Why the oldest kids in each class get an edge in college admissions

Students may perform better in college admissions if they started kindergarten at a later age, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

To complete the study, researchers analyzed public school records for Florida students, comparing academic outcomes for children born in in August, who are the youngest students in each kindergarten class, with those born in September, who are the oldest.

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Researchers found that the older children had higher test scores, even after accounting for a range of factors, including birth weight. Older students were also more likely to attend college, more likely to graduate from college, and more likely to graduate from a selective college.

In fact, the achievement gap between the two groups of students "could be equivalent to about 40 points on the 1600-point SAT," John Ydstie reports for NPR, based on an interview with David Figlio, an economist at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study.

The gap occurs at all income levels—and can even happen within the same family, depending on when siblings were born, Figlio tells NPR.

However, wealthier families are more likely to delay enrolling their children in kindergarten for one year, a practice known as "academic redshirting," because they believe it will give their children a leg up in school (Leubsdorf, Wall Street Journal, 8/18; Ydstie, NPR, 8/18).

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