visiting colleges

Do the college admissions and financial aid processes have you feeling a bit helpless?  Does it seem that your child’s college career, future earnings potential, and overall happiness in life is left to the random whims of inscrutable admissions and financial aid officers?

Surprise!  You may have more power than you think.

As your child is competing with thousands of other students to be admitted to the college of his or her choice, colleges are also competing amongst themselves to attract your child.

The New York Times recently published a preliminary report on this admissions season’s yield numbers at several dozen popular colleges.  Though not a commonly known or discussed statistic among applicants and their parents, the annual yield is an incredibly significant number to colleges and their admissions offices. 

A college’s yield refers to the percentage of accepted applicants who actually choose to enroll at that particular college.  Other factors being equal, the higher the yield, the more appealing a college is perceived to be.  As yield numbers rise, so does that college’s ranking on the various lists of the “top colleges” studied by high school students and their parents.  Theoretically, a stronger yield leads to a higher ranking, which leads to a larger and better quality applicant pool, which leads to greater admissions selectivity and higher average test scores, which leads to even higher rankings, etc., etc.  The college’s student body quality, prestige, and revenue stream are all intimately related to its yield.

Though colleges know they’ll never achieve 100 percent yield, the goal is for a greater percentage of their accepted applicants to enroll every year, thus increasing their yield number.

What does this mean for you?  If a college accepts your child, they have a vested interest in seeing him or her enroll.  That puts you in a strong position for negotiating scholarship offers.  If you let a college know that you received a better offer elsewhere and that a small increase in funding will greatly increase your child’s chances of enrolling, you may see an enhancement to the school’s initial offer.  Of course, your negotiation is more likely to be successful at colleges with lower yields or yields on a downward trend than at schools with already high or increasing yields—think Dickinson (25 percent yield) or Holy Cross (31 percent yield), as opposed to Harvard (82 percent yield) or Stanford (77 percent yield).  Even the most elite universities, however, are very aware of their numbers and rankings in comparison to their chief competitors, so if you can demonstrate to Yale, for example, that Princeton provided you with a higher need-based financial aid offer, Yale may be willing to re-run its calculations to see if it can match Princeton’s offer.

Bottom line: don’t accept a college’s first offer. It never hurts to ask for a better deal, and understanding concepts like yield can help you negotiate the best offer possible.



Written by Shannon Vasconcelos
Shannon Vasconcelos is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Tufts University and Boston University. Visit our website to learn more about Shannon Vasconcelos.