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Overcoming Undermatching in Postsecondary Education


  • Can we help students avoid undermatching when choosing a college?
  • Abt is studying high school seniors in 194 federal programs
  • Abt will produce three reports on implementation and effects
The Challenge

Where students go to college is key to their educational attainment and later economic success. However, 41 percent of students nationally and about half of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds undermatch—meaning they don’t attend college or they choose a college that is less selective than their academic credentials would allow. For many of these students, cost, application logistics, and concerns about falling short are real barriers to their attending more selective colleges. Concern about undermatching prompted the U.S. Department of Education to test whether promising strategies—part of a package called Find the Fit—could improve college outcomes.

The Approach

The Upward Bound program, designed to help high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds prepare to enroll in and complete postsecondary education, reports high rates of college attendance among its participants. However, these students, too, may miss opportunities to enroll in more selective or higher quality colleges. Abt is studying 194 regular Upward Bound projects, serving almost 4,500 high school seniors. Half of participants were able to integrate Find the Fit into their regular Upward Bound services (the treatment group) while the other half did not receive access to Find the Fit until after the study period ended (the control group).

The Results

Abt’s study will produce three reports, the first of which is expected to be released in fall 2018. The first report will examine how the program was implemented and what effect it had, if any, on interim outcomes hypothesized to be related to undermatch. The next two reports will investigate whether the effects on interim outcomes translate into improved college outcomes, specifically reduced undermatch, increased enrollment in colleges of higher selectivity, the role cost plays, other college characteristics, and longer-term college persistence.

Study of Enhanced College Advising in Upward Bound: Impacts on Steps Toward College

Find the Fit program materials