What Are Yield Rates and Why Do They Matter?

Admissions headlines would lead us all to believe that every year for the past several years was the “Hardest Year to Get into College Ever,” but college rankings are not always what they seem to be. In order to crack the code of hard-to-reach universities, one must first understand the “yield rate.”

The Yield Rate   

Whereas the “acceptance rate” signifies the number of students who apply and are offered admission to a certain university, the “yield rate” just means the number of people who decide to matriculate. So why do we care about this number?


Universities track these numbers, not just for their own records, but because yield rates factor into rankings. In any business, a company’s job is, in large part, to keep their investors, trustees, or board members happy. At the end of the day, universities are no different. In order to keep the trustees happy, they need to be as close to number one as possible. In other words, it’s all about ego. There is, perhaps, no greater ego-boost than being number one in the most the prestigious and widely-trusted ranking system in the world: US News & World Report. In order to measure competition, US News & World Report relies on a formula that assesses a number of factors. In order to determine its best colleges in America, US News & World looks at data relating to graduation rates, retention rates, faculty resources, and of course, acceptance and yield rates, among others.  Universities can put resources into retaining current students and offering tenure to great professors, but ultimately, there is likely no easier component to improve than the yield rate.   

Building Competitive Yield Rates  

As we mentioned previously, the name of the game is competition. In order to build competition and therefore decrease acceptance while increasing yield rates, one must increase applications.

Let’s say a celebrity decides to open a university. In its first year, Celebrity U has 20 spots and 25 applicants. In order to secure funding for the next year, they are going to need to become more competitive. The easiest way to do this is to increase the applicant pool. Celebrity U decides to invest their time and resources into marketing. So, they hire the guy who makes bubbles at the park to stand outside of every high school in the county and pass out flyers. Celebrity U also decides to wave the supplement to make it easier for students to apply on a whim. Suddenly, Celebrity U has 1,500 applicants for the same 20 spots. Celebrity U just skyrocketed into being one of the hardest universities to get into in the country.

In the real world, it’s not exactly that easy to build competition. However, this expansion of the application pool is far from hypothetical. As we mentioned earlier, universities are businesses. They have marketing teams and even personnel whose sole job it is to develop brand awareness, or, in other words, to get people to apply.

Quantity over Quality

This focus on expanding the applicant pool is working and you need only look to the Ivy League to see the proof.  In 2015, with some 30,397 applications, Brown had its most competitive year ever. That is, until the very next year when 32,390 students applied. While the acceptance rate was slightly less-competitive in 2016 than it was the previous year, the university was working on boosting its yield rates from a tough round in 2015. In 2015, Harvard boasted a record acceptance rate for the class of 2019 (5.3 percent). That year, they also had a record-breaking 37,035 applications, up from 34,295 the year before.

While such rates might make the trustees happy, they are not a sign that more quality applicants are submitting to schools. A number of universities are also opting to forgo supplements and flexibility with test scores, making it easier than ever for students to submit that one extra, hassle-free application. In other words, colleges might just be enticing you to apply simply so they can reject you and inflate their acceptance and yield rates.   

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