International Ambassadors to break down barriers for Yale applicants worldwide

In countries ranging from Ghana to Spain to Pakistan, international Yalies will give high-school students an insiders’ peak into life at Yale and the American college application process this summer as part of the recently expanded International Ambassadors program.

Following the completion of a pilot ambassadors program in South Asia last winter, the admissions office, in collaboration with the Office of International Affairs, will inaugurate an extended version of the program intended to reach high-school students across the globe. The program — which will augment Yale’s outreach efforts to international students — will send a group of undergraduates to give admissions presentations at two high schools in their hometowns at over the summer. The destinations for this summer have not yet been determined.

The program is not intended to increase the number of applications from international students but rather to provide these students with information about Yale and answer their questions about attending college in the United States, said George Joseph, assistant secretary for international affairs. Many international students considering applying to Yale face obstacles unknown to domestic applicants, Joseph said, including a lack of knowledge about the application process and the impression that Yale is entirely out of their reach.

“The challenge that I’ve encountered most frequently is that many international students feel that Yale is simply not a possibility for them,” Joseph said. “They think either it’s too hard to get into, or it’s too expensive, or it’s too far away. Part of what we’re trying to do with the international ambassadors program is to dispel these concerns.”

The ambassadors, by virtue of having successfully completed the Yale application process, will demonstrate by their presence that students from their backgrounds can actually attend Yale, Joseph said. And, by raising awareness about Yale and giving would-be applicants a first-hand perspective on life in New Haven, Yale hopes to attract the attention of the most qualified applicants, Joseph added.

Since the ambassadors have not been selected, the office does not yet know how many students will participate in the program or how many countries will be visited, said Diana Cooke, director of international initiatives at the admissions office. But Cooke said she hopes to send ambassadors to every continent and a wide range of countries, with participating students numbering at least in the dozens.

The pilot program, run only in South Asia over the 2006-’07 winter break, helped Yale refine its approach to international outreach, Joseph said. For instance, a significant part of the ambassadors’ presentations needs to be devoted to discussing such topics as the difference between a university and a college and what exactly constitutes a liberal-arts education, a departure from domestic admissions presentations, Joseph said.

Financial aid in particular will be a focus of the presentations, Joseph said. The ambassadors will highlight the fact that Yale admissions are need-blind for all students, both domestic and international — relatively unusual among American universities — and give students details about the new financial-aid policy announced in January.

That policy reduced parental contributions for middle-and upper-middle-income families and eliminated the need for student loans.

A handful of international students interviewed expressed enthusiasm for the program and said reaching out to other international students can make a big difference in how they consider Yale.

Zehra Ijaz ’10, who visited two high schools in her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan as part of the 13-student South Asia pilot program, said she answered students’ questions about Yale’s financial-aid offerings and attempted to allay fears that attending a liberal-arts school, as opposed to a professional school, would make it impossible to secure a job after graduation.

Ijaz said she plans to sign up for the expanded version of the program this summer, noting that she feels she made something of an impact on the students at her presentation.

“A bunch of students who are now here at Yale as freshmen attended our info sessions,” she said. “I’d like to believe it’s because of us.”

Some international students said the program, though a good idea in theory, would probably not be successful in their hometowns.

Brazilian Wladimir Maracaba ’09 said students in northeast Brazil not only do not consider Yale as a schooling option, but they also generally do not think about studying in the United States at all.

“I could maybe get one or two people to apply, but I highly doubt very many would take it seriously,” Maracaba said.

But for the most part, students said they are eager to spread the word about Yale abroad.

Ghanian native Ruth Botsio ’09 said she had hoped to visit schools in Ghana when Yale announced the pilot program last year until she found out the program would be limited to South Asia. But this year, Botsio said, she will definitely participate.

Botsio herself was encouraged to see Yale as a serious possibility by alumni from her high school who were already attending Yale, she said. She said she intends to convey this same sense of possibility to younger students by sharing her experiences at Yale with them and conveying a sense of Yale’s “amazing resources.”

“When you are so far away, there are so many barriers to applying, and it’s very hard to imagine yourself going to Yale,” Botsio said. “But when there’s a real-life person students can hear and whose experiences they can listen to, then they’re more likely to apply and hopefully to have successful applications.”

Cooke said the admissions office has not yet decided whether it will allow traveling international students to visit schools outside their home countries.

Ambassadors will be paid a flat fee of $50 for the two visits, Cooke said.

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