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​Perceptions of College Admissions Practices

Surveys conducted by the Higher Education Analytics Center at NORC and The AP-NORC Center examine the admission practices of colleges.

​Americans would like to see change in the college admissions process, particularly when it comes to the emphasis colleges place on factors other than academics. Overall, 38% consider the college admission process to be fair, 36% say it is unfair and 25% say it is neither fair nor unfair.

Most Americans think high school grades and standardized admission test scores are and should be the most important factors in determining college admission.  Eighty-one percent say a student's performance in high school is important when colleges decide admission and 76% agree that it should be critical to the admission decision.  Similarly, 75% say scores on tests such as the ACT and SAT are important when colleges consider applications and 68% say they should remain important.

Many say a family's finances should be less of a factor when evaluating college applications. While 44% think donations made to the school are considered by colleges when determining a student's admission, only 13% say it should have any significant bearing on admissions.  And 46% think colleges give weight to the family's ability to pay full tuition, while only 23% think that should be a consideration.

A relative who is an alumnus of the college is an important factor in admission according to 37%, but only 11% think legacy status should be given much consideration.  Athletic ability is viewed as important to colleges by 54%.  Fewer, 32%, think colleges should make athletic talent an important factor in considering college applications.

Questions on college admissions were included on two omnibus polls using the AmeriSpeak Panel®, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. First, online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted March 28-April 1, 2019  with 1,009 adults for the Higher Education Analytics Center at NORC. Then, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted a survey April 11-14, 2019 with online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones with 1,108 adults.