Game theory, in the real world”

MIT News; May 1, 2012

For stu­dents in New York and Boston, who have a range of options beyond their neigh­bor­hood school, choos­ing a high school used to be a mad­den­ing­ly com­pli­cat­ed guess­ing game. In Boston, for instance, many stu­dents would list their three top school choic­es — but were not guar­an­teed accep­tance at any of them.


That made school selec­tion a stress­ful quandary for many stu­dents and their fam­i­lies: Should they put high­ly rat­ed but pop­u­lar schools on their lists, despite the low odds of accep­tance? Or should they list less desir­able schools, to increase their chances of get­ting in?


Picking a school wasn’t just a mat­ter of fig­ur­ing out which schools were good: Because stu­dents had to think strate­gi­cal­ly and antic­i­pate which choic­es oth­ers would make, it was a real-world exer­cise in game the­o­ry. And a frus­trat­ing one: At least 20 per­cent of Boston stu­dents, by some esti­mates, were mak­ing strate­gic errors; in New York, a third of stu­dents were shut out of the sys­tem with­out receiv­ing any school assignments.


Just a decade ago, it seemed like an intractable prob­lem. But that soon changed, thanks in part to a grad­u­ate stu­dent — now an MIT pro­fes­sor — named Parag Pathak.”


By Peter Dizikes