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Yield Protection: How We Got Here

The surprising deferrals began two or three years ago. Why would the student with a weighted 3.7 GPA and a 25 ACT gain acceptance to a competitive college while one from the same high school with a GPA of 4.2 and ACT score of 32 be denied? This year, students with 4.5 GPAs and 1500 SAT scores are being deferred by many colleges. What’s driving this trend?

  • A long term issue: the declining birth rate:

Even before the pandemic rocked the economy, college enrollment managers worried about the declining number of high school students. (See statistics below.) A lower birth rate means fewer applicants over time. For years, colleges have invested in new science buildings, gyms, dorms, and other amenities to attract students--especially those who can afford to pay. However, the financial health of colleges, especially those heavily subsidized by state and federal funds, has been shaken by the impact of the pandemic. Colleges need to attract and admit students who absolutely want to enroll.

  • Shouldn’t admissions rates rise if there are fewer students?

In any year, many qualified students apply to the same highly selective institutions--it is impossible for these schools to admit them all. But the number of applications soared once most colleges waived the requirement of standardized test scores.

  • The role of test optional policies

While the policy is fair to students who had no opportunity to test because of cancellations, cost, or other hardships, it tempted others to apply to a greater number of colleges “just to see what happens.”

  • The application surplus is largely at selective institutions

It generally comes from strong students whose families have planned to pay for college, some even without financial aid assistance. Test-optional policies spurred a huge increase in ED applications. While many families had positive financial outcomes in 2020, applications to community colleges and state systems like SUNY and CalState have severely dropped because COVID-19 has hit lower income students and families the hardest, healthwise and financially.

  • Are deferrals about time?

Colleges--especially those with highly competitive admissions--are inundated with more applications, with and without test scores, than ever (covered in a December blog post). Many EA notifications were delayed from mid-December to January or February this year. Adding so many deferrals to the RD pool means that admissions offices will likely be swamped until April.

  • Maybe, but deferrals are really about yield protection

Colleges are holding off on admitting the strongest students who may be offered admissions elsewhere. That is nothing new, but those students had a better chance of being admitted in the past. If the institutional goal is predicting the highest possible yield, it’s a safer bet to admit students who meet the college’s academic standards, or are slightly below them, but do not exceed them. Even wealthy schools with large endowments want assurance that they will yield the students they admit.

It’s wonderful to witness happy students quickly committing to their dream colleges. But it’s also heartbreaking to see so many high-performing students deferred from a large percentage of colleges on their lists. I look forward to getting ecstatic texts, emails, and calls when the next round of notifications is released in the spring.

“American women, for example, are now projected to have about 1.71 children over their lifetimes – down 1% from 2018 and below the rate of 2.1 needed to exactly replace a generation. "The (total fertility) rate has generally been below replacement since 1971 and consistently below replacement since 2007," the report says.


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