An Early Decision idea for Columbia to consider

We apparently have more opinions than we know what to do with these days, and unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed, is it? This one is probably going to only be laughed at by the Columbia admissions people, rather than seriously considered, and if they did implement it, many BSers would probably be PO’ed as heck at the ‘Snark for it. (Warning: This is a looong post. And it’s not really about anything important. You may want to just bail on it. Unless you’re looking for a way to procrastinate and avoid doing some work on your essays, in which case, read up! We can keep you occupied for a good 5 full minutes today! This topic isn’t worth covering on multiple days so we just kept this behemoth post intact in all its excessive glory.)

Here’s the deal:

For whatever reason, we get our boxers all in a bunch when we hear about people trying to game the system. Any system, but especially this whole admissions system. You can get in being honest and true, so why do the dirty and get all ugly about it?

The biggest most obvious place in all of the admissions industry where this happens is with the Early Decision / Action processes at Columbia and Duke. We wrote about it here – “Should I use Columbia Early Decision as an insurance policy?” – and here – and basically everywhere Columbia ED comes up here on the blahg.

We also get royally miffed when we hear about people getting admitted to a good school, then negotiating a deferral for a year, and then using that year to apply to other schools, with the intention of ditching out on the first one if they get accepted. Many schools have blanket no-deferral policies, just to nip this little phenomenon in the bud. We rarely see this “bidding up” attempt to work out for anyone but who knows, maybe it will for you! And if the school that accepted you willingly gave you the extra time, then that’s on them. We just hope nobody was LYING to the school in order to get that deferral granted.

The only case where we see a tiny bit of wiggle-room ethically in the deferral bait-and-switch game is for the schools like IESE and Yale and Chicago and some others, that admit college seniors and give a deferral so they can go out and work for a few years before returning to start their MBA later, with some experience under their belt. If you apply to bschool when you’re still in college, well, you just don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know who you are yet. You get out in the world for a few years, you learn stuff, you grow up some more – and maybe you realize that the school you got into isn’t the best fit for who you have become. We can sorta see how this person might want to explore other options. We’re still not crazy about it – dunno, just feels somehow dishonest, and definitely disloyal – but whatever. Bschool is a business, and the schools know they’ll get some attrition in these cases. They plan for it. And you pay for it. It’s not like they’re giving you anything for free, or you’re stealing or something.

Anyway, enough about deferrals. Back to today’s rant:

The Early Decision / Action processes at Columbia and Duke are binding. That means, on your honor, in advance of knowing the outcome, you agree to actually GO TO THAT SCHOOL if you apply in that round and they admit you.

We honestly shouldn’t care so much about what people do and how careless they are with their word, but we do care. We get irked. Someone told us on the down-low recently that a whopper of a number of Columbia ED applicants reneg on their commitment. Not sure how many, but this person claimed that it’s a lot.

While we don’t doubt this person’s information, it does make us wonder. Columbia’s yield is historically very very high – one of the highest of all the schools, after you get the craziness of Harvard and Stanford out of the way. We understand it to be in the mid-to-high-70% range every year. (“Yield” is the number of people that the school accepts, who accept that offer and attend that school. Think of it like, how many of the accepted applicants convert to become students?)

If a lot of ED applicants bail out on Columbia post-admission, then that would drag down Columbia’s yield. Columbia’s yield would look more like, say, NYU’s or Tuck’s (mid-50%s). This isn’t a figure that most schools report on anymore – they used to be much more open with it but most have clammed up about yield in the past decade. We’re wondering if either Columbia’s yield is actually much lower than we’d understood it to be, or are they somehow cooking the books on these renegged ED applicants – do they void the apps and thus not count them in their yield data? Unlikely, since that would also then artificially suppress the total application volumes, which is a number that Columbia has been keeping a close watch on lately. Both yield, and app volume, factor into rankings by certain publications. So these data matter.

BTW, you can bail on a Columbia ED application BEFORE THEY ACCEPT YOU – meaning, after you submit the app, but before a decision is rendered. That would not violate the statement of commitment that you sign.

OK, so we hear that lots of people do in fact walk away from their ED admits. Columbia requires a hefty deposit for those accepted through Early Decision – something like $6,000 is payable within two weeks of admission. Is that why people walk? That could be a real deterrent for many – but it’s not like they don’t tell you about it. (Hint: If you’re applying through Early Decision, start looking at where that money will come from – you may need it in a matter of weeks!) Perhaps staring that $6k outflow in the face makes people fall off. It’s possible that a chunk of these bail-outs are those who get accepted and then don’t pay the deposit. Or, the walkers are people who get in and pay the deposit, but then a better offer comes around and they bail. Dunno which category it is.

If you’re accepted to Harvard after you’ve already paid for your Columbia deposit, then we can see how tempting it is to ditch out on Columbia and forfeit that several grand that you’d paid to CBS… People will do that. They can justify it as a sunk cost (you’ll learn about “sunk costs” in bschool). They can just add it to the tab of how much they’ll be in debt for this whole MBA thing, and they would do it. Because Harvard.

But you were supposed to have withdrawn that Harvard app as soon as Columbia accepted you.

Sometimes an ED app won’t get fully processed till very late in the cycle, and it might coincide with some Rd 1 decisions coming out, but most ED applicants hear of their Columbia fate much earlier than that. So when this happens, it’s people not playing by the rules. Or more precisely, not honoring their word. Grrr.

A year or so ago, Duke quietly introduced some language into its online app saying that if they accept you, they may contact the other bschools and let them know. This is a tiny bit passive-aggressive but we totally dig that they’re doing that. They’re basically saying, “Hey you! Yeah, you, the schmuck over there plotting to get one over on us! The guy who thinks he’s gonna get accepted here in Early Action AND keep his Booth application running. Well guess what? It ain’t gonna work! ‘Cuz we KNOW PEOPLE. We have friends. Kurt and Danielle and them over in Chicago? They be our homeys. And lemme just say to you, they not gonna likey when they hear this game you think you be playing wit us.”*

OK so check it out – what if Columbia did it this way?

They could charge the same app fee as always ($250), yet if you submit Early Decision and they invite you to interview, then in order to proceed with scheduling it, you have to put down maybe like a $1,000 REFUNDABLE deposit – to be applied towards your tuition if you’re accepted, or to be returned to you right away if you’re not.

If you apply in ED then you’d better be prepared to cough up that money sometime soon anyway. Having to commit $1,000 for the interview doesn’t seem all that crazy. After all, you’ve already told them you intend to go there if you’re accepted, and they’re moving you one step closer to that status with the interview invite.

So, just an idea, that we thought of when we were supposed to be reviewing essays on a midsummer’s night recently. Yeah, it would be a pain for the bean counters to have to deal with refunds – probably no school even has an ability to process refunds! When do they ever have to do refunds?!? We can see how the bureaucratic obstacles could put the kibosh on this before it even had a breath of life in it. But if they did do it, it would also save some time for the adcom, in not having to do any more processing on an app that goes dead. And it could weed out some of the flakes.

Or it might not change anything. If you’re going to bail for another school, you’ll do that whether or not you’ve paid Columbia earlier or later. We don’t have any visibility into where the drop-outs happen in the process so this could be a useless suggestion.

Hmm. Maybe we should just play our position and not worry about stuff like this. Outside our pay grade and all.

We do wonder about the impact on the yield though. And if this phenomenon of people ditching out has gotten worse in recent years, and if so, then why that would be.

Aw shoot, didn’t mean to bore you (cover your mouth when you yawn!).

OK. Back to the essays we go.

*All conversations from adcom people at Duke and elsewhere depicted on this blahg are fictional. Just in case you were wondering.


  1. FPHAWK says

    “Unless you’re looking for a way to procrastinate and avoid doing some work on your essays, in which case, read up!”….Bingo!

    • essaysnark says

      Yeah we know how that goes! For us, writing rambling blahg posts is way more fun than reading essays (not that we don’t lurv your essays, BSers! err…) Blahgging gives the illusion of “being productive” when it’s just a sneaky avoidance technique. Back to the real work for all of us!!! 😀

  2. vasilescu says

    Well, to be honest I agree with Duke’s approach – infomring onther schools.

    Don’t know about the US, but in Europe we have a common database where banks can check if people have defaulted loans etc, and you can’t get away with it.

    Maybe business schools should do the same. All schools with binding-admissions, such as Duke, Columbia etc can set-up a joint database or something where they can enroll admitted Early Devision students…

    Then it would be really fun :)

    • essaysnark says

      We like the idea but at the same time we don’t. Applicants are adults. Informing other schools treats them like children. We just want people to honor their commitments. Is that too much to ask?

      Yes, we’ve been accused of living in a fantasy world before…

  3. Jamie says

    I think PART of the reason yield is so high is because:

    1. Columbia is in NYC, which might be more attractive than a very cold place like Michigan or Chicago
    2. Even though Columbia’s reputation is “degrading” among the MBA community, the name still stands tall among commoners (which is the average white collar worker in business, engineer, pharaceuticals, etc–basically your parents’ friends who are outdated on rankings). No one thinks of UVA as top 10, and some don’t even know what Dartmouth is.
    3. If you are not Harvard/Stanford material, and you don’t get into Wharton, often your next favorite choice is Columbia. (A lot of Northeast people skip out on MIT/Booth/Northwestern, or they want to stay in the NE or in NYC. Maybe for personal reasons, or the weather. Plus MIT sounds nerdy and not as fun as Columbia)

    Those are my guesses to why the yield is so high. A lot of New yorkers probably apply to Columbia, NYU and Wharton and want to stay in the area.

    • Jamie says

      and the reason Wharton yield is lower than Columbia, is because those who ARE Stanford/Harvard material, almost always also apply to Wharton as a “pseudo-backup”, so Wharton gets all the Harvard/stanford turn-downs. The distance from Wharton to Harvard is probably smaller than the distance from Columbia to Wharton? So a lot of “columbia material” people might apply to Wharton on a whim, but be glad to accept Columbia.

      • essaysnark says

        Got lost on the points raised here – you don’t mean geographic “distance” do you? Not following the “distance from” – Columbia and Wharton are both similar in terms of the types of applicants that they typically respond to; it’s equally difficult to get into either, and much harder to get into Harvard than into either of these.

        On the points mentioned in the first comment above, yes we largely agree except for the cold winters bit. NY winters are at least as bad as Chicago most years. Not following that part. The other factors, yes, what you say is mostly true about MIT and nerdiness, and generally about reputation (we don’t like the word “commoners” and really don’t know where you’re coming from with that).

        Regardless, we doubt those affect yield as much as you’re claiming. If you don’t get into Wharton it’s not all that likely that you’ll make it into Columbia. It happens, sure, but those two schools often have decisions in lock-step with each other. Flaws for Wharton are flaws for Columbia too.

        We wrote about some similar issues re: Columbia and yield a looooooooooong time ago, in case anyone cares.

        • jayt2012 says

          Are you sure about NYC winters? I lived an hour from NYC most of my life and 20s to 35s F was normal. 20F was considered cold. It was rarely rarely ever 10F or 0F. I also checked weather history for the 2 places on a random winter date and Chicago was 16 degrees colder than NYC on that date. (Anyhow, the ignorant average northeast person thinks Chicago is colder).

          I guess by commoners, i meant to say the average american middle class (well) educated person, which may be a large chunk of the applicants to B school from the US. Not the random people you meet who are like: MBA? whats’ that? oh i have heard of GMAT before; what is that again?

          • essaysnark says

            Hey jayt2012 – you’re right re: Chicago < NYC! We'd been going off horrible memories of last winter in the northeast where nothing could be worse than that :-) but average temps are indeed lower in Chicago vs the city of NY (not so for average temps by their respective states; upstate NY must be nasty!!). Thanks for the correction!

            Also, we understood what you meant re "commoner" just not caring for such a term, smacks of elitism and "let them eat cake" attitude which is not our thing here in Snarkville. But yeah, we agree with your sentiments re common opinion on these respective schools. We’ve also seen people be swayed by that more than they possibly should. It’s like how Yale and Cornell are assumed to be great schools to get an MBA, but then you dig into the rankings and are surprised that they’re not that highly regarded. In Columbia’s case, they have the strong brand name AND they happen to be a great school too – so it’s often easy for people who get in to accept the offer. Win/win, right?

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