The Demise of Yield

The Wall Street Journal had a piece on college yields this past week. Among other things, the author contends:

The unpredictable nature of college admissions began in the fall of 2006, when Harvard and Princeton announced they would eliminate early-admissions programs, leading this year’s applicants who would have otherwise committed to those schools to send multiple applications to other top schools. Harvard and Princeton expected to lose a portion of their admitted students to competitors. And other highly selective schools thought that some applicants would hold out for Harvard and Princeton.

I think it is likely that Harvard and Princeton moving away from Early Decision contributed to a climate of uncertainty around college admissions yields, but I also I think it is overly simplistic to describe this trend as having “started” in 2006.

I think colleges’ inability to accurately predict yield has been a growing challenge for a number of years. Intensive marketing campaigns, widespread adoption of the Common Application, and a heightened focus on “converting” initial interest to completed applications has meant that colleges are increasingly reviewing applications from students whose true depth of interest is difficult to gauge.

We know that yield is a representation of the ratio between a college’s offers of admission and the number of those offers students say “yes” to in turn. Colleges that can count on high yield rates can make fewer overall offers of admission, thereby laying a claim to greater selectivity, a kind of Holy Grail in modern-day college admissions.

But with more students “in the pipeline,” unpredictability has become the rule of the day. With the possibility of a greater dependence on waiting lists comes a lengthening of the process, at least for some. And yield may become a less reliable yardstick, moving us towards metrics that look at a college’s actual incoming class as a whole, or possibly even towards more outcome-based assessments.

On the high school side, how do we prepare our students for the increased possibility of a May outcome that feels “done, but not quite”?

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Posted on May 26, 2008, in meta. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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