Meaning of admissions stats questioned

The annual frenzy over admissions at elite universities centers on numbers — applications received, students accepted, matriculation rate — but these statistics may not be an accurate measure of a school, especially if you ask the experts at Yale and high schools across the country.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel and four college counselors said these statistics are not the most important indicators of whether a school is competitive or popular among those it admits. Many colleges manipulate these numbers, Brenzel said, using strategies like encouraging large numbers of unqualified students to apply in order to raise application counts and lower admissions rates, or refusing admission to students they believe will not matriculate to up their yield. Despite Brenzel’s skepticism of admissions figures, high schoolers interviewed said they use them to gauge schools when applying.

Because Yale is already so selective, Brenzel said, the University’s admissions office has not pursued a strategy of soliciting more applications merely to inflate Yale’s statistics.

“We have … been able to exercise ethical restraint in conducting outreach to students of all backgrounds who are very unlikely to be offered admission here, while at the same time being very aggressive in our targeted outreach efforts,” he said. “I have been particularly happy with the increases we are seeing in applications from the most competitive minority students, low-income students, science students and international students.”

But in the eyes of students, the numbers still matter. Eight out of 10 undergraduates interviewed said they thought admissions statistics like number of applications received, admissions rate and yield reflected the quality of a college, but four college counselors interviewed agreed with Brenzel that this is not necessarily the case.

Beth Slattery from the Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, Calif., and Martha Lyman from Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass., said admission metrics are unreliable indicators for a number of other reasons as well.

Lyman said a lot of the additional applications to American colleges may be coming in from abroad — driving up application counts, but not necessarily increasing the selectivity of the school for applicants from the United States. If an institution has decided that it is only going to admit 10 percent of foreign students, she said, the increase in applications does not indicate a more difficult admissions process for American applicants.

Some experts believe students are simply applying to more schools each year, Slattery said, driving down matriculation rates no matter how competitive the school.

“It’s not more kids, it’s more applications,” Slattery said. “We have the same number of kids putting in more applications to more schools, as opposed to more great kids in the pool.”

Lyman and Slattery both have experience working in college admissions offices — Lyman was a member of the admissions committee at Harvard for 10 years, while Slattery was associate director of admissions at the University of Southern California.

Both said colleges and universities across the nation are feeling pressure to raise applicant count and yield.

“Administrations are always going to think that an increase [in application numbers] is a good thing,” Slattery said. “In turn, this is good for the admissions office, because the administration is happy with them.”

She said she hopes hyper-selective colleges like Yale do not feel the need to increase their application counts, because doing so would only mean turning down more students.

Lyman said she thinks even top schools like those in the Ivy League probably feel pressure to raise their application counts to compete with each other. But Brenzel said he has not felt the need to drive Yale’s application numbers up.

“I am not under that pressure here at Yale, largely because our applicant pool is already so strong and Yale is so well-known and regarded,” he said. “We are [already] forced to turn away thousands more heavily qualified students than we can admit.”

But high school seniors and Yale undergraduates said admissions numbers are one of the tools available to them for judging Yale and its peers.

Senem Çilingiroglu ’13 said Yale needs to keeps its selectivity high to maintain its prestige.

“If you don’t tell people that you’re not admitting 90 percent of your applicants, how can you remain an elite school?” she said. “These numbers make Yale seem more exclusive and more attractive.”

Amina Edwards, a senior at the Winsor School in Boston, Mass., who was accepted early to Yale, said Yale’s low admission rate made her nervous about her chances of getting in, but also enhanced her interest in the University. She said Yale’s selectivity confirmed for her that Yale was a school she wanted to attend.

Three out of the four college counselors interviewed also said students were more likely to apply to schools with higher application counts, lower admission rates and higher yields.

“There is a strange psychology that the harder it is to get into a school, the better it must be,” said Jane Horn, director of college counseling at Kent Denver School in Engelwood, Colo.

King and Sarah Swong, a senior at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx who was accepted early to Yale, said admissions metrics affect public perception of colleges indirectly, because they influence the rankings schools receive in U.S. News and World Report.

According to the U.S. News and World Report website, however, “student selectivity” only accounts for 15 percent of their annual rankings, and the acceptance rate (ratio of students admitted to applicants) makes up only 10 percent of the “student selectivity” category.


  • aluminterviewer

    So how many applications were received for the regular round this year?

    And if yield rate numbers aren’t important, why lean on an early admission program to fill half the class before the regular admission applications are even submitted?

  • aluminterviewer

    Rising application numbers at top colleges certainly seems to be the trend. Some headlines from the last week:

    “Penn Undergrad Applications up 14 Percent Over Last Year to 30,956”;
    “Dartmouth Applications Reach Record High”;
    “Stanford Sets Record With About 34,200 Applications”;
    “University of Chicago Gets Record Undergrad Applications”;
    “Record 29K Apply to Join Duke Class of 2015”;
    “Northwestern Gets All-time High 30,529 Applications”;
    “MIT Applications Up 7% Over Last Year”

  • GM

    “I wouldn’t want to belong to any [college] that would have me as a member”

  • Inigo_Montoya


    Nearly every single one of your posts to the YDN boards is about Yale’s admissions statistics (raw #s, acceptance rate, yield rate, cross-admit data, etc.) as they compare to those at the other Ivies, MIT, and/or Stanford. Whether you are an “aluminterviewer” for Yale or rather—as I suspect—for a peer institution, you surely know that Yale has no difficulty filling its freshman classes with talented, interesting, and qualified students. Why then are you so concerned about essentially meaningless numbers? Are you worried about Yale’s perceived prestige (moving in either direction)? That would just be silly.

  • aluminterviewer


    “Because Yale is already so selective, Brenzel said, the University’s admissions office has not pursued a strategy of soliciting more applications merely to inflate Yale’s statistics.

    “We have … been able to exercise ethical restraint in conducting outreach to students of all backgrounds who are very unlikely to be offered admission here, while at the same time being very aggressive in our targeted outreach efforts,” he said.”

    Does this imply that in Brenzel’s view other selective schools – like Stanford – which have seen app numbers climb have not shown similar “ethical restraint” in soliciting applicants?

    Personally, I see nothing wrong with candidly admitting that all schools benefit when they report impressive admissions stats.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    Yes, in fact, with “imply” being the operative word. He’d never come out and say that, because here he’s speaking in his role as admissions PR flack, defending Yale without (explicitly) antagonizing peer institutions.

    That said, you didn’t answer *my* questions.

    EDIT: ahh, you edited. I’m still confused though. Why should *we* care about these numbers, even if the PR flacks in admissions do? *We* know these numbers are essentially meaningless, and *we* know that (nightmares or fantasies of Jeff Brenzel’s aside) Yale’s not budging in either direction from its position as the perceived second-most prestigious university in America.

  • AsianAdvantage

    Bravo to Yale for not playing the game of encouraging more applications from uncompetitive applicants, just to boost the numbers. It’s a lonely game to play, however.

  • aluminterviewer


    Its not just the “admissions PR flacks” who care about these numbers, it is potential applicants, including the most desirable potential applicants. This is demonstrably true, as comments by random students in the YDN story reveal.

    This is why those “flacks” as you call them invariably flog good numbers when they have them, or feel compelled to rationalize away less impressive numbers relative to peer schools when they must.

    All things being equal, top students tend to prefer schools where they believe other top students apply to and choose in the greatest numbers.

    This paper by Professor Hansmann of Yale Law School demonstrates why apparent “selectivity” is key to maintaining a school’s reputation and attracting the most applicants in the greatest number.

  • aluminterviewer


    It is unclear whether Harvard failed to exercise sufficient “ethical restraint” or was just overly “aggressive in its targeted outreach efforts” this year.

    Likewise, Columbia has seen an absolutely huge surge of 32% to 34,587 applications for the Class of 2015.

  • aluminterviewer

    Columbia’s big jump in applications for 2015 may be explained by two factors: (1) it adopted the common application this year, and (2) it rose from #8 to #4 in the US News rankings.

  • Thirdeye

    Opinions about college applications from Yale experts are biased. On one hand, they said, application numbers are manipulated by some universities, on the other hand, they said Yale is already selective! Contradictory. It seems that only application number of Yale is true. The Yale applicants are all great kids! This is stupid and biased comment. The typical Bush’s style—— Whatever he is doing is right. I am not surprised based on the big people Yale generated like George W Bush, who cannot speak a complete English sentence. He got into Yale not because he was a ” great kid”, just due to the fact that Yale kisses the ass of privileged family. Honestly in opinions of more and more people, Yale is a most over-rated school. It is always listed as 2 or 3 in US News Report but if you look at its individual school like business, science, medical and others except for Law and political. no one on the top. Over 300 hundred years, how many Nobel prizes were produced from Yale? Maybe someday, if yale move down from the USNews and Report, Yale people will say that Some Universities manipulate the Ranking. Very subjective and biased! Looking at Harvard and Princeton on the same ranking as Yale, people will say Harvard and Princeton deserve that honor but Yale not. Yale still keep the political cons[piracy organization ” Skeleton and Skulls” , a dark club for privileged family. But this club is useless for most students. My observation is that current financial crisis made people reevaluate the college they are going to pursue. More people are losing interest in Yale because they cannot get what they want in terms of career and their contribution to society unless they are from Bush family. Yale people should not say the applicants for other schools are not “great kids”. I am surprised that Yale experts expressed so biased and superficial comments about college applications!

  • waldo

    You’re hilarious. Thanks for absolutely making my day with that nonsense. Hahahahahahahahaha.

  • anonalum

    Maybe Brenzel needs replacement. At this rate, Yale will have the fewest number of applicants in the ivy league. When an NFL coach goes 2-14 for two consecutive years, he gets sacked. One may infer from brenzels failure to announce the numbers for this admissions cycle, that they are poorin relation to yale’s peer group, most of whomhave announced double digit increases for the second consecutive year. According to usnwr Yale is currently the most selective school in the nation, andhas beenfor sometime. The school can still get it’s fair share of thebest and brightest. But this can all change withcontinuing complacency from an admissions office that seems unable or unwilling to compete with it’s counterparts. Admissions trends are a leading indicator of quality, and the admissions office has to excel in the same way the rest of Yale has.

  • aluminterviewer

    I argued at the time that the total app number would eventually suffer if Yale didn’t join Princeton and Harvard in dropping its early admissions program. Not sure if this is the reason, however.

  • joey00

    Gee , i don’t know. I think Yale is a perfect place to hide some campaign finance loot..Direct from the Hill to Da Hill. It’s just getting harder to hide the true blue from pop

  • shanks

    Something tells me that Yale did not receive as big a bump in applications as some of its peers. We are all sore losers…..including the venerable head of Yale Admissions, Mr Brenzel.

  • kbajtos

    If you want a factor that demonstrates perceived prestige more accurately, look at a school’s endowment fund. Who would donate to a school that they hated? And also, schools with larger endowments are obviously producing more monetarily successful graduates.

  • aluminterviewer

    Applications to Brown were up about 3% to 31,000, after rising 20% last year.