Free Download — Which Colleges Are Really Buyers and Which Are Sellers - Jeff Selingo

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Free Download — Which Colleges Are Really Buyers and Which Are Sellers


A new way to think about your college list: the Buyers and Sellers 

The search for the right fit in a college should result in one that measures up in three ways: academic, social, and financial. But too often, when students and their families start looking for schools their quest is guided by academic and social needs as well as geography. 

While cost is a concern, families have only a hazy idea of what their tuition bill might look like. So they don’t think about the price of college until it’s too late.

What are the buyers and sellers? 

It’s a concept I developed while researching and writing Who Gets In and Why

The sellers are the “haves” of admissions. They are overwhelmed with applications, many from top students. They don’t need to buy students with tuition discounts to fill their classrooms. Most sellers offer financial assistance only to students who really need it or are truly exceptional.

The buyers are the “have-nots” in terms of admissions—although they might provide a superior undergraduate education. Rather than “select” a class, their admissions officers must work hard to recruit students and they must discount tuition through merit aid to fill classroom seats and beds in dorm rooms.

It’s best not to think of this as a scientific formula or a binary system. Rather use it as a guide in your search because most schools fall somewhere on the spectrum of buyers and sellers. 

OK, it’s not a formula, but how did you determine the buyers and sellers?

I looked at three numbers:

  1. Percentage of applicants admitted
  2. Yield rate (the percentage admitted who chose to enroll)
  3. Percentage of institutional aid that is non-need based

The lower the admit rate, the higher the yield, and the larger the percentage of aid based on need, the more likely the school is a seller. Sellers make up a fairly small number of four-year colleges and universities, less than 10 percent. The vast majority of schools are somewhere on the spectrum of buyers. 

So the sellers are good schools and the buyers aren’t?

Not at all. None of this buyer-seller division is a reflection of the actual educational quality of the school. You can get a great education at a buyer. Most schools are buyers. I went to one myself. Savvy students willing to look beyond the brand-name sellers can find great schools that are buyers.

Are there buyers and sellers among public colleges and universities, too?

Yes, but with lots of caveats. How public colleges and universities distribute financial aid differs greatly by state and for in-state and out-of-state students. For example,  Florida and Georgia both operate large merit-based scholarships paid for by the state lottery to prevent a brain drain and recruit their residents to in-state schools. Meanwhile, the University of Alabama uses merit aid to recruit out-of-state students. So whether a public college is a buyer or seller sometimes differs depending on whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student or other public policies that are sometimes at odds with the selectivity of an institution. In some cases, an institution might look like a buyer on the admissions front but a seller on the fianancial aid side.

Why did you make this list? Why is it important? 

Too many of the students I followed for the book applied to great schools academically and they got in. But then they didn’t qualify for financial aid because they missed the cutoff for need-based aid. By then it was too late to apply elsewhere. They had too many sellers on their list of schools and not enough buyers. 

Where can I find a list of buyers and sellers? 

You can download a limited list of the top 500 or so schools in the nation with those three key metrics by filling out the form to the left. For those who have purchased Who Gets In and Why, I’ve created an expanded list with more statistics and my label on whether I’d consider each school a buyer or a seller. Please send a copy of your receipt (in any form) to buyersandsellersdownload@gmail.com to receive a copy of that expanded spreadsheet.

I don’t want to provide any of that information to you, so how can I glean myself if school is a buyer or seller?

Here’s a rule of thumb: On average, sellers admit less than 20% of applicants, while colleges as a whole admit two-thirds. When sellers make an offer, nearly 45% of students accept, compared with a quarter for buyers. And only 7% of the financial aid sellers give out to students is a merit-based discount, compared with nearly one-third of aid at buyers.

But there are no hard and fast rules. To get a flavor of a pair of buyers and sellers that might appear on your list, see graphic below.