Are College Admissions Fair? Less Than a Quarter of High Schoolers Think So

Students want colleges to be more transparent about applicants, admissions, and enrollees and to help underserved populations pursue higher ed.

March 3, 2022 · Updated on March 7, 2022

Are College Admissions Fair? Less Than a Quarter of High Schoolers Think So
Admissions Data Studies
Photo by Nay Ni Ratn Mak Can Thuk / EyeEm / Getty Images

  • Only 23% of high school students believe the college admissions process is a fair one.
  • Almost half of students (47%) are unsure or indifferent about how fair the process really is.
  • 44% of students believe colleges should help underserved populations pursue higher ed.

Generation Z is skeptical about the fairness of college admissions. In a new BestColleges survey of 1,000 currently enrolled high school students, just 23% say they believe the college admissions process is fair.

Nearly half of high schoolers (47%) neither agree nor disagree that it is a fair process, while just under a third (30%) of students say the admissions process is unfair.

Regardless of where they stand, students are showing a desire for colleges to increase fairness in admissions through further transparency, test-optional policies, and more parental involvement in the process.

More than 2 in 5 students (44%) believe schools should take steps to help underserved populations pursue higher education. A similar number of students (43%) believe colleges and universities should be required to be transparent about applicants, admissions, and enrollees to encourage fairness.

Over 1 in 3 students (39%) say college entrance exams should be an optional part of the college admissions process. Half of high school students (50%) agree that test-optional policies make college more accessible. And about a quarter of students (26%) believe parents should be more involved in their child's path throughout the admissions experience.

High schoolers who already believe the college admissions process is unfair are twice as likely to support the abolishment of legacy, athlete, and donor admissions compared to students who believe the admissions process is fair (20% vs. 10%). These same students are also significantly more likely to agree that schools should be required to be transparent about applicants, admissions, and enrollees (53% vs. 36%).

Latino/a students are most likely of all ethnicities (53%) to believe schools should take steps to help underserved populations pursue higher education. Still, a fairly large group of white (43%) and Black (40%) students agree.

Female students are also more likely than male students to believe schools should take steps to help underserved populations pursue higher education (49% vs. 37%). They are additionally more likely to believe parents should be more involved in their child's path through the process (32% vs. 22%).

Nearly Two-Thirds of High Schoolers Think Admissions Process Is Overwhelming

The majority of high school students (62%) say the college admissions process is overwhelming. Students who plan to pursue a college degree or certification immediately after graduating are significantly more likely than students who do not plan to immediately pursue further education to find the process overwhelming (69% vs. 58%). While about a tenth of students (11%) do not feel the process is overwhelming, 28% are indifferent about whether it is overwhelming.

More than half of students (54%) also say they feel pressure to attend college after high school. White (57%) and Latino/a students (56%) in particular are more likely than Black students (47%) to say they feel this way.

As students prepare to navigate the admissions process, they've primarily sought information about it from their school's faculty and staff, family, and friends.

Sixty-six percent of students have turned to their school's faculty and/or staff for information. More than half of high schoolers (59%) have sought or received information from family, while about 2 in 5 students (43%) have sought or received information from friends.

Students who have at least one parent with a college degree are more likely to seek or receive information about the college admissions process from family than those whose parents did not earn a degree (69% vs 47%). Interestingly, this group of students is also more likely to seek information about admissions from the internet or other media than students who do not have a parent with a degree (46% vs. 34%).

More Than 1 in 3 Students Fear Grades Will Impact College Plans

Of all the factors contributing to a student's ability to be accepted into and attend college, high schoolers are most concerned about their grades and/or GPA impacting their ability to do so (38%). Black (45%) and Latino/a students (44%) in particular are more likely than white students (34%) to have this concern.

About 1 in 3 students (30%) are concerned that application and exam fees will impact their ability to be accepted to and attend a college. And almost a fifth (19%) have concerns about navigating the financial aid application process.

White students are three times more likely than Black students to not be concerned about their ability to be accepted to and attend a college (12% vs. 4%). Meanwhile Black students are twice as likely as Latino/a students to say they do not plan to attend college at all (12% vs. 6%).

Students whose parents did not earn a college degree are twice as likely to say they do not plan to attend college than those with at least one parent with a college degree (14% vs 7%).

Female students are nearly twice as likely as male students to be concerned that navigating the financial aid application process will impact their ability to be accepted to and attend college (24% vs. 13%). Female students are also more likely to be concerned that the college application essay will impact their plans (27% vs. 16%).

As these high schoolers inch closer to making concrete post-graduation plans and navigating a sometimes complex admissions process, they want colleges to increase fairness and understanding for everyone involved.

Methodology

The survey was conducted from January 31-February 4, 2022. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 1,000 currently enrolled high school students nationwide. Respondents were 16-19 years of age. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.