Yield Rates and Why They Matter

Yield is a term with a range of meanings in distinct fields such as statistics, finance, mathematics, agriculture, transportation, psychology, and religion. In behavioral science, people offer differing advice about yield. There are those who say that you should not yield to temptation and others who say you should—because it may not pass your way again.

In the context of college admissions, yield refers to the percentage of students who have been accepted by a college who actually go on to enroll in that college.  Students care about admissions, but colleges are more concerned with yield.  The great majority of universities and colleges have yield rates of less than 50%. The average is about 34%. For the more elite institutions, which normally have rates from 55% to 80%, peer competition encourages them to sustain their high prestige through high yield rates. College rankings are also affected. US News uses yield in its methodology to determine an institution’s level of admissions selectivity.

Yield fluctuates at most schools and has been declining at many for the past decade. The reason is simple. Due to the unpredictability of admissions to top-tier schools, admissions counselors advise students, especially those who wish to attend Ivy League and other elite institutions, to apply to a dozen or so colleges, ranging from their dream schools down to a couple of schools that they would gladly attend if they were the only ones to which they were admitted. Although we, at IvySelect, strongly recommend that students limit the number of schools to which they apply, in order not to adversely affect the quality of their applications, some students apply to as many as 20 colleges, a process facilitated by the widespread adoption of the Common Application.

Obviously, if a student applies to 20 colleges and is admitted to all of them, then 19 will take a ding to their yield rate. It’s inevitable and it’s nobody’s fault. Nevertheless, colleges need to maintain a competitive yield rate within their selectivity and type of institution categories. In addition to the impact of yield on rankings and prestige, a yield that is unmanageable is unpredictable, making it difficult to plan for the cost to the college of committed financial aid as well as resources dependent on the size of the incoming class. Colleges also want to be able to anticipate and manipulate the diversity of the incoming class to conform to their objectives.

Early Decision/Early Action (ED/EA) programs are, among other things, useful tools to manage yield. Successful ED applicants are committed to attending the school, so they add to yield well enough in advance of the Regular Decision process to affect the number of applicants to be granted admission in that phase.

Colleges want students who want them. To a great extent, this is due to concern about yield management. This is the reason why IvySelect strongly recommends that students leave no stone unturned when it comes to demonstrated interest. For the schools that factor demonstrated interest into their admissions equation, students who have clearly communicated to a college how ardently they aspire to attend it are more likely to be admitted than those who have not, because they’re perceived as being much more likely to enroll in the school.

Colleges also use waitlists as a method of yield management. To determine if it’s worth the wait, a student invited to join a college’s waitlist should find out what the school’s yield rate has been in recent years. The probability that you will eventually be admitted is, for the most part, a factor of how stable or unstable the college’s yield rate has been.

Most schools have not yet announced their yield rate for the Class of 2020. However, this short list of early reports shows the range of yields among elite institutions.

Institution Class of 2020 Yield % Class of 2019 Yield %
Dartmouth 53 50
Georgetown 48 48
Harvard 80 81
MIT 74 73
Princeton 69 68

To take advantage of college’s concerns about yield, whether through demonstrated interest, waitlists, ED/EA or other means, you can rely on the expertise of your IvySelect college admissions consultant. When we begin our engagement with you, our first task is to learn about your goals, academic record, preferences, skills, and interests as well as your strengths and weaknesses. We help you to identify, refine, and focus on your strengths as part of the admissions strategy that we develop with you. Our mission is to help you present your best self to the targeted list of elite institutions that fit you best.