Friday, June 02, 2006

How You Got into Harvard?

The tutor two floors up on Moors 4, Jay Gabler, and sociology prof Jason Kaufman write an interesting article on getting into elite colleges in the latest issue of Contexts (you can read a summary of the article here, but just log into HOLLIS and download the real article it is only 5 pages long and is much more interesting).

They argue that while participation in a wide variety high school extracurriculars is correlated with college attendance, very few activities differentially affect attendance at selective institutions. Parent attendance at art museums, participation in the school paper, and school hobby clubs were correlated with attendance at selective institutions. They interpret the museum finding to suggest that maybe kids with "high brow" parents develop cultural capital which allows them to "speak the language" of elite university and thus excel in applications/interviews and get in.

I really don't know what to make of this stuff. I need to go read the full academic version of the paper and figure out more precisely what they did. My first impression, though, is that, unfortunately, the NELS data they use is unlikely to really help them illuminate the effect of activities on attendance of selective institutions. The NELS, I believe, only measures participation, and I think that, when it comes to activities, elite schools look for students who excel, not just participate. Further, if participation has an effect, I would argue that it is cumulative -- participation in lots of stuff (or stuff which cumulatively represents a wide array of interests and a fairly large time commitment) might have an effect. Thus, I would like to see if participation in more activities correlates with attendance of elite schools (although maybe they do this in the longer version). Finally, the cultural capital argument is interesting, I will likely enjoy mulling it over for the rest of the day, but I will need a lot more evidence before I am convinced.

More later, once I've processed this.

(h/t Tyler Cowen)

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