College Admission- What the Funnel?!

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If we received over 5,000 applications, how did we not end up enrolling over 1,000 students this year? 

Wait. You are telling me we are a public college, and we get more applications from outside of our state than from residents within it? 

I am deeply concerned. We admitted 12,000 students this year, but we only want a class of 2500! What have you done?!  

What the Funnel?!  

I get it. Often, press releases focus on the number of applications a college receives or on their overall admit rate. Both of those inputs are deeply important to the enrollment story of an institution, but on their own, they are incomplete at best, and dangerously misleading at worst.  

So, in hopes of bringing some clarity to the overall equation and helping keep numbers in perspective when you see just one or two featured on social media or in an admission presentation, I’m proud to present… THE FUNNEL (The admission/enrollment funnel that is… because you know when we are talking about college and funnels, it’s important to distinguish…anyway, here you go.) 

Welcome to Example College

Last year you were hired as the new dean of admission (Congrats!). Just before you arrived the president and board here at EXAMPLE COLLEGE set a Fall 2022 class goal of 2,022. They thought it would be cute and catchy, but the bottom line is they set the operating budget, residence hall renovations, number of class sections, and faculty hiring with the assumption you will deliver 2,022 smiling, selfie-taking, smoothie-drinking new EXAMPLES next fall so they can passionately cheer on the Fighting Ex’s in their home opener against cross-town rival Sample University (“SU! SU! SU!”) 

Over the course of the last few months, you have great work recruiting, enhancing virtual tours and campus visits, sending out glossy brochures and postcards with EXAMPLE students lounging on the quad or standing on high places abroad pondering life’s mysteries. By January you and your team have brought in a total of 20,220 applications. That’s a lot (Not UCLA-a-lot, nor Sir Mix-a lot, but generally college admission-a-lot).    

Ok. This is where confusion related to applications vs. admits vs. deposits vs. enrolled begins. And here is how it sounds from an EXAMPLE alum at a holiday party. “Oh, my goodness (G-version), I would never have gotten in these days. 2,022 spots and 20,220 apps!  

Dean (That’s you): Yes. (Backpedaling, sweating, and stammering) I mean, not that you wouldn’t have gotten in, but YES, you have those two data points correct. However, I can hear in your voice you think we are only going to admit 2,022 of our applicants. And, WTF?!…   

See back in your Ex Ample Labs, your highly caffeinated team of analysts has been looking over EXAMPLE’s historical Yield Rate (number or percentage of students who say YES to an offer of admission).  

Predicting yield allows you to determine how many students you need to admit, i.e. your Admit Rate (number or percentage of students admitted from those who apply). 

After thrice replacing the calculator batteries, they’ve determined EXAMPLE’s yield rate is close to the national average of 35% (Although, in reality, not all students yield at the same rate. For instance, at Georgia Tech students from our state yield at approximately 68%, whereas non-residents typically yield closer to 30%).  

If Example College only admits 2,022 (10%) students, and they yield at 35%, the new class would be 708~. Great for faculty: student ratio. Great for social distancing. Not great for the EXAMPLE’s bottom line, nor for you Dean, as evidenced by the moving boxes and pink slip which would quickly arrive in your office.  So…What the Funnel?! 

Therefore, EXAMPLE will need to admit 5780 students to hit the 2,022 target. Admit Rate= 28.6%~ 

But wait, there’s more (or less, actually).

Dean, I hate to tell you this, but some of those kids who tell you they’re coming…yea, they won’t.  

This is where in the summer you will go to your waitlist to admit a few more students, in order to account for the final piece of the admission funnel—Melt Rate (number/percentage of deposited or confirmed students do not ultimately enroll). See, even after students hold their spot with a deposit or intent to enroll form, even after they apply for housing or attend registration, even after they post to Instagram and buy the hoodie, some do not show up. This occurs for a variety of reasons– they come off the waitlist somewhere else; they get cold feet about going so far from home (or staying to close to it); they break up with their boyfriend and no longer want to attend the same school, and the list goes on.  

Like yield rates, Melt Rate also varies based on distance from the college, socio-economic status, left handers versus right handers, eye color, and music preferences (the percentage of aforementioned factors which were fabricated is called the BS Rate). Colleges build all of this into their models. At Georgia Tech, we lose about 2% of our students from Georgia post-deposit, 8% non-Georgia, and 15% international (again, there is variation by specific state and nation).  

If EXAMPLE College has an overall melt rate of 5%, how many total deposits would they need to hit their target? 

A: 6000 

B: 2022 

C: 2128 

D: I was told there would be no math in these blogs. 

E: The Answer is always C  (especially when it is so specific)  


What does this mean for you? First, you now have a limited-edition decoder to the esoteric language of admission-speak.  

Second, you have an opportunity to ask some very astute questions to admission folks this year.  

What was your admit rate last year?  

Has that been increasing or decreasing? And why? 

How did your admit rate vary between Early Decision (ED) and Regular Decision (RD)?  

Are you saying you have an ED problem? 

Is your institution planning to have a class the same size as last year or larger? And why?  

What do you think this year’s class goal will mean for the number of admits or yield based on students from my (state, major, insert your demographic of interest here)? 

How many students came off your waitlist last year (or over the last few years) and when does waitlist activity typically occur?  

Love the funnel? You can dig in more by Googling “School Name + Common Data Set” and scrolling to Section C.   

Hopefully, this information will help you join the fight against misinformation and confusion when you hear someone throw out an admit rate or an application total as the complete story of any institution. Because, you know what? The Funnel!    

Launching Your College Application

This week we welcome the Director of Communications for Enrollment Management, Becky Tankersley, to the blog. 

In early September, you may have noticed a change in Georgia Tech’s Undergraduate Admission website. After (many!) months of talking, planning, building, and testing, the new admission website was ready for action!

From a user’s perspective, the new website simply appeared one day. But from a development perspective, the site came to fruition after more than a year of research, planning, testing, and development.

As the launch date approached, Rick noted, “You know, I bet there’s a blog you could write about that.” As I reflected on the process and the outcome, I can see the parallels between launching a website and launching a college application. Neither process happens quickly… yet each ultimately comes to life with a quick click of a button.

As you work to prepare to launch your college applications, here are a few tips on how to plan ahead for success.

Build your team.

Website creation involves a lot of communication, and a tight-knit team to make it happen. Our team includes a Web Developer (with knowledge in coding, servers, and security); a Marketing Specialist (who researched analytics and organized content based on user navigation and data); and a Graphic Designer (who creates imagery and ensures we’re in line with brand standards). My job was to keep us all organized, creating timelines and paving the path forward through conversations with all the other people invested in the project (including admission leadership, Institute Communications, and web hosting).

Each role is different, yet each is critical to the ultimate outcome of the project.

Your action item:

Who is on your team? This is likely your first (and perhaps only) time going through the college application process. It’s critical to have a close team around you to help along the way. Your team may include a parent/guardian, high school counselor, and another trusted adult like a teacher or coach.

Talk with your team, listen to their guidance, and lean on their experience as you go through the process. Most important, be sure this is a team you can trust. There will be moments when you can’t lean on your own knowledge to find a solution, so be sure you have a good team to support you through the process.

Do your research.

Building a website isn’t as simple as creating content and hitting “upload.” We first did our research. We talked with admission leadership about what they wanted in their new website. We talked with Tech’s web team to learn about differences in platforms and servers. We did a deep dive into data, using analytics to learn which pages were used often and which ones weren’t. This data also enabled us see user paths, revealing areas where users were getting lost when trying to navigate from one point on the site to another. We completed a competitor review to determine the best practices in our industry and see what else we could implement (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?).

Your action item:

We’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again: do your research before submitting a college application! Here are a few places to begin:

  • Dive into data. Explore the Common Data Set (CDS) for the schools on your list. The CDS allows you to look at public historical information, providing insight, perspective, and trends by looking at multiple years. Check out our previous blog on how to analyze this data on your own.
  • Review mission statements. University mission statements aren’t just flowery verbiage to put on the “about us” page. Mission statements (and strategic plans), drive institutions toward their enrollment goals. Institutional missions matter, so review these statements to ensure your values align with the values of the colleges where you apply.
  • Understand application plans. Early action? Early decision? Regular decision? Rolling admission? Application plans vary from college to college. Check out our podcast for insight into how these plans work.
  • Know the outcomes. Some admission decisions are simply “admit” or “deny.” But in many cases, it isn’t that clear cut. Understand the variety of admission decisions you may receive from each school on your list. For example, Tech admits first-year students to both the fall and the summer terms, yet each year we talk to students are caught off guard. Doing your research now can save confusion down the road.

Create a plan.

When you’re on the cusp of a huge project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder how you’ll get from Point A to Point B (much less Points C, D, or E). Before starting the work, first create a plan—and begin with the end in mind.

We knew the admission site needed to launch the first week of September. Once we identified the completion date, we created deadlines for our tasks and goals. We then shared that timeline with other groups who would play a role in the site launch. Creating a plan made it simpler to stay on target and keep everyone on the same page.

Your action item:

Look at your research (you didn’t skip that step, right?) and write down all of your application deadlines and due dates. You may need to add in additional dates, such as when to take the SAT or ACT, or when a recommendation is due. Put these dates on your calendar, and just as important, make sure your team has those dates as well!

Don’t allow a lack of planning on your part to create stress and panic for someone else in your circle. Mistakes do happen, but if you fail to meet a deadline because you a) didn’t plan for it, or b) didn’t tell someone else about it, then that responsibility falls on you.

Check Your Progress

Once the plan was in motion, our team met on a weekly basis to check in on our progress. Each week we had new action items to complete in order to keep the project on track. Inevitably, we came across unexpected (and unplanned!) challenges. Weekly meetings enabled us to address problems and/or issues quickly, as well as keep each other accountable on our progress.

Your action item:

Schedule regular check-ins with your team to make sure you’re all on track. There may be times you need to meet more, or less, often, so adjust accordingly.

Inside tip: As you get ready to hit “submit,” be sure you aren’t doing so at the last possible minute! As application deadlines approach, we see a tremendous increase in website traffic along with phone call and email volume from panicked students. Even if you do everything right on your end, expect the unexpected! Real-life examples (that, yes, I have actually seen happen!) include power outages, Common App glitches, internet issues, natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes or wildfires), and unexpected sinus infections that keep you stuck in bed for a day or two.

Take our advice: don’t wait until the last minute!

Follow up.

The morning of the site launch, our web developer did some coding magic and poof! The new admission website was live. But, was the project really complete? No!

Once the site was live there was a list of follow up items to complete, such as addressing 404 errors, helping people find new links, updating email templates, and notifying our division, campus partners, and campus communicators that the site launched and to update their information accordingly.

When a project is nearing completion, I can hear the voice of one of my mentors in my head: “What does ‘done’ really mean, Becky?” It makes me think twice before declaring a project complete, as there are always a handful of follow up items to address.

Your action item:

“What does ‘done’ really mean, (insert your name here)?” Although you may have hit “submit,” you’re not really done!

Access your applicant portals once you have access to do so. Check your email for any messages regarding your application (and READ them)! Allow time for all of your documents to find their way to your application, and monitor your applicant portal for updates. In some cases, an application that is marked as “complete” is later marked “incomplete” if an application reviewer determines more information is needed. Check out my previous blog for tips on what to do while you wait for your admission decision.

Lastly, once you’ve hit submit, celebrate! It sounds cheesy, but take a moment to reflect upon the goal you just accomplished. Applying to college is no small feat—well done! And be sure you to let your team know you’ve submitted your applications, too. Better yet, let them know by saying THANK YOU.

After all, it’s a team effort!

How Does the Admission Review Timeline Work?

This week we welcome Assistant Director of Digital Media, Samantha Rose-Sinclair to the blog. Welcome back, Sammy!

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Have you ever wondered how the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade works? Or how sneezing works? What about the Manhattan Grid? One of my favorite podcasts (besides ours, cough cough) has got you covered. Stuff You Should Know indulges your curiosities about the stuff you didn’t know that you didn’t know. But, in over 1600 episodes, it seems there’s one question they still haven’t answered:

How does the college admission review timeline really work?

To be fair, that’s probably far too specific of a question for Josh and Chuck to answer. Luckily, I know a guy who knows a guy who met someone once that can answer it instead. (It’s me. I’m that someone.)

You may be curious “what’s actually going to happen with my application?” and then later wonder “what’s taking so dang long?!” Sure, submitting a college application can feel like shouting into a void, or putting something into a black box and waiting to see what comes out the other side. The truth is that “black box” of admission review is a highly coordinated and active effort among admission reviewers. So, while I can throw some advice at you to “keep perspective and live in the now!” or “control what you can control!” or any other number of bumper sticker slogans, I also get that some may find comfort peeking into that black box.

Disclaimer: While there is a fair amount of similarity in holistic admission practices between schools, there are also many logistical differences. Different schedules, admission team sizes, application pools, and different priorities… you get the idea. For that reason, we’ll primarily speak for ourselves here and use Georgia Tech as an example.

Initial Review

After your application and required documents have been received and matched in admission databases, your file is complete and ready to review. You’ll see plenty of variability here. Most colleges group their application reviews either by geographic area or by academic colleges, some have team based initial reviews, while others have individual counselors perform a full initial review. Regardless, this all takes time.

In our office, the majority of time (roughly two-thirds) between an application deadline and decision notification is spent on this initial, in-depth reviews of files. However, there’s not an absolute goal for files per day, or minutes per file. Last year, our team fluctuated anywhere between 500-1,300 combined files reviewed in a day. (The varying schedules of our part-time readers also contribute to that fluctuation.)

Our admission office utilizes the team-based approach mentioned above. Prior to Covid we used something called Committee Based Evaluation, but given our readers’ variations in schedules due to the pandemic, we moved to a Linear Application Review Process.

Yes, we call it LARP. No, not that kind of LARP.

This is the same collaborative approach, shifted to a sequential instead of synchronous process. Some of the team members are reviewers who are familiar with the applicant’s geographic region and can contribute knowledge of the territory and the school to the review. (This is where it becomes especially helpful to review all complete applicants from the same school at once!) In addition, the applicant will receive a review from another reader who specializes in reviewing the content of the application: honors, activities, essays, and so on. The combination of those reviews will give a sense of the student, their environment, and their fit to the Institution.


In some admission review processes, it’s clear within first review whether applicants are a fit or not, and applicants will come out of those first reviews with a preliminary admission decision. For other offices, they’ll review some students again, or all students again, in committee once they’ve completed a critical mass of first reviews and have a better understanding of the pool.

My understanding of admission committee growing up was based entirely on a scene out of Legally Blonde: a dozen men in blazers in a dark room with furrowed brows and rejection stamps in their hands. Rest assured this is not reality, especially in virtual environments last year where committee review took place at home on a video call and with a blanket, my cat, and (ideally) Cheez-its.

In committee, admission counselors have conversations about the initial reviews on the files, discussions around shaping the class, and exchanges on how applicants may fit with the institution and its priorities. Admission counselors may also receive feedback from their school’s administration, deans, and stakeholders about priorities and enrollment targets/goals for that year.

In our case, the territory manager will remain in these conversations, along with other staff members who can provide new and additional perspectives to the review of the application. Last year we spent about two weeks in committee per application round, give or take a few days depending on the volume of applicants. Our team utilizes a lot of smaller committees, while you’ll find that other schools may use one or two larger committees. For our process, this means that every member of our small committees (2-3 people each) has a voice and a role in the conversation. It also means that while we’ll come pretty close to our final decisions, there are a lot of decisions happening in several committees at once, and we won’t hit the exact number of students we intend to give admission offers. Therefore, the last week or two prior to decisions being released is spent making final adjustments.

So now you know!

That’s the black box. Why does it take so long?

  • It takes several months to have thorough, purposeful conversations thousands of times over. There’s no Excel formula, magic eight ball, roll of the dice, or throwing darts at applications to see who we land on, which is for the best. My dart throwing skills are abysmal.
  • We’re shaping a class: At selective institutions using holistic review, we can’t make one student’s decision and then immediately spit it back out. It takes months of adjustments while reviewing the whole pool to come to our collective final decisions. That means that no single applicant’s decision is ready until they’re all ready.

Again, admission review is similar in many aspects from school to school, but it can also vary in many ways. As you read colleges’ websites and attend information sessions or talk to their admission counselors, you can likely get some insight into those differences. And as always, ask questions!