The Case for Affinity, Yield and the SAT Questionnaire

Autumn is a busy time for College Counselors in general, and for Anchor Collegiate in particular.  A few days ago, I was speaking to a potential client’s mother. Her son, a Junior in High School, Jeter*,  told his mother he didn’t need a college counselor, because “Vanderbilt wants me.”

Jeter had been receiving post cards in the mail from Vanderbilt after having taken his SATs. A few days later, I sat down with Jeter and his mom for a discussion. Jeter told me that he had decided that next year he was just going to apply to Vanderbilt and get in. That was his plan. He liked the school and wanted to attend; they wanted him: Fairy tale ending.

I hated to bring his fairy tale story of college admissions to an end. He seemed so happy in that moment. But, I did with this sentence: “ Jeter- Vanderbilt doesn’t want you in particular. They want students like you, but unless you can at least show some interest to them and prove that you are Vanderbilt material, your plan will fall apart.”


I went on to explain what “affinity” means to colleges, and how it can work for Jeter and  well-qualified students like him. Affinity is a relatively new term for an old concept: demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest is pretty self-explanatory; students demonstrate their interest in attending a certain school through communication with that school. Interest can be demonstrated through:

  • Campus visits
  • College fair table check-ins
  • Emails with questions to which you cannot find a sufficient answer on the college’s website.
  • Correspondence with the admissions officer assigned to your region
  • Interviews
  • Facebook likes and following, instagram following and other social media interaction.

All things being equal, many schools will admit one student over another equally qualified with similar demographics and interests if the first student demonstrates an interest in attending that school, or more of an interest than the second student.  Why? Because, colleges and universities rely on something called “yield” to help boost their ratings. Yield is the percentage of students admitted who choose to attend.

Here is a quick example:

South Succotash University admitted 5000 students out of 10,000 applicants.  Their admissions percentage was 50%. Out of those 5000 students who were admitted, 1000 chose South Succotash University over other schools and are now enrolled. SSU’s yield for this application year was 20%.   Compared to Harvard, whose yield hovers in the 80th percentiles, you can see why yield is important.  Admissions offices take signs of affinity as way of deciding whether or not you will attend their institution if admitted.  Between a few equal students, if one has shown more interest, chances are the student is going to commit to that school- increasing that school’s yield.

So how did Vanderbilt decide to approach Jeter? Let me tell you.

Did you register for the SAT through the College Board website? Do you remember the thousand questions they asked you from what color sweater did you wear in your 4th grade class photo, to your sock preference, to your GPA weighted, unweighted, and the metric equivalent? The College Board sells your contact information to colleges and universities who are looking for students like you. Students whose scores are within their limits, or who are looking for students with some or all of your demographics: sex, ethnicity, socio-economic level, sports, location, activities. They are looking for students LIKE you. Not you in particular. The way you get them to look at you in particular is through demonstrating interest.

So let’s get back to Jeter.

Jeter is a good kid with a nice academic and extracurricular resume.  His test scores are above the national average. With guidance from his parents and his college counselor, he will pick between 7-9 schools to which to apply.  He will demonstrate interest to those schools through visits and communications. He will work diligently to complete applications and write thoughtful essays.

Most importantly, though, is that Jeter now understands that getting a piece of mail from a college does not mean they are interested in him specifically. He knows that over the next year it is up to him to look at those schools who reach out to students like him, and make sure that he stands out in the crowded application pool.  Jeter will take initiative to make sure that he makes the most of all that he has to offer schools.  Jeter will go to college. He may even go to Vanderbilt.


*As always, All students’ names are changed to protect their anonymity, and students are allowed to pick their own “nom de guerre.”

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