Chat with us

Understanding yield rates and their significance in college admissions can provide strategic advantages for applicants aiming for top U.S. colleges. Normally, yield is something for schools to think about, not students or their guardian when planning an admissions strategy. But in today’s post-Covid new normal, schools’ efforts to manage yield are creating unique admissions opportunities. This article explores what yield rates are, why they matter, and most importantly how schools' own efforts to predict and protect yield offer unique insights for your admissions planning.

## “Private universities are really relying on yield protection strategies like early decision which basically means… the timing of your application in my opinion becomes just as important as your grades.”

#### - Former Stanford Admissions Officer, Crimson Education

As college admissions grow increasingly competitive, understanding the factors that influence admissions decisions becomes crucial. One such factor is yield — the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll. Yield rates significantly impact admissions processes and help schools manage enrollment numbers for each new incoming class.

By grasping the importance of yield rates, students and parents will be better equipped to navigate the admissions landscape, with insights to refine specific application strategies and improve opportunities for admission into top U.S. colleges.

First we’ll explore what yield rates are, and why they matter so much to admissions officers, and why this aspect of the admissions landscape has been turned a bit topsy-turvy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, you’ll see why a deeper understanding of yield and colleges’ efforts to manage yield unlock some crucial insights for your application decisions: informing early application strategies primarily, but also highlighting other application components students can capitalize on to get an edge.

## What Are Yield Rates?

A school’s yield refers to the number of admitted students who actually choose to attend. A school’s yield rate is calculated as a percentage. Put in bare-bones mathematical terms, it looks like this:

## “YIELD = total n students accepting the offer of admission / total n students who received an offer of admission”

### Yield vs. Acceptance Rates

This is different of course from the school’s acceptance rate, which equals the total number admitted (offered admission), divided by the total number of applicants. Once a school tallies the total number of students they’re admitting divided by the total number of applications submitted they can calculate the acceptance rate.

If 1,000 students apply & the school offers admission to 100 = 10% acceptance rate

Of the 100 admitted, the school has to wait to see how many choose to accept the offer of admission. If 60 accept the offer (choose to enroll), then the yield is calculated as 60 ÷ 100, delivering a yield of 60%.

So again, a college’s yield is distinct from the acceptance rate; it represents the percentage of admitted students who choose to accept the offer of admission.

##### Class of 2027 Acceptance vs Yield Rates
SchoolAcceptance RateYield Rate
Princeton6%78%
MIT4%86%
Stanford4%80%
Harvard3%84%
Yale5%71%
UPenn7%73%
Caltech3%53%
Duke6%60%
Northwestern7%63%
Brown5%66%
Johns Hopkins4%48%
Columbia4%65%
U Chicago5%83%
Cornell7%64%
UC Berkeley11%43%
UCLA9%44%
Rice9%44%
Dartmouth6%70%
Vanderbilt7%48%
Notre Dame13%58%

### Challenges of Managing Yield

Yield, however, can only be estimated ahead of time, and can only be known after the school finds out exactly how many of the admitted students are choosing to attend the school.

Early Decision commitments aside, most students have a fair amount of time to compare offers before they need to commit to choosing which offer to accept. This makes it harder for schools to gauge how many students they're actually welcoming when they send out offer letters, as it's hard to know how many of the offers will be accepted vs. how many admitted students will opt to accept an offer from a rival school.

This uncertainty makes managing yield important for schools.

For example, schools want to be able to make the best predictions possible when it comes to yield, as the predicted yield will guide them in deciding how many students to admit in order to achieve an incoming class with an optimal number of students.

In this respect, colleges can try to “predict” or “anticipate” yield rates based on prior year data, but colleges don’t really have “control” over yield rates — they can’t “control” who chooses to accept an offer of admission and who doesn’t.

But... Why should you care about all this administrative bean counting — what's it all got to do with your admissions planning? That’s a good question, and it's exactly what we're going to explain in this post.

Keep reading to learn how the dynamics of “yield” can unlock favorable application strategies that might give you a real edge in today’s ultra-competitive college admissions landscape.

## “The best universities such as Harvard and Stanford have yield rates higher than 80%. The higher the yield rate, the better the university.”

### A Boost to Ratings and Prestige

A high yield contributes to a college’s prestige and rankings. Elite institutions like Harvard and Stanford, both with yield rates surpassing 80%, can afford to be more selective, attracting top-tier applicants and maintaining their esteemed status.

Knowing that a large percentage of admitted students will accept the offer of admission, the very best schools can maintain strong enrollment while admitting less students (compared to schools with lower yield). In essence, a high yield rate goes hand-in-glove with a low acceptance rate, and for this reason schools are typically keen to find ways not only to predict yield reliably, but to maintain, elevate, and protect their yield rate as well.

This is important to schools, because both yield rates and acceptance rates can serve as criteria that impact national rankings, with “high” yield and a “low” acceptance rates typically correlating to a higher rank.

In other words, while maintaining higher yield, schools also end up with lower acceptance rates, hitting a double when it comes to elevating their prestige.

### Enhanced Financial Stability

Yield rates also affect a university’s financial stability. Accurate predictions of incoming class sizes help institutions manage resources effectively and avoid financial uncertainties. During the COVID-19 pandemic colleges learned just how much lower yield results in added financial challenges, further highlighting the importance of yield protection.

After the end of COVID-19 restrictions, however, a spike in application numbers also made it harder for schools to predict and manage enrollment numbers using pre-COVID data.

These challenges, related to maintaining higher yield and making reliable yield predictions, became acute in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 years, adding new urgency to efforts to bolster yield and protect yield rates.

## Yield Protection and Test-optional Admissions

### The Shift to Test-optional Policies

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards test-optional admissions. This trend has persisted too, even as the immediate crisis waned. Test-optional policies are helping schools attract larger, and potentially more diverse, pools of applicants.

With the Supreme Court also having eliminated affirmative action in college admissions, schools now have an even stronger and more urgent interest in finding avenues for building a diverse student body.

Thus, even several prominent Ivy League schools such as Yale, Brown, Harvard, and Dartmouth, that have reinstated standardized test requirements for admissions, are signaling a new era when it comes to the role test scores play in admissions. Instead of being used for benchmarking who gets in or doesn’t, test scores are being touted as tools for inclusion — for helping schools identify qualified applicants out of a greater number of applicants with more diverse backgrounds and from more diverse high school settings.

### Increased Access and Growing Numbers of Applicants

What does all this mean for the larger admissions landscape and in particular, schools' efforts to manage yield?

Above all, it means top schools are getting many more applications than they did prior to the pandemic...

• The elimination of testing requirements made many more students eligible to apply to top schools, who hadn’t been eligible in the past, leading to increased numbers of applicants.
• Even among schools choosing to reinstate test requirements, there may be stronger recruiting efforts across wider geographies and a desire to use test scores to identify students able to succeed despite coming from under-resourced high schools.

## “...so out of the chaos of covid you are getting more applications and you're getting a more diverse applicant pool…”

#### - Former Stanford Admissions Officer, Crimson Education

The upshot of all this is a truly massive upswing in the number of students applying to top schools:

##### A Steep Rise in Applications at Top Schools
SchoolIncrease in Applicants: 2018–2023# of Applicants to Class of 2028Overall Acceptance Rate
Harvard64%54,000+3.59%
MIT60%28,000+4.52%
Rice66%32,000+7.5%
Tufts61%34,000+10%
Northwestern54%50,000+7.5%
Columbia66%60,000+3.85%
Brown62%48,000+5.2%

In effect, the shift away from testing allowed universities to attract a more diverse applicant pool, but the large increase in applications and the diversity of the applicant pool made it harder to reliably predict yield based on pre-COVID-19 figures and expectations.

Equipped with a thorough understanding of yield and why it matters so much at colleges, you’re now ready to apply this analysis to your own admissions planning.

### Early Decision as a Strategy

To mitigate the challenges posed by very large and more diverse applicant pools, many universities have leaned heavily on Early Decision (ED) admissions. From a college’s perspective, ED applicant pools offer virtually a 100% yield, on account of the binding commitment students make when applying ED.

In addition, by by accepting a greater percentage of ED applicants, the school will attract larger ED cohorts the subsequent year — attracting a larger pool of fully committed students to recruit from each year.

If the ED acceptance rate increases, it could motivate more students to accept the binding commitment and apply ED, providing universities with a a pool of high-yield applicants and offering students a highly favorable admissions strategy. For instance, Duke University admitted nearly half of its class through Early Decision. As a result, the school's ED acceptance rate increases and the school has a mechanism for making yield more predictable.

### Leaning Into Demonstrated Interest

Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) applicants tend to have higher yield rates:

• ED applicants are required to attend if admitted
• Both ED and EA applicants, by applying early, demonstrate a high interest in attending if admitted

This is a reminder that students who demonstrate a strong interest are also more likely to enroll if admitted, giving colleges an interest in admitting more of these students. So in addition to a well thought-out early application strategy, students should seize opportunities to express a strong interest and compelling motivation for attending the schools they apply to.

• Know Your Target School: In order to demonstrate an authentic and compelling motivation, fit, and interest, you'll want to "do your homework" and really research your target school, digging beneath the surface to find out what faculty, programs, and offerings make the school a top choice and excellent fit.
• Get Tight on the "Why This College" Narrative: Whether in response to a "why this school" essay prompt, other essay prompts, or in other application components, such as a personal statement, be sure to make a case for why the school is your top choice and why you're a good fit — whenever it's relevant.

## Following the Numbers: What ED Data Reveal

### Rising ED Applications

Want more evidence why an ED strategy merits careful consideration? Just look at the way ED applications have surged in the past few years.

Across eight high-ranking institutions offering ED, ED applicant pools grew an average of 12.4% in just one year, from the Class of 2026 to 2027. Take Duke and Dartmouth, for example, where the number of ED applicants increased 14% and 21% respectively.

The fact is more students are recognizing the strategic advantage of ED applications, particularly students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, presumably because they can afford to commit to a binding agreement that can limit a family's financial aid options. Meanwhile, it’s also a reminder that other students are missing out on a hidden opportunity, especially given the interest universities have in building inclusion, in admitting a greater number of students with diverse privileges or challenges and diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Many top universities, including schools such as Northwestern and the University of Pennsylvania, for example, admit 40 percent or more of their incoming class through Early Decision programs. This trend reflects the increased reliance on ED to ensure stable yield rates.

## “Emory's Class of 2028 saw 2,704 ED1 applicants, the largest ED1 pool in Emory’s history and a 12% increase from last year. This follows recent trends in more students applying ED1 to Emory. Last year, Emory received 9.48% more ED1 applicants for the Class of 2027 than the Class of 2026. ”

### Half the Incoming Class Is Filled Early!

As ED acceptance rates go up, so do levels of ED enrollment — due to the binding commitment involved.

Here are some recent data that highlight the high percentages of students entering top private colleges via ED applications:

Barnard: 50–60% of incoming freshman class admitted by ED

Boston U: 50–52% of incoming freshman class admitted by ED

Brown: 52% of incoming freshman class admitted by ED

Cornell: 48-50% of incoming freshman class admitted by ED

Rates are high at other schools too. The following are now admitting 40 percent or more of their incoming class from ED rounds:

Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern, Rice, Skidmore, Tulane, Penn, Washington University in St. Louis, Williams...

##### Percentage of ED Applicants in Incoming Class
SchoolClass of 2027Class of 2020Class of 2016
Brown51.7%44.6%37%
Columbia46.43%44.29%43%
Cornell47%41.8%36%
Dartmouth50.26%42%41.89%
Duken.a.47%38%
Northwesternn.a.44%38%
Johns Hopkinsn.a.45%45%

## “Do your research to find those schools that offer an early decision bargain and try to create a unique application pool and go from there.”

#### - Former Stanford Admissions Officer, Crimson Education

Thanks to the interests colleges have in predicting, protecting, and increasing yield, admissions officers are relying more heavily on Early Decision admissions plans and applicant pools to fill more of their incoming classes.

### Seizing the ED Opportunity: Key Admissions Strategies

1. Apply early to enhance your chances of admission. Applying ED to your top-choice school can potentially have as much impact on your admissions as grades or test scores. For example, Emory University and Boston University offer higher acceptance rates for ED applicants compared to their Regular Decision rates, and this kind of acceptance rate advantage is common.
2. Identify schools with the most favorable ED/EA acceptance rates and target those for applying early.
3. Apply under Early Action or Early Decision to offset some of the challenges of gaining admission to more crowded, competitive majors, such as engineering fields.

## Level of Opportunity by Type of College

As you implement your Early Decision strategy, you can be even more strategic by evaluating your options — and the pros and cons — when deciding which of your target or reach schools to single out for your ED application.

### Making Strategic School Selections

• Focus on schools that provide a statistical advantage through their ED programs.
• Avoid Single-choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA) programs, even at highly competitive schools like Harvard or Yale, as they do not offer the same statistical benefits and prevent you from applying ED or EA to other private institutions.
• Remember, when you apply ED, you can only apply ED to one school, but you are allowed to apply non-restrictive Early Action to other schools.

### Look for High Opportunity ED/EA Targets

Type of CollegeLevel of OpportunityReasonExamples
Private, Elite Colleges Offering ED or Non-restrictive Early ActionLimited Opportunity Even the ED/EA rounds will be highly competitive and limit your chances, in spite of the statistical advantage of applying ED. Ivies, Stanford, MIT, University of Chicago, Caltech, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, USC
Top-ranked Public InstitutionsLimited OpportunityMany of the best public universities don’t offer ED or ED/EA options. At the same time their applicant pools are enormous, so in addition to excluding them as an ED option, you may not want to put them as a “safety” school either. UC Berkeley, UCLA,
High-ranking Public Institutions Offering Early-round ApplicationGood OpportunityWhile still excellent institutions, they offer much better odds for admissions, including EA options with higher acceptance rates.University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of Texas at Austin
High-ranking Private Institutions With Great Quality and Better Acceptance RatesExcellent OpportunityThese are private, non-Ivies without the allure of MIT, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, or Georgetown, but offering better odds for success than the elite ED options, such as Cornell, Brown, Columbia, or NYU.Boston University, Northwestern, Rice, Tufts, Emory, Vanderbilt

## International Student? Catch This Train!

International applicants have a real window of opportunity in the Early Decision rounds, as these programs can enhance diversity and yield predictability for universities.

Yet, in the current landscape, most students filling classes from the ED rounds are from the US. With only 9% of early applications coming from international students, there is a great window of opportunity and potential for international applicants to have a significant edge by applying to high-ranking schools under Early Decision.

Consider a comprehensive approach to your Early Decision (ED) application strategy:

• Limited Benefits of SCEA/REA: Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) and Restrictive Early Action (REA) do not allow you to apply to other early-round programs, limiting your options.
• Strategic ED Applications: While applying ED to top schools can be advantageous, it may be more effective to apply ED to slightly less competitive but still prestigious institutions. For example, consider applying ED to Emory, Rice, or the University of Michigan instead of Cornell or Brown.
• Large Applicant Pools: Schools with no ED option and large applicant pools, such as top UC schools, should not be considered "safety" schools due to their high selectivity and low acceptance rates, especially for out-of-state applicants.

When applying ED, remember these key points about yield rates and admissions officers' goals:

1. "Why This School" Questions: Pay close attention to these questions in your essays and personal statements. Demonstrate a strong, specific interest in the school.
2. Thorough Research: Research your target schools extensively. Highlight unique features and offerings that align with your academic and personal goals, showing why you’re a good fit.
3. Look for schools with exceptional ED/EA rates
• Emory 37% ED acceptance rate
• Boston U: 31% ED acceptance rate
• Vanderbilt: 15% ED acceptance rate
• Rice: 15% ED acceptance rate
• UVA: 19% ED acceptance rate (out-of-state applicants)
• Barnard: ~26% ED acceptance rate
• University of Michigan: overall acceptance rate of 18%; EA acceptance rate na
• University of Texas, Austin: overall acceptance rate of 31%; Early Action acceptance rate na

Check out our blog posts:

Early Decision Acceptance Rates

Early Action Acceptance Rates

Don't forget: navigating ED can be complex, especially since it is binding if you are admitted. This can affect your ability to negotiate financial aid or compare offers from other schools. For personalized support and a more thorough approach, our advisors can help.

## Navigating Waitlists and Deferrals

With the increase in ED applicants and schools' efforts to manage yield, more and more students are being put on waitlists and deferrals. It's crucial to navigate this part of your college journey with as much care as your initial applications, not letting your opportunities slip away in the final leg of the race!

Stay Engaged in Senior Year: It's crucial to maintain a strong academic record and remain engaged in top extracurriculars all through your senior year.

Be Responsive to School Communications: The school is likely to reach out to you about follow-up steps, requests for additional transcripts, perhaps even some additional "why this school" type feedback... For success, respond promptly to school communications while continuing to express a strong interest in attending the school.

Remember, recent surveys have revealed that about 40% of students who were put on wait lists for a particular school said they would still choose that school over others, if admitted. This means admissions officers know that students on wait lists are pretty motivated to attend if admitted!

## Final Thoughts

Navigating the college admissions process can be daunting, but understanding the new normal in admissions, especially college's concern about managing yield, can give you a significant edge at a time of very competitive acceptance rates.

The good news is you've now equipped yourself with the kinds of insights used by top applicants.

While your admissions strategies merit careful consideration and commitment, a methodic approach can open doors to some of the most prestigious colleges in the country.

ED strategies can certainly add to your chances for success, but even more so when combined with strong achievements and a coherent application narrative. Don't shy away from seeking guidance from advisors to ensure your approach is the best one for your personal goals and interests. Remember, that's why we're here!

What Makes Crimson Different