HKS Authors

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More than 40% of US high school students have access to Naviance, a proprietary tool designed to guide college search and application decisions. The tool displays, for individual colleges, the standardized test scores, grade-point averages, and admissions outcomes of past applicants from a student’s high school, so long as a sufficient number of students from previous cohorts applied to a given college. This information is intended to help students focus their efforts on applying to the most suitable colleges, but it may also influence application decisions in undesirable ways. Using data on 70,000 college applicants across 220 public high schools, we assess the effects of access to Naviance on application undermatch, or applying only to schools for which a candidate is academically overqualified. By leveraging variation in the year that high schools adopted the tool, we estimate that Naviance increased application undermatching by more than 50% among 17,000 high-achieving students in our dataset. This phenomenon may be due to increased conservatism: Students may be less likely to apply to colleges when they know their academic qualifications fall below the average of admitted students from their high school. These results illustrate how information on college competitiveness, when not appropriately presented and contextualized, can lead to unintended consequences.


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.