Oct 27, 2010

Colleges Signal Increasing Reliance on ‘Demonstrated Interest’ as a Factor in Admissions

In its 8th annual State of College Admission report, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) confirms what members of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) reported earlier: colleges care about “Demonstrated Interest” and often make it a factor in admissions decisions.

While students’ overall academic achievements including grades, strength of curriculum and standardized test scores continue to be the most important elements in the admissions decision, applicants’ “interest” has become a more significant factor in the process.

From 2003 to 2006, the percentage of colleges rating demonstrated interest as “considerably” important jumped from 7 percent to 21 percent. In 2009, 76 percent of colleges assigned some level of importance to student interest in attending an institution (21 percent considerable, 27 percent moderate, and 28 percent limited).

No doubt the concern for demonstrated interest relates directly to slippage in institutional “yield” or the number of students actually accepting an invitation to attend. Although a recent decline in acceptance rates has leveled off to a national average of about 67 percent, declining yields are continuing to trouble college admissions offices.

From 2001 to 2007, average yield dropped from 49 percent to 45 percent. The average yield rate for 2009 was down to 43 percent, meaning that colleges, on average, “are enrolling increasingly smaller proportions of their accepted student pools.”

According to Common Data Set information, local colleges have experienced a variety of ups and downs in yield. For example, ten years ago George Washington University admitted 49 percent of its applicants and experienced a 30 percent yield. Last year, GW admitted only 37 percent and about 36 percent enrolled.

George Mason, on the other hand, went from admitting 59 percent of its applicants ten years ago to admitting 63 percent last year. The GMU yield, however, dropped from 55 percent to 31 percent in the same time frame.

And in 2001, the University of Maryland Baltimore County admitted 66 percent and enrolled about 39 percent of these students. Last year, UMBC accepted 69 percent and 37 percent enrolled.

Interestingly, all three of these colleges significantly increased their class sizes over this period, while at the same time trying to predict how many students would accept their offers of admission. No doubt each conducted sophisticated yield rate analyses to ensure classes were neither under- nor over-enrolled.

To try to get a handle on how high school students make enrollment decisions, colleges are increasingly turning to the “demonstrated interest” factor. According to NACAC, likely methods that college and universities might use to discern interest include “campus visits, interviews, content of open-ended essays, contact by students with the admission office, letters of recommendation, and early application through either Early Action or Early Decision.”

This is the second of three articles on NACAC's 2010 State of College Admission report.

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