College admissions: The effect of application factors and the quality of applicants

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Stacy Dickert-Conlin


College admissions, Applicants, Grade point average, Scholastic Aptitude Test

Subject Categories

Economics | Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation consists of three chapters on college admission application factors and the implications these factors have on the quality of applicants. All three chapters rely on a unique data set that provides a valuable combination of proprietary admissions data from a selective liberal arts college in the northeast and information from the College Board not previously used in the literature.

The first chapter focuses on the decision of applicants to apply early to college. In particular, I focus on the application process of early versus regular admissions and analyze how the marginal costs and benefits of that decision may play important roles in the student's ultimate admission to college. I emphasize the impact of the binding feature of the early decision contract and identify the differing marginal benefits and marginal costs of applicants as combinations of individual ability, preference, and willingness to pay. Ultimately, I find that the decision to apply early increases the average applicant's probability of acceptance and affects the price the applicant pays to attend.

Chapter 2 looks at the applicants who ultimately enroll at the college and identifies the best pre-college predictor of subsequent first year performance. Using application data, I identify the two key factors in determining whether a college applicant has the potential to be a high achiever: high school grade point average (GPA) and SAT I score. The students enrolled at this school are a very homogeneous group. Therefore, given the lack of variation among their SAT I scores and high school GPAs, I am unable to find conclusive evidence of the best predictor and generalize my findings to the larger college population.

The third and final chapter is co-authored with Michael Conlin and Stacy Dickert-Conlin. We look at the effects of the college's SAT optional policy and conduct an empirical analysis that focuses on the applicant's voluntary decision to reveal their SAT score. The theory of voluntary disclosure suggests that when applicants are given the option to withhold their SAT scores in the admissions process, only the students with the very low SAT scores will do so. Ultimately we find that students with very high SAT scores, even conditional on observables, submit their SAT scores. Yet applicants with relatively low SAT scores are less likely to withhold their scores than students with mid-range SAT scores.


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