Understanding Admissions Yield (Part 3 of 3)

In Understanding Admissions Yield (Part 1 of 3), I explained that a yield is the percent of admitted students who will actually enroll in a college. In my last Admissions Yield newsletter (Part 2 of 3), I talked about the higher a student’s academic profile – class rank, GPA, standardized tests, and teacher recommendations, the lower the probability that the student will accept the admissions offer of a particular college, given that a stronger record suggests more choices for the student.

As a result, all universities work hard to ensure that admitted students enroll, through recruiting activities, such as:

  • Sending admitted students emails, postcards, and even T-shirts
  • Making personal phone calls by students, faculty, staff, and alumni
  • Inviting admitted students to visit campus, rolling out the red carpet

Colleges do this, because they worry about their yield.

Across the country, you see an increased number of applications to top schools. Why? These schools have widely publicized their no-loan policies, attracting families that would not have considered a private education.

Harvard University was the first to announce that families with annual incomes as high as $180,000 would have to pay only 10 percent of their incomes toward tuition, and that it was replacing loans with grants.

Soon thereafter, Princeton University Board of Trustees approved a “no-loan” financial aid program.

Yale University increased aid for families earning up to $200,000, followed by the announcement of other financial aid policies at universities like Stanford, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Pomona, among other selective colleges.

In my many years in admissions and financial aid, I have never seen so many universities committing so much money in so little time.


All of these universities overlap with Harvard in their applicant pools. Schools that overlap with Harvard sweetened their financial aid packages, or they risk losing students to other colleges, as loans raise a barrier to attendance.

Next, I want to show you an Admissions Yield table for the Class of 2012:

Harvard76% (meaning 76/100 admitted students actually enrolled at Harvard)

According to this table, it seems that Princeton is not as attractive as Yale to admitted students. However, like many things in life, things are not what they seem. Remember, before Princeton’s elimination of Early Decision (when the admission was binding), it yielded 69.2 and 67.8 percent of admitted students for the class of 2010 and 2011, respectively. By getting rid of Early Decision (binding) and moving into Regular Decision (non-binding), Princeton is serving the public good allowing students and families more time to work on their applications and choose schools for best financial aid comparisons. As a result, its non-binding Regular Decision has hurt its yield against rival institutions, such as Yale that does not allow applicants to apply to any other schools if they apply Yale early.

To further illustrate my point, here is exactly how it works:

Early Admission (Restrictive)
Regular Admissions (Non-Restrictive)
DeadlineNovember 1stJanuary 1st
RulesStudents can only apply to YaleStudents can apply to many schools
Admission DecisionDecember 15thMarch 30th

The strategy Yale used here is to get the admission offers out as early as possible, which served Yale extremely well. In other words, when a student hears from Yale early and not from Princeton for a couple of months, the mental process kicks in – Yale wants me; Princeton might not want me. So, maybe I should go to Yale that I know wants me. Even if an acceptance comes in from Princeton three months later, the applicant may have already emotionally attached to Yale.

This explains why so many universities are using early admissions to gain a competitive advantage in yielding admitted students.

By dropping their early binding application programs, Princeton clearly serves the public good. I applaud Princeton (and Harvard, too) for acting on their convictions even though not having an early admission program may hurt their comparative advantage against rival institutions, such as Yale and Stanford (both have early and restrictive single-choice admissions), competing for top students.

You may then argue, “Harvard, like Princeton, does not offer early admission, but how come Harvard has the highest yield?” Well, keep in mind: Harvard’s high yield is achieved without a price. According to Harvard, the College’s financial aid is currently the most generous in its history, with $147 million in scholarships, an 8 percent increase from the year before, and a 167 percent increase over the past decade. With such generous support, it is no surprise that Harvard yields the highest percent of students.

Wan Chen, Admissions Advisor

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