Gender gap widens

A total of 2,281 more women than men applied to Yale last fall, reflecting the greatest gender disparity among applicants in decades.

But despite the higher number of female applicants, 68 more men than women were offered a place in the class of 2012. When last year’s admissions cycle was over, the difference was clear-cut: 9.8 percent of men — and just 7.5 percent of women — were accepted. In response, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel told the News on Monday that the College will actively review all its admissions data and processes with respect to gender beginning in December, though he maintained that Yale does not aim to reach a predetermined quota of male to female admitted students.

“We make no explicit effort of any kind, whether before, during or at the close of the selection process to influence or adjust the overall gender ratio of the students we admit,” Brenzel said in a written statement.

The acceptance rates for Yale’s male and female applicants have become increasingly divergent in recent years; the trend reached a peak last year, when there was a 30 percent disparity among admitted students. But at the same time, the trend is not apparent at competing institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and Stanford universities.

Internal research by the admissions office has shown that men and women admitted to Yale are equally qualified, Brenzel said. The research also found that applicants of both genders face no statistically significant difference in their chances of admission.

“We have therefore been inclined to conclude that we are seeing equivalent numbers of the most competitive applicants,” the statement read.

Still, the difference in acceptance rates for male and female applicants — which has grown from 12 to 30 percent in the past six years — has prompted the admissions office to seek assistance from the Committee on Yale College Admissions Policy, co-chaired by University President Richard Levin and incoming College Dean Mary Miller.

The committee is called upon routinely to examine different admissions-related policies, Brenzel said, and in this case Levin has asked the committee to look specifically at gender.

Levin said he has also enlisted the help of Economics professor Ray Fair to help him examine admissions data related to gender.

“We’re not quite sure why this is happening, and we’d like to do some work to see what’s going on there,” Levin said in an interview Sunday.

The Widening Gap

While the differences between the number of male and female applicants may have seemed negligible six years ago, administrators agreed that the disparity apparent in the last year’s admissions data has reached a level that can no longer be ignored.

The ratio of female to male applicants for the class of 2012 last fall was nearly five to four, with 12,549 female applicants and 10,268 male applicants. Overall, Yale admitted 942 women and 1010 men. The difference between male and female matriculants in 2012 varied by less than 2 percent, with 654 men and 666 women accepting Yale’s offer of admission.

Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, on the other hand, have not seen similar disparities. In fact, since 2002, Stanford and Princeton have generally seen slightly higher numbers of male than female applicants.

For the class of 2012, Princeton received 10,806 applications from men and 10,564 applications from women. At Stanford, 12,058 men and 11,900 women applied for positions in the class of 2011, the most recent year for which data was available.

Harvard received 13,660 applications from men and 13,802 from women for the class of 2012, said Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath-Lewis.

While Harvard has seen slightly more female than male applicants over the past four years, she said, the difference has not been statistically significant. Since first admitting women in 1973, Harvard has maintained a gender-blind admissions policy in that Harvard sets no quotas for male or female acceptance, she said.

“We don’t put our finger on the scale,” McGrath-Lewis said. “It’s every man or woman for him- or herself.”

Levin echoed Brenzel’s comments, saying the College does not aim to achieve a specific ratio of men and women during the admissions process.

“There’s no bias against women,” Levin said. “We don’t even keep a running total of how many we’ve got as we do the admissions process. We are doing it, quite literally, gender-blind.”

Although some may interpret the gender gap in a negative light, Brenzel said Yale should be given credit for attracting so many female applicants.

From 1998 to 2008, the applications to Yale from men rose by 70 percent, a steeper increase than Harvard, Princeton and Stanford have experienced. But the increase in the number of female applicants has been even greater.

“What’s truly remarkable is the way we have outpaced our peers with respect to female applicants,” Brenzel said in the statement. “Over that same ten year period, applications from women to Yale have grown by almost 110 percent, versus 70 percent at Harvard, 75 percent at Princeton and 40 percent at Stanford.”

Yale: What Women Want?

These numbers have left the admissions office wondering why a greater number of women than men aspire to attend Yale.

Brenzel pointed to the makeup of Yale’s academic curriculum — with its strengths in the arts and humanities — as one possible explanation. Brenzel said Yale’s science and engineering programs have also been historically open to women.

The 17 admissions experts and college counselors interviewed offered other explanations for the greater number of female applicants to Yale, citing the psychology of applicants and different admissions pressures for men and women.

High school boys and girls tend to approach the application process differently, said Ryan Munce, vice president of the National Research Center for College and University Admissions. Female students tend to be more aggressive in the college preparation and admission process, he said, often making contact with more schools and sending out more applications.

“If [Yale’s] numbers say anything, it is that there are more female students that are willing to go through the work of applying to Yale as a reach school than there are men that are willing to take that risk,” Munce said.

But the phenomenon is not unique to Yale. The disparity in the number of female and male applicants to Yale aligns with national trends, said David Hawkins, public policy director for the National Association for College Admissions Counselors.

Currently, 58 percent of applicants to private colleges are women, he said, so the number of female applicants to Yale is “not terribly surprising.”

In fact, the presence of a gender gap is often recognized in the world of college admissions. Half a dozen admissions counselors interviewed said they may assess a student’s chances of admission to some colleges based on that student’s gender.

At many selective private colleges, the flood of highly qualified female applicants runs up against tough acceptance rates, said Anne Naman, director of college counseling at the John Cooper School, located north of Houston.

“More qualified girls are applying to these highly selective colleges,” she said. “[Colleges] want to keep some kind of gender balance in their student body, so it’s going to be less competitive for guys, even if they’re taking equally qualified boys and girls.”

But while some schools — particularly small liberal arts colleges — seem to weigh gender in acceptance decisions, Yale’s admissions process suggests no consideration of gender, said Susan Paton, director of college counseling at the Hopkins School in New Haven, which had 15 students accepted to the class of 2012.

“At Yale, [admissions] feels like a very pure process regarding gender,” she said. “I don’t think students worry about gender when they’re applying to Yale.”

During the 2007-’08 academic year, there was less than a 2 percent difference in the number of male and female undergraduates in Yale College, which had 2,695 male and 2,594 female students.

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