Inequality related to standardized tests in college admissions has long been a subject of discussion; less is known about inequality in non-standardized components of the college application. We analyzed extracurricular activity descriptions in 5,967,920 applications submitted through the Common Application platform. Using human-crafted keyword dictionaries combined with text-as-data (natural language processing) methods, we found that White, Asian American, high-SES, and private school students reported substantially more activities, more activities with top-level leadership roles, and more activities with distinctive accomplishments (e.g., honors, awards). Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income students reported a similar proportion of activities with top-level leadership positions as other groups, although the absolute number was lower. Gaps also lessened for honors/awards when examining proportions, versus absolute number. Disparities decreased further when accounting for other applicant demographics, school fixed effects, and standardized test scores. However, salient differences related to race and class remain. Findings do not support a return to required standardized testing, nor do they necessarily support ending consideration of activities in admissions. We discuss reducing the number of activities that students report and increasing training for admissions staff as measures to strengthen holistic review.
college admissions, extracurricular activities, inequality, holistic review, race/ethnicity
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