Every family struggles with the decision of where their child should go to college – and for many, that decision entails more than just the on-campus experience. In her thought-provoking and heart wrenching New York Times Opinion Piece, “Did I Choose the Wrong College?”, author Jeanine Capó Crucet explores the decision she made to attend Cornell University over the University of Florida – turning down a full ride from her hometown school, and assuming a large financial burden for her family in order to study at the “more elite” institution.
We all know how much weight we, as a society, place on the question “where are your kids going to college?” And in a day and age of ballooning education costs and a near-crisis level of student loan debt, the pressure to attend a school “of a certain tier” still, for many, outweighs the financial pressures that decision might bring. Ms. Crucet doesn’t give a straight answer to her question, “Did I choose the wrong college?” but in simply unpacking the reasons behind her decision, she illuminates so many of the issues wrapped up in the way we often think about elite universities and ivory towers.
There is no easy answer to the question. Ms. Crucet, after all, is writing for the New York Times – one of the most prestigious bylines any writer could dream of – so certainly her Cornell education hasn’t failed her. But we think it’s that false dichotomy that Ms. Crucet does such an excellent job of pointing out: a person’s success after college is not solely determined by where they went to college. The truth is, Ms. Crucet would most likely have had success no matter where she went! The road she took to get there – both the invaluable experiences and the remarkable sacrifices – have shaped the person she’s become, but we believe that either college would have enabled her inevitable accomplishments.
In one of the essay’s most poignant sections, the author ponders whether she’d be where she was if she’d made a different choice.
I honestly don’t know. Where I am now is the Midwest, a newly tenured professor at a Big Ten school. My best friend from high school, who graduated second in our class and was supposed to be my Gator roommate, went to the University of Florida and loved it. She has a fulfilling career, rewarding friendships and a gorgeous house in a South Florida neighborhood we’d both always dreamed of living in: There is no “but” to alter these facts.
These two best friends from the same high school made different decisions…and they both wound up successful. A tenured professorship at a Big Ten school is quite the accomplishment – as is a gorgeous home in South Florida. Are their successes the product of their specific college curriculums? Or are they the product of two high-achieving women who worked hard, dreamed big, and made things happen for themselves? We tend to think it was the latter.
Where you go to college is tremendously important – it’s one of the more life-defining choices you’ll get to make – but we want to combat the idea that one must go to a certain school to be successful, or that a certain university of a certain price is the only way to achieve your dreams. With effort, determination, and hard work you’ll find success, no matter what name is on top of your diploma.
What do you think?