Colleges courting potential students post-admission

Specialized tours, gift packs, financial aid used to boost yield rates

As students apply to more colleges, institutions are having more trouble securing enrollments from accepted students. 

This can mean a lower yield rate, or percentage of accepted students who actually enroll. Top-tier schools can maintain high yield rates between 55% and 70% on prestige alone, but others work harder for their yield rates, kicking marketing into high gear after they send out acceptance letters.

Theses marketing efforts include T-shirts, 3D acceptance letters, hats, calendars, pens, scarves, and specialized campus tours. Private universities spend approximately $2,185 per student in recruitment, according to a 2011 Noel-Levitz report.

The gifts themselves may not influence a student's decision, but it does give a sense of campus culture, says Mollie Berg, a junior at the University of Southern California (USC).

New York University had been one of her top picks throughout the application process but ultimately chose USC after she visited both as an admitted student.

"I figured I wanted to go to a school that was organized enough to make each student feel important… I felt that reflected how the school would treat you for the next four years," she says.

Playing the system

Various universities take different approaches to earning students' enrollment, though not all include paraphernalia.

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Some admissions officers may waitlist or defer more students to appear more selective, according to the New York Times' Tayna Abrams—though U.S. News & World Report dropped the measurement as a factor in its annual rankings back in 2004.

In 2013, Dartmouth College was the only Ivy League school to increase the number of students admitted. The same year, it also saw its yield rate drop a full percentage point to 48.5%.

But by 2014, Dartmouth's yield jumped to 52%. What changed? The school put on a "Dimensions" program in the spring, during which 1,300 accepted students stayed in dorms, and visited faculty panels and classes. Alumni also hosted events across the country.

Other institutions go after prospective students early on, before admission letters are even mailed. Barnard aims to make an impression "from the moment the student steps on campus," says Jennifer Fondiller, the school's dean of enrollment management. Efforts include "Barnard Bound," a $20,000 to $40,000 program that invites low-income juniors to visit and apply to the college at no cost.

Officials at the University of Chicago also focus on a strong outreach program for potential new students by easing their financial burden, for example, eliminating a student loan requirement for financial aid eligibility. From 2013 to 2014, the school's yield rate jumped from 54.98% to 60.3% (Baskin, USA Today, 2/7).

The takeaway: The trend of high school seniors applying to more and more colleges puts pressure on institutions to keep their yield rates up through various recruitment and marketing programs.

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