Inequalities in the Pathway to College in China: When Do Students from Poor Areas Fall Behind?

Inequalities in college access are a major concern for policymakers in both developed and developing countries. Policymakers in China have largely tried to address these inequalities by helping disadvantaged students successfully transition from high school to college. However, they have paid less attention to the possibility that inequalities in college access may also arise earlier in the pathway to college. The purpose of this paper is to understandwhere inequalities emerge along the pathway to college in China, focusing on threemajor milestones after junior high. By analysing administrative data on over 300,000 students fromone region ofChina,we find that the largest inequalities in college access emerge at the first post-compulsory milestone along the pathway to college: when students transition from junior high to high school. Inparticular, only 60per cent of students frompoorcounties take the high school entrance exam(comparedtonearly100 per centof students fromnon-poorcounties). Furthermore, students from poor counties are about one and a half times less likely toattendacademic high schoolandeliteacademic high school thanstudents from non-poor counties.