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Going to an elite high school doesn’t offer uni advantage, study finds

'Elite’ upper secondary schools neither pave the way to university nor channel students into faculties such as medicine or law, say researchers.

viisi opiskelijaa työskentelee tietokoneella. Viikin normaalikoulun lukiolaisilla läppärit ovat ahkerassa käytössä melkein joka tunnilla.
Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

While most students at upper secondary schools requiring the highest entry grades go on to university, researchers say this is due to the students’ inherent academic ability, not any value-add offered by their top-ranked high schools.

That’s according to a new study by the VATT Institute for Economic Research, Aalto University, and the Labour Institute for Economic Research.

VATT chief researcher Mika Kortelainen told Yle he was expecting high schools in Finland to play a crucial role in university entrance results but found that this was not the case. Most students in Finland are admitted to university via separate entrance exams, rather than on the basis of their final high school grades.

The study also showed little correlation between attending what’s perceived as an elite institution and pursuing academic degrees in law, medicine or business.

Little variation among Finnish high schools

Researchers classified schools as ’elite’ if grade point averages for entrance between 2000 and 2008 were well above those needed to get into other upper secondary schools in the capital city region.

This criteria led researchers to examine the student body at Etelä-Tapiola high school, University of Helsinki Viikki campus high school, Mäkelänrinne, and Ressu high schools. Scientists compared the post-high school academic careers of youngsters from schools with high entrance requirements with those of teens who just missed the cut.

Students at high schools classified as elite enclaves were twice as likely to get into medical school and three times more likely to join law faculties compared to seniors from average high schools. However, researchers said this was because of students' high achievement levels upon entering upper secondary school.

”The results above all indicate that high schools in Finland are high quality and that differences between schools is minimal,” Kortelainen explained.

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