“I didn’t get admitted to my intended major, but I know students with similar grades and test scores who were. Why is that?”
Each year, I hear from students who are excited to receive an offer of admission but confused as to why the decision is for a major or term they didn’t choose or even a campus they didn’t select.
Colleges Offering Alternative Admissions
The decision process has dramatically changed as many colleges' applications have doubled, tripled, and sometimes quadrupled. College admissions is no longer an art and science. It’s much more science—data science—to be specific. Admissions directors will offer alternative admission offers to qualified candidates for various reasons. Perhaps the student isn’t as strong as other admitted students, or the data the college relies on indicates it’s unlikely the student will enroll. Here are a few examples of recent alternative admission decisions:
Penn State - Admitted to an alternate campus
University of Colorado Boulder - Admitted to Exploratory Studies
U-T Austin - Admitted to Coordinated Admission Program (CAP)
Purdue University - Admitted to Exploratory Studies
Georgia Tech - Offered a conditional transfer option
Tulane University - Admitted to spring term
Boston University - Offered a guaranteed transfer
University of Miami - Admitted with a required fall gap year abroad
University of Michigan - Admission to winter term
Northeastern University - Admitted to an alternate campus
So, what’s the deal with these alternative offers? Many factors come into play during the admissions process beyond merit (things like transcripts, grades, standardized test scores, etc.) As colleges see tremendous application growth, it becomes even more difficult to make decisions and hit their enrollment target, so they factor demonstrated interest and likelihood of yielding (enrolling) into their decision-making process.
What is Demonstrated Interest?
Demonstrated interest is how students express their interest in enrolling in a college if admitted. A recent study of college admissions officers indicates that 15.7 percent of colleges consider demonstrated interest very important, and 27.6 percent stated it was of moderate importance. So, how do students demonstrate their interest in a college? We have a complete guide on this, but here are a few examples of how to show interest:
Attending an in-person or virtual information session with the admissions office
Touring the campus
Reading the emails sent to you by the college (That’s right, most colleges can track this with their communication resource management tool!)
Writing supplemental essays where it’s clear that you’ve done your research and can connect your interests with specific offerings of the college
Writing an email of continued interest to a school that has deferred your application
What is Yield Modeling?
Colleges (particularly large ones with lots of applications) use yield modeling to determine how likely a student is to enroll if admitted. They use algorithms to predict a student’s behavior, allowing them to accept the correct number of students to hit their enrollment goal. The types of factors that go into yield modeling include things like:
Past enrollment rates from your high school
% of students with your GPA/test scores who have enrolled previously
Parents' highest level of education
The colleges your parents and siblings attended
Attendance at campus programs (tours, admission presentations, student panels, interviews, etc.)
Applicant’s engagement with the admission office, including opening, reading, clicking on email links, and following social media accounts
The admissions process can often feel unfair, frustrating, and confusing when looking at it from a granular level (for example, considering an individual student’s decision). Students work hard throughout their high school years and expect to be rewarded. And while there is a meritocratic piece to the admissions process, that’s only a part. Colleges must enroll students in all academic schools/majors, balance full-pay students to offset those who need financial aid, admit student-athletes, and create a diverse student class where all students will feel welcome and thrive.
If you receive an alternative admission offer, I hope you will consider it thoroughly. I’ve worked with many students who have enrolled in a university through a different major or semester than they initially intended and had a fantastic experience. Weigh your options once you receive all your decisions, make your pros and cons lists, and decide if an alternative admission offer is best for you. It may not be the path you intended, but it may be the one you need!