HOPEFULLY YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: New York Times columnist Frank Bruni turned in a mediocre column on how to pick a college which deserves comment both on its own merits as well as for what it says about Bruni and his NYT readership.
According to Bruni, students should “ask themselves not which school is the surest route to riches but which will give them the richest experiences to draw from, which will broaden their frames of reference.” That sounds nice, but college takes four years or more and costs a lot of money. Is this the best advice for everybody?
It’s almost a throwaway line that doesn’t come until halfway in, but Bruni writes, “If you’re among the lucky who can factor more than cost and proximity into where you decide to go…” Aha! Now we see who Bruni’s writing for. Remember this chart that we ran a few weeks ago?
The title of the piece is “How to Choose a College”, but a better title would be, “How to Choose a College if Your Parents Make a Lot of Money.” Vast swaths of the United States would impoverish themselves by listening to Bruni, but not so much the NYT readership, it would seem.
The Lion of the Blogosphere gives a partial corrective to Bruni’s lousy advice:
This is really bad advice because what college a person goes to is the single most important key to unlocking a good career track. And because teenagers are flighty, don’t know what they really want, and can’t even imagine what kind of person they will be in ten years, they are likely to choose a college for stupid reasons.
Parents should ignore this bad advice. They should guide their children to attend the most prestigious college they can get into, and to select a major that will allow them to enter a good career track. I don’t even recommend parents take their children on visits to colleges, in order to prevent them from falling in love with lower-tier school that has a good marketing message.
We say partial corrective because once you get past the upper echelon–and we’ll leave it to the philosophers to decide what schools, exactly, constitute this particular echelon–choice of college isn’t going to to make that big of a difference in your career on average, at least not if you’re talking about going to a slightly less selective school where you can get better financial aid.
People like to use terms like “priceless” or “invaluable” when describing a college education, but such terms are not helpful when making decisions about something that can eat up $50,000 per year per child. It’s hard to get through a week without reading yet another sob story about some liberal arts major who followed Bruni’s advice and found himself burdened with $100K in debt and minimal job prospects. Cost is one component of a college education that needs to be weighed along with other factors–and, as LOTB points out, career positioning is another. To reject or downplay either merely goes to show that the NYT op-ed board dwells in a privileged and very well-insulated bubble.