It is also a pleasure to get to focus on normal things, pre-pandemic things. Because no matter what is going on in the outside world, my seniors are still making decisions about where they want to (hopefully) go in the fall and my juniors are gearing up for their own application process in just a few months. As my seniors get their decisions back, many of us have noticed a marked increase in waitlist offers. This has been frustrating for my students as it means they have to make decision in the next month or two while another part of them waits for the final news. But given our uncertain times, this is not surprising.
Many students and families are unfamiliar with the concept of yield in college admissions. Instead, they focus on admit rate, or the percentage of students who are admitted out of the students who apply. But yield, or the percentage of students who actually attend out of the students who have been admitted, is equally important.
Colleges have limited dorm rooms, classes, and resources, and so admissions officials are very conscientious about how many students they should admit in order to yield the right freshman class. Schools like Harvard and the Naval Academy typically yield about 80% of the students they admit, while flagship public institutions like Berkeley and University of Michigan yield around 50%, and regional private schools like Santa Clara University and Baylor University yield about 20% of the students they admit. Understanding these statistics is vitally important to ensuring that they don’t enroll too many students – and have to triple bunk kids in freshman dorms – or enroll too few students – and miss their budget significantly.
But this year is a brave new world. Because of the pandemic, colleges are much less confident in their historical yield numbers. Students may be more inclined to choose a college close to home than in previous years. With the financial upheaval, some families may no longer be able to afford some of the colleges on their students’ lists. And in the face of all that uncertainty, colleges are turning to their safety net: the waitlist.
I’ve talked about the waitlist before and steps you can take if you find yourself in admissions limbo. But my biggest takeaway from this development has been the importance of a well-balanced college list with at least two or three safety schools and two or three target schools. Because what I’ve seen this year is that the reaches are still reaches, and typically come back as a no. And the targets have become more unpredictable, resulting in increased waitlist offers. But the safeties are still safeties, bringing acceptances and scholarship offers even in the midst of all this upheaval.
I have always been a strong proponent for the balanced college list, urging my students to tilt their choices more toward safeties and targets and away from too many reaches. That’s easier said than done, but I have seen firsthand that it produces the best results, the most choices, and an overarching sense of confidence and empowerment at the end of this process. And in this unsettling moment, that’s more important than ever.