In many countries, completing secondary education on the academically oriented track is a prerequisite for college enrollment. Not all qualified pupils, however, chose the academic track in high school. We conducted a randomized field experiment to test whether uncertainty about admissions requirements for the academic track discourages applications and reduces admissions to the academic secondary track. Our intervention targets a common feature of education systems worldwide, where admissions cutoffs are not ex ante known to applicants and vary across schools. We informed rising primary school pupils of the past admission cutoffs for all academic-track secondary schools in their region to reduce uncertainty about admission requirements. Using a pair-matched cluster randomized design involving 702 eight-grade pupils in 26 schools in Hungary, we found that our intervention increases applications to the academic track among pupils who planned to apply for the academic track but believed their chances of admission to be low. In contrast to prior field experiments, which tried to motivate educational choice with information about the economic returns to education, our intervention is entirely non-economic, targeting uncertainty in the admission standards. Our results demonstrate that even among pupils already motivated to choose the academic secondary track, reducing uncertainty about admissions requirements empowers less confident pupils to opt for the academic track.
Tamás Keller received his PhD in Sociology at the Corvinus University of Budapest in 2010. He was an Alexander von Humboldt Post-Doctoral Researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center and at the Free University of Berlin. His major research interests include education, social stratification and the role of attitudes and values. He is currently working on projects explaining inequality in educational attainment and achievement.