Survey: Only 38 Percent of Americans Believe the College Admission Process is Fair


In the wake of the recent bribery scandal, Americans want to see change in the college admission process.

But many of the changes they want to see are already common practice.

According to recent surveys conducted by the Higher Education Analytics Center at NORC and the AP-NORC Center, only 38 percent of Americans consider the admission process to be fair and most survey respondents want to see colleges value academics over other factors.

About 44 percent think donations made to the school are considered by colleges when determining a student’s admission, according to the survey, and only 13 percent say it should have a significant bearing on admission.

Nearly half of respondents think colleges give weight to the family’s ability to pay full tuition, but only 23 percent think that should factor in. Just 11 percent of Americans think a student’s legacy status should be considered in the admission process.

The majority of Americans think grades and scores on the ACT and SAT should be the most important factors. Just over 80 percent of survey respondents said a student’s performance in high school is important to colleges and 76 percent said it should be “critical” to the admission decision. About 75 percent said standardized test scores are important when colleges consider applications, and 68 percent believe they should be.

According to NACAC’s State of College Admission report, grades and standardized test scores are – and have been for decades – the top factors in admission decisions.

“The NORC study reveals one important aspect of the task that lies ahead for college admission counseling professionals, as well as higher education institutions in general: that we will have to continue to emphasize substance over sensationalism. A practical application of NACAC’s State of College Admission report is that its findings can be shared with everyone—students and families, the media, policymakers, institutional leaders—to help inform their perceptions of how college admission works,” David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy, said.

“It’s reassuring to know that the public’s perception of how college admission should work is so well-aligned with how, in most cases, it actually does work. Part of the hard work NACAC and college admission counseling professionals will have to undertake in the wake of this scandal is to emphasize this alignment, while acknowledging the many legitimate concerns about systemic inequities in American education. NACAC’s State of College Admission report is one important resource NACAC offers to promote this narrative as the voice of the profession.”

Read the full survey.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s senior communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at

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