What’s the benefit of having a low admission rate?

All other things being equal, what's the benefit of having a 20% admission rate vs. an admission rate that's 30% or higher? The classic reason I can think of is that selectivity signals a school's quality, but that's poorly correlated to a school's actual quality. 1. The school can be more choosy about removing potential discipline problems, and rejecting marginal students like children of alumni that can't cut it. This is beneficial because these students have spillover effects and bring down the total amount of learning. However, at most selective schools, around 80% of the applicants are academically qualified to do the work. 2. The "school pride" argument - because it was tougher to get in, students feel better about themselves for getting in, and the increased confidence helps them out later in life. Alumni also give more money, which may be linked to better education. Tenuous. 3. The quality of student research, etc. will go up because the students are more talented. This assumes that if a school is more selective, it's because it's getting better quality applicants to apply, not just large numbers of people at the tail end of the distribution. There is a positive spillover effect from being around other talented people, like in Italy in the 1500's. However I assume that if our school didn't admit these talented people, they would be admitted someplace else; they are zero-sum. I'm not terribly convinced. On the flip side, my guess is that a lower admissions rate enforces homogeneity among the student body; the cost of diversity rises when you can admit fewer applicants, and schools can't take as many high-risk, high-reward students on. Am I missing anything? Selectivity may indicate that the economy's doing well, because students can afford application fees and lots of them want to go to higher education. But on the flipside it means more students are not getting into their first choice school. The arguments get more tenuous

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2 thoughts on “What’s the benefit of having a low admission rate?

  1. Andy McKenzie

    Pure signaling. This is a game for admin committees. It’s why every school wants to be able to brand itself as “need blind” even if it’s not actually. Doing that raises the pool of applicants by ~ 1 k for a selective liberal arts college. Loving the posts about college even if I disagree.

  2. kburke

    Well obviously, but signaling is a zero-sum game; if I become more selective than you I gain the benefit at your expense. Perhaps education as a whole benefits but then we have to wonder if education as a whole’s benefit from becoming more selective is a good thing for society.

    I wasn’t very clear in defining “benefit” – I was thinking about the benefit to society. An individual college benefits from becoming more selective.


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