"Demonstrated Interest" in Inequality in College Admissions
Scott Jaschik reports at Inside Higher Ed:
Demonstrated interest" is one of the admissions criteria used by many competitive colleges -- even though it may not have anything to do with an applicant's intelligence or character. The term refers to ways that an applicant shows he or she is serious about enrolling at a given college. An applicant who calls with questions about a particular program is more valued than one who doesn't communicate beyond applying. An applicant who visits shows more demonstrated interest than one who doesn't, and so forth. Many colleges factor in demonstrated interest to admissions and aid decisions, wanting to admit applicants who will enroll. The idea is to have better planning and to improve the yield, the percentage of admitted applicants who enroll.
A new research paper suggests that demonstrated interest has become another way wealthy students have an extra edge -- and recommends that colleges consider policy changes as a result.
Using data from a "highly selective" college (provided on condition that the institution not be identified), the paper finds that colleges are making a logical decision to consider demonstrated interest (it does lead to higher yields). But the study found more. It found that colleges most favor demonstrated interest of the kind that costs money. A student who visits campus, and does so long enough to participate in activities, will gain much more of an edge than an equally qualified student who talks with a college representative at a college fair at her school.
The impact is greatest on those with high SAT scores -- suggesting that many colleges (below the Harvard/Stanford level of competitiveness) are wary of admitting some applicants with high SAT scores and little demonstrated interest for fear of being used as a "safety school."
Those with both high SAT scores (on average wealthier applicants than others) and a campus visit are up to 40 percentage points more likely to be admitted than comparable students without those two "signals," as the paper calls those qualities.
The paper will appear in the journal Contemporary Economics Policy. Its authors are three economists at Lehigh University (James Dearden, Chad Meyerhoefer and Muzhe Yang) and Suhui Li of Mathematica Policy Research.