Columist Frank Bruni of the New York Times just published one of the most timely and convincing articles today on the issue of students vying for the most elite colleges—often at the expense of their sense of self-worth.

It’s a dangerous trend, and Bruni shares the stories of students who were rejected, and where they ended up.

For the most part, he found that students who steered clear of the most prestigious schools—or were outright rejected—ended up at wonderful liberal arts colleges and public universities enjoyed experiences that were rich and empowering.

It was less about their classes and grades and status, and most what they learned about themselves and participating in a larger community.

“People bloom at various stages of life, and different individuals flourish in different climates,” Bruni wrote in the piece, “How to Survive the College Admissions Madness.” 

(To me, it’s a must-read whether you are a student or parents just starting the application process, or waiting for those acceptance letters.)

My favorite part of the column is his story of a couple who wrote their son a beautiful letter about himself, which was intended to buffer the rejection of the ivies he tried to get into.

They wanted him to remember that they loved him unconditionally no matter what colleges wanted him or not.

Even well-meaning parents forget the messages they often unintentionally send their kids when they succumb to the pressure of doing whatever it takes to get them into the most competitive schools.

In the frenzy to ace the tests and participate in every community service activity and visit multitudinous colleges and write brilliant essays, there’s an underlying message that goes out to kids: You are only as good as where you get accepted.



This is not a win-all, lose-all moment.

It’s not the final judgement day of the student’s life (or the parents). If you feel that way, get a grip. Where you go to college is just the beginning, and often it doesn’t matter where you start.

We all love our kids. But in this insane environment of college admissions—especially as many students will soon be opening those letters—it’s important to find ways to counter those rejections.

You don’t need to write a letter (or maybe you do?), but it’s important to keep it all in check and find ways to remind your kids that they are wonderful no matter where they end up.

Here’s the beautiful letter Bruni included in his piece:

Dear Matt,

On the night before you receive your first college response, we wanted to let you know that we could not be any prouder of you than we are today. Whether or not you get accepted does not determine how proud we are of everything you have accomplished and the wonderful person you have become. That will not change based on what admissions officers decide about your future. We will celebrate with joy wherever you get accepted — and the happier you are with those responses, the happier we will be. But your worth as a person, a student and our son is not diminished or influenced in the least by what these colleges have decided.

If it does not go your way, you’ll take a different route to get where you want. There is not a single college in this country that would not be lucky to have you, and you are capable of succeeding at any of them.

We love you as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky, all the way around the world and back again — and to wherever you are headed.

Mom and Dad