What Is Yield? Inside the College Admissions Process


Ever wonder why, really WHY, admissions does what it does? How does the admissions process work? Here’s some insider info: The admissions office lives for one point between April 1st and May 1st, and that magical time is called “yield.”

I’ve worked in college admissions for 20 years, ranging from a small private institution to a large public state university. The process is surprisingly similar at most schools. While April is a very exciting time of year for the high school seniors who have finished applications and received decisions, it is an excruciatingly painful month of waiting and crossing fingers for college admission officers. Your March pain is their April pain. May 1st, a.k.a. national college decision day, is the day they know whether or not they’ve done their job right for the past year.

How Many Offers to Make Yield?!

Ultimately, a college admissions office has one job: to enroll the right number of students. To do that, most college admissions offices mail out at least two times the number of offers of admission they need in order to enroll that target number of freshmen.

RELATED: Why Turning Down Your Acceptance Offer Won’t Get Your Friend Off the Waitlist

For example, if Dreamschool University wants to enroll 500 freshmen in August, there’s a solid chance they extended an offer of admission to at least 1000 students who applied. They know not everyone will accept the offer. Trust me, colleges have years of historical data to help inform the math behind exactly how many offers of admission to make in order to end up with (hopefully) something close to the 500 students they want to enroll.

I, personally, did this math for over a decade and while it’s surprisingly informative, it’s not precise. And this is why April can be so unnerving for anyone who works in college admissions.

We’re All Awake

Predictive modeling doesn’t always account perfectly for the decision processes of 17-year-olds! Go figure! You could easily land 10% above or 10% below your target. This may not sound like much, but fluctuations of that size can have enormous implications for colleges. They rely on consistency to plan housing, professors, dining capacity, and a steady stream of tuition money to pay bills.

It’s that “yield” number that keeps them up at night. A missed yield can result in headaches across campus, bad PR, and a fluctuation in that data I mentioned. No matter what, though, come May 1st, there’s an official number (and honestly that number can go down as people change their minds and withdraw too).

So as you’re considering what college to attend, keep in mind that the sleepless nights aren’t just a student experience. Counselors are right there with you. And for them, it’ll happen again next year!


Smart College Visit’s college admissions expert Kelly Rawlings has over 20 years experience in higher ed admissions for both small private colleges and large public universities. During her career, she’s done it all, from the high school visit road warrior, to serving on admissions review committees making the tough decisions, to managing complex enrollment and recruitment planning. Before that, she was a private high school college counselor and a high school English teacher. Kelly earned a B.A. from the College of William & Mary, an MBA from Virginia Tech in Business Administration, and is working on her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. A native Virginian, she lives in Christiansburg, VA with her husband and two energetic boys. Kelly enjoys nothing more than getting away from the computer screens for some forest therapy.

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