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You are reading: Who is offered a university place and who rejects their offer?

Written by Dr Buly Cardak (La Trobe University), Dr Mark Bowden and Mr John Bahtsevanoglou (Swinburne University of Technology)


This report studies the university offers made to a population of students who apply for places through a centralised university admissions system operated by the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) in Victoria, Australia. Students submit an application portfolio of up to 12 programs they wish to be considered for. The project builds on the work of Cardak et al. (2015) who concentrate on university applications of students by focusing on who receives an offer and how students respond to offers, particularly whether they accept those offers. The focus of the current analysis is on differences between high and low socioeconomic status (SES) students.

Preliminary analysis finds SES based differences. Relative to high SES students, low SES students are twice as likely to receive no offer and 60% more likely to reject an offer they have received. We apply a number of empirical techniques, including nonparametric smoothing and probit analysis. These approaches allow us to condition for a range of factors that affect offer received and offer rejected. An important conclusion of our analysis is that differences in offer received and offer rejected outcomes vary across the distribution of students.

First, after controlling for a range of factors, we do not find SES differences in offer received or rejected outcomes. The implication is that SES operates through other mechanisms like ATAR (Cardak and Ryan, 2014) and how students negotiate the application process (Cardak et al., 2015).

We find that high school achievement, measured by ATAR, is an important determinant. Estimated average marginal effects indicate a one point increase in ATAR which raises the probability of receiving an offer by 0.33% and lowers the probability of rejecting an offer by 0.46%. However, focusing on students with ATARs of 40 and 50, we find marginal effects of a one point increase in ATAR as high as 1.33% and -1.31%. The implication is that the main effects of ATAR on the outcomes of interest are concentrated among low ATAR students who might be struggling to match aspirations and ambition with feasible programs. Here we find the marginal effect of one more change to the application portfolio is 0.22% on offer received and – 0.48% on offer rejected. These results relate to the findings in Cardak et al. (2015) where we found low SES students benefited less from making changes in the applications process. We include a number of optimal application portfolio measures and find that the more aggressive or ambitious a student application portfolio, the less likely they are to receive an offer and the less likely they are to reject an offer. For example, adding one more program with an ATAR admission threshold (clearly in ATAR) above the student’s attained ATAR reduces the probability of receiving an offer, i.e. by 1.84%, and the probability of rejecting an offer, i.e. by 0.31%. For a 10 point increase in portfolio diversity, measured in ATAR points and defined in the report, the chances of receiving an offer increase by 0.40% and the chances of rejecting an offer fall by 0.5%. For portfolio size, measured in the total number of programs applied for, a one unit increase in portfolio size raises the probability of receiving an offer by 1.86% but is not a significant determinant of rejecting an offer.

The strongest policy implication of the findings is that the allocation of university places works well for students with high ATARs but students with lower ATARs, below 70, seem to struggle with the reality of their achievement and matching that achievement with feasible programs. This is highlighted by the fact that the failure to receive an offer and rejecting an offer are both higher among students not making many changes to their application portfolio after they discover their ATAR. This suggests, consistent with Cardak et al. (2015), that more careers counselling and advice for students with lower ATARs might be valuable in helping them modify their application portfolio in order to find university courses that match both their interests and their ATAR. This could involve more information on non-university study pathways and other alternative career paths.

Continue reading: Who is offered a university place and who rejects their offer?

Cardak, B., Bowden, M. & Bahtsevanoglou, J. (2015.) Who is offered a university place and who rejects their offer? Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University.