This time of the year represents the anxiety ridden period when “would be” college students anxiously await their college acceptance letters. Understandably this can be a particularly stressful time for students and parents alike.

But should it be?

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of students who apply to college will get accepted. In fact the average college acceptance rate is 70%. Over half of U.S. colleges have acceptance rates that are over 67%. Most of these are excellent colleges.

Yes there are the “ultra-competitive” acceptance rates for some private colleges that are below 20%, but these only represent 4% of all colleges.

Furthermore, where you go doesn’t really have much of a correlation of how you’ll do in life. In fact, Frank Bruni’s book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to College Admissions, shares compelling research that shows where you go has little correlation to lifetime income or other metrics of success.

Rather than being concerned with where we go to college, perhaps greater emphasis should be placed on how to make sure that college fulfills its promise as an engine of social mobility and a pathway to a better life.

Around 40% of students who enroll in college drop out. Often saddled with significant debt and no degree to show for it. Beyond academic challenges are additional financial or health hardships that often contribute to the difficult decision to quit.

To this end, I was thrilled to take part in the launch of the Social Mobility Lab at City College last week. It is an idea that I have been working on for several years and am so grateful to have the opportunity to launch it within the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

The purpose of the Lab is to do research and learn what contributes to success in college and beyond and then translate that learning into actionable programs that can improve our students’ chances of a good life. The only reason to study social mobility is to make it a reality for more people.

One example coming out of previous research at City College, showed that when students were simply aware of the financial benefit of a college degree they were more likely to graduate. The implementation of this learning is simple. Take every opportunity to remind them that their education and hard work is worth it. This is particularly critical as people on both the left and the right question the value of higher education.

In our launch event, Dean Andy Rich opened by interviewing author Paul Tough who shared his perspective on the role of higher education during these contentious times. I then moderated a panel (starting at :27 on this video) with three incredible individuals who have “lived the dream.” Their vulnerability and courage in sharing the ups and downs of their climb was so moving and insightful.

We all want our children to have a better life than we had. But I’m not sure how stressing over where they go to college is particularly helpful to that end. Instead, we can assure them that they will find a college that’s right for them and continuously reinforce what college is about. It is not the name on their diploma or the bumper sticker on our car but a wonderful journey, marked by growth, learning and relationships that can last a lifetime. We should also seek out and remove the roadblocks and detours on that journey so that more of our children can finish and flourish – making the most of an experience that can set them up for a more secure and wonderful life.

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