Keeping College Options Open: A Field Experiment to Help All High School Seniors Through the College Application Process

Philip Oreopoulos, Reuben Ford

NBER Working Paper No. 22320
Issued in June 2016
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education, Labor Studies

Recent research suggests that the college application process itself prevents access. This paper reports results from a large school-based experiment in which application assistance is incorporated into the high school curriculum for all graduating seniors at low-transition schools. Over three workshops, students were guided to pick programs of interest that they were eligible for, apply for real, and complete the financial aid application. The goal was to create a college option for exiting students to make the transition easier and more salient. On average, the program increased application rates from 64 to 78 per cent. College enrolment increased the following school year by 5.2 percentage points with virtually all of this increase in two-year community college programs. The greatest impact was for students who were not taking any university-track courses in high school: the application rate for these students increased by 24 percentage points with a nine per cent increase in two-year college enrolment. A second experiment was conducted two years later to explore several variations of the program. Offering personal assistance without waiving application fees had a negligible or even negative impact on applications and enrollment. Using laptops in homeroom classrooms instead of sending students to computer labs while combining the initial 2 workshops into one full-morning session increased application rates. However, subsequent enrollment effects were negligible. We provide some evidence consistent with the possibility that decreased guidance in choosing eligible programs was responsible for the second-experiment's decline in enrollment impacts.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22320

Published: Philip Oreopoulos & Reuben Ford, 2019. "Keeping College Options Open: A Field Experiment to Help all High School Seniors Through the College Application Process," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol 38(2), pages 426-454. citation courtesy of

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