Research in Higher Education

, Volume 59, Issue 5, pp 553–590 | Cite as

College Match and Undermatch: Assessing Student Preferences, College Proximity, and Inequality in Post-College Outcomes

  • Sarah OvinkEmail author
  • Demetra Kalogrides
  • Megan Nanney
  • Patrick Delaney


Recently, multiple studies have focused on the phenomenon of “undermatching”—when students attend a college for which they are overqualified, as measured by test scores and grades. The extant literature suggests that students who undermatch fail to maximize their potential. However, gaps remain in our knowledge about how student preferences—such as a desire to attend college close to home—influence differential rates of undermatching. Moreover, previous research has not directly tested whether and to what extent students who undermatch experience more negative post-college outcomes than otherwise similar students who attend “match” colleges. Using ELS:2002, we find that student preferences for low-cost, nearby colleges, particularly among low-income students, are associated with higher rates of undermatching even among students who are qualified to attend a “very selective” institution. However, this relationship is weakened when students live within 50 miles of a match college, demonstrating that proximity matters. Our results show that attending a selective postsecondary institution does influence post-college employment and earnings, with less positive results for students who undermatch as compared with peers who do not. Our findings demonstrate the importance of non-academic factors in shaping college decisions and post-college outcomes, particularly for low-income students.


Higher education Undermatching Inequality College proximity 



Funding to the first author from a Virginia Tech Incentive Grant supported the development of study on which this article is based.This research was also supported by a grant to the first author from the American Educational Research Association which receives funds for its “AERA Grants Program” from the National Science Foundation under NSF Grant #DRL 0941014. Opinions reflect those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies. The authors also wish to thank W. Carson Byrd and Eric Sindelar for their helpful feedback and support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Ovink
    • 1
    Email author
  • Demetra Kalogrides
    • 2
  • Megan Nanney
    • 1
  • Patrick Delaney
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Center for Education Policy AnalysisStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.California Department of Social ServicesSacramentoUSA

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