Grades and test scores are considered the main factors for admission to college in the United States

With the college admissions process increasingly scrutinized — by the colleges themselves and the U.S. Supreme Court — more Americans say high school grades and standardized test scores should matter. importance in the admissions process than other factors.

More than nine in ten Americans (93%) say high school grades should be at least a minor factor in admissions decisions, including 61% who say they should be a major factor. Grades are, by far, the criteria that the public thinks should be considered the most in admissions decisions. Next came standardized test scores (39% major factor, 46% minor factor) and involvement in community services (19% major factor, 48% minor), according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from March 7 to 13, 2022.

Nearly half of Americans (46%) say someone who is the first in their family to go to college should be a major (18%) or minor (28%) factor in admissions decisions, while a similar share says athletic ability should be considered. these decisions (9% major, 36% minor).

The Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand the opinions of Americans on how the public thinks about the criteria considered for admissions decisions in American universities. For this analysis, we surveyed 10,441 American adults in March 2022. All of those who participated are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by national random sampling of residential addresses . In this way, almost all American adults have a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the US adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education and other categories. Learn more about the ATP methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with the answers, and its methodology.

By comparison, nearly three-quarters of Americans or more say gender, race or ethnicity, or whether a parent attended school should do not factor in admissions decisions.

The relative importance of each of these factors has remained unchanged since 2019. However, there has been a drop in the share of American adults who say grades and standardized tests should be major factors. About six in ten adults (61%) now say high school grades should be a major factor, up from 67% in 2019. And 39% of adults now say standardized test scores should be a major factor, up from 47% three years ago.

A bar chart showing that compared to 2019, fewer Americans now consider high school grades and test scores as major factors in college admissions decisions

During this same period, there has been an increase in the proportion of adults who say that the fact that someone’s parent attended a particular school – sometimes called “inherited admissions” – should do not be a factor in admissions decisions. Today, 75% say so, up from 68% in 2019. There has been little change in public opinion on the other factors questioned in the survey.

Large majorities across racial and ethnic groups and partisan lines continue to say high school grades should be a factor in college admissions decisions, but there have been some shifts since 2019 in the shares saying that should be a factor. Major factor. Asian American (65%) and White (63%) adults are now slightly more likely than Black (54%) and Hispanic (53%) adults to say high school grades should be a major factor. Three years ago, Asian American adults (77%) were more likely than white (68%), Hispanic (66%) and black (63%) adults to say this.

Meanwhile, the share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who say high school grades should be a major factor has fallen from 68% in 2019 to 60% today. There has been less change among Republicans and GOP supporters, from 68% in 2019 to 65% today.

In both parties, fewer people now say that standardized test scores should be a major factor in college admissions decisions than three years ago. But this change is more marked among Democrats (34% now, against 44%) than among Republicans (47% now, against 51%). And while there have been declines across racial and ethnic groups in the shares that say standardized test scores should be a major factor in college admissions, this drop is particularly pronounced among Americans from Asian origin. (Three in ten Asian Americans live in California, a higher proportion than among other racial and ethnic groups. Public universities in that state have abandoned standardized testing requirements in recent years.)

Race and ethnicity, first generation status, inherited admissions

Although the majority of Americans of all racial, ethnic and partisan groups say that race or ethnicity should do not be considered in college acceptance decisions, there are variations in the magnitude of this view.

About eight in ten white adults (79%) say race or ethnicity should not be considered in admissions decisions. By comparison, 68% of Hispanic adults say this, as do about six in ten Asian American (63%) and Black (59%) adults. And while 87% of Republicans say race or ethnicity shouldn’t be a factor in admissions, that share drops to 62% among Democrats.

While three-quarters of Americans say having a parent who went to school should do not factor in decisions, white adults (80%) are more likely than Hispanic (67%), Black (62%) and Asian American (59%) adults to say this.

A bar chart showing that Black, Hispanic, and Asian American adults are more likely than white adults to say that race or ethnicity, heritage, or first-generation status should be factors for admission to the 'university

The public is split on whether being the first member of the family to go to college should be a factor in college admissions decisions (46%) or not (54%). About six in ten Democrats (58%) say first-generation status should be considered in admissions; about a third of Republicans (32%) take this position. Asian American, Black and Hispanic adults are more likely than white adults to say that first-generation status should be a factor in admission.

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with the answers and its methodology.

Vianney Gomez is a research assistant specializing in American politics and politics at the Pew Research Center.

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