common application colleges
The more diverse higher education landscape in the US could be attributed to the formation of the Common Application. Source: Drew Angerer/AFP

Common Application colleges attract more international and out-of-state students, a new study has found.

The existence of this platform, which allows students to complete one application for all member institutions much like UCAS in the UK, reverses the trend of students historically choosing colleges closer to home, according to a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Common Application “has significantly altered college admissions” where “upon joining, schools attract more foreign students and more out-of-state students, especially from other states with significant Common Application membership, consistent with network effects,” notes the report.

After joining, these Common Application colleges saw the fraction of their out-of-state and international students increase by 1.4 and 0.3 percent respectively, relative to the period prior to joining. This is roughly a five percent increase to the sample average of 30 percent out-of-state.

“Taken together, these results suggest that the CA, by reducing application costs, has reduced frictions and increased student choice sets in college admissions, resulting in a more integrated market,” concluded the report.

common application colleges

With the Common Application, students apply to more colleges and consider traveling further for higher education. Source: William Thomas Cain/AFP

Formed in 1975, the Common App, as it’s known, is a platform for undergraduate admission application. Applicants can apply to more than 800 member colleges and universities in 49 US states and the District of Columbia. There are now many Common Application colleges in Canada, China, and Europe.

Speaking to Education Dive, Brian G Knight, report co-author and Professor of Economics at Brown University said the Common Application has “fundamentally changed” college admissions in the US, making it more national.

Another implication of the popularity of Common Application is the increased gap between more selective and less selective institutions. Common Application colleges are “disproportionately composed” of Ivy League and other elite colleges.

In 1990, membership among the top 50 liberal arts colleges was already very high, at 80 percent. By the late 1990s, membership had already become universal in this group. Among less selective liberal
arts colleges and other private institutions, membership also increased but remained at fewer than 50 percent.

Following the introduction of the Common Application, high ability students, who would have previously applied to local colleges, chose instead to travel further to attend more selective institutions.

The data shows this is true; between 1990 and 2016, there is a “large and increasing” gap in SAT/ACT scores at the 75th percentile between selective schools (top 50 liberal arts, top 50 private, and
top 50 public), as well as less selective institutions.

“Because the market has become more national, (elite colleges) are able to attract better and better students,” Knight said.

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