18-15 Segment 2: The Overblown Importance of What College You Attend

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Today, more than ever, there is an immense amount of pressure put on high school students to attend either an Ivy League or another elite college. When students are not accepted to these kinds of colleges, it is devastating and they often feel that their success in life will be impacted tremendously.

Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times and author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, explains that this idea is just a myth that is perpetuated by the media. He states that if a politician or CEO attended an Ivy League or another elite college, the media will articulate this fact continuously throughout the profile. However, if they attended a smaller college or a state school, this detail is often excluded entirely. By only talking about a limited number of schools in the media, it reinforces the idea that only those who attend those schools will be successful in their future. Another idea that maintains the pretentious importance about the college that a student attends is the belief that people who have important jobs will only hire people who attended the same college as them. Bruni explains that this does happen, but that this should not deter a student from looking into other schools, as well.

However, Bruni does not think that students should completely avoid applying to Ivy League schools or elite schools. He explains that students should not solely rely on them, nor should they be upset if they do not get accepted because schools choose incoming freshman who meet their current needs, whether that is to fulfill a sports team, maintain alumni relations, or increase access to minorities. Furthermore, Joshua Steckel, a counselor at a New York high school and co-author of Hold Fast to Dreams, explains that there are even pitfalls to attending elite colleges if they are not a good fit for the student. These include day-to-day challenges, meeting financial obligations, and, for students of color or low-income students, being excluded by their peers. In order to ensure that a student attends a college that is suitable for their needs, it is important they learn about other options besides Ivy Leagues and elite colleges.

But, in order to encourage students to apply to smaller schools or schools that are not well-known, they need access to the resources to help them find these schools. Steckel explains that access to high school counselors is extremely limited–some schools have 1,000 students assigned to one counselor. Furthermore, he states that a lot of colleges have committed to accepting more low-income students and students of color, but these schools tend to not be well-known. So, many students would benefit from having a counselor to help guide them in finding these schools and through the college application process. But, Bruni explains that no matter what college a student attends, the results of their experience will be based on if they make the most of what the school has to offer. More privileged communities focus too much on getting students into top schools, rather than learning how to make the most of it. Students have the ability to thrive at any school and become successful after graduation, whether they attend an Ivy League or a state school, but what matters most is that they are taught how to.


  • Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times and author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania
  • Joshua Steckel, counselor at a New York high school and co-author of Hold Fast to Dreams

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16-49 Segment 1: Does Where You Go To College Matter?

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High school graduates who plan to go on with their education are making plans to head off to college this fall. Not all of them were accepted to the college that was their first choice, and many are disappointed about it. Some young people didn’t get into college at all because they weren’t offered the help they needed to find a college that suited them financially and culturally. We talk to an author and to a high school counselor about the myths surrounding acceptance to an “elite” college, why a small or state school can be a better fit, and how high school counselors can better serve diverse and often financially strapped students.

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