Telling the Truth May Not Pay Off: An Empirical Study of Centralized University Admissions in Germany

Sebastian Braun 1 , 1 , Nadja Dwenger 2 , 2 , and Dorothea Kübler 3 , 3
  • 1 Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Humboldt University of Berlin,
  • 2 Max-Planck-Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition, and Tax Law, Munich, and DIW Berlin,
  • 3 Technical University Berlin and Social Science Research Centre Berlin (WZB),


Matching university places to students is not as clear cut or as straightforward as it ought to be. By investigating the matching algorithm used by the German central clearinghouse for university admissions in medicine and related subjects, we show that a procedure designed to give an advantage to students with excellent school grades actually harms them. The reason is that the three-step process employed by the clearinghouse is a complicated mechanism in which many students fail to grasp the strategic aspects involved. The mechanism is based on quotas and consists of three procedures that are administered sequentially, one for each quota. Using the complete data set of the central clearinghouse, we show that the matching can be improved for around 20% of the excellent students while making a relatively small percentage of all other students worse off.

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