The acceptance letter

By Razib Khan | April 26, 2010 11:29 am

I heard an interview on the radio by the author of No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life. The study focused on elite universities. I decided to poke around and see what I could find. The chart on probability of acceptance by SAT score broken down by race has no surprises.


Equalizing standardized test scores I assume everyone knows that at elite universities there’s an Asian penalty, and blacks and Hispanics tend to get a bonus, with whites as a reference population in the middle. The author warned though that looking at standardized test scores may not indicate any discrimination against Asians, as it didn’t include in other “soft” aspects of the application such as leadership, which Asians naturally must lack because of their conformist and collectivist nature (OK, I added the last part!). But the class chart was more interesting to me….


It looks like you better not be too dumb if you’re middle class. Lower class people get a nice handicap, while presumably the low scoring upper class types are stereotypical legacies. But at elite universities if you’re of middle socioeconomic status I guess all the leadership and exceptional talents can’t help; acceptance rates ~0 once your SAT scores approach the national norm.

But is this a matter of the confounds? In other words is this is a real signal of class based discrimination, or are there differences in the makeup of each class demographically skewing this? Here’s a regression model which seems to suggest there isn’t much to class, but more to race. The blacks in this case are broken down between descendants of slaves, and those who are presumably the children of immigrants or immigrants from the West Indies and Africa.


The racial effects are the ones which are statistically significant. It’s interesting that black Americans who don’t have any recent immigrant ancestry get a very significant boost vis-a-vis West Indians, etc.


Comments (7)

  1. Angela

    It would be interesting to also include factors such as first-generation college student status and academic rigor of the high school in this analysis.

    Also, what about the research that suggests that the SAT is not race or class neutral, and that students from minority and lower-SES backgrounds tend to do more poorly on the SAT than white, middle-class students? What impact does this have on the SAT score and thus the odds of being accepted at an elite college?

    Very interesting!

  2. gcochran

    Algebra isn’t race or class neutral. Neither is calculus.

  3. Algebra isn’t race or class neutral.

    And of course the gap is much more pronounced on the Math than on the Verbal tests, so the argument that the score gaps are due to the SAT not being race/class neutral is most peculiar. (I compared the Verbal/Math gaps here.

  4. Larry, San Francisco

    I used to teach at a mid sized catholic university in the early 1990’s and I was able to do some analysis of grades by gender and race. What I found was black male students did worse than their SAT scores would have predicted (and they were already the lowest). Black female students did OK though (their GPAs were higher then white men) and their grades had the same relationship to SAT scores as white or asian women. I am not sure why, perhaps the male black students were more alienated or perhaps the fact that a high percentage were jocks so just did not care.

  5. bioIgnoramus

    “first-generation college student status”: do people generally know enough about their family histories to know whether or not they fit this description? Or is the phrase itself an inaccurate description of what is meant?

  6. MK

    *** minority and lower-SES backgrounds tend to do more poorly on the SAT than white, middle-class students?***

    Also, non-asian minorities from high SES backgrounds tend to do worse than white students from low SES households.

    Here’s SAT data controlling for income.

    Here’s SAT data controlling for parental education.

  7. Speaking as someone who works (I’m sorry to say) in the test prep and application preparation field, the problem isn’t just that this doesn’t correct for “soft” application factors; the SAT is now a small and shrinking element of college acceptance, particularly in private schools. Grades and the classes you get them in are vastly more important at this point.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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