The Only Statistic That Matters
I woke up this morning realizing all that I’ve written so far may help those families who are considering Prep School, but offer little assistance to those applying this year, or who have already applied. For those who have not submitted applications, you are not too late, as many Prep Schools have application deadlines of January 15, and will give you the opportunity to visit, tour, and interview later in January. For those applicants who have applied but have not had the chance to visit and interview, it is vital that you do both for reasons that I will highlight below.
When I was applying to Prep School, and college as well, I always wanted to know the most important aspect of the application. What is the most important statistic? Is it my SSAT scores? My GPA? Is it something more qualitative, such as the interview, my essays, or teacher recommendations? To those who are thinking this way, as I did, you are approaching it from the wrong angle. All of these are important, but you’re thinking about it from your perspective rather than that of the Admissions office. Even then, you may think that the acceptance rate is the most important statistic for Prep Schools. It is not. Far and away the most important statistic to Prep Schools is their ‘yield.’ A school’s yield is a number—more specifically, it is the percentage of students a Prep School admits who then choose to matriculate. For instance, if a school accepts 5 out of 20 students for a 25% admission rate, and 4 out of those 5 students choose to attend, then the school’s yield is 80% (4/5). This number is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates the value of your school in comparison to other schools—if ‘school X’ has a high yield, it can boast its elite status as the best applicants who are accepted to each of the top Prep Schools repeatedly choose ‘school X’ over all of the other Prep Schools. In theory, the Prep School with the highest yield is the most sought after, and therefore the best Prep School.
Of secondary importance, a school’s yield will determine its admission rate for the following years. A large increase in a school’s yield—for instance, from 50% to 75%--will mean dramatic over-enrollment one year, which will cause a large decrease in acceptances the following year to account for fewer available places. A school with a high yield rate can afford to keep their acceptance rate low as they are confident that those they accept will choose to attend, and thus, do not have to accept a bunch of people who will end up elsewhere, which artificially increases the acceptance rate.
Prep Schools are very proud of their yield rates, provided they are high. If a school has a good yield, they will publish it everywhere, and I guarantee it will be mentioned somewhere in some packet that you receive on your visit, either during the application or re-visit phase. St. Paul’s, for instance, boasted one of the highest yields in the country in 2013 (71%), 2014 (70%), 2015 (79%). That said, St. Paul’s high yield is a very recent trend, and it will be difficult to find the school’s yield before 2006 when it was not as high. Once a school has attained a high yield rate, however, it will do all in its power to retain that percentage, as a dramatic decrease in yield over a couple of years leads to a rise in admission, increased acceptance rates, and a resulting decrease in the proverbial Prep School standings.
So how does a yield rate affect me, as an applicant? EXPRESSED INTEREST IS KEY. That schools care about their yield rate means that schools actually care about whether you want to attend, or if you are just applying to their school because you are also applying to Andover, Exeter, Deerfield ect. This returns to my point mentioned in the first paragraph: if you are applying to a Prep School, you need to visit, tour, and interview. And when you’re writing your essays, it might be helpful to showcase how well you know the school, even mentioning an experience you had while on campus (…I noticed how students always held the door open for one another on my tour…but be more specific!). Furthermore, when you show up for your interview, know the school, and show your interviewer how much research you’ve put into arriving at that point. Demonstrate how excited you are to be there, and make the interviewer feel that you would rather be in their office than in any other Prep School Admissions office in the country. People often wonder why legacy admission rates are so high at Prep Schools and in college. The answer to that question is explained in this paragraph: there really is no stronger expressed interest than being part of a family that is already connected to the school. For Prep Schools, accepting legacies that they know will matriculate is a very easy way to protect their yield rates. That said, being a legacy does not show expressed interest in itself; rather, attending sports events, following news updates on the website and such show your investment in the school.
How am I so sure? I applied to four Prep Schools. My brother was a senior at St. Paul’s at the time; therefore, in a sense I was a legacy, but from the same generation—none of our parents, grandparents etc. had attended the school. As such, on each of my four applications, I was asked about my brother’s education and I wrote that he was a soon-to-be graduate of St. Paul’s. Furthermore, when I was asked which other schools I was applying to, I listed St. Paul’s. In the Spring, I was accepted to St. Paul’s, and waitlisted to each of the three other Prep Schools. I was disappointed; at the time, St. Paul’s was not my first choice. When I mentioned my disappointment to my secondary school placement advisor, all of a sudden I was taken off wait-lists! In many ways, Prep School waitlists are defense mechanisms to protect a school’s yield, and being placed on one demonstrates a lack of expressed interest on your part. As such, a way to avoid being placed on waitlists is to show admissions officers your passion for their school in particular; furthermore, a way to work your way off a waitlist is to show interest after-the-fact. In some cases, guaranteeing a school that you will attend should you find yourself an offer to that school is enough. Be careful, however, for broken promises can affect the credibility of your secondary school placement office, and affect future students from your school.
I end this post with a warning and a loose definition. Expressed interest should be translated as reaching out to a school’s hockey coach if you want to play hockey there. Expressed interest means showing you’ve done your research in interviews and essays. Expressed interest is actually showing up for interviews. And it is important to remember that you CAN express interest at every school you apply to, not just your top choices. But expressed interest is not calling the admissions office every day, or showing up with baked goods. Show you care and that you are different without becoming a talking piece around the office as ‘that kid that has reached out to everyone in the office.’ Good luck!
Image credit: Photo of Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Copyright: Wikipedia Creative CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication