Variation in the Impact of High School Environment on College Applications

Drew M. Anderson and Janet K. Holt

AEFP Conference, Washington DC, March 16-18, 2017.

As high school students take steps to prepare for college, they must fit together academic and financial preparation. A key step for most students is applying for financial aid. Problems arise when students who could benefit from aid do not apply, they apply too late to take advantage of all available aid, or they do not apply to colleges where they are likely to be successful. Very few data sets include a large and representative sample of high schoolers and track their eventual financial aid application and college enrollment behavior. We constructed such a data set in Illinois, and we use it to compare the relative importance of student characteristics and high school environment in predicting college application behavior. We find that, conditional on the characteristics of students, high schools vary widely in their contribution to successful application outcomes, but observable high school resources do not explain much of this variation.

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