Last summer, Inside Higher Education published the findings of a paper by researchers that according to the article’s title, revealed “Another Edge for the Wealthy.” According to the research, students who visited a college in person had a statistically significant advantage in gaining admissions to the college. And college visit companies across the country rejoiced.
The problem is that this result is really only applicable for one college-the specific college the researchers studied. That’s right, their conclusions are based on ONE college. And we don’t know which college it is. All we know is that it is a “medium-sized highly selective university.” The authors, three who are faculty at Lehigh University, don’t provide any definitions for “medium” or “highly selective.” Although the BigFuture website does list Lehigh University as being a medium and very selective university so we can imagine the unknown school being somewhat similar.
I’ll get to why this is important in a minute.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the study 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.
This contains an important error by Inside Higher Ed because the study is based on only ONE school. There are no “colleges” involved!
Therefore the fact that
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
probably has a lot to do with the college’s individual characteristics.
Demonstrated Interest=Likely to Pay
Back to this unknown school being similar to Lehigh University. For the sake of argument, let’s say it is Lehigh University. It totally makes sense that as a safety school charging over $65,000 for students to attend in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it might be more likely to choose wealthy students who have proven that they are willing live closer to Allentown than Philadelphia or New York.
If the unknown school is like Lehigh, of course “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.'”
But that sure as heck doesn’t mean it applies to every school. I think it would safe to exclude public schools from this demonstrated interest effect. I don’t see Michigan or Virginia rejecting applicants with high-test scores to protect their yield. In fact, Lehigh lists Demonstrated Interest as an “Important” consideration in selection of students, while Michigan says it is “Considered” whereas at Virginia it is “Not Considered.”
Maybe the researchers should have use the Selection of Students Factors as a control variable. Oh, but wait, that means they would have had to look at more than one school.
Do you see where I’m going with this? At best, these results will apply to a small group of schools based on geography (less popular), price (high sticker price), test scores (mid-90th percentiles), and acceptance rates (20th%-40th%).
Not all Demonstrate Interest is the Same
Yet, Inside Higher Ed makes it sound like this a significant finding. They cite data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) State of College Admission Survey that found 16.9% of colleges say demonstrated interest has considerable importance as supporting evidence.
The problem is that it isn’t the same “demonstrated interest” they’re talking about in the research paper. In the NACAC survey, demonstrated interest also includes visiting the website or sending an email which were considered more important than a hosted campus visit.
Don’t get me wrong, yes, wealthy students able to visit college like Lehigh will have an advantage. But given that only 15% of Lehigh freshman are receiving Pell Grants, I suspect the Demonstrated Interest advantage is symptom, not a cause. The school claims to meet 97% of need yet the average net price for students with family incomes under $30,000 is over $20,000.
Demonstrated interest can obviously make a significant difference DEPENDING ON THE SCHOOL. And it is an unfair advantage based on income. But I seriously doubt that demonstrated interest would make as much of a difference for a student looking for significant financial aid as it does for a potentially full-pay student. Too bad the researchers didn’t factor family income into their study.
If you want to know which schools take into consideration demonstrated interest, you’ll need to research the schools-which is probably the best way to improve your admission chances anyway.