August 15, 2007

College admission yields: Is the fix in?

The two key numbers in the college admissions prestige game are selectivity and yield. For example, Harvard only accepts about 10% of all applicants, and about 80% of them choose to go to Harvard.

Some specialty schools have very high yields without having very high selectivity, such as BYU and the Citadel military, but mostly selectivity and yields are closely related (inversely).

Here's a 2006 article from the Stanford Daily with some more numbers on yield:


Though still a long way from Harvard’s 80 percent, Stanford’s yield rate increased to a respectable 69 percent this year, up from 67 percent last year, according to Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid. The number increased to approximately 88 percent for students who attended Admit Weekend or applied under the single-choice early action program.

The yield rate is the percentage of Stanford’s 2,430 admits that chose to join the University’s Class of 2010. The admission rate this year was the lowest ever, with less than eleven percent of applicants admitted. The yield rate is also among Stanford’s highest, surpassing Shaw’s expected 68 percent.

Shaw characterized this year’s yield rate as “very high and probably among the top five yields in the country for selective private universities.” Yale’s yield rate is expected to be 73 percent, while
Princeton’s is 69 percent.

Two years ago, the Office of Undergraduate Admission released statistics showing that 28 percent of students that declined Stanford chose Harvard instead, followed by 20 percent choosing Yale, 13 percent choosing MIT and 8 percent choosing Princeton; 31 percent of students chose other schools. ...

In trying to increase its yield rate, one initiative that the Stanford Admission Office instituted this year and will expand next year is the Likely Admit Program, which reaches out to the “most extraordinary” students early, before the regular review mailing date. These students received a letter in January and follow-up calls from Stanford faculty. This year, there were 61 “Super-star Academic Likelies” and 60 “Multicultural Likelies.”


What strikes me is that these are awfully high yields. I would guess that the typical student who applies to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford also applies to two of the three other big four colleges. And yet they have an average yield of between 70%-75%, rather than the 33% that would be the maximum possible if the average successful Big 4 applicant applied to three of those schools and was accepted by all of them. And, 44% of those turning down Stanford are picking a non-Big 4 school, so the expected yield in this (unrealistic) model would be more like 20-25% of those accepted by all the Big 4's.

So, why are the yields so high?

Certainly, Early Decison, where students are allowed to apply to only one college in the fall in return for promising to enroll if accepted, boosts the yields.

And, perhaps, the average number of Big 4 schools applied to is less than three. Maybe students still believe the old counselors' tale about applying to just one or two "stretch" schools.

Another factor is clearly that schools disagree on who to admit, with students being accepted by, say, Harvard and Stanford, while being turned down by Yale and
Princeton or vice-versa. The renorming of the SAT in 1995 to make it easier to score 800 on the Verbal SAT means that colleges can't rank order the superstars as accurately anymore. I recall reading a People magazine article about boys who scored 1600 on the SAT one year in the early 1990s: there were only 9 in the whole country. Perhaps the elite colleges supported making the SAT easier in order to diminish competition amongst themselves?

And that leads to the suspicion that the fix might be in. It would make sense for the inner circle of cool colleges to boost their yields, and thus ensure their continued inner-circleness, by agreeing not to accept each other's, say, top 200 favorites.

This would sound beyond belief, except that the Ivies, plus MIT and 14 other fancy colleges used to (and for all I know may still do) get together in a hotel room each year and fix prices by agreeing on the maximum financial aid offer they would offer to "overlap" admittees. It was a shameless cartel. The Ivies agreed to give it up in 1991, but MIT fought in court, and the Clinton Administration caved in to MIT on the grounds that, hey, they were a college, and colleges are not evil corporations; colleges are above all that sort of thing.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

And that is how top-5 colleges can boast that they rejected 20%, 30% even 40% of students who scored 1600 on SAT due to lack of leadership, color, extra-C activities, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

In 1997, Stanford offered admission to 607 early decision candidates (362 1st round + 245 2nd round). Assuming that the vast majority of these committed to Stanford in the process, that means about 37% of the 1,607 students in the class of 2001 were probably guaranteed to boost yield. (For the 2010 class, the number was 852 early decisions accepted out of 2,430 total or 35%)

Assuming the other 63% apply to the HYP along with Stanford, a candidate accepted at one is accepted at all institutions (Scenario A) and each institution equally draws 1 in 4 applicants, Stanford’s yield becomes a mix of 37% @ 100% yield and 63% @ 25% yield for an aggregate yield of 52.75%. (I’m sure someone will check my late night numbers)

If the candidate is accepted to only 3 of the 4 institutions (Scenario B), the numbers become 37% @ 100% yield and 63% @ 33-1/3% yield for an aggregate yield of 58%. If the candidate is accepted to only 2 of the 4 institutions (Scenario C), you get 37% @ 100% and 63% @ 50% yield or 68.5% aggregate yield.

Scenario C seems the most likely, so I have a hard time understanding how the yields come out as Harvard 80%, Yale 73%, Princeton 69% and Stanford 69%. The only way these numbers work is if the vast majority of accepted students only apply to one of these colleges which seems unlikely as the average number of college applications has risen, it’s become harder to win acceptance at any single institution, Harvard has eliminated early decision and Stanford/Yale moved to a non-binding early action so there is no penalty for multiple applications to these schools.

FYI, Medical School admissions offices purportedly share a database that allows them to see if and where candidates have been offered interviews and been admitted before they decide if they will make an offer.

- JAN

ReticentMan said...

So basically, if you're an elite student, you SHOULD only apply to your favorite 1 or 2 top schools, because if you apply to all of them, they may get together and decide for you which one you're going to, and your actual first choice may reject you on the basis of collusion, not merit.

Awesome.

Zach said...

It could mean that the acceptance policy is mostly arbitrary (as you mentioned). Therefore, since they all have high selectivity, they all take a different 10% (with only a bit of overlap). This doesn't have to be because of a fix, but because of different groups applying (about half of Stanford students come from California, far more than Harvard). Add to that the legacy factor, where sons and daughters of alumns get favored (but only to their parents alma mater) and the fact that many who like Yale won't even apply to MIT and vice versa, you can see that the direct competition is reduced.

Anonymous said...

I don't care. Who wants to study at these moronic PC institutions anyway?

I'm doing a mechanical engineering degree as a part-time student at the Technical University of Dresden (Germany). For EUR 125 per semester. And the entrance requirements were not that high. But the technical level of the teaching and the exams are higher than the US. How do I know? I studied in the US. This is an old institution which kept high technical levels throughout communism. Now it is an elite University with generous state funding for hightech research. But any normal guy can study there if you work hard and have enough brains. Without all the fuss and theatrics of the Ivy League. World class technical knowledge in beautiful old buildings for 125 bucks per Semester. In a place where many of the foundations for machine technology and thermodynamics were laid.

Anonymous said...

I got fed up years ago with hearing about the college admissions race, with its irritating and shallow emphasis on big names and reputations; these days I put it in roughly the same category as the news stories about shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Sorry, but I just don't remember it being SUCH A BIG DEAL as recently as the late 1970s, when I was deciding what the hell I wanted to do with my life (I'm still open to suggestions). After matriculating for a couple of years in a JC and later a CSU campus (which actually had the highest quality teaching, IMO), I applied and was accepted to UC Berkeley -- the only UC school I applied to -- even though I never thought of myself as special in any way, and certainly never got overwrought about the whole college admissions thing. I feel sorry for kids and parents these days -- it must be hard to keep in mind that what you learn and how you use that knowledge is more important (at least it's supposed to be) than where you eat lousy dorm food and have to put up with crap roommates.

eh

Anonymous said...

One data point: I applied to Stanford (and was admitted) but did not apply to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

Anyway, I doubt that the top schools collude on who to accept and who to reject. It would be illegal and there would be a serious risk of being caught. At least 2 people from each school would have to be involved in such an anti-trust conspiracy and there would have to be substantial documentation.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Harvard and Princeton have ended their early decision programs:

http://www.yaleherald.com/article.php?Article=5149

assetmgmt said...

Just off the top of my head, aren't you overlooking kids who were accepted but choose not to go because of financial reasons, or whatever? I'll bet the number of students who apply with the hope of being able to say they were accepted by Harvard, while really lacking the means to matriculate, is not insignificant.

steve said...

See link below for more systematic study of "revealed preferences" in college admissions.

It's a bit out of date -- 2004 -- but you get the idea. Many schools (not Harvard, though) inflate their yield numbers using early admission. The study linked to actually shows Princeton managing its yield -- probability of admission there did *not* rise monotonically with SAT score!

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2004/10/revealed-preferences-and-college.html

..."revealed preferences" paper on college rankings, in which the rankings are based on decisions of students admitted to multiple schools (e.g., Harvard beats Brown if an applicant is admitted to both but chooses to enroll at Harvard). They consider each decision as a "match" (as in chess) between pairs of schools, and use the mathematically sophisticated Elo system (invented by a physicist and used in chess) to determine a ranking. These revealed preference rankings are at odds with the U.S. News results in interesting ways.

Harvard is number one by a big margin - no surprise given its 70% admissions yield. The authors list Yale, Stanford and Caltech as the rest of the top four, although if you look carefully at their regional data it seems clear that Caltech is number two (their admissions yield is around 50% and no other schools do much better than 30%).

Anonymous said...

If I remember well, The Bell Curve claimed that top 10 colleges/universities eat up 80-90% of top 1% SAT scorers. So the systems seems to be working quite well...

Peter said...

Just off the top of my head, aren't you overlooking kids who were accepted but choose not to go because of financial reasons, or whatever?

Especially in the case of Stanford. UC Berkeley is not too far away, is much cheaper for state residents, and has almost as good a reputation.

Anonymous said...

My Mom worked as a secretary in the admissions office of Yale back in the 60's, and I remember her telling me about just this process - all the Ivy admissions officers would get together, and figure out who needed what (a quarterback here, a violinist there...), do a little horsetrading, and send out the acceptance letters. It was like the major league draft, but without the draftees knowing about the process...

AllanF said...

Another I've wondered for some time is what is the penalty for applying with early-exclusive admit to multiple colleges? How do they know students aren't cheating? What stops someone from using aliases to avoid detection?

AllanF said...

Here's a Dateline NBC show that will never air: an expose' on elite college admissions.

Methodology: create two dozen phatom kids with identical GPA's, identical extra-curricular activities, and near perfect SAT scores. Have half the students apply to a single "stretch school" while the other half apply to all of them. See who gets in and who doesn't. Does any pattern emerge or is it essentially a lottery.

Then again, an iconoclastic grad student could do essentially the same for his thesis by interviewing a couple hundred or so college freshman admits. See what kind of pattern emerges.

One could even make a book out of it. Steve, you were saying you needed a pop-science book idea. Here's your chance! Ivy Admisssions for Dummies: A statistical regression analysis of who gets in and who doesn't. Might need to work on that title though.

Update: since writing the above I read the paper Steve Hsu links to. Seems my suggestion of interviewing admits was already thought of. Though they need to "pop" it up and make it more prescriptive in nature for high-school students about to apply to colleges if they want to make any money off a book.

ricpic said...

There's no way out of the fact that more and more we'll be governed by the super bright, which to me is a tragedy. Experience has taught me that you're better off, on average, under those who have been banged around a bit by life: less arrogant, less manipulative and less likely to systematically lie to the peasantry. Instead we'll get more and more of the arrogant shits who already dominate the public square.

Zach said...

I applied to Harvard, early admission and got waitlisted then denied. I applied to Stanford but not to Yale or Princeton (I did apply to MIT but never did the interview). I got into Stanford (this was in the early 1990s). I didn't apply to Berkeley. In fact, the four of us from my high school who got into Stanford didn't even apply to Berkeley and at least one of the four who got into Berkeley didn't apply to Stanford. Yes, they are close, but there is a rivalry among students and alums (if both your parents graduated from Cal (not unusual in the Bay Area) it is seen as betrayal to apply to Stanford for undergrad). Plus, one is a very big state school, with a liberal "groovy" reputation in a gritty urban area. The other is a small private school with a lot of rural character (it is still called "The Farm" and a boring town next to it. I guess what I am saying is that there are other factors than prestige that go into applying to a school, so there aren't as many people who apply to the top 5 schools as you would think.
I also would like to concur with the last commentator. I didn't work very hard to get to Stanford and neither did most of my peers. We were all just freaking smart. I do think that we will soon see what happens when the cognitive elites take power. As The Bell Curve suggests, this is slowly happening now because it was only in the 1960s that the elite schools became so selective based on intelligence, rather than class. Bush and Kerry are the last of their generation to be able to get into a top 5 school without stellar grades and scores. Either we will stop having politicians with Harvard backgrounds or our politicians will have high IQs. I am not sure that the second option is better than the first.

Mark said...

There's no way out of the fact that more and more we'll be governed by the super bright... - ricpic

Which is why Al Gore and John Kerry were our last two presidents.

I agree with you that being ruled by the superbright is not a good thing. Can anyone this side of Manhattan honest-to-God say they'd want a 100 Chuck Schumer's in the US Senate?

The superbright may perform brilliantly an all kinds of tests, but they also have a way of revealing how much disrespect they have for mere hoi polloi.

The bigger problem isn't that the superbright and superrich are winning elections, but that they're pulling all the strings and financing the campaigns. This morning's USA Today noted that of all the money raised in prediential campaigns the first half of 2007, $4.5 million came from one zip code alone - 10021.

Martin said...

"

There's no way out of the fact that more and more we'll be governed by the super bright, which to me is a tragedy. Experience has taught me that you're better off, on average, under those who have been banged around a bit by life: less arrogant, less manipulative and less likely to systematically lie to the peasantry. Instead we'll get more and more of the arrogant shits who already dominate the public square.

By ricpic, at 8/16/2007 3:13 PM"

Too true. Smarter is not necessarily better in public life. Among the smarter presidents of the last 50 years were Nixon, Carter, and Clinton. More middling intellects included Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan. A pattern begins to emerge (G.W. Bush seems to be an outlier - arrogant and not so bright, a bad combination).

I don't want dummies running the government, but I certainly wouldn't want to put super-smart people in positions of authority over me either.

dearieme said...

If Bush II is "not so bright", so is Kennedy, ho was careless enough to leave a measured IQ on record.

Jedster said...

I applied to Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Swarthmore, and Brown. Only Princeton rejected me. I went to Yale.

There's a lot of things that go into the admissions process that are unfair, whether or not this is one of them.

For example, several kids in my HS were legacies at Harvard and Yale and got in at least in part because of their family money.

On the other hand, I'm sure their family money helped me get financial aid, without which I could not have attended.

Regardless, I doubt the particular fix you allege is taking place. If you combine the math of the 2nd poster with the reality that there is probably not a huge amount of stanford/harvard overlap with the fact that legacy students tend to apply to only ONE school because they KNOW they will be accepted (and being rejected from another school while getting into their legacy would be humiliating) the math probably makes sense.

Mark said...

Either we will stop having politicians with Harvard backgrounds or our politicians will have high IQs. I am not sure that the second option is better than the first.

Mitt Romney went to BYU. John McCain went to Annapolis. Giuliani went to Manhattan College. Clinton went to Wellesley. Obama went to Occidental then transferred to Columbia.

I am, of course, focusing on the undergrad portions of their education, but the point is obvious: our current crop of presidential candidates didn't even attend Ivy's, for the most part.

I don't think there's any indication that they will be more likely to do so in the future. In fact I'm guessing that the opposite will happen: more and more we'll see politicians who attended good but non-Ivy League schools. One reason is that Ivy's are increasingly dominated by Asians, Jews, and foreigners. The other is that the democratization of information has made people even more aware of the growing gap between the middle class and the way that some politicians live.

Ivy League grads may pulling the strings, but they won't be winning the elections.

Mark said...

The bigger problem isn't that the superbright and superrich are winning elections, but that they're pulling all the strings and financing the campaigns.

I'd add to this that the real problem in politics is where the money comes from, and that problem is driven by inequality. Conservatives don't like to think about inequality because that's what socialists used to obsess about. Instead, conservatives like to think that it's OK if the rich get rich ten times faster than the middle class so long as the middle class is getting richer.

Inequality may not matter when it comes to buying cell phones, computers, TVs, clothes and other non-durables, but when it comes to the biggest expenses most people have - homes, taxes, college education, fuel, etc. - relative wealth matters an awful lot. It also matters a helluva lot when it comes to campaign contributions.

High home prices, staggering middle class wages, and rising oil prices don't bode well for the American middle class.

RobertHume said...

Anonymous wrote:
"If I remember well, The Bell Curve claimed that top 10 colleges/universities eat up 80-90% of top 1% SAT scorers. So the systems seems to be working quite well..."

I looked at the Bell Curve. The only relevant data I saw was on pages 37-43.

They found that the 10 best colleges, as measured by the number of over-700 Verbal SAT students they had. Had 31% of all such students.

So it's more like 31%, not 99%

RobertHume said...

Let's work those last two paragraphs over:

-------------
They found that the 10 best colleges, as measured by the number of over-700 Verbal SAT students enrolled, had 31% of all such students.

So it's more like 31%, not 80-90%
------------

Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I maintain that simplest reform would be to force all colleges to reveal the complete range of SATs of all accepted and enrolled students. That's it. Let the schools do whatever they want, but make everything transparent.

The greatest shenanigans are in the bottom 25% of the pool. Combine that with the dumbing down of the SATs and the elites get credit BOTH for having high averages AND for AA diversity.

In contrast, schools like Caltech that practice no AA and have bottom 25% students that would be >= the middle of Harvard's class get no brownie points.

So we get a self-reinforcing policy whereby a brilliant top half, with a weaker bottom half, plus grade inflation leads to greater yield in the Ivies than tough schools with real standards and no debasement of the curriculum. It also makes it hard for up and coming schools to improve their rep by toughening their standards. They need to simultaneously make it desirable for the best to attend, and part of that project means making it easier for them to get good grades after being admitted.

Anonymous said...

Today Ivy League enrollment is roughly 1/3 Asian, 1/3 Jewish and 10 percent "other minority". Therefore non-Jewish whites are vastly under-represented.

So, let's get it straight. Whites have the ability to conceptualize an advanced society (of which Harvard and the Ivy League are a proxy), and then also do the very hard work of actually bringing the society into existence, and then also perform the raising up of the society to unparalleled heights.

But then whites don't have the talent to fully participate in that developed society.

What a riddle. Or, more accurately, what mischief.

Here's a prediction based on the inconvenient historical record: after these alien "cognitive elites" snuff out the genius that was the United States of America and, of course, the rest of the West, and after their stewardship leaves these lands dysfunctional to the point of plunging the world into a new dark age -- after all of that takes place it will only be a society where whites once again fully participate that re-lights the lamp of the world.

Mark said...

Today Ivy League enrollment is roughly 1/3 Asian, 1/3 Jewish and 10 percent "other minority".

I don't know about your exact numbers, but they seem to roughly be right. Which raises a question: if admittance were by SAT scores alone, and not by the ridiculous method being used that allows for all sorts of tampering by admission officers to get a group that reflects their ideological prejudices, would the Ivies be more or less non-Jewish white?

Anonymous said...

"if admittance were by SAT scores alone, and not by the ridiculous method being used that allows for all sorts of tampering by admission officers to get a group that reflects their ideological prejudices, would the Ivies be more or less non-Jewish white?"

See Daniel Golden's The Price of Admission.

Most slots reserved for affirmative action or legacy admits would go to Asians, who currently are held to higher admission standards by the Ivies. (Like Jews in the past.)

Schools with strictly meritocratic admissions policies (UC's, Caltech) have much higher Asian populations than the Ivies (50% for top UC campuses, like UCLA and Berkeley).

Anonymous said...

Having sat in on admissions at an elite school, the answer is probably "Slightly less white and a lot less brown and black." The role of legacies and elite sports (polo, crew, even wrestling) is such that lots of WASPS and WASP-lites are waved in [Read Daniel Golden on this]. The big, big winners would be Asians of Chinese, Korean, Indian, or Japanese descent.

Mark said...

Schools with strictly meritocratic admissions policies (UC's, Caltech) have much higher Asian populations than the Ivies (50% for top UC campuses, like UCLA and Berkeley).

Yes, but UCLA, Berkeley, and CalTech are all either public California schools or schools near large populations of Asians. Would the extremes seen in California be the same at private schools in New England?

Anonymous said...

"Yes, but UCLA, Berkeley, and CalTech are all either public California schools or schools near large populations of Asians. Would the extremes seen in California be the same at private schools in New England?"

Yes, because the top Ivies and MIT draw from a self-selected pool of applicants. While they get more applicants from the NE, there is still a large Asian contingent. I believe the Princeton study from a few years ago showed that based on pure meritocracy the number of non-hispanic whites would stay about the same and Asians would gain a lot of places.

SFG said...

Dunno if the superbright really do such an awful job. Nixon might have been corrupt but he (mostly) got us out of Vietnam. Clinton liked blowjobs but we had quite a few years of prosperity and no idiot wars. And Bush is dumb but also incompetent.

Reagan was dumb but a good president. Bush Sr. was reasonably bright and I thought did a pretty good job. LBJ wasn't that bright and did a lousy job. JFK wasn't that bright and wasn't that good. Ike wasn't a genius, but he wasn't as dumb as everyone thinks, and he did a good job.
Seems like a tossup to me.

You might be right that the Ivy League elite tends to be more pro-immigration and less compassionate towards the middle and lower classes. But was the New England WASP elite that preceded them much better? They may have been more anti-immigration (though New England now is the most liberal part of the country), but I still don't think they were any better for the commoners; they presided over the Gilded Age and the 1920s, after all.

FDR was liberal and an aristocratic WASP, but I don't think you guys are too fond of him.

Anonymous said...

I think people need to understand “merit” in the different ways various college and the power interests they represent. Elite universities like HYP and Stanford are seeking to strengthen their powerbase and reputations by fighting over admits that represent the future masters of the universe. Raw IQ, tests scores/GPA are not a great proxy to identify these types of college applicants. In fact, it has often been suggested informally that IQ anti-correlates with real world success/power as you get several SD out from the mean where most HYP admits would be if it was heavily used for admit decision.

Parental socioeconomic background is perhaps the best predictor of success despite the the John E. DuPonts of the world. Thus we have status-climbing schools like Duke that have actively gone out recruiting the scions of the rich and powerful who don’t quite have the academic chops to even to make it in under the legacy systems of HYP. As a result, we’ve seen Duke’s status and endowment relatively quickly rise in the static world of academic rankings and other universities adjust their strategies accordingly where possible.

I recall hearing a story about a Harvard administrator repulsed at the idea of becoming more “merit” based as suggested here (e.g. IQ, SAT, etc) – this was precisely the kind of criteria that does not a Harvard Men™ define. Lower tier universities and colleges and are probably less averse to relying on IQ, SAT and GPA to enroll and graduate more future doctors, lawyers, MBAs and other upper-level functionaries of society. Certainly, specifically charted science/tech places like MIT successfully use this type of “merit” to rank admits, but they occupy a specific niche market working for different ends.

Steve, it sounds like you have children who are approaching college age. My advice, forget about worrying about SATs and GPAs. Instead, start your own hedge fund or become a famous thought leader among the elites with your next groundbreaking book on IQ/race ;)

Finally, as the wealth gap between the true elites and everyone else widens even more, I suspect you’ll see a lot of these families passing through more idyllic and better teaching institutions like small liberal arts schools. Who needs the bother when you’re an untouchable and have multiple future tracks already greased for you? Yes the fix is in, but if you were in or unduly profited from the existing elite farm system would you design it any differently?

- JAN

Anonymous said...

Don't waste your time and money on the prestige schools, kiddies. They offer an inferior education at an inflated price. Choose a small to medium liberal arts university with real professors teaching the classes and not over-worked, English-challenged TAs! Graduate school is another matter: go prestige if you can.

SFG said...

Iffy. Certainly for law or medicine the grad school matters more than the undergrad, but it can be hard to get into a good grad school from a no-name undergrad. It can be done, but by definition most people are average and need all the help they can get.

Also note that in business, where you work after college, you can't get a job on, say, Wall Street without an Ivy League degree.