“Any number of educational paths can get you to the top of the mountain, not just the ones that everyone chatters about, and gets worked up about,” said Mr. Bruni, whose bestselling book dissects the notion that attending a certain institution is required for success in life.
“Why do we engage in this mythology that your life will be made or broken by the caliber of school that you get into?” he asked. “That idea has turned the admission process into a madness that takes my breath away.”
In his book, Mr. Bruni discusses the anxiety surrounding the process, the laser-like focus on getting into Ivies and other elite schools that overlooks many other excellent colleges, and the industry that has grown up around that process.
While at Hun, the Pulitzer-prize nominated journalist, who has covered everything from the Vatican to U.S. presidential campaigns for The New York Times, offered examples of highly successful people who attended public colleges and universities, or lesser-known private schools. He also noted the media’s tendency to mention a successful individual’s top tier alma mater and forgo reporting on others.
One such example is that of U.S. senators and former presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Sen. Cruz of Texas, he noted, attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School, a pedigree mentioned often in news accounts. Sen. Rubio of Florida, by contrast, attended a small private college, a community college, and finally graduated from the University of Florida, which is rarely reported. Both men, he noted, ended up in the same spot: seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
Mr. Bruni also discussed the Gallup-Purdue Index, a study that suggests things such as mentorship, engagement, a major role in a campus organization, or an internship as having a greater correlation to long-term fulfillment than the prestige of an individual’s chosen college.
“People who have gotten fully engaged in their environment at college, have taken stewardship over their education, and have invested in the experience… that’s what made the difference of feeling fulfilled later in life,” he said. “Not the fanciness of their diploma, of how proud they feel at some barbecue wearing the sweatshirt of their alma mater.”
He also maintained that much of what makes people succeed “was there before they set foot on a college campus. They grew up in a family that cared about education and instilled them with ambition.”
Mr. Bruni, who has a niece and nephew who attend Hun, opted to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) on a full scholarship as an undergraduate. He was admitted to Yale, but passed on the opportunity.
“I didn’t know anything about North Carolina, and that to me, represented the hope and promise of education. . . For me, that was going to be a much more educational experience than going to Yale,” a school, he explained, that was close to home and where he already knew many students. “I was looking for a place that would add to me, that would complete me.” He found that at UNC, from which he would go on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University School of Journalism.
“You need, here at Hun, and at college, to develop the muscle of engagement,” he said. “Figure out what genuinely engages you, and that will be your competitive edge.”