College Admissions, like it or not, is something of a game. But it’s not just a game for students trying to get in. It’s also a game for colleges trying to preserve their rank and reputation. As a result, some schools invoke policies in the admissions process to leverage themselves and gain advantages over other institutions, even if these policies hurt or inconvenience the students these universities serve.
As a college consultant, over the years I’ve become aware of some of these policies through stories of my students. I’m going to share some of them with you today.
Much of these tactics come down to protecting something called yield. To maintain rank in lists like the one released by US News or Forbes, colleges are judged on a variety of metrics. One of these is called yield, which is essentially the percentage of students who enroll who have been offered admission. If a high percentage of those who get in, go, that would logically mean that this school is probably popular with students and thus deserves a higher rank, right?
Though the most prestigious colleges, such as Harvard or Stanford, may enjoy such a high yield that they don’t have to worry about too many strategic policies to increase yield, most colleges vying for position in the top 20 top 50 top 100 may play more games to hold onto that yield statistic.
Another motive of many colleges is maintain a donor base or financial solvency. We’ll also talk about some of the tactics employed with this motive in mind.
1. Guaranteed Transfer Programs… to Freshman Applicants
Most students believe that when they apply to college they’ll get one of two decisions from a college: accept or reject. But it’s not that simple.
Some schools, such as Cornell and even USC, offer students “guaranteed transfer” programs to students.
Essentially, students accepted for these programs get a letter that says hey we like you we’ll let you in, but go somewhere else for a year, get a particular GPA and then you can start next semester or sophomore year.
Why would schools do this?
Because it protects yield and other statistical elements of their freshman admission profile. When colleges offer you a guaranteed transfer spot, this is not a spot in the freshman class, so when that college reports the number of students admitted, or even their average SAT scores, they don’t have to include you.
This enables these colleges effectively to fill their classrooms with students but maintain the appearance of selectivity that will help them climb to the top of the rankings.
USC Also has a “Trojan Transfer” program that is essentially a way the school gives a leg up to legacies.
What it also does is put prospective freshman in a difficult situation. You’re forced to go somewhere else for a year, where you feel like you can’t really put down roots, you miss out on the freshman bonding experience, but at the same time it’s better than rejection, right?
But you get to go to a higher ranked school. Yeah.
2. Admitting Huge Numbers from the Waitlist
Yet another tactic some colleges employ, which keep their yield and general statistics up is creating huge waitlists and filling large swaths of their class from that waitlist.
Colleges have to report how many offers of admission they give, but statistically, the waitlist doesn’t play into the yield equation. Assuming waitlisted candidates have lower scores and grades, if colleges only offer spots to those on the waitlist that write letters of continued interest, they can skip over the kids who wouldn’t have accepted their admission offer anyhow, and keep their statistics in check.
If students are “too good” colleges could also use this tactic to weed out the ones who won’t be attending.
UC Berkeley, for example, filled nearly 1/3 of its freshman class from waitlisted candidates, with nearly 1/2 of students on the waitlist being offered a chance of admission.
3. Large Transfer Programs
Another way schools protect their statistics is by creating large transfer programs in general.
Some schools have dramatically higher transfer admission rates than regular ones, and again this protects those freshman statistics which are viewed heavily in ranking analysis.
However, that’s not necessarily the full story for many schools. Some schools may have multiple motivations for these practices, and others may be motivated for different reasons.
While some schools may be protecting freshman admission rates, others may be trying to open opportunities to those who’ve attended community college with the idea that often students who didn’t succeed in the first round of college admissions with all the test scores and everything may still be very promising candidates. Historically, students from underrepresented and lower income backgrounds also often choose community college for financial reasons, so offering transfer positions can help boost diversity at colleges, while still offering the potential to find well qualified candidates who are already succeeding in a college environment.
4. Using Test Scores as a Proxy for Wealth
Some colleges have pressure from their administration to bring in more students who can pay their own way.
Some of these schools also want to advertise that they meet the demonstrated need of all or most of their applicants.
One way some schools have manipulated this situation…
While early action helps colleges understand whether they are your first choice, early decision is binding. It protects their yield in a clear way.