A group of Yale faculty members and students left for Moshi, Tanzania, last year to conduct AIDS research on a sugar cane plantation. But the scope of their duties became broader than they expected.
When they were looking for research assistants, the researchers met Amani Kitali, a Tanzanian teenager who planned to attend medical school in his country. Alison Norris, a Yale M.D./Ph.D. student, and her co-workers said they were impressed by Kitali’s comprehension of ethnographic field methods despite his relatively basic science education and encouraged him to apply to Yale. They even submitted some of his field notes to the Yale admissions office to show the committee the high quality of his work.
In April, Kitali was admitted to the Class of 2007.
Through both formal and informal means, the University is seeking a more diverse international student pool and is garnering the international recognition it has lacked in the past. Although Yale did not have the international reputation held by universities such as Harvard during the 1990s, new international initiatives — including a switch to need-blind financial aid for international students in 2000 and the recently constructed “Yale and the World” Web site — are ways that Yale is attracting a more diverse international student body.
Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said the University has intensified international recruitment during the time he has been at Yale.
“The major difference is we’re doing more. When I came here, it just wasn’t a priority. It’s gone through exponential increase in commitment,” Shaw said.
Yale President Richard Levin, who announced that he would focus on internationalization in his inaugural address, said the University has accelerated international recruitment over the past five or six years.
‘Bottom of the Ivy League’
Yale has long touted its reputation for excellence, but in the previous decade, its international student representation was easily surpassed by other universities.
International students comprised 4.6 percent of the Class of 1996, in contrast to the Class of 2006’s 9 percent.
“We were at the bottom of the Ivy League,” Shaw said.
University officials announced a 50 percent increase — $300,000 to $450,000, or enough to fund 10 to 15 new students — in international student financial aid in March of 1998. But international student aid did not become need-blind until 2000, when Yale joined institutions including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that had already implemented such policies.
Levin said the University made the shift because officials wanted to offer a Yale education to a more diverse group of international students.
“One of the impetuses of changing to a need-blind policy is [that admissions officers] came back from their trips abroad saying that they couldn’t take some students,” he said. “The numbers have gone up somewhat, but the countries of origin have diversified — places where the families are less likely to be able to pay.”
Levin and Shaw both said need-blind financial aid has been a major factor in improving the diversity of the international pool. For the Class of 2007, 178 students — 9 percent of the admitted class — are foreign. These 178 represent 62 countries.
“I would say that the majority of international students apply for aid, and I think it was different five, six, 10 years ago,” Shaw said. “The nature of the international pool is now much more like the nature of the regular pool — they really do represent a broad economic spectrum.”
Orkun Sahmali ’06 of Ankara, Turkey, said he chose Yale over the University of Oxford because of Yale’s financial aid policy.
“The main reason is Yale had financial aid whereas the British universities do not have financial aid for international students,” he said.
Nilakshi Parndigamage ’06, of Dehiwala, Sri Lanka, said she applied to four Ivy League schools. She was also accepted to law school in Sri Lanka but said she decided to attend Yale because it seemed like a good opportunity.
She said the need-blind financial aid policy made it possible for her to accept Yale’s offer.
“Because Yale has a need-blind financial aid policy, I got a huge scholarship,” Parndigamage said. “If not for that, I wouldn’t be here anyway.”
Covering new ground
In the past, Yale admissions officers have traveled internationally for recruitment, but their trips were not distributed throughout the world. This year marked the first time that an admissions officer visited Africa, and Central America was not on the itinerary until a few years ago.
“Four or five years ago when we started going to Central America, we had never been there before,” Shaw said. “There was a period when we had very few [applicants] from Mexico. I think we’re becoming more well-known.”
When admissions officer Peter Chemery traveled to Africa last fall, he visited international schools in seven countries. He also met with heads of local secondary schools and made contacts he could keep in touch with even if he does not get back to Africa for a few years. He got to know Rebecca Zeigler Mano, an educational adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, who helps make students aware of the opportunities available to them and guides them through the application process.
“She’s pretty unusual, but she’s an example of what could be done,” Chemery said. “She actually sends all the applications by courier to one of the students in the U.S. and they mail them to U.S. colleges — there are very well-developed channels. That’s not there for most countries.”
Because of Mano’s efforts, four Zimbabwean students will come to Yale this fall.
Levin’s international trips also contribute to increased name recognition, Shaw said, gaining press coverage that helps encourage students abroad to apply.
“I’ve had students stop me or come up to say, ‘The reason I’m here is I saw you on television,'” Levin said.
Shaw said the “Yale and the World” Web site and the online application option help students abroad find out about Yale and apply conveniently. For the second year in a row, Yale posted admissions decisions on a secure Web site in addition to mailing letters.
“Some countries and some systems, you can mail and it will never get there,” he said. “There’s no better way to get the word out.”
Priscila Martins ’06, from Patos de Minas, Brazil, said she relied on Yale’s Web sites to find out about the University because no one in her school could give her the information she wanted.
“They did not even know what Yale was,” she said. “I did it all by myself. I could find all the information with the Web site, and all the forms.”
Martins said she found Yale’s Directed Studies program especially appealing because she is interested in the humanities but wanted to sample a variety of studies before committing to a single subject — as she would have had to do in a Brazilian university. She also said she was impressed that Yale used recommendations and essays to consider her merits, since the Brazilian system relies largely on test scores.
Once students are accepted, the admissions office runs telethons to try to persuade accepted international students to attend. Chemery said contact between applicants and enrolled students is essential, and that applicants often decide to come to Yale because they know someone who has attended the University.
“Students are all applying to the same schools,” Chemery said. “That’s one of the reasons the phone-a-thon is so important, because it puts students in touch with live voices here at Yale.”
Santanov Chaudhuri ’06, of Calcutta, India, said he was attracted to Yale because of what he heard from others about the institution.
“I had a friend from high school who is a senior now — he gave me lots of info about Yale and how cool it is and stuff that kind of helped me decide between colleges,” he said. “One of my uncles actually went to Yale. That made me excited about it.”
Chemery said he likes to tell students on his trips that the residential college system works to the benefit of international students.
“You have a smaller student body. You’re not there along with 10,000 students,” Chemery said. “If there are students worried about the transition, I think the residential college system offers a comforting story, a welcoming face.”
A case study: Brazil
For the past 17 years, college counselor Bridget Herrera has worked in American schools in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and most recently Brazil, at the Escola Americana de Campinas. She advises students on how to apply to schools abroad, particularly in the United States.
Herrera said Yale has distinguished itself from other schools because of its international recruiting.
“Yale doesn’t just talk about diversity, they go out and look for it,” she said. “That makes them stand out from some of the other top schools in the country.”
Escola Americana de Campinas is typical of the schools admissions officers target on their recruitment trips. As an international school, classes are taught in English and students follow an American curriculum, which makes its students more suited for American universities, Shaw said.
“One of the limiters is that we’re looking for students who have mastered the English language or are taking their courses in the language. They have to have mastered English from an early age,” he said.
Shaw said this creates some “self-selection” of students, because the more wealthy the country, the more educated the populace and the more likely that there will be English-language education available. Yale accepts students from magnet-type schools abroad, but Shaw said it is more difficult to find qualified students because classes are often taught in the students’ native language. About 30 percent of international applicants come from regional schools, Shaw said.
“If their language skills are up to par, we think they’re good candidates,” Shaw said.
A majority of the students at Escola Americana de Campinas — including one student who will be attending Yale in the fall — go on to college abroad, and the population is generally affluent, Herrera said. Most of the students’ parents are in the professional class. Some teach at universities and earn about $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
“You know that they make enough to attend a school like ours or make it a priority,” Herrera said.
She said financial aid is a secondary consideration for most of her students.
“Of course, Yale has always been an attractive option,” Herrera said. “It’s only natural that they would look for a school like Yale.”
The school has a close relationship with admissions representatives, Herrera said. Yale admissions officers visited in September 2002 and September 1999 with a group of about 30 other college admissions representatives as part of a European Council of International Schools tour.
The European Council of International Schools, or ECIS, organizes college fairs, arranges visits with educational advisors associated with U.S. embassies, and holds receptions with guidance counselors to make them familiar with the universities on the tour. The admissions officers spend most of their time with students in international schools, but students from regional schools also come to the fairs, ECIS representative Tom LePere said.
“Regardless of what part of the world we travel to, U.S. higher education is highly sought by students abroad and the U.S. is actually the number one destination for students globally who look to study outside of their home country,” LePere said.
Herrera said she has seen a rise in the number of Brazilians choosing to study in the United States over the past five years, in part because of increased attention from U.S. colleges.
“We have a lot of colleges visiting us, which sort of creates a real awareness in our community that there are opportunities for our students to study in the U.S.,” she said.
This increase in recruitment from American colleges brings greater competition for international students. Shaw said academically strong international students are courted by many American schools.
“We work hard in the process to admit the best in the world. Of course, so does Harvard, so do other schools, so we’re competing for them now,” Shaw said. “I think [international applicants] are in the driver’s seat.”
Building future ties
There are signs that support for international student recruiting is growing abroad. Yale Clubs abroad interview applicants, place announcements in newspapers, and generally serve as publicity agents for Yale. Worldwide, there are over 5,000 volunteers, Shaw said.
But publicizing Yale to the international community, particularly in areas without Internet access, remains difficult.
“There are some kids from rural wherever who are never going to get online,” Shaw said.
While the need-blind admissions policy attracts more lower-income candidates, students still have to be made aware of Yale’s financial aid program.
“It takes a fairly astute potential candidate to know that financial aid is available,” Shaw said.
The advance planning required to fulfill Yale’s application requirements, including SATs and the TOEFL, means that students who attend schools that do not prepare them for higher education abroad may have difficulty applying.
“For most of the students we have contact with, they have to plan so far in advance if they’re going to apply to a U.S. college, that by the time I meet them, they have some sense of U.S. colleges,” Chemery said.
Building ties with international schools provides a reliable source of foreign applicants, but focus on these schools may come at the expense of initiatives to attract less traditional applicants.
“We visit schools that tend to be schools who have expressed over time interest in American education. We establish relationships with those schools. That creates a pipeline,” Shaw said.
Despite the recent surge in the number of international applicants, Levin said the percentage of international students at Yale will likely remain constant in the near future. He said he does not envision that Yale’s student body will ever completely reflect the population of the world, because Yale will always be an American institution.
“We have gone from 3 to 10 [percent] and we find that works well. Over the next five years or so we’ll sort of evaluate that,” he said. “If you ask me when it’s going to be 75 percent, I think probably a long while, because I think one reason students come to the U.S. is because they want to come to an American institution.”
But international recruitment is more of a priority than ever before and will continue to be in the future, Levin said.
“Within a century, the orbit had gone from Connecticut to the northeastern United States, in another 100 years to the nation.” Levin said. “Seems to me, for the reasons we are expanding our domain to the nation, it’s time to think about a worldwide influence.”