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The Use and Abuse of Acceptance Rates [#permalink]
14 Oct 2006, 15:40
I often hear applicants refer to acceptance rates to schools as an important metric of institutional prestige and/or quality. To a limited extent, there is probably some merit to this concept- one should be leery of schools that claim to be highly selective yet admit everyone who applies. However, it is also very easy to mis- or overinterpret the value of acceptance rates.
There are a number of factors that have little to do with prestige or reputation that affect acceptance rates-
1) Regional Supply of Schools
2) Location of the Campus
3) Sunshine Effect
4) Bargain shoppers
1) Regional Supply of Schools The availability of other schools in a region almost certainly as an effect on the AR. The Northeast of the US has more than a half dozen ultra elite and elite business schools. Together these schools have roughly 4000 seats available each year (if one includes Duke and UVA there are even more). The Midwest schools provide roughly 1500 seats a year. In contrast, there are only about 1000 seats available in the West.
2) The location of the campus appears to have an effect AR. Ceteris paribus, schools located the major metro areas of the US appear to have the advantage in terms of a lower AR.
3) The "sunshine" effect- Schools located in warmer areas appear to have a small advantage in terms of AR.
4) Bargain shoppers- For schools that provide discounts for in-state students, one should not overlook the possibility of students being motivated in part by price rather than prestige per se.
An interesting comparison is provided by Cornell and UCLA. Here we have two elite cluster schools yet UCLA has a lower acceptance rate. Note that UCLA has virtually every advantage relative to Cornell including
1) Much lower supply of schools in region
2) Located in the second largest metro vs. pretty but remote NY state
3) Sun vs. Snow
4) In-state "Fees" are $12,000 less at UCLA
It should be noted that UCLA has these advantages over Dartmouth as well, yet Dartmouth as a lower acceptance rate than UCLA. On the other hand, Dartmouth is a significantly smaller school than UCLA. If a given quantum of prestige buys a certain absolute number of students, then smaller schools would have an advantage in term of the AR.
Another interesting comparison is Michigan and UC Bekeley. Again we have two elite cluster schools with similar reputations.
1) Lower supply of ultra elite and elite seats in the West
2) Located in one of the largest most desirable metros in the county vs. outside Detroit
3) Sun(&Fog) vs. Snow
4) UCB in-state residents pay 12,000 less vs. $5,000 for Michigan in-state
In short, there is probably not that much information content provided by raw acceptance rate data. Indeed, acceptance rate data might do more to tell us which schools to consider avoiding because they are oversubscribed rather than which have the best institutional reputations.
Last edited by Hjort on 15 Oct 2006, 08:31, edited 1 time in total.
Another key factor is self selection among students. Some peole just elimiate themselves from the race, and also there are those who just like to apply for the sake of it in turn affecting AR.
Students often self-select away from schools they perceive to be academically challenging. For example, Caltech is one of the very best undergraduate programs with a reputation for being difficult and it has an acceptance rate that is nearly twice as high as other highly regarded programs such as Columbia and Stanford.