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A Dissection of the Admissions Results for the Class of 2022 and Next Steps

Though there are a lot of theories about what’s most important for college admissions these days, nothing stands out more than the aggressive use of Early Admissions by universities around the country. Early Admissions comes in two broad forms: Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA). ED is a binding commitment—you must enroll where you apply if accepted. On the other hand, EA is a non-binding plan, in which you do not need to enroll even if you are accepted. In contrast to the consistent decline of overall college acceptance rates, ED and EA acceptance rates have held steady. In here lies a secret that also explains why over half of the total admitted students to the best ranked universities are through ED or EA plans.

Much like how high school students are in cutthroat competition to get into an Ivy League school, the country’s best universities are also fiercely competing with one another. What does this mean? Consider the following. The head count for universities has remained roughly the same year over year, but comparatively, the number of applications has risen substantially. To break it down even further, with the ease of use of the recent Common Application, students often apply to at least 15 colleges for Regular Admissions. Therefore, universities are making use of and accepting students through their ED or EA plans, which have significantly better yield rates (i.e. the percentage of accepted students that enroll) than Regular Admissions. Yield rate is an extremely important metric for universities, as it is closely linked to their ranking, and consequently, their reputation. Harvard College boasts the highest, and mostly consistent, yield rate of 82%. This means that for every 100 students that are accepted, 82 of them enroll. Perhaps what is more noteworthy is that the other 18 students decide to take their talents elsewhere. This is where we can draw the link between a college’s admission yield rate and its ranking and reputation. For example, the yield rates for Cornell, Dartmouth, and Duke are 52%, 53%, and 42% respectively. In other words, these universities have to accept approximately twice as many students to fulfill the same number of enrollments as Harvard does.

The struggle to raise yield rates is the very competition I alluded to earlier. The country’s top-ranked schools, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale or Stanford, do not have to expend as much effort, with their already solid reputation and unwavering high rankings. This is not the case for colleges for which rankings hover around the 10 to 20 range—these colleges have implemented a number of admissions strategies to fill seats with talented newcomers and raise their yield rates. It goes without saying that the yield rate for the binding ED agreement, the yield rate is basically 100%. This explains why all of the Ivy League schools—except for the aforementioned Harvard, Princeton, and Yale—including Cornell, U Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Brown have implemented ED. These schools have yield rates ranging from 40% to 60%, which reveals their desire to use an admissions system that binds students to their schools. And this is where it gets interesting: take the introduction of University of Chicago’s ED and ED2 for example.

Only two years ago, University of Chicago was one of a few “pseudo-Ivy” schools that had only an EA plan for prospective students. However, after losing many talented students to ED colleges, the university relented and added the ED and ED2 options. Now University of Chicago is one of a few colleges in the country that have three early admission options to choose from: EA, ED, and ED2. This change shifts select students from EA to ED. University of Chicago can now easily tell which students actually regard it as their number one school. Many of the top 20 schools still prefer EA. However, schools have begun to tweak EA plans to include limiting language like “restrictive” or “single-choice”.

I researched how universities are filtering students through their early admissions plans and what their strategies are for raising yield rates. I would like to explore how consideration of the yield rate can become a key deciding factor for acceptance through Regular Admissions. Admissions officers have to consider a wide range of factors and circumstances for each student. Beginning with standardized, quantitative measures (e.g. GPA, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP courses, etc.) and working through qualitative factors (e.g. extracurricular activities, awards, recognitions, recommendations, essay responses, etc.), there is a lot to consider. By bringing everything together, admissions offices must tease out essential attributes for each student, and under particular scrutiny is what is known as the “interest factor”. The interest factor accommodates everything from a student’s interest in the school itself, as well as the scope of her academic interests with respect to the school’s offerings. This is because a student’s interest in and understanding of the university and the major she is applying to is closely linked to enrollment (read: the yield rate). Put simply, a student who best expresses her interest in a school best suggests that the school she is applying to is her number one school, which would imply that she will mostly likely enroll. Maximizing the interest factor leads to higher enrollment which leads to a higher yield.

But this progression also reveals how difficult this is to quantify. An applicant’s SAT or ACT score and any other academic index or any one of her school-related or extracurricular activities do not encompass her strengths and how they align with a university’s strengths. This is why applicants must effectively communicate their academic and personal values and life philosophies through explanations of their experiences, extracurricular and otherwise. The various essays are the medium through which this is possible.

There are limitless theories and commentaries about current trends in college admission, about how we can solve the puzzle of getting into the schools we are aiming for. However, effective strategies are only born from a deep understanding of all parties involved—the applicants and admissions offices included. If we break down the data and college admissions strategies and analyze their costs and benefits, whether Early or Regular Admissions, we can build a solid strategy that factors in the macro-level considerations and psychology of the admissions officer. We should never lose sight of the qualitative, intangible factors of the admissions process and push it off until it’s too late. Strategies are not formed overnight.

2018 Mom & I 5/10 Vol. 7

Written By Jason Lee


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