‘Ambassadors’ program to send students into low-income schools

The Yale admissions office will begin its new outreach program by sending 10 Yalies to low-income high schools this summer.

The Student Ambassadors Program, a joint venture by the admissions office and the Yale College Council announced in March, is currently in a trial period, including the first batch of ambassadors this summer and a group next Thanksgiving, Yale Dean of Admission Richard Shaw said. While the ambassadors will visit low income high schools across the nation where students have competitive SAT scores, the southeastern and southwestern areas of the United States will be heavily targeted, Shaw said. Students will mainly visit schools near their hometowns, Yale College Council President-elect Steven Syverud ’06 said.

“The goal is to try to reach out to students from all across the socioeconomic band and to carry the message that Yale is a possibility, and that we have ample financial aid for them to take advantage of if they are admitted,” Shaw said.

The program is largely the result of an ongoing collaboration between Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions James Nondorf ’90, undergraduate recruitment coordinators Al Jiwa ’06 and Jesse Wolfson ’07, and Syverud. Wolfson said admissions officers will choose 10 summer ambassadors from a pool of about 50 students who applied to work at the admissions office this summer; during this trial period, there will not be a separate application for students interested in the program. The admissions office will pay those who become ambassadors for their work.

“We’re under the impression that there is not a comparable program like this anywhere else in the country, so we’re really excited about it,” Syverud said.

This new program comes in the wake of a change in the University’s financial aid policy last month. Under Yale’s new policy, families earning under $45,000 do not pay a parent contribution, while families earning between $45,000 and $60,000 pay a reduced parent contribution.

It is important to inform students about Yale’s new financial aid policy through outreach efforts like the Student Ambassadors Program, YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 said.

“Unless we’re actually going out and bringing the information about financial aid to people, I wouldn’t say it’s pointless, but it’s less effective,” Cedar said. “Big changes like financial aid need to be coupled with improved recruitment.”

The admission office currently sends about 200 student volunteers from Yale to their local high schools over Thanksgiving breaks, Wolfson said, and in the long run, the admissions office is looking to target prospective students from low-income areas at younger ages.

“I think the long-term goal is to eventually talk to younger kids before they’ve gotten to high school, and really catch them before the door is closed,” Wolfson said.

Jake Sayler, a senior at Century High School in Bismarck, N.D. who plans to attend Yale next fall, said he thinks that many students from his high school view Yale as inaccessible because of its cost.

“It’s just that it’s a lot more expensive, and they don’t know that Yale has a really good financial aid program,” Sayler said. “They just assume that you have to be rich to go to Yale.”

Yolanda Knight, the assistant director of the Department of Postsecondary Education at Chicago Public Schools, also said she thinks many students do not apply because they think it is too expensive.

“To have representatives from those kinds of schools share the information with students would help them to see Yale as accessible,” Knight said. “That would certainly be powerful, I think, in getting students to apply.”

Sarah Graham ’07 said she is personally excited about the program, but she said she thinks it might be difficult to get students to apply to be student ambassadors.

“I think that perhaps students might be afraid to approach that kind of situation,” Graham said. “If they haven’t dealt with going into such environments before, that could definitely be a barrier.”

But Wolfson said he thinks many students will apply to the program when applications go out again next fall.

“I think we’ll be pretty successful,” Wolfson said. “We get at least over a hundred to several hundred students for the Thanksgiving program, which is strictly voluntary. I think we would get people who are really interested in doing it and enthusiastic about Yale in general.”

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