Top Colleges – Waitlists, Acceptance Rates and Yields

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about my daughter’s experience with getting waitlisted by The University of Chicago.  You can read it here, The Pros and Cons of Being Waitlisted.  I want to circle back to the waitlist topic in light of a recent post on “The New York Times, The Choice” blog, Colleges Report 2013 Admission Yields and Wait-List Offers.  I am using their data.  As I reported in my earlier post about waitlists, colleges are experiencing record yields and record numbers of applications.

Higher Yields + Higher Applications = Fewer  Students Accepted

Let’s look at a couple of colleges in-depth, starting with UChicago.  The acceptance rate for the class of 2017 was 8.8% – over 30,000 application received and 2,690 students accepted.  The yield rate (number of accepted students who enroll) was a record 54.98%.  UChicago lowered their admittance rate in anticipation of higher yield this year after what happened last year.  They had a record yield then and had to crowd students in for housing.  So they admitted 674 fewer students this year, in hopes of easing the overcrowding.  UChicago is apparently doing a great job of attracting more students to attend – yield increased almost 7% from the class of 2015 to the class of 2016 and almost 9% from the class of 2016 to the class of 2017.  It appears that UChicago will not admit anyone off of the waitlist because they already have more than enough acceptances to fill the class.

Princeton also had a record yield for the class of 2017, 9% higher than the class of 2015.  They also had their lowest acceptance rate ever, 7.29% of the 26,498 applicants.  Princeton reports that they plan to accept students off the waitlist, but they have not disclosed how many.  Comparing their numbers from last year, they should have room for a handful of students.

What’s the Deal With the Waitlists?

The waitlists serve as a “hedge your bet” for the schools.  If they guess to low on their yields, they can always admit students from the waitlists.  These low acceptance rates and record yields mean “out of luck” for most students who are waitlisted.  Only 31 schools on the New York Times list reported their waitlisting numbers.  The number of students put on the waitlists ranged from zero t0 5053.  Out of the 31 schools, only 15 reported that they were admitting students off of the waitlist.  The numbers admitted ranged from 8 to 100.  Most of the waitlist yields (number of students accepted off the waitlist divided by the number waitlisted) for these 15 schools ranged from less than 1% up to 5%.  The combined waitlist yield of the 31 schools was 1.2%.  Those are some really low odds of getting in!

What does all this acceptance rate, yield and waitlist data mean to you as a parent with a child soon to apply for college?

  • Have your child apply to a wide range of schools.  The chances of getting accepted at the most competitive schools are lower than ever.
  • Anticipate that this trend of record numbers will continue.  With the wide use of the Common App, students are applying to more colleges.
  • Encourage your child not to be set on one “dream school.”  The reality is that top students are not getting into their dream schools in this ultra-competitive environment.
  • If your child does get waitlisted, have a serious discussion about whether to remain on the list.  The chance of getting in are so low that it is rarely worth hoping.  Plus, if you need merit or need-based aid, you should not expect to receive any in this scenario (you can be pleasantly surprised if you do!).
  • One thing I didn’t talk about above, but is important to know, is that a higher number of acceptances usually come from Early Decision candidates.  Early Decision usually locks the student into accepting an admission offer if one is received.  This doesn’t work well for everyone.  If you are counting on financial aid to afford the school and you don’t have a good idea of whether the school will offer enough, Early Decision probably isn’t the right choice.
  • Remind your child that what you do while you’re there is more important than where you go!




Chuck Self · June 2, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I especially agree with Wendy that high school students should consider a wide range of schools. They should especially consider regional, small, liberal arts schools. These colleges may not always be the most “selective” but they provide a high quality education that is communal (not competitive) in nature with the chance for significant scholarships given their growing endowments.

Also, Wendy’s last comment is very true. Although there are times when recruiters and business acquaintances wish to know where I received my bachelor degree (a large, state university), I am most known by my University of Chicago graduate degree. I got to Chicago because of the successes during my undergraduate years.

John Decker · June 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm

This is an interesting article. I hope more scholarships are being given out to students they they have more opportunities. I am very proud of the New Jersey school system and how more kids are being accepted into colleges in New Jersey. New Jersey colleges are being added on to these lists more and more every year.

Comments are closed.