Socioeconomic disparities in the use of college admission-enhancing strategies among high school seniors from the 1990s to 2000s

Ryan Wells, Gregory Wolniak, Marc Engberg, Catherine A. Manly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context: Researchers have examined a number of admission-enhancing strategies utilized by students to strengthen their college applications. These academic and nonacademic strategies represent a range of opportunities differentially accessed by students, which can bolster their college profiles and increase their overall likelihood of college enrollment. Purpose/Objective: The purpose of this study is to determine if the relationship between students' socioeconomic status (SES) and use of admission-enhancing strategies changed over time. We address the following specific research questions: To what extent were there differences in the use of admission-enhancing strategies between low- and high-SES students in the 1990s and 2000s?., To what extent did these relationships between SES and the use of admission-enhancing strategies differ by academic achievement?., To what extent did SES gaps increase, decrease, or remain stable between the 1990s and the 2000s? Research Design: This study utilized a correlational design, via secondary data analysis. Specifically, the analytic plan for this study consisted of three main parts: 1) descriptive statistics, including analyses of mean differences and change over time, 2) logistic regression to determine how SES predicts the use of college admission-enhancing strategies separately by cohort, and 3) comparison of predicted probabilities of strategy use by SES within cohorts, as well as over time between cohorts. Findings/Results: SES is related to greater use of these strategies among high school students, and this relationship has been maintained over time. Additionally, specifically comparing changes in the gap of strategy use between high- and low-SES students reveals that inequality has not only been maintained, but has increased over time. Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings contribute to a growing body of literature examining educational inequalities. Results also imply that admissions processes and decisions should be conducted with awareness of the stratifying nature of these admission-enhancing strategies. The findings also lead to the suggestion that more programs are needed that foster greater involvement among low-SES students in activities that will be seen as desirable by selective institutions and aid them in going to a college of their choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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