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Merit Goes to College: Teaching Inequality with an Admissions Game
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How to Cite

Biggert, Robert. 2020. “Merit Goes to College: Teaching Inequality With an Admissions Game”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, July. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.



Inequality is perhaps the most pressing social problem facing the United States. The severity of the problem is not in doubt. The theoretical work of (Piketty 2014) and empirical analysis of (Piketty and Saez 2014) underscores this urgency. Despite its centrality to our discipline, it is challenging to teach inequality. One way...

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Subject Area(s):
Resource Type(s):
Class Activity
Class Level(s):
College 100
Class Size(s):

Usage Notes

This exercise was developed and is used in a social problems class of about 30 students at a small liberal arts school. (See exercise below.) It is designed for one fifty minute class but can be expanded. The intent is to use the activity as starting point for coverage of inequality as a social problem. Usage assumes that students have a basic...

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Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. 1. Understand the process of college admissions by making decisions regarding acceptance/rejection of applicants playing the role of an admissions officer.
  2. 2. Link admissions decisions to concepts of ascription/achievement and meritocracy.

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. 1. Students are given profiles of students, asked to make admissions decisions, and identify and explain their selections in writing turned in at the end of class.
  2. 2. Students connect their decisions to categories of criteria including background (class, gender, race) and ability (GPA and SAT) weighing and analyzing them in small group and full class discussions.

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