Contextualizing the SAT: Experimental Evidence on College Admission Recommendations for Low-SES Applicants
Although it is well established that college entrance exams have become a key factor for admission to selective institutions, less is known about the influence of test scores in relation to other academic factors in the evaluation of a student’s application file. This study conducts a randomized-controlled trial to determine whether providing students’ test scores in context—how they perform relative to their school and neighborhood peers—increases the likelihood that admission officers (n = 321) would recommend admitting low-socioeconomic status (SES) applicants. The study also examines how including a personal admission essay that conveys grit, or ability to persevere in the pursuit of long-term goals, influences admission decision making. Admission officers in the contextual condition were significantly more likely to accept both the low-SES and high-SES applicant than those without contextual information on test scores; however, they were not more likely to accept applicants who convey grit in their personal essays.