International Education Research

International Education Research

ISSN: 2291-5273 (Print)    ISSN: 2291-5281 (Online)

Volume 2 (2014), No. 2, Pages 1-18

DOI: 10.12735/ier.v2i2p01

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Who Gets In and Why? An Examination of Admissions to America’s Most Selective Colleges and Universities

Rachel B. Rubin1 

1Harvard Graduate School of Education, Spark Admissions, LLC.

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This study advances our understanding of admissions practices at selective colleges and universities in the United States. An usually high survey response rate (82%, n=63) and in-depth interviews capture more selective institutions of higher education than prior research. Moreover, this study’s mixed-methods approach makes it the most comprehensive analysis of elite admissions practices to date.

Findings reveal that elite institutions commonly group applicants into “pools” and that applications are compared within, but not across, pools. Certain pools receive preference, largely as a result of the perceived benefits of a particular applicant’s background, academic characteristics, and exceptional talents, and their relationship with a university’s needs. Other findings suggest that institutional “fit” is often more important than academic merit, that the rigor of high school courses is the most important indicator in determining an applicant’s merit, and that money remains a tie-breaker.

Keywords: college admissions, college access, admissions decisions, higher education, university decision-making, affirmative action, socioeconomic diversity

To Cite this Article: Rubin, R. (2014). Who gets in and why? An examination of admissions to America's most selective colleges and universities. International Education Research, 2(2), 1-18.

Copyright © Rachel Rubin

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This article is published under license to Science and Education Centre of North America. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Who Gets In and Why? An Examination of Admissions to America’s Most Selective Colleges and Universities