Ambassadors now speak about University abroad

When Gautam Kumar ’10 gave a presentation on applying to Yale to an audience of high school students in Bombay, India, he described Yale down to the smallest of details — its squirrels. In addition to talking about the transition to American life, the residential college system and financial aid, Kumar spent some time discussing the squirrels that dominate Old Campus.

In the inaugural year of the International Ambassadors program in South Asia this winter break, 13 undergraduates gave admissions presentations at schools in their hometowns in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. George Joseph, Yale’s assistant secretary for international affairs, said these visits — the brainchild of the Admissions Office in collaboration with the Office of International Affairs — allowed Yale to augment its outreach efforts to international students. Although scheduling complications made the program difficult to coordinate, Joseph said, the success of this test run means the program will definitely expand to more areas next year.

Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said this ambassadors program, which is similar to the domestic program launched two years ago that sends American students to schools in their hometowns, is important in extending the capabilities of the admissions office.

“As with our ambassadors program in the United States, having students visit schools in their home areas enables us to reach a larger number and broader range of schools than we can cover on our own,” he said. “Also, high school students very much appreciate hearing about Yale from other students familiar with their background and situation.”

Joseph, who along with admissions officers travels to South Asia two or three times a year, said the office asked for volunteers among the pool of international students at Yale and subsequently assigned each student two schools to visit when they traveled home for the holidays. Students were asked to visit their alma mater, he said, as well as a high-achieving school chosen by the admissions office as likely to send students to Yale. The ambassadors’ presentations covered topics ranging from Yale’s financial aid policy to the support systems available for international students at the University, including the Orientation for International Students and the Office for International Students and Scholars.

Joseph said one of the main concerns of international students is whether Yale is affordable, especially given the added expenses of travel to New Haven.

“There is a perception that Yale is an expensive institution to attend, and one thing we wanted to emphasize during the process is that Yale is need-blind,” he said. “And second, Yale does have the resources for generous financial aid.”

Last March, Yale eliminated the parental contribution for students from families earning under $45,000 and reduced it for families earning between $45,000 and $60,000 per year.

Hassaan Khan ’08, who visited schools in Karachi, Pakistan, said his initial presentation lasted for about an hour, but the question-and-answer period he held afterwards lasted just as long. Other than financial aid, prospective international students were concerned about adjusting to life in America and the Muslim experience in the United States, he said. He was unable to visit one school because religious holidays coincided with the time he was home.

Joseph said the difference between international and American school schedules can make visits difficult to coordinate. As a result, future Yale Ambassadors will likely visit schools during the summer.

Zehra Ijaz ’10, who also returned home to Karachi, said while her presentation received a good turnout, the outreach program could be better served by scheduling the visits at a time when students were more focused on the college process.

“The classes we spoke to were really enthusiastic — the 30 kids who came showed quite a bit of a response,” she said. “But I feel it might have been a bit early to go, since I’m not sure juniors are really thinking about college in December, so it might have been better to go in the summer.”

Kumar said the two schools he visited displayed different levels of interest in his presentation.

“I think at the first school most of the students would apply to universities in India, so maybe Yale is still kind of distant for them,” he said. “I’m not sure how much easier we made it seem to them, but at the second school, where most of the students … went abroad to study, most [members of the audience] were taking notes.”

The domestic Yale Ambassadors program plans send students to visit 335 schools in 37 states and the District of Columbia this year.

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