Some Colleges Turn Away Top Applicants to Boost Rankings

When it comes to college admissions, some superior students face rejection from less competitive schools. But higher education leaders in North Carolina question whether or not the practice is widespread.

According to a May 29 Wall Street Journal article, “more and more colleges, particularly those considered just below elite status, reject students they consider overqualified, consigning to their waiting lists those applicants whom they suspect will snub them for a better offer.” College guidebooks, bond-rating agencies, and prospective faculty and administrators increasingly use yield and acceptance rates to rank schools, the article states. And universities increasingly use it to boost their popularity and reputation.

The article goes on to list examples of students accepted to Ivy League schools, but denied admissions to less competitive schools. It also gives examples of ways that schools use yield rates.

Some of the examples:

– Emory University in Atlanta, which is considered by many as a safety school for would-be Ivy Leaguers, has boosted its yield to 33 percent from 23 percent a decade ago by favoring strong applicants who make the most contacts with the school.

– Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania offers spots on a priority waiting list to students who pay a $400 deposit. Ninety-five percent of the students on that list (57 out of 60 students) accept offers of admission.

– Connecticut College accepted only 18 percent of students who made no contact with the school other than their applications, compared with a 34 percent acceptance rate overall. It boosted its yield rate from 28 percent in 1995 to 34 percent in 2000 as a result.

“I think the article is accurate in reporting examples of schools that rely on yield rate and I think that colleges are increasingly using it,” said Jerry Lucido, associate provost and director of admissions for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But the majority of schools don’t do this. I think the public has to take with a grain of skepticism some of these practices and realize that many of them are done for marketing advantages rather than for the pure soundness of educational decisions.”

“The yield rate is extraordinarily important in our admissions picture,” said Susan Klopman, Dean of Admissions and Financial Planning at Elon College (now Elon University) in North Carolina. “A school has a statistical history of how many students should be accepted to bring in the size class that they want. All of us have to base filling our class on a statistical history.”

For fall 2001, 350 students applied for early decision to Elon University out of a total applicant pool of 5,385 students. Of those 350 students, 263 were accepted and 245 of those will attend Elon this fall. Approximately 21 percent of Elon’s freshman class will be early decision students.

But Klopman said a school’s goal of boosting yield rates should not precede its mission to admit the most qualified students. “We do ask students what other schools they are applying to. But we only use that information to find out more about our competition,” she said. “It is somewhat discouraging to me that some of these admissions practices are put forth as standards of practice used by all admissions offices.”

“Anytime you have a personal selection process that takes into account more than just objective data, then you will always find some students with strong objective data not being admitted over students with weaker objective data,” said Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s director of admissions. “However, it is hard to draw conclusions based on these facts. We all want students who are interested in coming to us. That interest plays itself out differently at different institutions.