Does discrimination impede access to college? A Field Experiment

Last registered on June 17, 2024


Trial Information

General Information

Does discrimination impede access to college? A Field Experiment
Initial registration date
May 30, 2024

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
June 17, 2024, 2:56 AM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Clemson University and Knee Regulatory Research Center
PI Affiliation
Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
The long-running debate about affirmative action in college admissions intensified in 2023 after the Supreme Court ruled that race should not affect admissions decisions. We examine the extent and mechanisms by which race affects the admissions process after the 2023 ruling. We explore evidence from a field experiment where fictitious applicants request application fee waivers from nearly all admissions counselors at US universities. We find that Black and Asian applicants are much more likely to have their requests rejected than White applicants.
Asian applicants are also 30% less likely to receive a waiver than a white applicant. We find that the a majority of the discrimination comes from very selective universities.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Melo, Vitor , Liam Sigaud and Hugo Vaca Pereira Rocha. 2024. "Does discrimination impede access to college? A Field Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. June 17.
Experimental Details


The intervention in the experiment involved sending emails from fictitious applicants to nearly all admissions counselors at four-year universities in the United States. These emails requested application fee waivers and were designed to assess the impact of race on the likelihood of receiving a waiver. The fictitious applicants had racially indicative names (White, Black, Asian, Hispanic) to measure differential treatment based on perceived race.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
1. De Facto Rejections
2. Waiver Approval Rates
3. Free Application Disclosure
4. Requests for More Information
5. Response Rate
6. Sentiment Analysis of Responses
7. Use of Applicant’s Name in Responses
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
1. De Facto Rejections: Whether the waiver request was effectively rejected, defined as not receiving a response, not being granted a waiver, not being informed that the application was free, and not being asked for more information.
2. Waiver Approval Rates: The rate at which application fee waivers were granted to the applicants.
3. Free Application Disclosure: Whether the applicant was informed that the application was temporarily or permanently free.
4. Requests for More Information: Whether the admissions counselor requested additional information from the applicant as a part of the response.
5. Response Rate: Whether the email received any response at all.
6. Sentiment Analysis: The tone and sentiment of the responses from admissions counselors, measured both by human evaluators and machine learning techniques.
7. Use of Applicant’s Name in Responses: Whether the counselor used the applicant's name in their response, indicating a more personalized and respectful interaction.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The experimental design of the study involved a randomized email audit study aimed at investigating the impact of racially-indicative names on the behavior of admissions officers and U.S. colleges related to the granting of application fee waivers.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Email Messages: Each sampled email address received a message from a fictitious male college applicant requesting information and fee waivers due to financial hardship.
Templates and Names: There were eight email templates designed to signal two levels of applicant quality (low and high), and originating names that belong to one of five racial/ethnic groups (White, Chinese, White/Chinese, Hispanic, and Black).
Random Assignment: Within each college, both the racial/ethnic identity of the fictitious applicant and the email template were randomized without replacement to ensure variation both within and between institutions.
Randomization Unit
The randomization unit in this experiment was the admissions counselor at each university. Each individual counselor received one email from a fictitious applicant. The randomization was done at the level of individual emails sent to these counselors, ensuring that within each university, the race/ethnicity of the applicant and the quality of the email were randomly assigned to each counselor without replacement.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
4,658 unique admissions email addresses at 1,294 distinct institutions
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials

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Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
January 20, 2024, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Collection Completion Date
January 20, 2024, 12:00 +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials