More Ivy League Schools Drop SAT/ACT Requirement; Princeton Drops Early Admissions

Big Changes Are Happening In College Admissions

I will be updating this post periodically as many universities are making midstream changes to their application process even as application materials for the Covid year are starting to appear–like the Cornell application essays, which are up now and ready to write for this fall’s applications. Big changes have already occurred in Ivy League admissions, and more seem to be on the way.

How to Think About Optional SAT/ACT Tests

At this point, the ACT/SAT tests are optional for fall 2020 applicants to Ivy League universities. However, if you have good scores you should absolutely send them, because the bottom line is that a good number will help you get admitted. And while the language used by the schools shows that they will be looking more intensely at other parts of your record and essays to determine your academic merit, that means they have to come up with a qualitative way to match a non-test applicant against an applicant with a quantitative test score.

By default, I still have to say that gives an initial advantage to a person with a great SAT score, going head to head with a person who does not have a great SAT score. But if you have a good set of classes on your transcript and good extracurriculars, you can still compete without that test number–but it means that you need to create a winning picture on the written side of your application, in your activities descriptions and in your essays. Think great essays rather than simply good essays.

Here’s the latest update on changes in Ivy League application requirements for 2020-2021

Princeton Admissions Changes for 2020-2021

Princeton has made the biggest move in admissions among Ivy League schools as of the third week of June.

Among their changes are the expected–Princeton has announced that SAT/ACT tests are optional, which was not a big surprise–and the unexpected: Old Nassau is also dropping its early admissions option. Why?

The answer is pretty simple–it takes pressure off of both sides of the application process: high school seniors trying to juggle hybrid/online school with college admissions now have more time to deal with their application, and Princeton’s admissions people have time to organize how they will process applications while keeping their admissions people safe during the Covid pandemic.

That, and the Ivy League schools are in a slow dance, adjusting their application policies to each other–look directly below to see how universities that currently offer an early application option are beginning to hedge.

So as with the dropping of the SAT test requirement, expect more Ivies to follow Princeton’s lead by moving to a single, regular application date. This is not just herd behavior–it’s about impacts to applications: if only one school ends up keeping a particular kind of admissions policy, e.g. early action admissions, well . . . let’s just say that school will have many early admissions applications to deal with. Princeton was slow to suspend the tests for this year’s application, but now they’ve upped the ante by dropping early applications entirely for this year. That’s why I expect some of those who currently confirm at least EA apps to drop the early application in the coming weeks. I will update this post when they do.

Here is the language from Princeton:

The University will move to one application deadline of Jan. 1, 2021 for this first-year admission cycle. All applicants will apply using either the Coalition Application or Common Application through the Regular Decision process and will receive decisions on their applications by April 1, 2021. Princeton will continue to partner with QuestBridge and participate in the National College Match in December.

Harvard Admissions Changes

Speaking of schools hedging their early application language: Harvard has dropped the test requirement, and they continue to offer Early Action, but I believe they are moving toward dropping it, so be prepared. Here’s the language:

Our early action deadline remains November 1 for now. If students wish to submit standardized tests, the November tests will arrive in time for early action consideration. Because of COVID-19, we expect that fewer students will apply early this year and students should not rush to apply early if they feel they are not ready. As always, there is no advantage to applying early versus regular. (note that the bold font was added by me, for emphasis).

My main comment on that last bit, about no advantage for early application: Hahaha.

On average, the admit data shows that an early application at least doubles the rate of admissions over a regular application. Some of this has to do with the larger pool in regular admissions, but the evidence still favors early applications. Among other things, you really show that demonstrated interest by using up your early app opportunity on a school–that confirms a higher level of commitment. To see what I mean about the data, have a look at my comparison of early vs. regular admissions for last year’s application cycle: Ivy League Application Data

Yale Admissions Changes

Yale, too has dropped its SAT/ACT requirement, and has similar language to the others about not advantaging students who can supply scores. As with the other schools, I am sure they will try to read your information to accomodate the lack of test data, but I add this consideration in my comments on Yale–and this applies to all of the other Ivy League universities: when you have tens of thousands of applicants, and out of that, let’s say ten thousand of them have close to perfect GPA and great transcripts, how do you decide whom to admit? Clearly, test scores are an advantage, just because they are easy to compare.

However, do not despair; creating an exceptionally strong written side of your application will help.

Speaking of which: Yale’s application essay and supplemental writing for this year are up; I will write a post on their supplemental writing pretty soon, but in the meantime, here is the link to the prompts for 2020-2021: Yale Application Essays and Supplemental Writing.

Brown University Admissions Changes

So far Brown is keeping their early admissions, but they, too, are test-optional. Here is a key quote that adds something to consider for all of the Ivy League applications you might do:

We want to see what you have accomplished with the resources and opportunities available to you in high school, as well as evaluate your potential to thrive within the unique offerings of Brown University.

I would advise that this look at what you did with the resources and opportunitiies available to you in high school is key to all Ivy League applications this year, as they are all adjusting to the new environment, but I would add that a close reader sees that phrase “evaluate your potential to thrive . . . at Brown. They can look at how well you”thrived” in the last semester of your junior year, and over this summer, to see whether you took the initiative to get some activities going on your own, or by organizing with others, particularly in an ad hoc fashion. I mean, did you stay home and applaud protesters for peace and justice, or did you show to march or to supply water bottles or get involved in some other way? ‘Nuff said.

Cornell University Application Changes

Same story–no test requirement for 2020-2021. They are keeping their Early Decision in place, and of the Ivies, they will be among the last to drop that–if they do. They admit a large percentage under E.D. and it’s a big part of their admissions philosophy, as they seek the truly committed.

As noted in my intro to this post, they also have their supplement up and ready to go. If you did not check my analysis on that, see it here: Cornell Supplement Class of 2025.

Columbia Application Changes for 2020-2021

Columbia has also adopted a test-optional policy for this year only.

No new language has been adopted for their Early Decision applications, with the November 1 E.D. deadline still in place.

University of Pennsylvania Application Changes for 2020-2021

Same-same: SAT/ACT are optional for UPenn this year. Early Decision is still in place, and I would expect Penn to resist dropping it. E.D. is a different animal than E.A. in a number of ways. For E.D. schools, early applications play a more important, and fixed, part of the application process.

Dartmouth Application Changes for 2020-2021

And of course, Dartmouth is also test-optional in 2020-2021. Have a look at Dean Coffin’s blog–scroll down from the header photo and bio of the Dean to see his explanation and his view of the tests and the application evaluation process: Dean Coffin’s blog.

(No doubt the Dean’s surname name will inspire jokes about Dartmouth being the place that applications go to die, but of course that is actually Stanford (sub-5% admit rate, folks). The Dean seems like a pretty great guy, actually).

Early Application Advantage Continues: 2019-2020 Application Data

Early Application advantage continues for the Ivy leage and for elite private schools. The big trend for admissions to the class of 2024 for Ivy and Ivy League proxies: a drop in total applications and an increase in admissions rates. This was a marginal dip rather than a sea change, but with increases in applications and a decrease in admissions rates over most years in the last two decades, this is good news for you applicants to the Big Name Elite Colleges.

I include a table with all Ivy League results below, compared to two popular options for many Ivy League applicants–M.I.T. for you tech folks (yes, I know, they do more than STEM. But still). I also include Duke, and a look at Stanford last year-though I deal with Stanford after the data table, looking at the data we do have at this point.

This year, college application results remain a tale of data in flux even in June, as colleges respond to the C-Factor (the Covid epidemic). Covid appears to be boosting acceptance rates as colleges face more deferrals (gap year) and more students who decided to stay closer to home. Many families and students seem to be having second thoughts about paying Ivy-league level tuition for what may be a virtual or hybrid education in 2020-21.

The data I use below is mainly from mid-March, 2020 on. In addition to looking at data, you’d be wise to also know a bit about how college applications are actually evaluated. To do so, see my classic post, The Secret of College Admissions: How College Applications are Evaluated. I will be updating this for 2020 in the coming weeks, due to the major changes in use of SAT/ACT tests–I posted on this recently, and add that the University of Southern California has not also joined those schools making tests optional. This makes essays and exracurricularls even more important. See here for more on that: More Colleges Will Be Dropping the SAT Requirement.

Early vs. Regular Application Data for the Class of 2024

SchoolEarly App Accept RateRegular App Accept RateOverall Accept RateEarly Application Total/AcceptedRegular Application Total/AcceptedTotal Apps
Brown (ED)17.5%5.3%6.8%4,562/80032,232/1,73336,794
Cornell (ED)23.8%2020: N/A
2020: N/A
6,615/1,5762020: N/A
Dartmouth (ED)25.4%6.8%8.8%2,069/526
(547 w QBR*)
(R EA)
U Penn (ED)19%5.9%8%6,543/1,26935,662/2135
Ttl all apps: 32,836
Yale (EA)13.7%5.1%6.54%5,777/794
(881 w QBR*)
(/1,597 w/ early QBR; ca. 200 QBR ttl)
M.I.T. (EA)7.4%7.1%7.25%9,291/68710,784/770
Duke (ED)20.9%5.9%7.7%3,531/74136,252/2170
Early Application advantage continues

*QBR is my abbreviation for Questbridge, a national admissions program for financially disadvantaged students; some schools aggregate QBR data in their numbers; others, like Dartmouth, separate Questbridge apps. This can skew data slightly but not enough to change your basic takeaway, and where there is Questbridge data that is not aggregated, I show that, above.

Also, as noted, more schools than usual are not releasing a full data set (yet). Some are typically unforthcoming when it comes to data; as an example, Columbia is consistently chary with data (e.g. they tend not to release early application data). As for others–Cornell released early application but will not release full data until fall

Your Takeaway #1: Early Application offers an Increased Chance of Admission

When it comes to the data on applications, the lesson is consistent for years: that early application advantage continues. On average, the percentage of people admitted through early admissions is more than double that of regular admissions, in a number of cases nearly tripling the chance of admissions. Of course, this most often comes with Early Decision admits, which means you have to accept whatever financial package you are offered. This can be a big disadvantage for those of you from solidly middle class and working class backgrounds.

If you are not clear on the different early application options, please have a look at this link to my business portal: Application Jargon and What It Means

Stanford Data and Final Thoughts on the Data and on Early Admissions

Want to compare Stanford data? Good luck! Several years ago, Stanford stopped publishing early application data, at all, and delayed publishing data on the overall application results until after the full cycle was over–in other words, roughly around the holidays, months after those admitted showed up on campus. For the record. Stanford’s Common Data set shows a 4.34% overall admissions rate for fall of 2019, with 2,062 offered a seat out of 47,498 applications.

I notice that my data differs signifcantly from that provided by some of my peers/competitors. Some of this is due to dat in flux due to Covid and other factors. Numbers are changing and will be changing marginally into the fall, as all of the schools discussed in this post are busy extending additional offers from their wait lists due to deferals and declines. In one example, Brown’s regular acceptance rate was 6.8%, which I published in my chart, above, but a new number out as of June states at 6.9%. This is marginal, but that tenth of a percent means a big life change for some students who suddenly found themselves admitted. Nevertheless, when I pinged Brown for information, I could not get raw numbers, so while they may be trending upward due to as yet unquantified new admits, I am keeping the data as is in my chart.

The real questions for you are clear in the existing data, and the biggest question is whether you are interested enough in one of these private colleges to put your chips on an early application. Note that this requires a broader strategy, as a few schools allow multiple earlies, e.g., you could apply to M.I.T. and to Cal Tech as early apps. But most earlies are restricted, with the ED the most restricted of all . . .

Forunately, you have months to think about it.

Applying to College in 2019-2020: An Early Look at Early Application Data

Greetings Rising Seniors and anybody else who wants to look at which colleges are a “fit” for them.

While this post is going to take a look at some early application results for this year, first let me digress for a paragraph: the “fit” of a college–how well it matches your needs and qualifications– is a bit more like the fit of a pair of good jeans than it is s simple statistical match. The ratings you see in various services like the U.S. News don’t tell you anything about how you will feel at a particular school. Location, including weather, culture and activities are also part of the package of things to consider, along with the usual suspects, like the size of the campus, class sizes and strength of programs.

But this is still early days, and I have talked about fit elsewhere (and will again, soon), so let’s move on to some data on the more popular names–though it’s never early to try to think outside the box, as I will show.

Early Admissions for Fall of 2019 (Class of 2023):


13.9 % admitted (743 accepted out of 5,335 applicants, and you can assume that over 80% of those will accept and attend).


13.4% admitted. (935 accepted out of 6,598-and again, the yield–those who accept the admissions offer–will be in the 80% range)


13.1% admiited (794 accepted out of 6,016 early action applicants. This will also be a very high yield group, and Jeremiah Quinlan, the current Dean of Undergrad Admissions stated the 56% of those not accepted were deferred and will be reconsidered for admissions)


Has not released results. They are the most chary in providing data among the Ivy League (that New Yawk attitude, I guess) but they did say that 4,461 students applied for binding Early Decision. They won’t tell you anything about their admit rate for ED, but I do want to point out that this means hundreds more early applicants this year over last. And now let’s jump to my go-to application for the Ivies, Cornell–great offerings across the board in terms of majors and quality of programs, and still the easiest Ivy to get into:


22.6% accepted in Cornell’s Early Decision applications (1,395 admits out of 6,159 apps . . . Among other things to note, Cornell was overt in its appeal to legacy applicants, indicating that they should show their seriousness by doing an early decision app [and then pay whatever tuition package Cornell offers, as you give up your chance to wait to see what other offers might come when you apply E.D. . . Just remindin’] ).

Your Takeway

I realize that this is far from a complete review of Ivy League early app data, but it is enough to “do the math.” And the math says that you can double to nearly triple your chances with an early application of whatever kind, on a raw statistical basis.

How do I know this? From last year’s data. Look below for a more complete picture of early versus regular decision last year (meaning people who were incoming freshman last August). The reality, however, is that the raw numbers don’t say a lot about any individual’s chances of admission, and there are important “other” factors, such as . . . well that legacy leverage, indicated above in that comment from Cornell. Yes, a legacy applicant who applies early will get a boost, it’s official. Please note, Dear Reader, that I am not commenting on that in any way; I am just stating the facts, which is the only purpose of this post. I have written about this before, however, and will write about this again . . . but for now, look below and you will find last year’s early and regular application data–then do the math as you start thinking about where to apply, and where to apply early

Last year’s data (Class of 2022):

Some Ivy League examples and Stanford in 2018:

Princeton:  Early Admissions–15.4%; Regular Admissions–5.5% (6.1% last year [2017] )

Harvard:  Early Admissions–14.539%; Regular Admissions–4.59% (5.2% last year [2017] )

Yale:  Early Admissions–14.68%; Regular Admissions–6.3% (6.9% last year [2017] )

Columbia–5.5% admit rate; no data supplied for early admissions admit rate. (At least some things are consistent . . . )

UPenn–Early Admissions–18.5%; Regular Admissions–8.39% (9.15% last year)

Brown: Early Admissions–21.7%*; Regular Admissions–7.2%

Cornell:  Early Admissions–24.3%; Regular Admissions–10.3%

Dartmouth–Early Admissions–24.9%; Regular Admissions–8.7%

Saving the toughest nut for last:

Stanford;  Regular Admissions–4.3%; Stanford has not released early application information, or not released it until the following year, for some time, but about 33% of the new class was admitted early. (Again, this is last year’s data. I will update on Stanford soon, but they are becoming the Columbia of the West Coast in terms of data stinginess . . . so much for information wanting to be free.

*Oh, and The Brown early admissions asterisk for fall of 2018 entry data (class of 2022) was due to this data being released indirectly via a presentation, rather than through a press release. I updated it separately, for my clients. This is a free blog site so . . . not everything gets posted here, but I do hope you find it useful, Oh Free Public User).

Ivy League and Stanford Application Data A Look Backward to See How to Triple Your Chances for Admission in 2020

Actually, you can more than triple your chances, on a purely mathematical basis. 

But First:  Who should read this post–Anybody interested in applying to the Ivy League or to Stanford this year. 

How to read this post:  Below you will find a (long) preface that gives some context to  the data and offers and analogy for applying to the most competitive colleges–things are not necessarily what they seem.  After that is a comparison of early and regular app results for some of the Ivies and Stanford. If you hate prefaces and prefer to avoid context, then just scroll on down to the numbers. But I think you would be well advised to consider what I say in the preface before going on to the data.

Preface:  Welcome to the Casino

Most people look at college admissions data as a probabilities thing.

This is not really a good way to look at the averages offered in the various data sets, because the average applies only to any group within a data set but not necessarily to any specific person in that group–Yes, I know that this is true of any average, but the idea that somehow there is a typical college applicant makes this even more problematic. Just try to quantify the “average” set of college essays, for example– a college application is highly specific to you–or it should be.  And you are not just sitting there while somebody pulls numbers out of a hat–you are put in one of a series of hats based on data and other information, up front.

Added to that, the colleges adjust what they are looking for year-to-year and even within the same application cycle as they go.

And now add to that the fact that, with few exceptions, your application will be evaluated by a general purpose reader or committee of application officers, not by professors or people running specific majors and programs (a direct application to the U Michigan Business school would be one example of an exception to this rule, as are pretty much all graduate applications. Our focus here is on undergrads).  Your app readers will be rating your stuff against your peers, and there is a sliding scale:  Factors that are not known to you will shape the value of the elements of your application, on the margins for the most part, but this is a game of margins.  This is less true but still applies to some extent to so-called objective application schools, like the Cal State system, which “only” look at data–I have discussed this at length multiple times elsewhere.

Of course, there are probabilities to be found in the data–if you have a 3.68 unweighted G.P.A.  and are a nice person with wide interests but are not developing your grand theory to unit the physical laws of the universe and are not a heavily recruited athlete or prodigy cello player, you are not going to get into Harvard.  Period.

Other than that, the data on the most competitive schools can only tell if you have a seat at the table, not what your results will be, and  and let’s face it:  when it comes to the Ivy League and Stanford, for most of the best students, the game is more like rolling dice at a craps table than it is like playing Blackjack.

Let me explain by developing my casino analogy further:  if you are playing a card game like Blackjack,  you have a pretty decent idea of what your cards mean.  21, for example, and you probably win.  The cards are what they are, and their specific values never change.  Not so in college admissions, where perfect data may be trumped by other factors.

A college admissions portfolio, with its data, its essays, its activities and descriptions, its personal and family history, is not some set of cards randomly dealt out to you, and the payoff does not come by simply having a  an ace and a ten.  It’s true that having an unweighted 4.0 G.P.A. and perfect SAT score should get you some kind of Ivy admit, and hopefully more than one, but it’s also possible that if you took perfect numbers and applied to, say, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, that you would bust–get no admissions at all.  Yet if you get that ace and a ten in Blackjack, you have 21 and you win.

In college admissions, each of the top universities not only turn down hundreds of students with the equivalent of 21, they also accept quite a few students who have something like an 18, because there is something in the information that suggest some other value to the university.  In the case of that athlete who will looks very promising, maybe a hand of 16 is good enough. Again, I have discussed this elsewhere, but in just keeping alumni involved and happy, sports is big money to many colleges, and the return on investment an athlete can be huge–as it can for a prodigy who goes on to wealth and fame and returns some of that to a school.

What colleges are looking for–the relative value of any information in your application, the cards you bring to the table, changes not just year to year, but week to week during the application process.  Usually these changes are marginal, but if a school sees that their admitted students have been 70% female in the early applications, they will make an adjustment to get some kind of gender balance–not 50/50, but not 70/30 either.  For a coed school, that would not be a healthy balance.  So they stack the deck–in a way that, on average, is actually more fair than it might seem.

Colleges for the most part look to have some kind of balance in the community of scholars that they build with each application year.  Continuing our casino analogy for the most elite schools, the players sitting at the Blackjack table of college admissions are not coming with the same advantages, and many people build up their cards through paying for services and having access to good schools, while others just get the cards dealt to them and start with a relatively weak hand on any deal they take.

A good college app reader can see that, and they evaluate with a range of factors in mind, including the resilience and drive of a person who overcame a lot to get to that application.

Continuing my analogy, the casino owners, in this case the colleges and their admissions officers, change the value of the hand of a person who is a first-generation high-achiever as opposed to that of a high-achiever going to a good high school on the Peninsula in the Bay Area or in the Tri-Valley area (sorry to be a regionalist here, but the same applies to, say, kids in Princeton-area schools vs. Newark, etc).  This is not always a factor, but it often is.

But of the people I helped this year who got into Harvard, all had solid upper and middle-class backgrounds along with a range of accomplishments, some of which were clearly part of playing the game.  On the other hand, two years ago, I had a number who were first-gen to college and came from relatively poor backgrounds and borderline schools.  I see a lot of flux in my own clients every year, which is why you always want to tier your apps and be a bit zen about it, if you can.

This seems unfair and frustrating to many people when I explain it, but I don’t think it is, or it is at least more fair than it seems.  What is unfair is the fact that this country has by and large stopped building new universities, thus creating an inelastic supply (Econ!) and making my casino analogy apt.  And in this increasingly hyper-competitive college application game, social factors already rig college admissions long before any college application reader gets involved.  What kind of money your family has and where they are from generally  determines what kind of high school you go to and what kind of resources are available to you outside of school.  This is why housing values are so high in suburbs with good schools.

There are, of course, reasons that being in one of these excellent school districts is a huge advantage, and being able to pay your way can help at times, as well, so don’t be sorry if you are in one of these places.  But plan well, following some of the tips I offer in various posts in my blog.  Even if you have a 4.0. and perfect S.A. T.

And  if your data is on the low end of the range, you need to have something special for that doorman or bouncer or whatever image you prefer to open the door for you so you can even get a seat at the table.  If you are a rising senior, that means it’s time to start considering your essays as well as possibly retaking an SAT or ACT.

Okay, sermon over.

But please keep these things in mind when you look at the data I provide below, and build a list of colleges in which you include at least three schools in which 75% or more of the people with your data are admitted.

And let’s take a historical look; first, click this link to see the data for the class entering this August and September (Fall of 2019):

Early Admissions for the future class of 2023

Then take a look at data from the year before, below, to compare trends

Admissions Data for the Future Class of 2022

Princeton:  Early Admissions–15.4%; Regular Admissions–5.5% (6.1% last year)

Harvard:  Early Admissions–14.539%; Regular Admissions–4.59% (5.2% last year)

Yale:  Early Admissions–14.68%; Regular Admissions–6.3% (6.9% last year)

Columbia–5.5% admit rate; not data supplied for early admissions admit rate.

UPenn–Early Admissions–18.5%; Regular Admissions–8.39% (9.15% last year)

Brown: Early Admissions–21.7%*; Regular Admissions–7.2%

Cornell:  Early Admissions–24.3%; Regular Admissions–10.3%

Dartmouth–Early Admissions–24.9%; Regular Admissions–8.7%

Saving the toughest nut for last:

Stanford;  Regular Admissions–4.3%; Stanford has not released early application information, or not released it until the following year, for some time, but about 33% of the new class was admitted early.

*Oh, and The Brown early admissions asterisk is due to this data being released indirectly via a presentation, rather than through a press release.

On the face of it, it looks like you can triple your chances of admissions by applying early.  But look again at some more information–After you adjust for students already admitted in the early round, the actual admissions rate for regular-decision applications was 2.43%.  Ouch.

So if two things are true, burn an early app on one of these schools:

  1.  You know the school well and are totally committed to it. Even it they will let you look around after an early app admit, like Stanford, be committed.
  2.  Your data is in the range that suggests success (middle third or higher)

And hopefully you have a wide range of activities and can write some good essays.  I do have space for some new clients for editing, if you need help, so contact me if so:

College Application and Essay Editing Help

It it’s your turn to make a run at college this year, try to enjoy the ride, and come back soon.  I will be looking at some alternatives to the most competitive schools, starting with the unorthodox and moving to the more common.  See you soon.

The Usual Suspects: Admissions Resultsfor the Ivy League and West Coast Favorites

Who should read this article:  Anybody interested in applying to an Ivy League or U.C. school, oh yes, and Stanford.   I also include my opening discussion for the class of 2021 on brand, status and the Tesla test.

How many Teslas have you seen with college stickers on the back window?

Me neither, and I drive the highways  in the most Tesla-dense region in the country as I visit area clients.  I’ll get back to that after we get to some data, below.

So how bad was the application season?  Depends on where you applied.  Applications to the Ivies, Stanford, and some of their analogues and safety schools, which will be the topic of this post,  were very, very difficult.  Your leading example is Stanford, which dropped below a 5% admissions rate for the first time this year–and was the first university to do this. Applying to Stanford increasingly resembles playing the lottery for most applicants. Applications to hundreds of non-name brands and international options, not so much. Food for thought, and a topic I will discuss again soon.

Onward, to some of this year’s data:

University . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Number of Applicants / %Accepted*

Stanford University . . . . . . . .43,997/4.69

Harvard University . . . . . . . . .39,041/5.2%

Columbia University . . . . . . . .36,292/6.04%

Yale University . . . . . . . . . . . .31,455/6.27%

Princeton University . . . . . . . 29,303/6.46%

Duke University . . . . . . . . . . .28,600/8.7%

Brown University . . . . . . . . . . .32,380/9.0%

University of Pennsylvania  . . 39,918/9.4%

Dartmouth College . . . . . . . . . .20,675/10.525

Northwestern University . . . . .35,099/10.7%

Cornell University . . . . . . . . . .44,966/13.96%

U.C. Berkeley . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82,558 (frosh)/14.8%

U.C.L.A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97,064(frosh),119,326(ttl) No data on % yet.


Not a very friendly collection of numbers, is it?  The problem, as usual, is that classic  supply and demand equation in market theory.


Sure, there is a long-term structural problem in our economy, and yes, the elite universities offer superb educational opportunities, not to mention the prestige of an Ivy or Stanford sticker on the back windshield, and yes, your college friends can be part of a great network . . . . but the next Mark Zuckerberg is not going to come from a new social media platform at Harvard.   Sure, if you are admitted, go to Harvard (as long as the financials work).  But don’t go just to have the brand, especially if you know of a lesser place with a better deal for you, educationally and financially (is Harvard really the best place to go for software design/engineering?)

One of the most important things I do with college advising clients is help them  develop a wider list of options.  My mantra on target schools is this:  You should always have three tiers of schools in your application list, with the bottom tier being schools for whom your data puts you above the 75th percentile of admissions, the middle tier with schools for which your data makes you an “average” admit, and your reach schools making up the third tier–where your data is at 25% or below, though I add that if your data is below or near the bottom of a college’s admit data, it’s not likely to be worth the time to write the app essays, much less pay the app fee.  The chances of admission always have to be weighed against the strength of your dream, of course, and maybe that fusion reactor you are constructing in your garage will do the trick . . .

I have written about strategy and creating a good college list before, and will write about it again in relation to this year’s application season in the coming months, so look for that.

Much of the overcrowding in the world of college apps  is a result of what an economist would refer to as market distortion–in this case rooted in the growing fear many people have about their economic future and the chances for their children to have a life as prosperous as their own.  This sense of decline in economic prospects is well-documented, as is the reality that fuels these fears, and along with  a focus on a narrow range of well-known brands, you can see the  problem with the information in this particular “market.”

The brand advantage does have a real effect on income when you are first hired in a range of industries, but that effect fades quickly–mid-range income is an indicator of job performance, and job performance comes from an alloy of factors, including how good your education actually was, your motivation, and decision-making on the job.  Which brings me back to that Tesla.

I have not seen a college sticker on the back window of a Tesla.  Well, okay, I have seen a couple, but those were on the back windows of Tesla 3’s   Yep, we already have truckloads of those loose in my part of the world.  The thing about a Tesla, and a college sticker, is two-fold: first both are a statement of status.  Second, both affiliate you with a group of people.

But a Tesla is a status symbol that speaks for itself, environmentally friendly, elegant in design, superb in execution and performance . . . and the one person I currently know who is driving a Tesla Model S went to Humboldt State University (not the Humboldt U in Germany–the Cal State in Northern California, an area more known for certain herbal products than tech).  This person started as an art major, moved to graphic arts and from there focused more and more on Computers . . . and now runs his own medium-sized digital arts company now–a success story showing the power of education and curiosity.

The car he owns because, a, he likes it, and b, he thinks that environmentalism can only succeed if it is not just moral but enjoyable.  His mid-career income is excellent, he loves what he is doing, and he came out of a college that does not get much notice even as a regional school–ranked only 57th as a regional university (West) by U.S. News and World Report.  Something to keep in mind as you churn through rankings and discard schools that are not getting brand recognition.







College Admissions Data for 2013: A Look at Yield and Some Sympathy for the Devil

For many years, yield was vital to college rankings.   Universities tried not only to attract far more qualified applicants than they could possibly admit, they also tried to get a very high yield.  From the point of view of applicants, this was, well, a bit devilish.  The universities, of course, have a different point of view, and it’s worth considering their perspective as you begin the process of applying.

For those of you who are not up on the inside game of college admissions and its terminology (yet), yield is the  number of admitted students who then also actually enroll in the school instead of, say, turning down the school to enroll in their “other” first choice.  Yield was for many years important due to the U.S. News and World Report’s use of yield in its rankings of colleges, a practice they gave up years back. But yield remains, as a kind of ghost hanging around the theatre of college applications, influencing the general perception about how in demand a college is.  The psychology is not so dissimilar to that of the fashion industry in some ways, if you step back and squint your eyes a bit—or maybe not.  Too scary to visualize.

In any case,   universities today still  share their yield info with applicants; those universities with high yields share the information as a sales point (simply everybody, or at least  a supermajority of our admits wants to go to our school, etc.) and the others share presumably either so they won’t seem like they have something to hide or because they really are perfectly fine accepting students who were ranked in a top decile but who were not in the tiny cohort of the  top 1 to 3% of those who actually gain admissions to an elite Ivy or Stanford.

As a side note, for those of you who are already feeling the butterflies as you consider the odds of getting into, say, Princeton or Stanford, look:  You will find a surprising number of really excellent schools that accept the top 10-15% of students, and many people in fact get a great education for less debt at public schools with even “lower” standards.  Some of these less competitive schools have specific programs that compete with anybody.  Once you look beyond the same 10-15 schools that everybody else knows about and wants to apply to, you can find all kinds of hidden gems.  So breathe deep and relax as I present the admissions facts as they are, and I will, in upcoming posts, also help you look outside the envelope everybody else is staring into, including looking at cheaper and less well-known but still excellent domestic options, as well as looking outside the country. If you can expand your horizon beyond the same 12-15 schools everyone else is applying to, you can find some real gems, colleges that may suit you and your needs better than many marquee universities.

With this preamble, let’s first take a look at the data I gathered on some of the most competitive colleges in the United States—yes, these are some of the schools everybody has heard of:

Three-Year Yield Data on Über-Competitve schools

Brown2013 (class of 2017): 59.9% ;  2012:ca 57%; 2011 55.8% (None from wait list this year)

Columbia2013 (class of 2017): 61%; 2012: 61%; 2011: 61% (Very consistent to 2008, which was 60%)

Dartmouth–2013 (class of 2017): 48.5%; 2012: 49.5%; 2011: 52%

Harvard2013 (class of 2017): 82%; 2012: 80.2%; 2011: ca 77% (46 from wait list this year)

Princeton2013 (class of 2017): 68.7%; 2012 66.7%; 2011: 56.99% (Princeton Admissions Page stats claim 65% for 2012/2016 class; this appears to be an inaccurate early number)

Stanford2013 (class of 2017): 76.7%; 2012 72.84%; 2011: 70.05%

University of Chicago2013 (class of 2017): 54.98%: 2012: 47%; 2011: 39.88%

UPenn-2013 (class of 2017): 64.25%; 2012: 64.88%; 2011: 62.92%

Yale2013 (class of 2017): Yield not available as of 6/19; 2012: 68.4%; 2011: 65.2%

Compare the yield rates for the elite schools, above, with the overall category averages below, which come from the most recent NACAC (National Association of College and Career Counselors) report, with data up through 2011; these are averages for the entire public/private categories:

Yield Rates for Public and Private 4-Year Colleges


































The story that my data on the super selective schools and the data in this categorical chart tells  is clear:  the most elite schools have been pretty well sheltered from the big drop in yields in recent years, but many others have been, therefore, disproportionately affected.

Why?  Well, demand, largely.  And the demand is driven by certain realities—the famous profs, the famous alums, the data they issue about how smart their applicants are, the data about how few of those applicants they let in, the data about how high their yield rate is of those they did admit . . . oh, wait, it looks like we are discussing, well, marketing, and therefore, Dear Applicant, we are discussing you. Or your perceptions both personally and aggregated with your peers across the country and world.  Take your pick.

As you consider your own perceptions, we should also consider the plight of that demonic realm known as the Admissions Department. You might want to cue some Rolling Stones (Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste) as you think about those dark empires into which all your personal information will disappear, leaving you to wait for months to find out if you are one of the blessed or one of the damned when the envelopes are mailed or the e-mails sent next spring.  But here’s the thing:  they have problems, too.

You are in a race to be admitted; they are in a contest to improve their rankings, or if they are near the top, to maintain their position.   Changes in college rankings mean big money and can make or break campuses and careers.   In some cases,  the suffering of admissions deans may even surpass that of those applying.   A large part of a dean’s problem is hitting the sweet spot where most of those admitted actually attend.  All heck can break loose if 400 extra freshmen admits appear who weren’t expected.

Yes, screwing up on your yield can wreak some serious havoc, with 18-year olds sleeping on cots in hallways, irate parents calling,  news vans prowling campus.   Worse even than that  is a big drop in yield,  when dorm rooms are empty because the admissions people didn’t get enough new faces to show up.  Instead of simply bad PR, which they can deal with, they lose real money and their prestige takes a hit.  That’s a scary, nay a terrifying thing for university administrators, even with the economy appearing to recover. Have a little compassion for those admissions types who are not really devils anyhow.  They are your fellows in the suffering created by our crazy college applications market.

And here is one more thing to consider:  You will do a better job at creating a strategy for college admissions if you better understand the problems facing your admissions officers, because you will also know more about your own  challenges when you apply.  And when you turn to writing your application essays, your audience should be one of your first considerations.

Of course, in the long run, the more of you who do a better job understanding those problems, the (paradoxically) larger problems those same admissions officers will face, at least in the long run.  For one thing, you  will follow my advice and continue to apply to more schools, and you will also continue to demonstrate more interest in more schools, using persistence and discipline to evade their attempts to measure just how committed you are as they, for their part,  try to get more apps, admit fewer people and have a higher yield.

With that, let’s say the game is afoot, and may the best applicants win.  Read my earlier post on how applications are evaluated while you start to plan your moves, and I will have more about all this strategy stuff in later posts. Speaking of which, some of these posts will be protected and you will need to pay me a very small subscription fee for full access to all my posts on my private blog.  Contact me at for more information.  See you soon.