How Colleges Get Admitted Students to Enroll

When I was a dean of admissions, the most nail-biting time of year was springtime right after we mailed our admissions decisions.

The college community had to come together because we all realized that our future rested on the days leading up to May 1st. It’s a very interesting time for a college because the tables are turned. No longer is it up to the student to impress the college, but in fact, colleges now need to impress the student.


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Colleges are in a race to get as many admitted students to send in their enrollment deposit by May 1st and claim them as their own.

This next stage of the process is called “yield” in that colleges want to enroll a high percentage of the students they admitted to fill their freshmen class and stay on budget for the coming academic year. As the excitement of acceptance letters abates, students need to sort through their offers and figure out what if anything rings true for them as they make a final decision about where they want to attend.

Here are some yield strategies colleges use to get students to enroll:

On Campus Yield Programs

Most colleges will offer at least one day or sometimes multiple days when admitted students can return to campus. I always tell students that if they are seriously considering the college, they should try to get there for one of these programs. Even if they already visited campus prior to getting admitted, attending a yield program as a spring semester senior has a very different feel.

Colleges will offer an array of activities on the day you visit. Everything from lunch with current students and faculty, to campus tours, to student panels, and fairs are rolled out to present the college in the best light. Everyone on campus is usually on their best behavior. How a student responds to this type of day sheds light on how they are feeling about the college as a potential home for four years. Sometimes the weather, turnout, or vibe on campus that day can influence a student’s final decision. Understand, though, that this is just a snapshot of one day on campus, and not everything or every day is perfect.

Some colleges offer an overnight component to the yield program where admitted students stay the night in the dorms with current students. The student hosts are chosen by the admissions staff, and the hope is that they will be welcoming to the admitted students.

But sometimes that doesn’t happen.
I still recall my own overnight experience at my alma mater. If I based my final decision on it, I would have never enrolled there.

Specific departments or special programs may offer a luncheon or an additional component to the yield program. This can be especially helpful for students who are focused on the academic experience of college. Hearing from the actual faculty they will have in classes and interacting with current students who are majoring in what they plan to pursue provide key insight into the daily life one will experience there as a student.


GOOD TIP: There will be some colleges offering free transportation to campus for certain students, especially if there is financial need. If you are unable to visit due to financial reasons, contact the admissions office to find out if there is a travel fund.


Honors Programs

Some larger universities offer honors programs as a way to lure high-achieving students and create a more intimate experience within a larger student body. Honors programs allow students to take small seminar classes, conduct research, possibly live in a special dorm, or graduate with distinction if they remain in the program. The yield activities for an honors program are typically synced with the institution’s overall yield program for the day, which allows a family to coordinate one visit instead of two.

Scholarship Money

Many public and private institutions will offer scholarship money along with the acceptance letter. There is inconclusive data on whether a scholarship increases the yield percentage for high achieving students. However, for some students, getting a significant scholarship is too good to pass up. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes scholarships are contingent upon maintaining a certain GPA, and they aren’t always associated with a student’s financial need.

Local Receptions

In large metropolitan areas, colleges may offer an admitted student reception for those who want to take advantage of another opportunity to learn more or for students who aren’t able to visit campus. While these receptions are helpful in getting a sense of the people who make up the community, it’s not as tangible as visiting campus after being admitted.

"After you #GetIntoCollege the tables are turned and it's now up to the colleges to impress YOU" TWEET THIS

In the end, colleges pull out all the stops leading up to May 1st. There is so much riding on a college meeting their enrollment target. As much as fancy programs and big scholarships can be impressionable, students should be looking for a connection between the college and themselves.

Students should feel like they are truly wanted on that campus. That may come from a big hug from the admissions officer who read their application or from the positive interactions they have with other individuals connected to the institution. Either way, students should understand the yield tactics of a college, and be able to see through them to be able to see themselves on that campus one day soon.


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