Having been a college counselor since 1989, I have worked with several generations of students. Throughout the years, there have been many changes in the admissions landscape. The biggest change I’ve seen comes at a time when college admissions is generally getting less selective, but students want to attend the same 30 schools, which are becoming more selective. I believe that this trend is being driven by a fear of downward mobility and a desire on the part of families, who are paying up to $250,000 for a college education, to ensure that their children are making proper connections socially and academically. It’s also causing a huge amount of stress amongst high school students. I find it increasingly challenging to convince families that a safer option is a good fit for students, even with the promise that they can get a good amount of merit money at a particular school. The branding aspect of the college admissions process seems to have overtaken rational decision making!

This has all got me thinking about the 1983 movie, Trading Places, in which Eddie Murphy, a destitute character, trades places with Dan Aykroyd, a stock broker. The movie’s brilliance is in demonstrating that human beings are genuinely resourceful and self-motivated, with or without luck. I often think that it would be interesting to place students who are at the 30 most selective schools into their safer options. My hypothesis is that they would rise to the top of their classes, graduate, and within three years, end up in the same job that they would have had if they had gone to their original, selective college- likely with a huge amount of merit aid and in honors programs! And they will have felt calmer and less stressed during high school in trying to attend a highly selective college. My point is that–despite social engineering and prestige–perseverance and a growth mindset will lead an individual to success no matter where he or she attends college.

The message here is to keep an open mind about safer options and to celebrate the possibilities and adventure that come with any college education. The ability to attend a four-year college at all is a privilege!