Higher Education Liberal Education Students

College Admissions and the Search for True Value

In a review of Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admission Mania, Nick Romeo takes aim at the American obsession with wealth and prestige as the driving force in the contemporary frenzy surrounding college admissions.

His article in the New Republic, “It Doesn’t Matter If Your Kid Doesn’t Get Into Harvard,” takes Bruni to task for not getting to the root of the problem—the elevation of prestige far above education. Bruni’s aim, Romeo says, is to alleviate the fears of status-seeking parents whose children are not accepted into the small circle of the nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities, to assure them that their kids too can attain the highest levels of wealth and power.

Status-seeking, of course, is involved in many human activities, and it is not likely to go away. But it is a shame that it has become so prominent in the college admissions process, especially since it is rooted in the mistaken notion that going to college is primarily for the sake of making a living. In this respect, it seems to me, Romeo is correct: to regard college merely as a stepping stone to wealth and power is to miss the point of education entirely.

Education is really, as Romeo says, about “human flourishing or happiness” rather than cutting a path to wealth and prestige. Education is “a vision of a kind of happiness that can be realized even in the absence of wealth and prestige.”

While it is true that attending college increases lifetime earnings, to use college merely as a form of career training is to miss a great opportunity.

As Romeo says, a college education can be an introduction to human flourishing, a means to developing the faculties of imagination and judgment needed for all of life, not just for a particular career. And as having multiple careers in a lifetime becomes more and more the norm, it seems less and less prudent to use college primarily for career training.

Many colleges and universities provide the kind of education that develops imagination and judgment, not only the Ivies and other schools considered highly prestigious. And a solid liberal arts education can provide the basis for a flourishing life that may encompass several careers.

That’s true value.