One metric for keeping score on the vibrancy of a college is its yield rate: the percent of students who have been accepted who do, in fact, attend.
In 2014, Harvard edged out Brigham Young University by 0.1%, to enjoy the highest yield in the country. BYU, which has been the yield champion in several prior years, accepts slightly fewer than half of those who apply, has a 19:1 student/faculty ratio, and tuition and room and board under $13,000. Great education, great football, and access to the Wasatch National Forest enable it to get 80% of those accepted to come.
For the most part, schools with the highest yields form three main categories: the highly selective schools (including Stanford with 72%, MIT 70%, Yale 67%, Princeton at 65%); large state schools with strong regional appeal (University of Alaska-Fairbanks 76%, UNLV 65%, University of Nebraska, Lincoln 59%); and colleges having a religious orientation (BYU, Spalding University--Louisville, KY—a Nazarene institution, and Yeshiva University, 66%). All told 24 colleges (out of a universe of over 2,500) have yields over 50% and included among the ranks are North Caroline A&T State, University of Memphis, and North Dakota State.
The problem with too much focus on yield rates is that they can be manipulated. According to Chuck Hughes, a former Harvard admissions officer and president of the admissions consulting service, Road to College, the best way to measure yield is strictly over the regular decision admits. If you’re a school that takes the bulk of its class early, those early admits have already strongly indicated that school as their first choice. Moreover, if the students applied early decision (ED), they’re locked in.
This year, for example, University of Pennsylvania admitted 1,300 students early decision: over 50% of its 2,400 class; Dartmouth accepted 483 students early decision, composing over 40% of its total class. Muscling in the foundation and framework of a class early decision is great for the admissions departments of Penn or Dartmouth, but not really so great for the applicant. It doesn’t allow for exploration of other possibilities, nor does it allow the applicant to negotiate a better financial aid package (if needed). Placing so heavy an emphasis on early decision allows schools to control their yield and gives you a sense of what Mr. Hughes is talking about.
How important are yield rates to colleges? Consider a missive sent out by Duke a few years ago. It noted that Duke’s yield rate was 45%, its highest ever, but Harvard’s was 82%, Stanford’s 76%, and even the University of Chicago sported a 55% rate: ‘not much cause for celebration’ according to the letter. Duke realized that yield rates ‘reveal how desirable prospective college students consider our University to be.’
In a bit of institutional soul searching, the letter goes on to say that while Duke offers exceptional programs, such as the Bass Connection, which teams up students and professors to solve problems across disciplines, they’re not enough. Furthermore, Duke’s cost of attendance is higher and the financial aid packages not nearly as generous as those of Harvard (which makes tuition free for families with HHI less than $180,000) or Yale (free for families with HHI less than $200,000). It then ends by bemoaning its location in North Carolina.
No school, especially the ones that see themselves as the most select in the country, likes to be rejected by a candidate. Not only is this bad for the collective ego, but it adversely affects rankings, recruiting of top faculty and students, and alumni giving. Consequently, once you find yourself accepted regular decision to any school, but especially those selective stars, negotiate hard for more financial aid, access to honors programs, or any other appealing perk on the campus menu. For that two week period between April 15th and May 1st, you hold the cards: play your hand to the hilt.