urge looking beyond Western Europe, because certain countries immediately feel more familiar and comfortable and I think part of education is disruptive. I mean, you should have yourself discomfort-able a little bit.

So, go somewhere that’s going to be challenging, go somewhere that’s going to be a little it scary; I don’t mean personal safety scary, I mean scary in that it is going to really feel unfamiliar and it’s going to expose you to a much different culture and thus it’s going to really test the way you think and some of your preconceptions in life.

Jason:
Right, right. Really broaden your mind. That’s a very good experience, no question about it. Frank, give out your website, of course, the book is on Amazon with excellent reviews, by the way. Do you have a personal website?

Frank:
I only have the website for the book, which is www.frankbrunibooks.com.

Jason:
Yeah, that’s what I meant, because here the only website I have for you is NYTimes.com. So, any interesting stories that you’re working on that you want to share, you know, that you’re working on for the times?

Frank:
Well, you know, I file two columns a week, so it changes all the time. I literally having filed one for Sunday, I have no idea what I’m doing for next week, because it just sort of treadmills that way. I just filed a column looking at some of the contortions that republican presidential candidates are twisting themselves into when it comes to gay marriage and gay rights. The republican party is no longer feeling comfortable as an anti-gay party because of the population, the population sentiments have changed so much and so, you’re seeing a lot of republican candidates talk out of both sides of their mouths in a very careful balancing act and I think it’s fascinating and I wrote about that.

Jason:
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think they ought to take these social issues out of the agenda and focus on the fiscal stuff.

Frank:
Well, it’s really constricting the parties appeal, but there are a lot of young people who I think might be responsive to the republican party that are scared off a little bit by the stern positions on social issues, some of them.

Jason:
Yeah, it’s time to change with the times. I definitely agree and if you ask me, the country is more like a big corporation and I think we should focus mostly on the fiscal issues and let people to be free as they wish, mostly. I’m a libertarian jus so you know where I’m coming from.

Frank:
I picked that up, yeah.

Jason:
Yeah, you probably did. You probably did. Well, Frank, really interesting discussion about the schools and so forth. Is there anything I didn’t ask you, anything you want to say, any closing thoughts?

Frank:
Well, you know, I just think in kind of summery, we would be really well served as a country and families would be really well served if they took a big portion of this energy that they poor into worrying over where kids are going to get into college and they re-focused it on what kids are going to get out of college and how kids are going to college best. That would just be a much more productive, much more helpful expenditure to energy.

Jason:
Excellent point. Frank Bruni, thank you so much for joining us.

Frank:
Thank you for having me, take care.