In my lifetime, college admission has always been the singular goal for most high school students in the US. But in the super competitive atmosphere around here, the holy grail is a relatively small collection of elite (expensive) universities.

But in tomorrow’s education edition of the Post Magazine, one writer wants to know “Will gaining admission to one of the nation’s elite colleges guarantee a prosperous future — or just a mountain of debt?”.

Good question. So, someone must have done some research on this topic, right?

But what if all those calculations and assumptions are wrong? What if all those Ivy graduates whose parents shelled out $150,000 or even $200,000 for their undergraduate degrees could have done just as well if they’d gone somewhere else? Somewhere much cheaper?

Research implies that is actually the case. According to these recent studies, when you do a cold, hard analysis — removing family dreams and visions of class rings — the Ivies and other elite private schools simply aren’t worth the money. The answer isn’t conclusive, and there are skeptics — at the Ivies and elsewhere. But at the least, the research should give parents pause and prompt them to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before steering their child to an elite private college.

And there seems to be little difference between students from upper income homes and those from poverty backgrounds. In fact, the poor kids did slightly better in their earnings.

Of course, there are many intangible factors related to attending one college over another, including the shiny prestige that comes from attending classes in one ivy covered set of buildings over another. How do you figure that in the spreadsheet?

For many parents of the students I’ve worked with over the years, return on investment was never really an issue anyway. I suspect that many of them were looking for bragging rights as well. Not a criticism, just an observation.

None of this, however, is related to the numbers produced by the researchers.

How could a collection of statistics possibly sway someone who absolutely must attend Harvard or she will die? As a student of mine once wailed at me after earning a B on a test. (She did get into Harvard, by the way. No idea what happened after that.)

college admission, income