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October 25, 2001

Elite High Schools Do Not Mean Entrance Into Elite Colleges

Washington, DC -- Parents who arrange for their children to attend star high schools in order to improve their chances for admission to elite colleges may not be giving their children the advantage they hoped for, and may actually hurt their chances, according to a study published in the October issue of the Sociology of Education, published by the American Sociological Association.

This study, by Paul Attewell, sociology professor at City University of New York Graduate Center, uses data from the College Board to analyze the SAT scores of 1.2 million students who graduated from high school in 1997. Dr. Attewell combined this information with data on college placements from several star high schools (using information from school newspapers, internet homepages, school catalogs, and handouts for parents). He also collected information about Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams.

Using the metaphor of "winner take all," Attewell convincingly shows that a number of very talented students in these elite high schools are not admitted to elite colleges even though comparable students from other high schools are likely to be admitted. In addition, in some of these star high schools, students who do not gain access to the winning circle are impeded from taking Advanced Placement courses although, had they attended slightly less elite high schools they would have done so.

Attewell notes that class rank plays a key role in the formula for admission to elite colleges. Many students from star high schools are rejected from Ivy League Schools even though their GPAs and SAT scores are well above the median score of students who were admitted from other high schools. Thus parents of high school students, while attempting to give them advantages in enrolling in such elite high schools such as Stuyesant High School in New York, may actually be making it more difficult for their children to be accepted at colleges such as Dartmouth, Harvard, and other Ivy League Schools.

Paul Attewell is a Professor in the Doctoral Program in Sociology, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016. His email is He can be reached at (212) 817 8778.

Other experts who might be valuable resources for the story:

Professor Aaron Pallas, Editor, Sociology of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, (212) 878-8119

Professor David Karen, Professor, Department of Sociology, Bryn Mawr College, 101 North Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-2899, (610) 526-5395, (610) 688-4893 (home) (Expert on Harvard Admissions)

For additional information: contact Professor Annette Lareau, Editor of Sociology of Education, Department of Sociology, Temple University, Deputy Editor, 215 204-5594 (

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About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.