Ambassador visits yield rise in applications

Applications from students at low-income high schools targeted by Yale’s Student Ambassadors Program increased by 10 percent last year over the year before, officials in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions said Monday.

Admissions Director of Outreach and Recruitment Jeremiah Quinlan said the increase in applications from the 281 schools targeted by the outreach program — in contrast with the overall 9.7 percent drop in total applications for spots in the class of 2011 — indicates that Yale’s efforts to reach high-achieving, low-income students might be achieving results. The number of students from these schools matriculating in the class of 2011 also increased by about 10 percent from the previous year, he said.

The student ambassador program, which began in fall 2005, sends Yale students to high schools around the country to give presentations on the University’s academic and extracurricular programs, the application and admissions process and financial aid. The schools are selected based on a combination of high test scores and low income levels, Quinlan said.

Quinlan attributed the increase in applications from the ambassador schools to a combination of heightened awareness about Yale’s financial aid options through the program and ambassadors’ repeated visits to the high schools.

The admissions office expanded the program last year so that ambassadors visit each school multiple times during vacations over the course of the year in order to build stronger relationships with the students and schools, Quinlan said. In 2005, students visited schools only once — during Thanksgiving break.

The program will continue to expand this year. Quinlan said the admissions office has hired 145 ambassadors from 35 states and the District of Columbia for visits that will take place during this year’s breaks, up from 117 last year.

Zach Marks ’09, one of the student coordinators of the program, said many of the students at the targeted high schools automatically disregard Yale once they find out the cost of yearly tuition.

“The $48,000 sticker price just turns them away,” Marks said. “People are unaware of the financial aid opportunities at Yale, and they don’t know about need-blind admissions. They think they won’t get in if they can’t pay.”

Even if the presentations do not persuade students to apply to Yale, personal relationships can still develop between the high school students and Yale representatives, student ambassador Drew Rowny ’10 said.

Rowny, who visited seven schools in Seattle last year, said he has not yet heard from any students whom he convinced to apply to Yale. But he said he has corresponded at length with several high school students about topics not necessarily related to Yale, such as the college experience in general.

“I feel like I can give advice and be something more than a talking head,” Rowny said. “The stuff you get from me as an ambassador is not something you can get from a Web site. That’s often not the case with people who come in an official capacity.”

In addition to talking about financial aid, ambassadors share their personal perspectives on campus life with high school students. Rowny said one of his most memorable moments as a student ambassador involved a girl pointedly asking him during a presentation whether racial minorities felt welcome at Yale.

Although he was surprised at the directness of her question, Rowny said he discussed last year’s freshman address, in which Kenji Yoshino talked about “covering” traits in order to fit in with the crowd. Rowny said he also mentioned the presence of cultural houses on campus.

Harvard University has had a program like the student ambassador program in place since the 1970s, Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath-Lewis said, albeit one much smaller than Yale’s.

Each year, about 10 Harvard students who work with the admissions office visit high schools in their hometowns to increase awareness about Harvard’s accessibility to low-income students, McGrath-Lewis said.

In addition to its domestic program, the Yale admissions office ran a pilot international ambassador program last year in South Asia in coordination with the Office of International Affairs. Through the program, 13 undergraduates visited schools in their hometowns in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The University is debating whether or not to continue the program this year, Quinlan said.

Student ambassadors are paid $50 for the first school they visit and $20 for every subsequent school they visit, he said.

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