The Annenberg Institute at Brown University offers this national working paper series to provide open access to high-quality papers from multiple disciplines and from multiple universities and research organizations on a wide variety of topics related to education. EdWorkingPapers focuses particularly on research with strong implications for education policy. EdWorkingPapers circulates papers prior to publication for comment and discussion; these papers have not gone through a peer review processes. Contributors can update papers to provide readers with the most up-to-date findings.
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Inequality related to standardized tests in college admissions has long been a subject of discussion; less is known about inequality in non-standardized components of the college application. We analyzed extracurricular activity descriptions in 5,967,920 applications submitted through the Common Application platform. Using human-crafted keyword dictionaries combined with text-as-data (natural language processing) methods, we found that White, Asian American, high-SES, and private school students reported substantially more activities, more activities with top-level leadership roles, and more activities with distinctive accomplishments (e.g., honors, awards). Disparities decrease when accounting for other applicant demographics, school fixed effects, and standardized test scores. Still, salient differences remain, especially those related to first-generation applicants. Implications and recommendations for college admissions policy and practice are discussed.