A trend over the past twenty years has been consistently increasing record high numbers of college admission applications, college enrollment, and college tuition and expenses.
Contributing to this trend is an easier application process in this digital age where over 500 colleges now accept the Common Application that makes it easy to apply to multiple colleges simultaneously.
Over two million high school seniors every year apply and enroll in college. The demand for college has never been higher. With higher demand comes more competition for entry to college.
“Students are dealing with more rejection now than ever before.”
Does it really matter if you go to one of the schools listed on a Top Ten list somewhere? The short answer is NO and the long answer is described below.
The number of books, publications, web sites, and companies that publish college ranking lists have also sky rocketed.
There is a correlation between rankings and applications as well as reduced acceptance rates to the highest ranked schools. The higher the ranking, the more applications submitted. The higher the ranking, the lower the acceptance rates. It is a supply and demand problem. There are only so many seats and dorm rooms available for incoming students that a college can support.
Colleges not only want to appear in these rankings but they want to rank as high as possible. The difference between making an appearance in the US News & World Report Top 10, the Top 100 or not making the list at all can have a dramatic impact on the number of college inquiries, visits, and applications that come in. Each year colleges and families identify which colleges made the list and the rank they received. Those colleges with healthy rankings ensure an application tidal wave. All schools must staff the proper number of admissions officers to handle the volume of applications that will come pouring in.
The College Admissions Marketing Machine
So it is not surprising that colleges have taken their admissions process to creative heights and upped their admissions game. Many universities have been spending amazing amounts of money to improve, stand out, and make these rankings. The schools with large endowments and active alumni giving have been able to renovate their campuses with state of the art facilities, student areas and living facilities, fitness centers, high-tech classrooms and campuses, and gorgeous landscaping.
Pepperdine University was recently ranked by Ranker on their popular Youtube channel as one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States located in Malibu, CA. Do you think they have a hard time marketing to college-bound high school students? Universities with amazing geographic settings do not have to invest as much as other schools, but most schools have made a major investment to ensure the school’s “curb appeal” wows prospective students.
The big public universities are even paying coaches millions of dollars per year to build winning football and basketball programs because they know what championships mean. Championships lead to bigger stadiums, bigger athletic company endorsements, bigger television contracts, more students, higher rankings – which all generate more tuition and school revenues.
Schools have hired more employees in their marketing, public relations and social media departments to create amazing campaigns and marketing copy that rival the Fortune 500 companies.
Direct mail and email begin going out to high school students that have taken and achieved high test results on the standardized ACT and SAT tests. More marketing equals more applications. It is viewed as a good thing to have the highest number of applications and the lowest acceptance rate. It is now common for acceptance rates at many competitive schools to be below 10 percent.
The Great National Freak-Out
On the receiving end of this high-powered marketing engine are the millions of ready, willing, and able high school students and their families clamoring to gain entry into these schools. Mary Nguyen Barry wrote an article on April 22, 2015 about college application inflation that describes what Glenn Kessler – the Washington Post’s Fact Checker – calls the “Great National Freak-Out” where graduating high school students from anxious families submit high numbers of applications (up to 20) due to fear of rejection. Glenn, a Harvard alum, describes how the competition is very real today as his own more high-school accomplished son is getting rejected from places like Cornell and Northwestern.
Frank Bruni Examines College Admission Mania
Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, published a book in 2015 titled Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. The book shines a bright light on the current state of college admissions. Bruni defines the frenzy to be the top one to two percent of the nation to get into the most competitive schools. In the opening page of the book Bruni pays tribute to all the high school kids in this country who are dreading the crossroads of college admissions and to all the young adults who felt ravaged by it.
“We have made this thing a brutal season and a brutal process for kids. We have given them a message that if kids don’t get into one of these ridiculously selective schools it will follow them around for the rest of their lives.” – Frank Bruni on a March 2015 CNN interview speaking about the college admissions process
In the CNN interview with Don Lemon the two agreed that not all life is defined by acceptance letters. Hard work, drive, grit, and resilience were described as so much more important than the college one graduates from.
Bruni mentioned this book was a “passion” project which was made clear in his writing and in his message. In his book he profiled many professionals whose career success was not defined by attending an Ivy League school or a school who happened to be on some companies college rankings. He went on to state that there are so many different paths to success in life that is not determined by the span of days in late March and early April when college applicants get all of their yes’s and no’s. Bruni points out that where we go to college will have infinitely less bearing than the people we choose to be around, the communities that we will engage in, and the families we will make.
In the interview Bruni’s parting advice is to “commit yourself to learning and closely evaluating what the college can do for you.”
The Big Fish In A Small Pond
In the books introduction we are introduced to Peter who went to a private high school with students from high-achieving families. The students were highly active, competitive and preparing for life beyond high school.
Although a fine student, Peter ranked around 300 in his class of hyper-competitive peers. He planned to attend business school and was rejected by both University of Michigan and University of Illinois, two highly reputable business programs.
He went to Indiana University and thrived. His preparatory school background and Indiana’s environment enabled him to go through a transformation. He scored a 3.95 his freshman year which earned him admission into an honors program for undergraduate business majors.
He became involved on campus and started his own business venture. By the time he graduated he had created a polished enough resume to get hired at Boston Consulting Group, in their Chicago office.
At Boston Consulting Group he ran into a fellow high school graduate who had just graduated from Yale and found her way to the same career entry point.
Peter worked for several years and then obtained his MBA from Harvard. He confirms that what he and his Harvard classmates learned in the workplace after college graduation had more bearing on their performance at Harvard.
The main, lasting relevance of Indiana, was the way it had turned him into a bolder, surer person. “I got to be the big fish in a small pond,” Peter said.
How Two Paths Lead To Same Career Starting Point
Both Peter and his high school classmate were hired to the same top consulting firm while one traveled through the Ivy League to get there. This proves that if the schools offer up the right environment, resources, and access and students take advantage and work hard, then success is inevitable . Peter is a great role model. He demonstrates the importance of not getting blinded or hung up by rejection.
The Unsung Alma Maters
In Chapter One Bruni identifies a very interesting point based on research of American-born CEO’s of the Fortune 100 companies. Only about thirty percent went to Ivy League or highly selective schools. A similar ratio applies to past presidents, vice presidents, the senate, and governors.
The Platinum Study
Bruni wrote about a study published in May 2014 by sociologist D. Michael Lindsay, named the Platinum Study. The study involved interviews with 550 American leaders to see where they came from and how they reached their destinations. In his book that came from this study, A View from the Tip: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World. Lindsay writes that “while we often assume the that most direct path to national influence goes through major academic universities (such as Ivy League schools), nearly two-thirds of the leaders I interviewed attended schools that are not considered elite institutions.”
The Graduate Schools Matter More
I thought the most telling finding was that it is not about the undergraduate schools as much as it is about the graduate schools that these leaders attended.
“Nearly two-thirds of the leaders who received graduate degrees went to a top 10 graduate school in their field.” – D. Michael Lindsay
To me it appears that students who perform well in undergraduate school and early in their career have a great opportunity to get into the best graduate programs – regardless of their undergraduate school.
In Chapter Two Bruni likened the application process today to that of throwing darts. Today more than one in four college-bound students apply to greater than seven colleges where as the number twenty-five years ago was just one in ten. That’s a 250% increase in the number of applications submitted annually.
The thinking is that if I apply a shotgun approach and apply to as many schools as possible, that I will be able to get into at least one. The Common Application, available to nearly 600 schools today, is one reason the number of applications per student has risen. It is just as easy to select four schools as it is twenty. Bruni interviewed the founder of the Princeton Review, John Katzman, who claimed that the odds of getting into one of the Top 100 schools is easier today than thirty years ago due to the number of seats now available. But his key point is to cast a wide net to as many of these schools as possible. If you set your heart on one or two of these Top 100 schools, such as Stanford or Harvard, you may be disappointed. But applying to all the Top 100, if you are qualified, may yield you at least one acceptance letter.
Obsessives At The Gate
In Chapter Three Bruni describes the extensiveness that families will go to improve the odds of gaining the golden ticket to the Ivies.
There’s one college admissions consultant who charges $50,000 for signing up 8th and 9th graders and guiding them through high school graduation and the college admissions process.
There’s the $14,000 four-day Application Boot Camp for 30 junior and senior-year high school students to work with editors and draft essays. That’s $420,000 to the organizer of the Boot Camp for those keeping track.
Then there is the educational consulting firm in Manhatten that sells a “platinum package” for high school juniors and seniors for $30,000 to get them through the college admissions process.
The marketing lines used go something like “It’s harder than ever to get into the top universities” and “no way my son would have gotten into Yale Early Action without this program”.
Although only the elite income earners may consider these types of services, Bruni identifies that one national survey conducted in 2009 demonstrates that now, more than ever, college-bound students are seeking assistance beyond high school guidance counselors.
The survey also showed that of the 1,250 high school seniors who scored in the top third of all students on the SAT or ACT found that 26 percent had used the services of a paid college placement consultant, which demonstrates the trend to use professionals to improve performance.
Rankings And Wrongs
On the topic of rankings in Chapter Four, Bruni directs us to Jeffrey Brenzel, who spent eight years up until 2013, as the dean of admissions at Yale. Brenzel wrote on the Yale web site after stepping down from the job that “The publication of college rankings is a business enterprise that capitalizes on anxiety about college admissions.” Brenzel went on to say that, “College ranking systems all take a far less thorough and scientific approach than Consumer Reports does when testing vacuum cleaners.”
” I think U.S. News & World Report will go down as one of the most destructive things that ever happened to higher education.” – Adam Weinberg, the president of Denison University
The travesty that appears to take place is that many college-bound students look wholly at these lists to make their decisions on what is best for them.They do not evaluate the schools as close as they should to determine what schools are the best fit, which offer the most for their unique needs, and which will get them to where they would like to be professionally.
Bruni directs readers to a Washington Post interview in September 2014 with Bob Morse, the man responsible for producing the U.S News College Rankings. Bob shared his own thoughts on the relevance of a college’s reputation to a student’s future. “It’s not where you went to school,” he told the Post. “It’s how hard you work.” Morse got his undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and his MBA from Michigan State.
What You Study Matters
Bruni points out that kids focusing more on what they are planning to study instead of the name of the institution will be better served. In one recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce confirmed the likelihood of simply getting a job varies greatly by major selection. Graduates participating in the study that obtained a pharmacology degree had a 100 percent employment rate. Graduates with a social psychology degree had a sixteen percent employment rate.
“It matters a lot less where you went to college than it used to. What really drives your earnings is your field of study. If you go to Harvard and become a schoolteacher, you’re not going to make more than another schoolteacher who didn’t go to Harvard.” – Anthony Carnevale, Georgetown Center’s director
Ability Is More Important Than Degree
Bruni described a 2014 Gallup poll where business leaders across the nation defined the two factors most important when evaluating a candidate were the amount of knowledge the candidate had in their field and the candidate’s applied skills or practical work experience, which demonstrates ability. Least important was where a candidate had received a college degree.
Demonstrated Success Matters Most
What has become obvious is that the longer one is out of school the less important degree and school matters and the more important experience matters.
When coming right out of school employers are wise to evaluate GPA. GPA is a metric that demonstrates both intelligence and work ethic, two key traits important to being a good employee and one who can advance in the corporate ranks.
Next is evaluating a students involvement while in college. The activities and organizations one chooses shows interests, passion, and drive. How active was the student, were they in leadership roles, and have they demonstrated initiative? Positive affirmations commonly translate into career success.
Once a person has established a career track record, then annual employee performance reviews demonstrate a person’s drive and impact to their business. Additionally job promotions and levels of responsibility are deemed positive success factors.
Again, evaluating a career person’s stretch goals, three or five-year goals and plans, and overall involvement shows demonstrate interest, passion, and drive. An employee may be a star performer in their functional role and may also be involved in other company organizations or committees. Alternatively, a person may be involved in community or neighborhood organizations.
A person’s track record is established in elementary school and begins to grow through the different life stages of middle school, high school, college, early career, mid-career through to end of career.
It’s Not Where You Go To College, But How You Go To College
In Chapter Seven Bruni describes that a Gallup/Purdue partnership was formed in 2013 to conduct the largest representative study of college graduates in U.S. history.
Their major finding was that “There is no difference in workplace engagement or a college graduate’s well-being if they attended a public or private not-for-profit institution, a highly selective institution, or a top 100-ranked school in U.S News & World Report.”
There you have it parents. Right there. Interestingly the report did not focus on the amount of money earned. It evaluated several different criteria being purpose, social, physical, financial, and community.
What the study honed in on as important to achieving life happiness after college were the following:
- Graduating college in as short of a time period as possible
- Graduating college with little to no debt
- Having a mentor to provide guidance through college
- Having an internship or job while in college where they could apply what they were learning in the classroom
As Bruni summarized, “the nature and quality of the time spent in college – including, as it turned out, the major someone chose and the efficiency with which he or she zipped toward a diploma – were paramount.”
So Does School Rank Really Matter?
In Chapter Nine Bruni describes his interview of Hiram Chodosh, the Claremont McKenna president, in which Chodosh outlines that successful people approach life by focusing on the actual work they intend to do. They prepare themselves for the work, pick up the skills they need to do the work, take advantage of any chance to show what they are capable of and then use those chances to grab hold of bigger chances. Chodosh explains that success generally happens this way. Purposefully and incrementally.
In closing, I will cling to the notion that what matters most is how one chooses to go to college – the focus on an end goal, the class load and class selection, the effort they put into them, the grades received, the loans taken, the extracurricular activities chosen and level of involvement in everything.
This is far superior and the essence of HOW going to college is more important than WHERE going to college.
Thank You Frank Bruni For Such An Amazing Unveiling
This book is a great read for all college-bound students and parents of college-bound students.
The entire book contains great information cover to cover and should remove some anxiety many have when approaching college admissions.
You can find the book in major bookstores and online at sites like Amazon.