Apr 8, 2013

How 'Yield' figures into the Admissions Equation

U.S. Naval Academy

Congratulations to the thousands of college-bound high school students currently in the enviable position of sorting through admissions offers. You are now officially in the ‘driver’s seat!’

Yes, you worked hard in high school carefully crafting personal portfolios boasting of challenging courses, good grades, and significant accomplishments. You volunteered in your community, participated in school activities, and revealed true leadership potential.

You spent years making your case for admission. Now colleges have exactly one month to make a case why you ought to accept them.

And you should enjoy every minute.

Between now and May 1, colleges will work hard to earn your business. There will be invitations to ‘admit weekends’ and local events designed to get you signed on the dotted line. You will receive emails, brochures, pleading letters in the mail, and phone calls from enthusiastic admissions offices or current undergrads who are deliriously happy with their experience.

If you were lucky enough to be accepted at Stanford, you may even get a call from a famous Nobel Laureate, who routinely lends a hand to the admissions office this time of year.

And a few really special students will get offers of free trips and will be flown in for a total VIP weekend chocked full of parties, concerts, and all varieties of entertainment solely directed at winning them over.

Why would colleges go to so much effort? The answer lies in the almighty “yield”—the percentage of students who ultimately accept offers of admission.

It works this way: colleges typically send out many more letters of admission than they expect to be accepted. Those with historically lower yields send out relatively more letters than those with established attractiveness like Harvard.

Yield is important because it has become a proxy for popularity—the higher the yield, the more popular the school. Or so some folks think.

This popularity contest is so important that USNWR makes yield a fairly significant metric in its overall college ranking computations.

Colleges try very hard to precisely peg yield because it makes life in the front office a whole lot easier. Too high a yield and dorms get overcrowded. Too low and the wait list may get drained or seats might be empty in the incoming class.

Careers ride on yield, and admissions offices don’t want to mess it up. Beyond a popularity measure, yield is a clear indication of admission office skill in predicting numbers and match between institution and the individual student.

USNWR uses its access to Common Data Set information to generate lists of college yields ranked from highest to lowest. Interestingly, it is one ranking not totally dominated by the Ivy League.

The following is a summary of the highest yields posted by liberal arts colleges and national universities using the most recent data available (2011-12):
  • US Naval Academy:  86.2%
  • US Military Academy:  83.6%
  • US Air Force Academy:  82.1%
  • Brigham Young University—Provo:  79.7%
  • Providence Christian College:  76.7%
  • Harvard University:  75.9%
  • Berea College:  71.3%
  • Stanford University:  70%
  • University of Nebraska—Lincoln:  68.9%
  • Thomas Aquinas College:  68.15
  • Yeshiva University:  67.8%
  • University of Alaska—Fairbanks:  66.6%
  • Georgia Southern University: 64.9%
  • MIT:  64.6%
  • Yale University:  64.1%
  • University of Pennsylvania:  62.7%
  • Clearwater Christian College:  61.6%
  • Soka University of America:  61.5%
  • Principia College:  61.3%
  • University of North Dakota:  60.8%
Local colleges and universities have mixed results:
As you can see, the numbers vary by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For a college with openings after May 1st, the pool of waitlisted students is something like a candy jar from which colleges can pick and choose depending on needs and wants.

Being waitlisted can be more frustrating than simply being rejected.

“There's no way around it,” commented Jeannine Lalonde, UVa senior assistant dean of admission. “This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school.”

A candidate who is denied admission to his or her first choice school is free to accept other offers. S/he can move on with his or her life. But a waitlisted candidate who really wants to attend a particular school is stuck in limbo.

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list—write a letter, get another recommendation, meet with an admissions rep—but there is an emotional cost which must be weighed against the slim possibility of winning the waitlist lottery.

Is it worth it?

Maybe. But not usually.

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