Big Fish, Small Pond: The Effect of Rank at Entry on Postsecondary Outcomes


We study whether a student’s rank in her program of study in university affects short- and longer-term educational outcomes. Using student-level administrative data from four universities across many cohorts, we show that ranking higher compared to students in the same program in the same year has a positive effect on grade point average and lowers the probability of switching programs at the end of the first year, but has small effects on credit completion, departures, and degree attainment. Our results suggest that being the big fish in the small pond produces moderate advantages in higher education.

Southern Economic Journal, 86(4)
Justin Smith
Justin Smith
Associate Professor

My research interests include the economics of education and charitable giving.