With so many students applying to so many colleges today, it can be difficult to determine which schools students really want to attend. One number that admissions deans look at is yield, the percentage of students accepted who ultimately enroll in their universities. U.S. News used fall 2006 data to calculate the yield numbers for the top 100 schools in both the national universities and liberal arts colleges rankings, then listed them in descending order based on yield. The results—the colleges that, in ways, could be considered "most popular" among their applicants—were surprising yet intuitive.
"The environment here very much coincides with their own personal values," says Carri Jenkins, spokeswoman for Brigham Young University, which tied with Harvard to lead the list of national universities. The Provo, Utah, college uses its affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to attract a dedicated pool of applicants, and those students are so enthusiastic about the school that 79 percent of the admitted enroll. Similar specialty appeal most likely explains why Yeshiva and three military schools rise to the top of the yield lists.
The state universities also do quite well by this yield measure, with nine schools among the top 20 universities. "Students tend to stay pretty close to home, and they're looking to better themselves financially," says David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The combination of affordable tuition and school success on the gridiron and basketball courts appears to be a hit.
Hard to predict. But, as any admissions dean will say, yield can be a difficult variable to predict. With record numbers of teenagers applying to college and each one of those students pondering a wider variety of schools, admissions offices—just like the students they are considering—are in a "perpetual state of uncertainty," Hawkins says. Colleges are thrilled to have more students to choose from but flustered by the fact that their picks might ultimately say, "No, thanks." "It speaks a little bit to the excess of applications [per student] over the last five years," Hawkins says. And a bad yield prediction can lead to overcrowding, which diminishes the experience for all the students and faculty.
Everyone wants to go to Harvard, right? Not so fast. Even at this coveted Cambridge, Mass., school, 21 percent of students accepted in 2006 chose not to enroll. The elite university has received more than 27,000 applications for fall 2008 admissions, which "shattered all of the previous records by a very wide margin" and was over 5,000 more than last year, according to Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons. He says the rise was partially due to changes in its financial aid policy over the past five years, which attracted more middle-income, black, and Latino applicants. But there's still no guarantee those students—highly recruited candidates among selective schools nationwide—actually will enroll. "There are still lots of attractive public and private colleges that give out financial aid," Fitzsimmons says.
Another factor Harvard—along with Princeton University and the University of Virginia—has to contend with is the elimination of early admissions. The schools disbanded the programs—which tended to admit higher percentages of applicants, who were then obligated to enroll—because they appeared to give a boost to privileged students and penalize disadvantaged ones. But early decision also was a reliable tool admissions offices could use to control the makeup of their freshman class. "We'll have to make more offers to get the same size class," says Jack Blackburn, dean of admission at Virginia. And, without early decision, another admissions staple becomes more important, he says: "We will use the waiting list more than usual."