The Determinants of Mismatch between Students and Colleges

51 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2013 Last revised: 13 Mar 2023

See all articles by Eleanor Wiske Dillon

Eleanor Wiske Dillon

Arizona State University (ASU)

Jeffrey A. Smith

University of Wisconsin - Madison; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Date Written: August 2013


We use the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort to examine mismatch between student ability and college quality. Mismatch has implications for the design of state higher education systems and for student aid policy. The data indicate substantial amounts of both undermatch (high ability students at low quality colleges) and overmatch (low ability students at high quality colleges). Student application and enrollment decisions, rather than college admission decisions, drive most mismatch. Financial constraints, information, and the public college options facing each student all affect the probability of mismatch. More informed students attend higher quality colleges, even when doing so involves overmatching.

Suggested Citation

Dillon, Eleanor Wiske and Smith, Jeffrey Andrew, The Determinants of Mismatch between Students and Colleges (August 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w19286, Available at SSRN:

Eleanor Wiske Dillon (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

No Address Available

Jeffrey Andrew Smith

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

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