What is Yield Protection in College Admissions?

Written by Jason

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Last updated Feb 28, 2023 | Published on Jan 31, 2023

If you have heard of the term “yield protection,” it might set off alarm bells as you consider the implications for high-achieving students. 

Yield protection colleges reject or waitlist candidates — highly qualified candidates, that is — with the thought that they will get accepted elsewhere, likely by a more prestigious institution. While it may seem confusing (colleges want the best students possible?) it is all about colleges balancing their candidate options, which we will  explain in more detail.

It is important to note that no colleges and universities officially admit to using yield protection, but it has become one of the most highly debated trends in the 2022 admission year. Campus to Career Crossroads is at the forefront of admissions trends

Yield protection is a concept worth visiting because it reinforces the importance of putting together a balanced, excellent list of colleges and universities that fit your specific needs. It is more important than ever, and we will explore why in this piece.

What is Yield Protection?

What is yield protection in college admissions, exactly? Because students apply to numerous schools during this decade, colleges have to make sure students willingly want to attend their school. It is easy for applicants to “say” they want to attend, but let’s face it. How much time does each student actually have to devote to every college on their list? Likely not much time at all.

Always Make Time to Know College Deadlines

Yield protection occurs when admissions offices reject or waitlist candidates in anticipation that they will likely get accepted elsewhere. 

  • Rejection: Rejection means that you are not offered admission for the term for which you are applying. Remember that it does not mean you can never attend that particular college or university — you can. It is one of the biggest mistakes that students make when they receive a rejection letter. They write the school off completely. However, it is possible to attend another college or university for a period of time and then reapply, particularly if that school is not at the top of your list.
  • Waitlisting: Waitlisting means that you applied early, and while you may meet the admissions requirements, the college has filled up all the applicant spots it currently has room for. If a spot opens up for you, you might be offered admission later on but there are no guarantees. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 20 percent of students who choose to remain on waitlists were admitted, but this number is significantly lower for selective colleges — only 7% of waitlisted students were actually admitted. 

In contrast to tuition discounting, which means that colleges go after top students by offering copious amounts of merit aid, yield protection helps colleges and universities prevent reductions in yield when students accept admissions offers. 

So, this can lead to confusion, right? Getting rejected at a less selective school and getting admitted to a more competitive one — weird, right? Similarly, a student who has “lesser” credentials might get admitted, while another student who has “better” credentials might not get admitted — another oddity. It is important to remember that this does not prove or disprove that yield protection exists. However, it has been noted that at certain institutions, admittance rates go up as grade point averages and test score stats increase but admittance rates decrease at the highest score and grade levels.

Understanding Yield

But let’s back up the discussion a little. What is yield in college admissions, exactly? Admissions professionals regularly call yield “acceptance rates.” Universities and colleges chase a numbers game. Imagine a funnel. The large number of prospective students exist at the very top of the funnel, and that includes every single student in a college’s database. As you can imagine, that is a huge number. 

All Colleges Need a Funnel of Applicants for Yield Protection

Applicants — the students who apply to that college or university, exist at the next-largest top of the funnel (still at a wide part of the funnel) and the number of acceptances make up the narrower part of the funnel. Finally, at the very bottom of the funnel (the part that guides liquid or powder into a small opening) are the number of students who actually matriculate, or yield. 

Colleges and universities must always play a numbers game by mathematically figuring out the number of accepted students that could feasibly end up enrolling at a college. For example, let’s say a college accepts nine students. If six of those nine students end up enrolling at the college or university, the yield on that number is 67%.

How Does Yield Protection Occur?

Yield protection ultimately occurs by waitlisting students at the top tier, whom admissions professionals deem that because of a vast number of students who apply to schools nowadays, are using that school as a “safety” school.

Let’s look at an example of how it might work. Note that this is a pretty “unscientific” explanation, as admissions offices all use sophisticated modeling to make predictions about how they will admit students. 

Big Data Assists College Admissions Leaders in Making Yield Protection Decisions

Let’s say a school waitlists top applicants who did not visit the campus or interview with college admissions professionals. The director of admissions correctly assumes that only a handful of applicants will opt to stay on the waitlist. Let’s say that only fifteen of the 150 students on the waitlist opt to stay on the waitlist. The college therefore bumps its yield and improves its acceptance rate. It also saves the college money because it does not have to offer merit aid to the best and brightest students who apply. 

The concept of yield protection also helps students find the right fit, particularly if the college or university is not Harvard or an Ivy League school. Colleges may correctly assume that they are not at the top of the list, that you are grasping for colleges to put in second place, third place, or even further down on the list. 

Now, you might wonder if yield protection has been born out of a disgruntled point of view from students who do not gain admission to prestigious institutions. That is also a completely valid argument, as again, no college or university really comes right out and admits to practicing yield protection.

From a College Perspective: Maximizing Yield vs. Yield Protection

Imagine the colossal challenge that faces colleges and universities. They have to more or less accurately predict exactly what ambivalent high schoolers (we are talking about seventeen-year-olds who have trouble deciding what to eat for breakfast!) will do in terms of choosing a college. 

Colleges have to make sure they do not overfill their classrooms and residence halls. They have models given to them by data scientists to help them do this, and early decision rounds do help them urge students to commit. Therefore, they can more accurately predict how many students will end up in their next class.

However, it is possible to find colleges that want to maximize yield — less selective institutions will want to do whatever they can to maximize yield. Schools that adopt rolling admission (you get admitted or rejected as you apply) may not have the advantage of pinpointing the exact size of their classes compared to those that encourage early applications, which may give you an advantage as an applicant.  

How to Avoid Getting “Yield Protected”

Whether yield protection actually occurs at a particular college or university, you have no way of knowing. However, you do have ways to protect yourself from the possibility of becoming a casualty of a college yield protection strategy. Take a look below at some tips to avoid becoming “yield protected.”

Get Ready for What You Need to Know for Yield Protection Colleges

Tip 1: Demonstrate your interest.

Far and above any other tip we could share with you, this is the most important factor to avoid the possibility of yield protection. Do not treat colleges and universities as if they are machines. They are filled with living, breathing humans, and colleges and universities want to know that you are interested in their institution. 

As much as you possibly can, demonstrate that interest. Visit the campus, spend time talking with people on campus, talk with professors, interview with alumni, email in with questions, audition for a merit-based music scholarship, and here are a few more college visit tips. Do everything you can to show your interest in the college. It could make a huge difference during reading season, or when admission professionals make decisions about who is in and who is out.

Tip 2: Communicate with admissions professionals.

This tip does not seem that different from the first tip, does it? It is not, but it deserves its own category, because you also need to communicate with admissions professionals. Let them know that you are interested in the college or university. Pepper them with questions. Meet with them during your college visits and demonstrate that interest. This is an area where “show, do not tell” makes a huge difference. 

Do not say “College X is my first choice,” show that interest by demonstrating it with admissions professionals. Mark yourself as one of those high-quality candidates who deserves not to be put on the waitlist. Make it look like you are not simply trying to choose a “safety school” in all situations.

Tip 3: Make your supplemental essays excellent.

You already know this, but those supplemental essays matter when submitting your application. Never rush writing supplemental essays. Make sure they are the best possible combination of writing, thought-provoking scholar, and an excellent candidate for the college or university. You need to sound irresistible to the admissions reader team and you also need to demonstrate your interest — again. 

People can tell when you are not sincere, and that includes in your writing. If your supplemental essays sound as if you’re only vaguely interested, like, “I would like to work with Professor Smith due to her exciting work in materials engineering.” 

What exactly excites you about Professor Smith’s work? What exactly did you do to learn more about her work during your campus visit? Have you emailed her? Attended a symposium? What have you done to go that extra step? Whatever it is, demonstrate it through your supplemental essays. 

If you do not offer that extra “wow” factor, figure out what you might do to give your supplemental essays an extra punch.

Tip 4: If you do get waitlisted, provide extra information.

If all else fails and you get waitlisted, remember that you might not have become a victim of yield protection. You can choose to accept or decline your spot on the waitlist. If you decide to stay on the waitlist, find out about the college’s process for waitlisted students. Note that waitlist decisions do not come out until after May 1, so you must enroll in a prior college to which you have been accepted!

May 1st is National Decision Day for High School Seniors

Next, type up a letter that showcases your willingness to enroll at the college if you are selected from the waitlist. (Do you sense a pattern here?) Remember, there are so many students that apply to colleges and universities who are not really interested. You can stand out by demonstrating sincere interest, but remember that it must be sincere. You can mention any other achievements you have recently accomplished, such as leadership positions you have taken on since you originally applied.

Send the letter to the admissions office and your assigned admissions counselor so they understand that you clearly still have interest in the school. Remember to reread your letter and have an experienced editor check it over as well. Get rid of anything that repeats what the admissions committee already knows about your application, in addition to misspelled words or other grammatical errors.

Tip 5: Work with Campus to Career Crossroads.

Finally, one of the best things you can do to strengthen your application is to work with Campus to Career Crossroads. We will do everything in our power to make sure you put your best foot forward with your application for admission at every school to which you apply, from start to finish. We will help you create carefully crafted essays, a polished Common App profile, and more to ensure you show dedicated interest in the schools to which you apply. We will also make sure you choose institutions to apply to that fit you best in order to help avoid the “yield protect” trap. 

Protect Yourself

There is a lot of uncertainty in college admissions these days, and yield protection is one of the cautionary tales. However, the most important thing to remember is to make sure you show your sincere interest in colleges and universities along with everything else, including your qualifications for admission.

Don't Risk Being Caught in a Yield Protection Trap

Managing all of the college details alone can be overwhelming. Campus to Career Crossroads can help you along your journey of finding the right fit. Contact us for more information and schedule a complimentary “get-to-know-you” session.

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