Admissions game getting riskier

With college acceptance rates continuing to fall this year, college counselors and admissions experts say they expect the race to get into college will only become more unpredictable.

Among the Ivy League schools, Yale was the only school whose admissions rate remained unchanged from last year, admitting 1,940 of 25,869 applicants and waitlisting 932. All other Ivies saw a decline in their acceptance rate, with Harvard posting a record low 6.9 percent. For the first time in recent memory, Stanford replaced Yale as the second most selective college in the nation with an admit rate of 7.2 percent. In addition, while Yale’s acceptance rate remained steady, the University admitted fewer students this year in proportion to the slight decrease in applications, out of concern that too many students would matriculate, said Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions.

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While seven of the eight college counselors and admissions experts interviewed said they were not surprised by this year’s record low acceptance rates, five said they are now having difficulty predicting where students will be accepted to college.

“Last year, we ended up taking only seven students from the waiting list. To keep from having too many students enroll, we wanted to be a little more conservative this year,” he said. “The size [of the waitlist] fluctuates primarily with our judgment about individual students.”

Each year, Yale waitlists the number of students it thinks it may want to reconsider later, he said.

David Hawkins, public policy director of National Association for College Admission Counseling, cautioned against placing too much emphasis on a college’s selectivity, noting that the fractional falls seen this year can be attributed to factors as minor as, for example, a small change in an application question.

Still, Hawkins noted that colleges face pressure to keep acceptance rates low. Colleges may be keeping a large waiting list pool to fill up their incoming class if too few students matriculate, he added.

“A large part of a college’s reputation both from an admissions perspective as well as among students and alumni comes from its selectivity,” Hawkins said. “If a college drops a few points in selectivity, it may fall in external rankings — something that admissions offices do not like very much.”

Skip Zickmund, college counselor at Mullen High School in Denver, Colo. echoed Hawkins’s concern, suggesting that top-tier schools such as Stanford, Harvard and Yale are “walking lockstep with each other” by admitting fewer students than they otherwise would.

Kate Augus, director of college counseling at the Head Royce School in Oakland, Calif., said a college’s selectivity has a substantial impact on its perceived prestige and is an important factor for many parents and students during the application process, contrary to the advice she gives them.

“The lower acceptance rates this year means that more students are finding themselves on waiting lists and that creates stress for the student throughout summer leading up to enrollment,” Augus said. The anxiety is increased by the fact that students must make a firm commitment to a college by May 1 even if the college they have been accepted to is not one of their top choices, she added.

Still, waiting lists are playing an important role in college admissions by allowing colleges to maintain the quality of their incoming class in a time when it is increasingly difficult to predict which students will matriculate, Hawkins said.

“Keeping a large waiting list pool means that a college can meet the incoming class quota but also admit the right students,” he explained. “For instance, a school may wish to admit students from a certain region or students with a particular interest or talent.”

Around two-thirds of students waitlisted by Yale choose to stay on the waiting list, Brenzel said. Of those who are eventually offered a place, waitlisted applicants matriculate at a slightly higher rate, he added.

Students accepted to Yale’s class of 2014 have until May 1 to make a decision whether to matriculate this fall.

Correction: April 10, 2010

An earlier version of the graph accompanying this article misrepresented the admissions rates for the Yale classes of 2010 and 2011. The current graph represents the correct rates.


  • y’10

    “…the University admitted fewer students this year in proportion to the slight decrease in applications, out of concern that too many students would matriculate, said Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions.”

    Or, more likely, out of concern that the yield rate would be too low. Another reason why the wait list is so huge…

  • Observer

    One gets the distinct impression that the only applicants who get into Yale are one of more of the following:

    (1) faculty kids;
    (2) genetic freaks (attracted to standardized tests and no. 2 pencils);
    (3) big time legacy types (Daddy or Grandpa donates for an entire new college).

    Yale has to be wary in the future. It could low-admit itself into irrelevance.

    My friend (perfect 4.0) was admitted to Princeton, wait-listed at Harvard and rejected by Yale. I’m a high-school sophomore with similar credentials. I’m not going to waste my time with Yale in two years.

  • ’98

    As the YDN continues to report on comparative admissions data, make sure to ask questions about the numbers given to you – ie, the number of applicants, the number of admits, the number of matriculants – because frequently the numbers are manipulated or misreported, inadvertently or intentionally.

    For example: (1) the yield rate calculation requires you to include waitlist admits with other admits, and to include as additional admits those who ARE admitted but choose to defer; and (2)to include as matriculants only those who ACTUALLY SHOW UP for classes, not those who may initially signal their intention to enroll in May. This number ALWAYS shrinks because of people who defer, people who drop out for health reasons, and people who – between May and September – change their minds and simply decide to matriculate elsewhere.

  • Yale ’11

    It’s about time that they cut the number of students admitted. They keep matriculating in numbers higher than we expect and overcrowding our dorms. Annex housing this year, anyone?

  • shanks

    Surely, the massive increase in applications must be affecting the quality of the review these schools do ? What is the point of trying to drive up applicant numbers when it is physically impossible to review all of them with care ? Manipulating acceptance rates and then yields with devices such as early decision and grotesquely-long waiting lists is tantamount to harassing applicants and parents. Not only are the latter having to pay more in test fees, prep fees, application fees et al but schools themselves are spending more to get less despite the appearance of greater selectivity. Schools should get together to study ways such as those used by IITs in India or by medical schools here to reduce the sheer numbers of infructuous applications .

  • @ Observer

    Observer, where do you get your “distinct impression?” It appears to be based entirely on a single anecdotal experience. Your friend was admitted to Princeton and rejected from Yale, so you assume that all Yale students are either freaks or highly connected, and that Yale is being “too selective?” Plenty of people are accepted to Yale and rejected from Princeton (myself included); does that mean that Princeton, too, is “low-admitting” itself into irrelevance?

    Please, don’t waste *our* time with your application.

  • ’10

    Observer, would you care to give us your name? That way, come the admissions cycle for the class of 2016, the Admissions office knows that any application they receive from you must be fraudulent.

  • @#2

    The fact that you would cite your friend’s “perfect 4.0” to insinuate that it’s ridiculous he/she didn’t get into Yale is proof you don’t really know what you’re talking about. Having solid or perfect grades is just a prerequisite, and the rest is about a lot more than numbers.

    Let’s break down your accusations: How many children-of-faculty do you think are here at any given time? Maybe five to ten, spread across four classes. Legacies account for 15%. And genetic freaks, by definition, are very rare (hence “freaks”), so let’s say we have maybe 20 of those. That leaves several hundred spots unfilled. Furthermore, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton post lower/similar admit rates (perhaps you should try reading the article); the case will be the same at all of these institutions.

    So when you say “it could low-admit itself into irrelevance,” you simply mean it might reject YOU… thus, as you also bitterly note, you’re just not even going to try, since you’re worried about failing.

    Very mature. I’m quite devastated you won’t be applying…

  • @#2

    I’d be careful about writing off Yale just because of what happened to one particular student. I had “similar credentials” to what you described and I was accepted by Yale, waitlisted by Harvard and rejected by Princeton. Since it’s so unpredictable what’s going to happen, it’s best just to apply to as many schools as possible. (Incidentally this is part of what’s fueling the low acceptance rates and long waitlists.)

  • @ #2

    Just because your friend has a perfect 4.0 and was admitted to Princeton and waitlisted at Harvard does not imply that he/she should have been admitted to Yale. The simple truth of the matter is that all of these elite schools receive applications from many more qualified (overqualified, even) students than they have room for. At some point, the admissions process comes down to subjectivity and even luck.

    If you have the exact same qualifications as your friend when you apply in two years, you could end up admitted to Yale, waitlisted at Princeton, and rejected by Harvard.

    The ridiculousness that is the admissions process nowadays will continue until applicants, parents, and counselors understand that there is no way to build an applicant who is “guaranteed” admission anywhere. These schools have the luxury of receiving so many outstanding applications that they could build an elite incoming class – if not several – out of students who were rejected.

  • @#6

    Though you make an eloquent point, please, we don’t want to sink to Observer’s level. Perhaps s/he has something more to offer than a perfect 4.0

  • To # 4: (from ’98)

    It is something of a mystery why the overcrowding is ocurring, unless it is the endless renovation project, which should be winding down. In fact, the Yale undergraduate body has not grown in size for at least 30 years.

    Some historical stats for you, showing applications, admits, matriculations, yield rate and legacy admits over this period:

    Applications/ Total Admits/ Admit Rate/ Total Matrics/ Yield rate/legacy fraction (where known:

    1976 1980 9,387 2,481 26.4% 1,300 52.4% (15.6% legacies)
    1977 1981 9,785 2,423 24.8% 1,330 54.9% (16.1% legacies)
    1978 1982 10,015 2,464 24.6% 1,372 55.7% (16.3% legacies)
    1979 1983 10,275 2,204 21.5% 1,276 57.9% (17.8% legacies)
    1980 1984 10,304 2,130 20.7% 1,257 59.0% (18.7% legacies)
    1981 1985 10,937 2,186 20.0% 1,296 59.3% (16.8% legacies)
    1982 1986 11,023 2,189 19.9% 1,297 59.3% (18.5% legacies)
    1983 1987 9,934 2,162 21.8% 1,255 57.5% (16% legacies)
    1984 1988 12,035 2,274 18.9% 1,344 59.1% (14.8% legacies)
    1985 1989 11,737 2,182 18.6% 1,278 58.6% (17.4% legacies)
    1986 1990 12,528 2,269 18.1% 1,291 56.9% (15.9% legacies)
    1987 1991 13,063 2,310 17.7% 1,312 56.8% (16.4% legacies)
    1988 1992 12,797 2,370 18.5% 1,275 53.8% (15% legacies)
    1989 1993 12,063 2,264 18.8% 1,279 56.5% (14.4% legacies)
    1990 1994 11,922 2,354 19.7% 1,366 58.0% (11.5% legacies)
    1991 1995 10,794 2,372 22.0% 1,290 54.4% * legacy rate drops to 11.2%
    1992 1996 11,054 2,455 22.2% 1,326 54.0% (10% legacies)
    1993 1997 10,705 2,453 22.9% 1,317 53.7% (9% legacies)
    1994 1998 12,991 2,451 18.9% 1,308 53.4% (8.6% legacies) (556/432 EA)
    1995 1999 12,620 2,521 20.0% 1,364 54.1% (10% legacies)
    1996 2000 12,952 2,371 18.3% 1,409 59.4% * (ED) (413 + 70) (9.2% legacies)
    1997 2001 12,046 2,144 17.8% 1,307 61.0% (461 + 58) (10.5% legacies)
    1998 2002 11,947 2,100 17.6% 1,299 61.9%
    1999 2003 13,270 2,135 16.1% 1,371 64.2%
    2000 2004 12,887 2,084 16.2% 1,352 64.9%
    2001 2005 14,809 2,038 13.8% 1,296 63.6%
    2002 2006 15,466 2,009 13.0% 1,300 64.7%
    2003 2007 17,735 2,014 11.4% 1,353 67.2%
    2004 2008 19,682 1,958 9.9% 1,308 66.8% * (SCEA) (674 + 249)
    2005 2009 19,451 1,880 9.7% 1,309 70.0%
    2006 2010 21,101 1,878 8.9% 1,315 70.1%
    2007 2011 19,323 1,911 9.9% 1,320 69.1%
    2008 2012 22,817 1,952 8.6% 1,320 67.6%
    2009 2013 26,003 1,958 7.5% 1,307 66.8%

  • Observer

    Dear Observer

    Please do not waste our time with your application. I’m sure you won’t get accepted anyway.

    Good luck with your banal 4.0 life.


  • To #2

    God yes, please do NOT apply to Yale. Given the tone of your comments, the last thing I’d want is to meet you here.

  • What’s the big deal?

    Get a grip…it’s NOT where you happen to get your degree, it’s what you do (or don’t do) with it. George W. Bush obtained a Yale degree…need I say more? You people are really full of yourselves.

  • @Observer (JE ’10)

    The one thing I’d add is that just saying your friend had a “perfect” 4.0 most certainly does NOT mean he/she should have been admitted to Yale. A 4.0 isn’t the magic ticket to admissions. Yale gets more people with perfect GPAs than it has slots for, and I’d hate to be at a Yale where every single student had a 4.0 in high school.

    (Full disclosure: I was ranked something like 17th out of 330 in my class, and was the only one to get into Yale.)

  • ’98

    Harvard had 3,600 applicants who were #1 in their class, and as many or more with 800 SAT scores. At some point you have to make decisions in order to select a balanced class with a range of talents.

  • Yale ’14

    I am not a faculty kid, a genetic freak, or a big time legacy type. Neither are the other two people who got into Yale from my school. Your assumption that a perfect GPA is the golden ticket into college is a gross simplification of the process. You are going to be in for a lot of heartache if all you are counting on are grades to get you in. Perfect GPA’s can make for perfectly boring people.

  • Andrey from Russia

    #2 – fatfatfatfat troll detected. leave him alone

    #12 Is’it Yale statistics? If it is so Yale’s education is becoming better and less legacy-influenced. And see the main digit in that table – almost constant Total matrics (1255-1409) along 33 years. Good result!


    Moscow, Russia

  • Ivy alumni

    In buiding its diverse student body each year, Yale chooses to reject the top 20+ academically ranked kids in our school and bottom feed on a few “athletes”. Great message being sent.

  • lester

    I wonder about these stats. I heard from more than one admissions counselor that this year more and more applicants hedged their bets and applied to a lot of schools.

    But the results were definitely unpredictable.

  • anon

    post #12, by 98, is inaccurate. The official class of 2013 yield is 67.8%, not 66.8, as 98 claims. 98 has no affiliation with yale whatsoever, but is rather a 70 year old Harvard troll who has posted under monikers like NYCFan and Byerly on various college admissions websites over the years

  • Alum

    So how many admits were there, “anon”, and how many people matriculated?

    There seem to have been 1,958 admits.

    There seem to have been 1,307 people who enrolled for the Class of 2013.

    Thus, the “official” yield is 66.8%

    Check the “official” numbers yourself.

  • Another Ivy student

    #22 identifies #12 as “NYCFan” and calls him a Harvard troll, but that’s too innocuous a description. NYCFan (the moniker dates from the mid-1990s, his Princeton Review forum years) is a monomaniac who has posted against Yale and other universities every day for 15 years, 15 hours a day. The Harvard Crimson has editorialized against him as an embarrassment, and various forums have analyzed his behavior in detail. The Crimson reported that he is retired lawyer resident on the South Shore but declined to name him.

  • @#8

    “…or perfect grades is just a prerequisite,”

    Maybe #2 wasn’t so far off the mark.

  • So … ‘Another Ivy student:

    How do calculate the yield rate for last year, when there were 1,958 admitted and 1,370 enrolled?

  • Observer

    The mystery behind the delay in release of the preliminary yield number at Yale is partially solved: they are apparently filling in as many slots as possible from the waitlist before a preliminary announcement – probably trying to beat last year’s preliminary yield number.

    See the CC thread where waitlistees are currently being called and quizzed as to whether they would “like to come to Yale.”