Actually, it’s more like the Intermountain Cornhuskers, or the Mormon Maccabees. U.S. News & World Report has an article on the yield rates of accepted freshman applicants to American national universities.* We’re number 1!** That is, students accepted to BYU actually enroll at the same rate as students accepted to Harvard. Has BYU become the Harvard of the West?
Well, no. Harvard admits 9% of its applicants; BYU accepts 70%. Unlike BYU, Harvard has fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students, an overriding faculty focus on research and doctoral education, high tuition and an astronomic endowment. Also, they haven’t won a national title in football since 1919.
That last point is probably more relevant than you might think. Sports are a high-profile way for community members to participate vicariously in the variable fortunes of their favorite teams and to identify themselves with a particular school. BYU owes its high yield rate to the remarkable willingness of its applicants to identify themselves with the school, even before they have applied (which is largely, but not entirely, unrelated to the success of its sports programs).
If you look at the list (below) of schools with both high yield rates (>40%) and high acceptance rates (approaching 50% and above), most are public universities with large undergraduate student bodies and modest tuition, and they’re big football schools. Academically, they’re all quite respectable, each with its particular strengths. These schools typically offer undergraduate students a good education at a reasonable price, usually without leaving the state. For a lot of applicants to Nebraska (73% acceptance rate, 66% yield rate), Iowa and Oklahoma are not viable alternatives. The similarly high yield and acceptance rates for Yeshiva University, the only other private school on the list (and for Thomas Aquinas College among liberal arts colleges) suggest that a combination of religious faith and secular education is part of the attraction for BYU applicants as well. For many applicants, BYU is the metaphysical flagship campus of the in-state university system, and the team they’ve always rooted for. For reasons both economic and cultural, anywhere else is second best.
* When reading educational statistics from USN&WR, take the rankings with a grain of salt. It’s probably safe to overlook any difference in ranking +/-10 spots or so in any direction.
** Being identified with BYU-Provo merely on the basis of your religion is one of the requirements for a temple recommend. Suck it up and deal with it.
|USN&RW rank||university||acceptance rate||yield rate|
|79||Brigham Young University-Provo (UT)||70%||79%|
|91||University of Nebraskaâ€”Lincoln||73%||66%|
|52||Yeshiva University (NY)||79%||66%|
|49||University of Florida||48%||63%|
|62||Texas A&M Universityâ€”College Station||77%||59%|
|44||University of Texasâ€”Austin||49%||56%|
|59||University of Georgia||58%||55%|
|85||University of Kansas||77%||53%|
|57||Ohio State Universityâ€”Columbus||68%||51%|
|91||University of Alabama||70%||50%|
|38||University of Illinoisâ€”Urbana-Champaign||65%||50%|
|85||North Carolina State Universityâ€”Raleigh||61%||48%|
|42||University of Washington||68%||48%|
|91||University of Missouriâ€”Columbia||78%||47%|
|96||University of Tennessee||74%||47%|
|85||Iowa State University||90%||46%|
|35||Georgia Institute of Technology||69%||44%|
|71||Michigan State University||73%||44%|
|96||University of Arizona||86%||42%|
|38||University of Wisconsinâ€”Madison||58%||42%|