Listen to “Predicting Yield in 2021 – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.
“$10 says he shorts it.” Just one of the countless quotable lines in the must– watch classic, Oceans 11.
After assembling the perfect crew, stealing a massive explosive device, falsifying identities, and recreating identical vaults, the heist of three Las Vegas’ casinos comes down to the ability of Yen (Shaobo Qin) to pull off a 10-foot backflip and land squarely on top of a cabinet inside a heavily protected vault that contains $160 million.
As the other members of Danny Oceans’ team watch from their secure location, Frank (Bernie Mac), says, “$10 says he shorts it.” While several of the crew jumped in to not only take the bet but raise the stakes during the simulated heist in their workshop, when it comes down to the real thing, they quickly and nervously reply, “No bet.”
If he misses, alarms will sound, guards will show up, and disaster is imminent. After all the planning, pouring over details, considering scenarios, deliberating, discussing, and ad nauseum scrutiny and analysis, success ultimately hinges on a single leap. Welcome to college admission in 2021!
Right now, admission and enrollment leaders around the country are obsessing over the models they developed to predict student “yield” behavior. They are looking back at pre-pandemic information and weighing that against 2020, in addition to praying more, sleeping less, and stretching out to make the “leap.”
Will students be willing to travel as far from home given the uncertainty of fall course delivery being in person?
Will international students be able to physically get to the U.S., whether as a result of visa issuance or travel restrictions?
Will test optional admits yield differently than their historical model predicts?
How will females from the northeast admitted to the sciences yield?
Some of the colleges that have garnered headlines in recent months for shattering application records are perhaps the most disconcerted. They know that while Common App data indicates the number of applications submitted increased by 500,000+, unique applicants (students using the platform) only increased by 80,000. While that’s not nothing, it’s also important to note that 40 new schools began accepting the Common App this year, including several big public schools that historically receive tens of thousands of applications. Translation: the average number of applications students submitted is what really increased. So, while app counts may please the Board of Trustees in the winter, what really matters is the fall census.
And that leads us to yield. What do the next few months hold on converting students? Obviously, the easy/classic admission answer is, “it depends.” Granted, that is true, but I’m not going to do you like that. At the risk of being wrong or even “right-ish”, my prediction is everyone shorts it… just at different times and for different reasons.
At the more selective colleges (especially that incredibly small number meeting 100% of need without loans): Yield will likely remain relatively consistent. However, since those are also colleges counting beds and heads to a very precise number, and they are also the ones who saw larger gap year requests, you should count on them intentionally coming in short of their class target and working their waitlist extensively.
Applications up, raw number of admits flat or negligibly up, sizeable raw number added to the waitlist. When you have more money in your endowment than there is in the vault, the game is to slowly walk over and climb up, rather than risk flipping over (or out as the case may be). If that’s too much of a mixed metaphor it goes like this: more students waitlisted but likely a higher percentage of the class filled from it over a longer period of time, i.e., activity beginning pre-May 1 and continuing deep into the summer.
At colleges and universities (primarily national publics) announcing an increase in their class size: If you have applied to a school in this category, it will be interesting to watch how those increases factor into admit and yield rates.
My prediction is these schools see flat or slightly higher in-state yield, and slightly lower non-resident/ international yield, due again to financial, health, and mobility impacts of the pandemic. I anticipate these schools will also build a bigger waitlist than last year, in case they misjudge the vault flip.
Here’s how it looks at Tech: We received about 4,400 more applications than last year. However, we are also increasing our class size by 150. Last year’s yield was nearly 70% for in-state and closer to 30% for non-Georgia. So, our model calls for admitting nearly 1,000 more students through EA, RD, and waitlist. Ultimately, due to the 11% app increase, our admit rate would move +/- >1%. Told you—there is nuance in the numbers.
At less selective colleges (private and public): I expect many/most to miss their class goal by their deposit deadline, be that May 1 or June 1. Since higher education is an ecosystem, the dominos will start to fall as selective schools go to their waitlists, which will create even more problems for colleges already “hearing alarm bells in the vault.” Last year undergraduate enrollment was down 4% with first-year enrollment down double-digits. Expect to see a big swath of higher ed again come in short of their enrollment goals this fall for both new and returning students.
In rare cases: yield could increase unexpectedly, and in combination with more admits, they could end up like Yen in Ocean’s 11 sliding over the cabinet. However, higher anticipated summer melt should keep them off the vault floor, so I don’t foresee any/many stories like those out of Virginia Tech in 2019.
1- If you applied to a handful of selective colleges, don’t be surprised if you get waitlisted this year. If you are so angry that you want to write them off, don’t accept your spot on the waitlist. If you can put your ego aside and temper expectations (since hundreds, or possibly thousands of other kids are also on the waitlist), deposit elsewhere and sit tight. Don’t expect to come off the waitlist, and don’t expect much financial aid if you do. In some cases, you will be pleasantly surprised on one or both counts. But set your expectations based on fiscal reality and statistics.
2- When you get accepted (or if you already have been) ask your questions. Colleges need students, now more than ever. Yield is what it’s all about and you are precious to the places that offered you a spot. Want to know about a deposit extension? Gap year policies? Financial aid reconsideration? Fall plans for course delivery? It’s all on the table, so ASK YOUR QUESTIONS!
3– I could add something else here for symmetry but that’s really all I’ve got. Hang in there. Be safe, wear a mask, take care of the folks around you, and as always, Hug your mama!