Essay content and style are strongly related to household income and SAT scores: Evidence from 60,000 undergraduate applications


There is substantial evidence of the relationship between household income and achievement on the standardized tests often required for college admissions, yet little comparable inquiry considers the essays typically required of applicants to selective U.S. colleges and universities. We used a corpus of 240,000 admission essays submitted by 60,000 applicants to the University of California in November 2016 to measure relationships between the content of admission essays, self-reported household income, and SAT scores. We quantified essay content using correlated topic modeling and essay style using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. We found that essay content and style had stronger correlations to self-reported household income than did SAT scores and that essays explained much of the variance in SAT scores. This analysis shows that essays encode similar information as the SAT and suggests that college admission protocols should attend to how social class is encoded in non-numerical components of applications.