Fairness of admissions criteria has been grabbing headlines lately. But the National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) latest State of College Admission report suggests that students' personal characteristics—like race, ethnicity, or ability to pay—have little influence over whether they are admitted to college.
To compile the report, NACAC asked colleges about seven student characteristics and how important they are in admissions. The report suggests that despite recent debates over race-based affirmative action, students' personal characteristics have limited or no influence over colleges' admissions decisions.
In fact, among the colleges who participated in the study, nearly 64% say that race and ethnicity have no influence over admissions decisions. However, the one personal characteristic colleges say they do pay attention to is first-generation status, with 4.2% of colleges responding that first-gen status has considerable influence over their admissions decisions, and 12.6% responding that it has moderate influence.
More important to colleges are academic factors, according to the report. For instance, nearly 81% of colleges report that a student's grades in all courses have considerable influence over their admissions decisions. And more than half of colleges surveyed report that SAT and ACT test scores, as well as strength of high school curriculum, also have considerable influence over their decisions. Of the top eight factors considered by colleges, just one—demonstrated interest—is not based on academics.
Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik notes that over the last ten years, the criteria that matter most in admissions decisions have evolved. For example, the importance of students' grades in all courses has gone up since 2007, when just 52% of colleges ranked students' grades as having considerable importance over their admissions decisions. Over the same time period, the importance of test scores has steadily declined, likely due to colleges' growing interest in going test-optional.
But there is one factor—unrelated to personal characteristics and academic factors—that may improve students' odds of being admitted to a college: applying early. Jaschik writes that both early decision and early action options are increasingly popular among prospective students, especially among those applying to colleges with lower admit rates.
According to the report, among all colleges with early decision, the admit rate for early decision applicants is 62.3%, compared with 50.7% for regular-decision applicants. And among all colleges with early action, the admit rate for early admit applicants was 73.6%, compared with 64.1% for regular applicants (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 11/12).
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