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  • Vielka Hoy

Abbie & Vielka Convos: What is Undermatch?

Abbie is in charge of research at Bridge to College. We met because I found her dissertation on matching for underserved students and proceeded to stalk her until she joined the company. On most occasions, she and I get into some heavy conversation about college.


During our most recent partnership meeting, Abbie and I got to talking about undermatch. We’ve talked about it before but we were prompted again while reviewing data from one of our partner colleges. This particular college has an average admission rate of 70% with a really low yield of 15%. Their average admit GPA is 3.5. They offer the most financial aid to students in the top tier (e.g. GPAs at 4.0 and those who have taken Calculus or above). This is a mistake. That kid should go to MIT and have a great time.



Here’s why: Students who are undermatched drop out of college at the same rates as students who are overmatched. This means that students who are overqualified for a college by surpassing the admissions requirements will leave that school before graduation at the same rate as students who are underqualified for admissions.


And here’s why that happens:


  1. Students get bored because the classes they need are not available. Take that student who has taken Calculus in the 11th grade, a circumstance that is becoming quite common in California. If that student took Multivariable Calculus in the 12th grade, they would likely take that course again as a freshman in college or another more advanced course. But the only freshman math classes that the college we were reviewing offers are a general math review, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. That waiting around starts to weigh on students and they eventually feel disconnected enough to leave.

  2. Waiting around for a class to become available gets expensive. Students do realize that they could have gone elsewhere, and saved money and time.

  3. When students attend a college that they feel is too easy for them, they are checked out. If you can run a mile in 8 minutes but you’re asked to run it in 12 minutes, how are you going to approach that mile?

  4. There is something called “peer effect.” At colleges where everyone around you is behaving a particular way, students tend to do the same. If this imaginary student who is waiting to be able to take Multivariable Calculus doesn’t have peers who are also waiting for Multivariable Calculus, it is less likely that she will continue to challenge herself in that area, or other areas.


We talked about a few other things in this conversation, such as the impact of attending an honors college at an undermatched college (same results) and the differences among races (pervasive among students of color and white students).



We also talked about another phenomenon: self-undermatching. This is when a student is admitted to a more selective college, one that is a good match, but they opt for the less rigorous college. By some estimates, 20% to 60% of students self-undermatch at the time of enrollment. That’s a wide breadth, likely due to how it is reported. But here are some of the reasons for that:


  1. The more selective college did not offer enough money.

  2. The student feels that he is not capable of succeeding at that school.

  3. The student does not have peers who are also attending similar institutions.

  4. The student does not have resources to show them how to navigate on that campus.


Fortunately, these are all areas where Bridge to College makes an intervention. :)


And for the record, the student who will have great success at the campus that we were discussing, and should have a ton of money thrown at her, is honestly a pretty great student. She has taken all of her required classes, maybe even an AP class or two, and has earned a few Bs and maybe a C or two. This student is highly motivated but just didn’t take Physics and Algebra 2 in the 8th grade because she didn’t attend a really expensive private high school. Great student who will do great things...as long as goes to college.


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