Tomkins, Sabina, Joshua Grossman, Lindsay Page, and Sharad Goel. “Showing high-achieving college applicants past admissions outcomes increases undermatching.” PNAS 120.45 (October 30, 2023): e2306017120.

What’s the issue?

Technology can have unintended consequences. Take, for example, Naviance—a popular tool that high school students use to help them decide where to apply for college. It shows applicants the average grades and test scores for students admitted to various colleges. Researchers found, however, that high-achieving students using this information shot too low, applying to schools for which they were academically overqualified.

What does the research say?

HKS Professor Sharad Goel and colleagues studied thousands of college applicants. They found that high-performing students using Naviance were over 50% more likely to apply for colleges that were safer bets. Using the tool appeared to make students more conservative in their applications and less likely to apply to more competitive schools. The study shows that information on college competitiveness may have unintended consequences depending on how it is presented or put into context.

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