Most Young People Think College Admissions Decisions Are Biased, Report Finds

Nearly three-quarters of young adults additionally reported that the college admissions process clearly advantages the wealthy and privileged.
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on August 31, 2023
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  • More than half of Gen Z students say the college admissions process is fair.
  • However, a much larger percentage of students believe there is a lot of bias involved in college admissions decisions.
  • Students continued to show support for race-conscious admissions practices leading up to the Supreme Court decision ending these practices in higher education.
  • Nearly three-quarters of students fear a small mistake in their college application could limit their chances of acceptance.

Gen Z students are once again calling into question the fairness of college admissions in a new report.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) commissioned The Harris Poll for a survey of 1,010 young adults aged 16-22 and found that more than 7 in 10 respondents (74%) believe there is a lot of bias involved in college admissions decisions.

Further, 72% believe the college admissions process clearly advantages the wealthy and privileged, and 68% say they have difficulty finding unbiased information about college.

Despite these concerns, more than half of young people still believe that the college admissions process is fair (58%) and accounts for the most important elements of the applicant (53%).

Among the admissions practices that students do support are both race-conscious and test-optional admissions practices.

More than half of respondents said they supported race-conscious admissions (58%) when surveyed just months prior to the Supreme Court decision, which ended these practices in higher education. An even larger percentage expressed that a diverse student body is an absolutely essential factor for colleges to have (76%).

When it comes to test-optional admissions policies, 75% of surveyed students said these practices level the playing field for students of different backgrounds.

However, more than half of students (52%) are still skeptical of schools that do not require test scores to apply, with just under half (45%) believing these institutions are not as good as those that do require test scores for admission.

Students Say the Admissions Process Is Complicated and Challenging

The majority of surveyed Gen Z students describe the college admissions process as complex (77%), with over half additionally reporting that it has been more stressful than anything else they have done academically (52%).

Nearly three-quarters of students also fear that even a small mistake in their college application could limit their chances of acceptance (73%).

This fear was seen most commonly among students whose parents attended college (76%). By comparison, just 67% of students whose parents did not attend college had this same fear.

A large percentage of students also say that they have been overwhelmed by the advice given to them while applying for college (61%).

Still, the vast majority of students feel most comfortable asking their parents or guardians for assistance with applications (86%), and a similar percentage report relying on them most during the admissions process (72%).

Overall, students are finding difficulty with current admissions practices and the complexities of applying to schools despite many reporting they feel they have what they need to submit a competitive application (67%).

Further, many students report feeling like just a number during the application process (65%) while also feeling like it is a decisive moment in their lives (76%).

I’m amazed at how often we create admission policies and procedures for students without their input, said NACAC CEO Angel Pérez in a press release. It’s time to center them in the process. If we really want to advance equity and access, student voices should guide us.