Don’t be a Stealth Applicant

Stealth applicants are a buzzword in college admissions these days. What is a stealth applicant? It’s someone who applies to a school without ever having interacted with that school prior to the application. It’s become increasingly common as it’s become easier to get information about schools without interacting with them. But if you’re really interested in a school, you will be far better off if you make that interest known to them.

Overall about 1/3 of college applications are filed by stealth applicants, though of course that percentage varies by school. What doesn’t vary is this: stealth applicants accept admissions offers at much lower rates than do non-stealth applicants. In fact, in a recent study Ohio State University found that the “yield” (percent of admitted students who matriculated) was about 33% for stealth applicants but over 50% for non-stealth. Caltech’s yield for non-stealth applicants was about 50% higher than for stealth applicants.

Colleges care a lot about yield. Not only does higher yield rank them higher in US News & World Report’s college rankings, predictable yield enables the school to admit enough students to fill a freshman class and not have to go to waitlists.

Because of that, colleges generally prefer non-stealth applicants, both in terms of admission and in aid awards. eCampus News describes the problem: “[T]his disconnect, or lack of engagement between the potential applicant and the school, presents a real challenge for both admissions departments and the students themselves. Take the example of a typical stealth student: s/he isn’t known to the admissions team because there has never been any direct contact between him or her and the university. This leaves no basis for determining how that potential applicant might stack up against a similar candidate who made multiple campus visits, attended recruiting events, or had some other type of interaction with the school before submitting their application.”

As easy as it is to get information about a school anonymously– visiting a friend who attends, researching online, etc.– it’s equally easy to interact with the school, and doing so is likely to improve your standing in the admissions and aid processes. So add that to your teen’s summer to-do list.

3 thoughts on “Don’t be a Stealth Applicant

  1. Excellent reminder, I have heard this from several admissions professionals. What does trouble me is how schools may rely too heavily on data mining. Likewise they may be so preoccupied with yield that they don’t accept students based on impression that student is not engaged when student has been engaged in a way that’s not visible through online channels. I see parallels with the way kids are at a disadvantage with testing if they don’t prep heavily– the whole process becomes artificial.

    1. Yes, agreed! In fairness, the article I quoted did also discuss that this is a problem for admissions offices as well, as they are likely turning away well-qualified students on this basis.

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