Among admits, a search for singular Elis

Just less than one quarter of students in the Class of 2009 were the only graduates from their high schools to enter Yale in the last five years, while more than two in five come from schools that have sent five people to Yale during that period, an analysis by the Yale Daily News found. On the whole, 100 high schools across the country have produced almost 25 percent of students who attended Yale in the past five years, according to data collected from “The Old Campus” freshman facebook.

Since Yale announced last year that it would eliminate the parental contribution for all students whose families earn less than $45,000 a year, the University has stated its desire to increase its enrollment of low-income students. With less than 8 percent of the Class of 2009 falling within that range, Yale is looking for ways to attract students who might never have otherwise considered applying.

Yale and several of its top competitors have acknowledged that the key to increasing the proportion of low-income students is to broaden the pool of schools that send applications every year — an effort exemplified by the University’s new Student Ambassadors Program. When told about the numbers, Yale President Richard Levin said he found them promising, noting that their appears to be a “much, much wider base for our admissions today” than 40 years ago. But Levin also said last week that Yale hopes to expand the pool of potential students further.

“We’re committed to an outreach program and trying to get a broader spectrum of the American high-school population exposed to the possibility of coming to Yale,” Levin said.



‘One-off’ schools

In 2004, a year before Yale announced its similar program, Harvard President Lawrence Summers unveiled an initiative that would eliminate the parental contribution for families with incomes below $40,000. The goal, Summers said, was to “send the strongest possible message that Harvard is open to talented students from all academic backgrounds.”

In the wake of Summers’ announcement, a group of Harvard researchers led by economists Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery began an effort to analyze what impact the new financial aid initiative had on the students who applied to and attended Harvard.

Hoxby, Avery and their colleagues discovered that the initiative was “successful in attracting exactly those applicants it targeted.” Compared to the Harvard Class of 2008, the number of freshmen in this year’s class — the first targeted under the new initiative — included 13 percent more low-income students.

In their published findings, the Harvard researchers noted that the difference did not come from a higher yield among low-income students who were accepted — in fact, poorer students who are admitted to Harvard are the most likely to attend, except for students in the top income bracket. Instead, the difference came from the students who applied: The simple announcement of Harvard’s aid package had brought in qualified students who never would have applied otherwise.

The economists concluded that the best way to increase the number of low-income students coming to Harvard would be to draw more students — whom they call “one-off” applicants — who might be the only ones to apply from their high school in a given year. And in all, they found that just over half of the 10,555 schools that had students who might have been qualified for Harvard according to their test scores actually sent applicants.

“We’re still at a situation where there are large numbers of qualified students who are not applying, or who are not applying at the same rates as the higher-income students,” Avery said about the Harvard data.

The Yale Admissions Office has not yet completed any similar research, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said in an e-mail, and because Yale’s initiative was only announced last year, the admissions cycle has not finished for the first class recruited under the new policy. But a look at the students who have decided to come to Yale over the past five years — compiled from “The Old Campus” freshman facebook published every year — gives some indication of how many “one-off” schools were brought into the process before Yale’s new efforts.

In all, more than 900 high schools are represented in the Class of 2009. Of those schools, 211 sent at least two freshmen to Yale last September, accounting for 45 percent of the 1,287 freshmen who have high-school data in “The Old Campus.”

In total, about 76 percent of students in the Class of 2009 were joined at Yale by at least one other graduate of their high school from the past five years. And 41 percent of students in the freshman class come from schools that have averaged at least one Yalie per year during that five-year period.

Because this analysis is based on students enrolled by Yale, rather than those who applied or were accepted, it does not provide an entirely accurate picture of the distribution of schools within the Yale applicant pool. Many of the schools that sent only one student to Yale in the past five years have had successful applicants before who chose to go elsewhere; likewise, there are presumably several schools entirely unrepresented at Yale in the past five years who have nonetheless had a successful applicant during that period.



The new feeder schools?

In Yale’s Class of 1937, according to University of California, Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel’s recent book on Ivy League admissions, “The Chosen,” 351 of the 859 freshmen — more than 40 percent — came from a dozen prep schools. Phillips Academy at Andover alone sent 89 students to Yale that year.

Andover and its rival, Exeter, each still send more students to Yale than any other school in the country. But a broader look at the schools that are most likely to produce Yale freshmen reveal that the list of “feeders” to Yale has changed significantly since 1937, as has Yale’s relationship to them.

In total, 100 schools have accounted for about 25 percent of all Yale students during the past five years. Of those, 14 have sent an average of over five per year — accounting for about 8 percent of Yale College.

Some of the schools that send the most students to Yale — like Stuyvesant High School in New York, or Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Va. — are public magnet schools that selectively draw from a diverse pool of students who are required to apply before ninth grade. And fully one-third of the top 100 are open-enrollment public schools — although they are frequently high-achieving schools in affluent suburbs like Winnetka, Ill., Scarsdale, N.Y., and Bethesda, Md.

Even many of the private schools that have long been known as “feeders” to Yale are far more diverse — both racially and socioeconomically — than they were 70 years ago. Andover Director of College Counseling John Anderson notes that at Andover, like Yale, about 40 percent of students are on financial aid.

Yet college counselors acknowledge that the process of applying to Yale is almost certainly affected by whether or not a student’s high school has a history of sending students to the Ivy League. In part, that is because these 100 schools are among the best in the country, so they are likely to have more students qualified for Yale. But schools among the top 100 are also more likely to offer personal attention in the counseling process, and they have easy references from the past to help both their own offices and Yale determine if a given student is likely to succeed.

At Andover, Anderson said he does not have the ability to provide a list of qualified students to Yale and virtually ensure their acceptance, as some of his predecessors did a century ago. What he does have, he said, is knowledge about the standards Yale applies during its deliberations and strong enough connections to admissions officers to understand why it makes the decisions it makes every year.

“We have an excellent relationship with Yale, in part because of the number of students who are interested in Yale and who are attending Yale,” said Anderson, who also noted that he did not think Andover students ultimately received any real advantages in the process.

Eileen Blattner, the chair of the guidance department at Shaker Heights High School — a public school in the Cleveland suburbs that has sent 10 students in the past five years — said that past success in the Yale admissions process can be helpful for high schoolers preparing their applications.

“Because we’ve sent them before, we know more about the process at Yale,” Blattner said. “We have students they can visit, and we know more about what the expectations are like at Yale.”



The big search

The experience of students who are among the first to attend Yale from their high school suggests that Yale does not find them — they find Yale.

“Most of the time, it’s mainly the kids who initiate that — who say, ‘I’m interested in going to Yale,’” said Terry Merryfield, a college counselor at Dodge City High School in Kansas, which has sent one student to Yale in the past five years.

The inspiration may often come from a student’s family background, Merryfield said, like a relative who has attended an Ivy League school. Or, in the case of Amy Jones ’09, the first student from Williamson High School in Williamson, W.Va. to attend Yale in recent memory, the inspiration came from a family friend, her town’s public defender.

For Jones, that meant she had to do much of the work of applying herself. To receive an admissions interview, she had to drive several hours. In a town where virtually no one even considered applying to the Ivy League, Jones was largely on her own.

“Going from the ground up, my school didn’t really know what to expect from [the process] or how to go about applying or sending information,” Jones said.

Josh Garcia ’09 said that at Rossview High School in Clarksville, Tenn. — a school that had never sent anyone to Yale — much of the burden was on him to seek out an Ivy League education. But Garcia said he did not realize that his experience was out of the ordinary until he arrived in New Haven.

“Honestly, it didn’t really dawn on me that I was at a disadvantage until I got here, and I realized it worked very differently at other high schools,” Garcia said. “When I heard people saying they had five or more people here, that’s when it dawned on me.”

With the creation of the Student Ambassadors program last year — designed to send Yale recruiters to high schools across the country without a history of sending students to Yale — the Yale Admissions Office has begun expanding its efforts to find high schoolers like Garcia and Jones. Yale College Council President Steven Syverud ’06, who helped create the ambassadors program, said he thought the program’s visits to 249 schools this year would bear results, even if it took time to see changes in the applicant pool.

“I think it’s a great first step to start reaching out to new schools,” Syverud said. “A lot of it is getting the first person to apply from the school, and after that, someone will remember.”

— This is the first of two parts of a series on Yale’s efforts to expand the enrollment of low-income students.

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