Supplementing Honors College Applications with an Optional Essay: Effects on Cohort Differences, First Year Retention, and Ethnic and Gender Disparities
Mohler, McKenzie Leigh
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The purpose of the present study was to examine potential differences in background characteristics and academic achievement of honors students who submitted different types of applications. Students who applied to an honors college using traditional applications (high school grade point average and standardized test scores) were compared to students who applied to the honors college using augmentative applications (adding an optional essay component to the traditional application). Nine hundred and eight six students in two consecutive incoming classes were included in this study, which blended causal-comparative research and correlational research. Sternberg's WICS model was the theoretical framework for the study. Independent variables included matriculation year, type of application submitted, and fall-to-fall retention. Dependent variables included fall-to-fall retention, first-year cumulative grade point average, race or ethnicity, gender, reported parental income, standardized test scores, and high school grade point average. Findings indicated that students admitted in the second cohort when augmentative essays were available only differed from the first cohort in race or ethnicity; the percentage of non-white students significantly increased among the second cohort. Students who submitted augmentative essays when they already met the minimum requirements to join the honors program had lower ACT scores than students who also met the minimum requirements and did not submit an augmentative application. Students who submitted augmentative essays when they did not meet the minimum requirements to join the honors program were less likely to be retained one year later than students who met the minimum requirements, and they had lower first year grade point averages. High school grade point average was the strongest predictor of both fall-to-fall retention and first year grade point average. Recommendations included decreasing reliance on ACT scores in honors admissions and considering other alternative admissions tools to increase honors program student diversity.
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