28% Asian American Admissions Disadvantage to Selective Colleges

graph showing white preference in admissions

(graph credit: by Joshua Grossman, Sabina Tomkins, Lindsay C. Page, and Sharad Goel, © 2023)

While Harvard is being sued by for its legacy admissions policy, a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that Asian applicants to a set of highly selective colleges have a 28% disadvantage compared to white applicants.  The paper breaks down Asian admissions into three  subgroup categories: East Asians, Southeast Asians, and South Asians. South Asians were found to have an even higher disadvantage of 49%.

The authors attribute the disadvantage to legacy admissions and an apparent bias against Asian applicants from areas with large numbers of Asian applicants. The effects of the legacy admission advantage is visible in the graph above. While this graph shows groupings by test scores, the author did comparisons of students with similar sets of test scores, grades, and extracurriculars.

I know that selective colleges seek geographical diversity, and I suspect that this works against Asian Americans applying from states with many Asian Americans such as California, Texas, and Washington. Figure 3 in the paper shows this. I also wonder if Asian American parents will use this data to apply to selective colleges from states with small Asian American populations such as North and South Dakota.

I have gone over the results of the paper at a very high level. I think that the way it disaggregates Asian Americans is timely and revealing. The actual paper has much more detail.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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