It is that time of year again. The emails are coming–the “Congratulations, we’re excited to offer you admission to the class of 2019,” and the “There were many other qualified candidates.” There will be tears; tears from finally, finally, getting into that dream school, and tears from knowing that the admission officers didn’t think you were enough. Yes, it is that time when college admission decisions come out. For many (including myself), it is the time that seems to be the entire focus of our high school career. But research suggests that even though students should definitely work hard and dream big, not attending an elite school is not the end of your life.
While there is clear monetary benefits to attending college, there are not clear benefits toward attending a particular status college. Older studies from RAND Corporation, Brigham Young University and Cornell University seemed to support this idea; however, these studies did not control for the individual students. When researchers compared the SAT scores of students going into elite private vs. state schools, they found that elite colleges didn’t offer a huge advantage. Additionally, many schools specialize in different majors, meaning a degree from a not typical “elite” school might actually be better in the long run if you’re interested in a certain field.
The National Bureau of Economic Research writes: “‘Students who attended more selective colleges do not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended less selective colleges,’… Evidently, students’ motivation, ambition, and desire to learn have a much stronger effect on their subsequent success than the average academic ability of their classmates.”
According to many top social scientists, this elitist college cycle perpetuates and thrives upon the income inequality that plagues the United States. It takes money to get into these top schools, from the hours of test prep tutoring to college visits and of course, tuition. And in a phenomenon called “assortative mating,” elite colleges can continue this cycle. A wealthy student at an elite school could meet the person they end up marrying there, so now there are two wealthy students marrying each other. Because of the lucrative careers they will go on to, this couple’s kids will also be very rich and go on to another elite school.
Of course, while selective colleges pick amazingly talented, smart, and hardworking candidates, many equally talented, smart, and hardworking candidates are declined. At a certain level, some of this is random: some admissions officers would rather see a tuba player than a trumpet player, or prefer Model United Nations to Junior State of America.
To the newly accepted class of 2019: congratulations! You have worked hard; look forward to a great four years. To those who did not get into their dream school: it is going to be alright.