What's Up with College Yield Rates?

Yield rates—the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll—are important indicators to college enrollment officers as they help schools predict new student enrollment each year. After a long and steady decline in yield rates, the average seems to be stabilizing. But let’s take a look inside the numbers—and what we can do about them.

Reports from the National Association for College Admission Counseling show a slight increase (.5%) in the average yield rates for Fall 2014, following a 12% decline since 2002. Those numbers are leveling out, thanks to new groups of students: transfers and internationals.

Here’s a summary of the yield rate numbers for Fall 2014:

  • First-Time Freshmen: 29%
  • Transfer Students: 55%
  • International Students: 52%

According to The Washington Post writer Jeffrey Selingo, the primary reason for the years-long decrease in yield rates is that students are applying to more colleges. The proportion of college freshmen who applied to seven or more colleges, he reports, reached 36 percent in 2015, up from 17 percent a decade ago, and from just 9 percent in 1990.

In this new landscape of greater choice, how can we increase those bottom-line numbers of accepted students who actually enroll?

Diversify your pool of applicants. We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: Increase your outreach to minority groups, international students, and transfer students.

Win them early. If students fall in love with your school before they have a chance to apply to three or four—or ten—other schools, you have a better chance of gaining their loyalty. 

Set yourself apart. The University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, has tripled enrollment in the last decade and is now the ninth-fastest-growing private college in the country. The secret, according to an interview in The Washington Post, is not simply to race to where there are large numbers of students. Scott Steinberg, the university’s dean of admissions, says, “Everyone follows that playbook, so we needed to be unique in other ways.”

What unique factors give your school an edge over others where your prospective students are applying? Interview groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Ask them about why they chose your school, and why they stayed. Look for common themes in their responses to understand the heart of your school’s distinctiveness. Then tell your story well.


National Association for College Admission Counseling (2015). 2015 State of College Admission. www.nacacnet.org.

Selingo, Jeffrey. The Washington Post. “Small colleges fight to survive, amid warnings of shaky finances.” www.washingtonpost.com.

Selingo, Jeffrey. The Washington Post. “How much longer will students be willing to go away to college?” www.washingtonpost.com.