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The List: How Naviance Changes College Choices

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

EdSurge: “For decades, the college-admissions process has been shrouded in mystery. But these days, big data, and a popular college planning tool, are taking much of the guesswork out of applying to college. That was a major takeaway from Christine Mulhern’s new research on Naviance, a widely-used online college-readiness platform. Mulhern, a doctoral candidate in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, provides evidence that Naviance’s college research and admissions tools are changing where students apply to college, with the ‘potential to affect higher education on a national scale,’ she wrote on Twitter after unveiling the research.”


“Naviance scattergrams show prospective college students how their peers at their high school fared with individual colleges and universities—and helps provide a sense of how they can expect to perform in the admissions process. For each institution, previous applicants’ GPAs are plotted on the y-axis and their ACT or SAT scores appear on the x-axis. Each applicant’s college decision (accepted, rejected, waitlisted) is denoted with a unique color and symbol, collectively depicting the caliber of student who is typically accepted to a given school.”


“Whittled down, the research shows that more information leads to more applications, and that students rely on their peers’ judgment in helping them determine the right fit for college. But there are some caveats … fewer students applied to so-called reach colleges, where students are less certain of their admissions prospects. Similarly, more apply to and enroll in ‘safety’ institutions, where students feel more confident they will receive an acceptance. Additionally, when high schools create minimums of five or 10 applicants, only the popular institutions appear on the scattergram. Based on what Mulhern found about students applying to colleges with visible scattergrams, it’s reasonable to deduce that the diversity of colleges students apply to could decrease with Naviance.”