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Abt Study Finds Strategies Increase Student Applications to College

Rockville, Md.  –  Where students attend college can make a difference in their educational and professional success, but many don’t apply to the most selective schools they reasonably might hope to attend. The extent of this “undermatch” is even greater for high school students who are from low-income families or who are first-generation college students. For these students, cost, application logistics and concerns about falling short are real barriers to making the most of their educational opportunities.

Concern about undermatching prompted the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to commission Abt Associates to assess the Find the Fit program, a package of low-cost advising strategies that help students address the logistics of applying to college—including seeking financial aid —and raising aspirations regarding college options. Abt found that Find the Fit worked to address both college selectivity and financial aid challenges:

  • Find the Fit increased the share of students who applied to at least four colleges by 20 percent. 
  • Students who received Find the Fit consistently applied to colleges of higher selectivity levels as compared to students who did not receive the materials.
  • Similarly, African American students and students who had low college entrance exam scores were 10 and 8 percentage points more likely, respectively, to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid than their control group peers.

About 200 Upward Bound projects with 4,500 high school seniors agreed to participate. The projects were randomly assigned to receive Find the Fit to supplement their regular college advising (treatment group) or to offer their regular advising (control group). 

“This research shows that low-cost advising strategies can change students’ college application behaviors,” says Abt Senior Associate and Project Director Tamara Linkow.  

Read the full report here. Abt’s next report will examine whether and where students enrolled immediately after high school graduation, including the selectivity of colleges attended.  A final report will determine whether Find the Fit improved college persistence and explore how persistence was influenced by college selectivity.

About Abt Associates
Abt Associates is an engine for social impact, dedicated to moving people from vulnerability to security.  Harnessing the power of data and our experts’ insights, we provide research, consulting and technical services globally in the areas of health, environmental and social policy, technology and international development.

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