Asian American students less likely to attend Ivy League schools than white peers: study

Asian American students less likely to attend Ivy League schools than white peers: study
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Michelle De Pacina
February 26, 2024
A study shows that Asian American students — especially South Asian applicants — are less likely to attend Ivy League and other prestigious institutions compared to white students despite having similar academic and extracurricular credentials.
Key findings: The study, recently published in the journal Nature, and authored by researchers from Stanford University, University of Michigan, Brown University and Harvard University, analyzed 685,709 applications submitted by 292,795 Asian and white students to 11 highly selective colleges (“Ivy-11”), including Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Chicago, Stanford University and Northwestern University. It found that Asian American applicants, especially those of South Asian descent, have 28% lower odds of attending those schools compared to white applicants with similar academic and extracurricular qualifications. 
The detailed, anonymized information includes demographics, standardized test scores, GPA, AP exam scores, extracurricular activities, high school characteristics, parental college attendance, application details and early action/decision status. While the sample focuses on U.S. high school attendees, it excludes recruited athletes and international applicants.
Driving the disparities: Data from the study reveals that legacy status significantly contributed to the disparities. White students were more likely to have legacy status, enhancing their attendance rates. Geographic preferences also played a role, with states having a higher fraction of Asian American applicants experiencing lower attendance rates. 
Takeaways: However, the dataset being utilized in the study lacks admissions decisions information. Therefore, the researchers created a proxy based in part on enrollment choices.
“A key limitation of our analysis is that we focus on whether applicants to Ivy-11 schools ultimately attended an Ivy-11 school, rather than whether they were admitted to an Ivy-11 school, as we do not have access to admissions decisions,” wrote the researchers.
Although the study recognizes limitations, researchers note that existing disparities persist even after considering various markers of academic and extracurricular excellence.
The study helps open discussions on achieving equity and diversity in higher education. The study was originally published on the National Bureau of Economic Research website on August 2023.
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