How you do matters more than where you go

The bad news for students applying to selective colleges is that getting accepted to any one of them really is harder than it used to be.images

As the New York times reports, “Many colleges have reduced the number of American teenagers they accept (in order to globalize their student bodies) at the same time that the American teenage population is growing, as I wrote last week.

“But there is some good news, too, and it’s worth spending a few minutes on it. It sheds some light on the right way for high school students to think about the application process.

“First, amid all the anxiety over this subject, students should remember that the college you attend matters less than many people think it does. Research has shown that students with similar SAT scores who attended different colleges — say, Stanford and the University of California, Davis — have statistically identical incomes. (Low-income students are the exception; the college they attend does seem to matter.) Yes, Harvard graduates make high salaries on average, but it doesn’t seem to be because they went to Harvard.I recognize that this research will not convince many teenagers and their parents. They’ll still care enormously about the admissions process. So another bit of encouraging news is also worth considering: Even if an individual college is harder to get into, there seem to be more total spots at excellent colleges.Over the same period that colleges like Harvard and Stanford have been admitting more foreign students, several other changes in higher education have also been occurring. High school seniors, for their part, have started applying to more colleges than in the past. In the 1970s or 1980s, a top student from North Carolina might have applied to a couple of public colleges in the state, Duke, Wake Forest and maybe one college in the Northeast. Today, that student may apply to those schools as well as, say, Princeton, Macalester, Pomona, Vanderbilt and the University of Chicago.”

This change has effectively nationalized the higher-education market. Harvard has fewer students from the Northeast than it used to, and colleges in the Midwest or South have fewer from their home regions. As a result, colleges like Vanderbilt and Rice are more national and less regional than they used to be.

And some of the colleges that have most successfully made the leap from regional to national have substantial enrollments, like N.Y.U. and the University of Southern California. These colleges are almost like new entrants into the national higher-education market, increasing the number of available spots. At many elite high schools — public and private — 20 years ago, no seniors would even have applied to N.Y.U. or U.S.C. Today, they have become dream destinations for some students at those high schools.

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