Wilen: Beyond the Numbers

A response to Verbum Ultimum: A Numbers Game

by John Wilen | 6/23/17 2:00am

As both an alum and the parent of an incoming ’21, I feel I have an informed perspective on the yield improvement. Here are some possible factors I have observed, none of which alone might explain the entire increase but which collectively may have had a measurable impact.

First, we attended Dimensions, after attending similar accepted student events at other selective schools. Without a doubt, the Dartmouth program was the most polished and effective. Presentations were targeted and on-point. In response, parents and students were not shy about asking very specific questions. If they came with concerns, they left with the information they needed to make a decision. The presenters addressed their concerns without hesitation or bureaucratic double-talk. Their answers were clear and forthcoming, especially when it came to published reports of “bad behavior” on campus. My son reported that the three current freshmen he was overnighting with confirmed “what they are telling you and your parents is true.” From discussions with other parents, I felt the College was getting traction. They were changing perspectives on the very issues that were top-of-mind, potential “deal-breakers” for students and parents alike. 

Dimensions also has legs. At the party for admitted students in our city, held after both Dimensions events, I noted the students who had attended Dimensions enthusiastically describing the experience to the few that had not. Also at our party, there were two accepted students who had not yet committed as of April 28, three days before the deadline. Both students had excellent alternatives to Dartmouth but still harbored specific concerns. The students who had already accepted went out of their way to be sounding boards and to welcome them. They set up a group text so that they could all assist the two students with their decision after the party ended. Within 48 hours, both students committed. I could easily see this small example of a yield-boost playing out at acceptance parties around the country. Yes, Dimensions has legs.

Second, Dartmouth appears to be stepping up its game with STEM candidates. Whether it was the significant involvement of the Thayer School of Engineering in Dimensions, the showcasing of the DALI lab or the discussion of the Byrne Scholars Program in Math and Society, students who want to pursue a STEM major with liberal arts can visualize Dartmouth as an exceptional choice. This seemed particularly powerful among women, considering Thayer made history last year by graduating a majority-female engineering class.

Third, the criteria for selective college admissions, and the Ivy League in particular, seems to be evolving to minimize overlap in acceptances among competing institutions, which could lead to improved yields at Dartmouth and elsewhere. There was a time when selective colleges all went after the same small pool of students with high GPAs, high standardized test scores and significant extracurricular involvements. You could understand why students got multiple offers. This was bad for yield. Today the qualified student pool is probably 10 times larger than what it was. What once were distinguishing characteristics of top prospects are now much more commonplace, and almost taken for granted. When Ivy League schools defend a holistic approach to admissions and claim they could, but do not, fill their entire class with valedictorians or perfect SATs, they are not bragging. They are simply seeing so many more qualified candidates. Ivy League admissions has evolved to be much more subjective (some students and counselors would not-so-jokingly even call it “random.”) Each Ivy League school is looking for the special sauce in the application, and it is not necessarily the same recipe school-to-school. To the extent that fewer kids are getting overlap offers (these days the over-lappers seem to be mostly from under-represented groups) everybody’s yield improves. Harvard University just announced its highest yield since 1969. A friend in Yale University admissions told me that they were not likely to need the waitlist, by inference an indication of a strong yield. And Massachusetts Institute of Technology just announced they had a record yield as well. This may not just be a Dartmouth phenomenon.

Fourth, I would “follow the money.” Did the College grant incremental financial commitments to make itself financially viable for top students  — students who otherwise might have been lost to other schools, maybe because they had merit scholarships elsewhere, or faced simply lower costs at top state universities?  Affordability appears to be a key yield driver at Harvard this year as evidenced by headlines touting record-breaking yield rates. I suspect the same may be true in Hanover.

Finally, I sensed some buzz around the new residential community concept. Whether it lives up to its potential remains to be seen. However, to an admitted student, who these days has a good chance of being the only one admitted from their high school given the push for geographic diversity, the concept came across as timely, comforting, and perhaps an effective counter to the “Ivy League experience” that is touted at other Ivy League schools.

Wilen is a member of the Class of 1980. The Dartmouth welcomes guest column submissions. We request that guest columns be the original work of the submitter. Submissions and questions may be sent to either opinion@thedartmouth.com and editor@thedartmouth.com. Submissions will receive a response within three business days.

Correction Appended (June 23, 2017): This column has been updated to correct a misspelling in the author's name.