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Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the University of Pennsylvania's Early Decision applicant pool expanded geographically and socioeconomically. 

Some colleges like to see rising admissions yield — Penn’s Class of 2020 set a school record with 68 percent of admitted students choosing to enroll. However, in an environment where resources are continually becoming more expensive, many colleges are trying to control class sizes.

Predicting yield is proving challenging as students’ application habits are changing. This past spring, nearby Pennsylvania State University was faced with an unexpectedly large incoming class. Nearly a third of admitted students accepted their offers by the decision deadline, up about 600 students from the year before.

In order to avoid a potential housing shortage, Penn State offered admitted students a discount of up to $20,000 to attend a regional campus for their first year. The effort enticed 288 students to accept the discount offer, reducing the class size on Penn State’s main campus to a manageable range, according to Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions Clark Brigger.

“The reality is, this initiative was much more successful than anticipated,” he said. “Each and every student [accepting the offer] relieves some amount of pressure.”

But what factors determine college admissions yield? It is difficult to pinpoint, and while universities like Penn State rely partially on historical regressive models, changes in students’ application habits may continue to surprise admissions officers.

According to the most recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 32 percent of freshmen submitted seven or more college applications in 2013, up 10 percentage points from 2008.

With more students applying to more colleges, universities have to adjust their decision processes to end up with an appropriate class size. For schools like Penn State that want to maintain a relatively stable size, the solution is to be more selective.

“I would anticipate we’re going to continue to see application growth,” Brigger said. “That alone will make us more selective in the coming year.”

Brigger also said the school will make more use of its waitlist in the future to gradually move towards a target class size. Other admissions tools such as Early Decision and Early Action are available to colleges looking to have more control over their class sizes.

The concern over class size is tied to the growing uncertainty surrounding the college value proposition. With tuition rates increasing steadily, often faster than inflation, parents and students alike are questioning the value of a four-year degree.

By limiting class size, colleges avoid over-saturating their communities and student-faculty ratios. These measures come with the consequence of increased selectivity in college admissions decisions.

The national average acceptance rate is down to 64.7 percent from 69.6 percent in 2003, according to the NACAC’s most recent report.

Although Penn’s incoming class exhibited a record-high yield this year, the final class size will only be about 40 more students than planned. With the completion of the New College House, housing availability at Penn shouldn’t be a problem in the near future.

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