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Is Dartmouth “Hot”? What This Year’s High Admissions Yield Really Means

The below boast from messages sent by Alumni Councillors to their constituents is not based on the fact that our total applications dropped by 3.2% this year, but rather on the unexpected event that, according to the College press release, “61 percent [1,279 students] of the students who were admitted to the Class of 2021 have accepted the College’s offer of admission, a significant increase over recent years”:

Hanlon Hot.jpg

The College is touting this figure as a vote of confidence in the Hanlon administration.

But hold on. Is that what a high yield means? Actually, it could. If we and the other Ivies were to accept all of the same students, and if a large number of those students chose to come to Hanover, we would be justifiably proud.

But this was not an election among equal parties. Rather, what really happened is that the Admissions department under new Dean Lee Coffin focussed specifically on upping our yield, and as the saying might go, when a high yield is the goal, you will get a high yield.

Let’s look at what changed this year. As readers will recall, the idea of yield has been made significant by its place in the U.S. News ranking calculations. The statistic has come to have a life all of its own.

First off, we don’t have any legacy statistics for the incoming Class of 2021, but accepting more children of alumni will definitely juice your yield (and increase income, too). The number of legacies has been rising for several decades. I’d wager that even more got in this year:

Legacy admits history.jpg

More to the point, the College keeps upping the number of Early Decision admits, first as an absolute number (from 494 to 555 — a 12.3% increase, the highest level ever):

Thumbnail image for Early Decision Admits 2006-2021.jpg

And also as a percentage of the incoming class. We are doing so at a quicker pace than the other Ivies. In less than a decade we’ve gone from one of the lowest users of ED (excluding HYP) to the second-highest in the Ivies — beaten out only by Penn. Are you proud of that development?:

Thumbnail image for Early Decision Ivy League Admissions Stats1.jpg

The yield for ED applicants is about 96%.

Of the students left to come in via the regular pool, don’t forget that of students admitted in April, about 75 each year are recruited athletes (a little less than double that number come in ED) — and they will all show up, having been promised admissions by their teams many months previously.

But still, why the increase in the overall yield in this year? The College’s press release on the yield jump touts the success of the revamped Dimensions program, but it ignored this year’s big change to the application process, one that takes place well before students show up in Hanover for Dimensions. The D’s reporter ferreted out the new tactic in an interview with Admssions head Lee Coffin. Good work Alex Fredman ‘20. Coffin told him that there is now a Dartmouth-specific question on the Common App:

Common App Dartmouth Question.jpg

What a great way to filter out applicants who aren’t seriously interested in the College, people who don’t do enough research to answer the above questions with sufficient specificity. Now Admissions can more reliably identify kids who want to come to the College. By accepting them, we can be assured of high yield figures.

However this device will also serve to deter brilliant kids from applying and being accepted to Dartmouth — for example, ones who really want to go to Harvard. But what if they don’t get into Harvard? Do we still want a shot at them? I’d say yes, but we won’t get that chance with a Common App question that prevents brilliant students, ones who are not initially interested in coming to Hanover, from applying to Dartmouth.

Is this a good thing? Perhaps? The strategy probably does not lead to us admitting the best quality students, but it does give us a better chance of snagging people who really want to come here. These folks know the College’s reputation, good and bad, and they probably want to participate in the old traditions. Given the bad odor that has come to surround the school — Phil, we are decidedly not “hot,” no matter what you say — Coffin’s gambit probably helps us obtain the best second- and third-tier kids.

Addendum: Phil is an awkward pitchman at best. He loves to talk about momentum in the hope that his words will actually generate some. But a Dartmouth audience is too sophisticated for that, and nobody likes to be condescended to. Doesn’t Phil understand that we are on to him?

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Notice the clichéd political tendentiousness of all but the second prompts for the second writing question in the Common App. “Stepping out of comfort zone,” fixing the world’s problems (17 year olds will know just what to do), the heroic challenge of “being green,” the importance of “kindness,” and Mr. Rogers’s (kiddie show) “being a good neighbor.”

Are they seeking an infantile student body?

Addendum: As does a senior member of the faculty:

Congratulation on the skullduggery evidenced by you and others in today’s post.

I would add only that we probably want fewer of the type of applicant who hopes to prevent “the old traditions” from failing.


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