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Thursday, July 27, 2023

Inequality in College Admissions

Diversifying Society’s Leaders? The Determinants and Consequences of Admission to Highly Selective Colleges RAJ CHETTY, DAVID J. DEMING, JOHN N. FRIEDMAN

Leadership positions in the United States are held disproportionately by graduates of a group of 12 highly selective, private “Ivy-Plus” colleges—the eight colleges in the Ivy League, the University of Chicago, Duke, MIT, and Stanford. Less than one percent of Americans attend these 12 colleges, yet they account for 15% of those in the top 0.1% of the income distribution, a quarter of U.S. Senators, half of all Rhodes scholars, and three-fourths of Supreme Court justices appointed in the last half-century (Figure 1).

Furthermore, the students who attend Ivy-Plus institutions disproportionately come from high-income backgrounds themselves: just 10% of students scoring at the 99th percentile on the SAT/ACT from middle-class families attend an Ivy-Plus college, compared with 40% of similarly high-scoring students from families in the top 1 percent of the income distribution (Figure 2).

These two facts motivate our central question: Do highly selective colleges perpetuate privilege across generations and, conversely, could these colleges diversify America’s leaders by changing their admissions policies?

We answer this question using a “big data” approach—combining anonymized admissions data from several private and public colleges linked to parents’ and students’ income tax records and students’ SAT/ACT scores. We find that certain admissions practices at Ivy-Plus colleges—legacy preferences, weight placed on nonacademic factors, and athletic recruitment—give children from high-income families an advantage in admissions. Furthermore, being admitted to an Ivy-Plus college dramatically changes children’s life trajectories, giving them much greater chances of reaching positions of leadership. Together, these results imply that Ivy-Plus colleges could significantly increase the socioeconomic diversity of America’s leaders by changing their admissions practices.


• Ivy-Plus colleges are more than twice as likely to admit a student from a high-income family as compared to low- or middle-income families with comparable SAT/ACT scores.

• Higher admission rates for students from high-income families can be attributed to three factors: preferences for children of alumni (legacies), higher non-academic ratings, and athletic recruitment.

• The three factors underlying the high-income admissions advantage are not associated with better post-college outcomes; in contrast, SAT/ACT scores and academic ratings are highly predictive of post-college success.

• Attending an Ivy-Plus instead of a flagship public college triples students’ chances of obtaining jobs at prestigious firms and substantially increases their chances of earning in the top 1%.

• By changing their admissions policies, Ivy-Plus colleges could significantly diversify the socioeconomic backgrounds of America’s highest earners and leaders.

 The pdf of the study