Acceptance rates

In August of 2012, we made the mistake of sharing how many people had applied to our summer batch, and with that we implicitly shared Hacker School’s acceptance rate. We now believe this was a bad decision and we no longer publish our admissions statistics.

That’s because we think about admissions differently than much of the world. While most colleges and universities want to make their acceptance rates as low as possible, we’d be thrilled if we could increase ours. We think there are several reasons why low acceptance rates are bad, and few reasons why they’re good for us.1

Our acceptance rate is the complement of our rejection rate, and our rejection rate is a direct measure of how much time we spend reviewing and interviewing applicants who we conclude aren’t good fits for Hacker School. Why would we try to spend more of our and others’ time doing that? We currently spend a few hundred hours each batch on admissions, and our goal is to reduce this number, not increase it.

There are two ways to make your acceptance rate go down: You can either get more unqualified applicants to apply (and then reject them) or reject qualified applicants who you would have otherwise accepted. Neither of those options make any sense to us. Our goal is to get more qualified people to apply and then accept them.

In our experience, bragging about how few people you accept has the negative effect of encouraging people to apply who are just looking for something impressive to put on their resumes, and who don’t actually have a good sense of what Hacker School is and why they want to do it. Worse, it can discourage qualified people from applying because they’re convinced they’ll never get in. This scares us, since the latter group is thoughtful enough to pause and reflect on whether they and Hacker School are a good fit. And those are much more likely to be the people who would do well at Hacker School.

  1. There is one case when it’s clearly been helpful for us to have a low acceptance rate: When talking with companies about recruiting Hacker School alumni. Companies are always happy to hear we have a low acceptance rate, presumably because they think it’s a good proxy for the quality of our alumni. We’d happily do away with this advantage in exchange for a higher acceptance rate and more qualified people at Hacker School.

    Traditional colleges and universities have other reasons for wanting low acceptance rates, for example, because it boosts their rankings on lists of the “best” colleges. We don’t – and, thankfully, don’t need to – care about such things.