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
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,
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
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.