Working Paper
Affirmative action with no major switching

Evidence from a top university in Brazil

Affirmative action in higher education may lead to mismatch, a situation where students benefiting from preferential admission struggle with their college-level work because of poor pre-college academic preparation. In the United States, those students can switch majors if they underperform in the originally intended major. Only in the extreme may they drop out.

What happens when major switching is not allowed? In this paper, we examine the margins of adjustment for beneficiaries of affirmative action in a top university in Brazil, where prospective students must choose a major prior to the entrance test, and cannot switch it while in college.

Surprisingly, we do not find a larger effect on dropout rates relative to the United States, and also provide evidence of strong catching up for students who remain in school. Because they fail more courses early on, to successfully graduate students benefiting from preferential admission end up reducing the number of credit hours taken in the first and second college years, but compensate by taking more credit hours in the final years.