In college admissions, green has an allure

As part of the University’s plans to introduce sustainability into everyday life, many of the shuttles run on biodiesel. Sustainability has become a new admissions draw.
As part of the University’s plans to introduce sustainability into everyday life, many of the shuttles run on biodiesel. Sustainability has become a new admissions draw. Photo by Daniel Carvalho.

When applicants considering Yale weigh factors in their admissions decision, they typically turn to aesthetics, academics or extracurricular offerings. But a new factor has begun to emerge for a small proportion of applicants: sustainability.

For half a dozen of the newest Elis interviewed, Yale’s green initiatives played some role in their decision to matriculate.

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A new survey released this summer by the Princeton Review showed that nearly one in five high school students were strongly influenced by information regarding a college’s environmental commitment. The Princeton Review also rated the University’s sustainability programs as among the best in the nation, validating recent efforts by the University both to create eco-friendly projects and to promote them to applicants. Yale’s green efforts earned it full marks — along with 14 other colleges — on the Princeton Review’s 2010 Green Rating Honor Roll.

“It sends a signal that schools like Yale, like Harvard, like Dartmouth [which also placed in the rankings] don’t rest solely on their academic records, but realize that sustainability plays a large part in what students are wanting,” said David Soto, the Princeton Review college ratings director.

Green on the Rise

Anna Wade ’13, who participated in the Harvest preorientation program, described the University’s focus on sustainability as a primary reason for choosing Yale. While she said she looked at other Ivy League schools, she said none could match Yale’s programs, such as the Yale Farm, which she first learned about during a campus tour. She added that she appreciated the spillover of such efforts into the academic arena.

“I like how Yale incorporated environmental studies and the Farm into their education system,” said Wade, who intends to major in environmental studies. “I didn’t find a lot of that at other colleges.”

Still, not all college applicants pay special attention to a college’s green programs. While colleges have been increasingly promoting sustainability efforts in their publications, said Michael Hallman, director of college counseling at the private Meadows School in Las Vegas, he said he hasn’t seen students bringing up such issues during their meetings with him.

Even for applicants who are interested in sustainability, such as potential environmental studies major Jordan Orosz ’13, Yale’s sustainability efforts were less of a consideration than its academics. She said she would have attended Yale “even if it were stuck in the dark ages in terms of ‘greening’ the campus.”

Max Henke ’13, another Harvest participant, said he began comparing colleges’ sustainability efforts after he was admitted to Yale.

“When I looked more, it opened a realm of possibilities for how to compare colleges,” he said.

Admissions meets Environment

Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said the Admissions Office has noticed the rising interest applicants are showing in Yale’s green initiatives and has developed specific ways to highlight such programs.

“Regarding sustainability, we do find that potential applicants are often very interested in Yale’s programs and projects,” he said in an e-mail, “and are surprised to find the extent to which the curriculum, the extracurricular organizations and the university administration are engaged with environmental issues.”

Yale’s new viewbook — first printed last year — features a two-page spread devoted to the Yale Farm, complete with a time line discussing the history of sustainability at Yale.

Yale’s science tours begin with a stop at the newly constructed Kroon Hall, which earned a LEED Platinum rating for sustainability, the most prestigious designation available. Brenzel added that nearly all campus tours and information sessions focus in some way on the “greening” of the University.

Office of Sustainability Director Julie Newman added that her office and the Admissions Office have maintained a strong working relationship in recent years. Brenzel said his office has formed its own sustainability team, which he said is helping to align the Admissions Office’s practices with the University’s green efforts.

For example, the Admissions Office eliminated nearly all paper rejection letters this spring.

While Kroon Hall and the Yale Farm have become the icons of sustainability at Yale, Newman said sustainability is much more prevalent in the University’s daily life than many students realize.

“What Yale has proven, with some of our colleagues, is that you can mainstream some of these [sustainability] issues: how to provide energy for a campus, how to move water in and out of a campus while decreasing consumption, how to move commodities … and use less of those commodities,” Newman said.

She pointed out that on-campus buses now operate partially on biodiesel, custodial services are using eco-friendly cleaning products — some with up to 90 percent fewer chemicals — and student groups such as the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership are encouraging other students to conserve water and electricity.

Yale Senior Energy Manager Tom Downing has also worked to improve Yale’s energy efficiency through projects such as the new wind turbines on top of Becton Center, the solar panels at the Divinity School and motion-sensor lights in buildings across campus.

We’re not alone

Yale is not the only school to emphasize the importance of sustainability through programs and the admissions office.

The College of the Atlantic, also designated one of the country’s 15 most sustainable colleges by the Princeton Review, has made sustainability a centerpiece of campus culture since its founding in 1969.

The college offers only one degree, in human ecology, and the value of sustainability is integrated into every facet of the college, from its curriculum to dining to admissions practices, said Mike Madigan, an admissions officer at the College of the Atlantic. In 2007, the college became the first carbon-neutral campus in the world.

And with the growing national attention to the importance of sustainability, the college has attracted an expanding pool of applicants, Madigan said.

“We’re not a school that’s done a lot of publicizing, but as the things that we’re doing here at the college become more hot-ticket items in the world, more people become aware that we’re the school that’s doing something,” he said. “We do see more attention and energy.”

Still, Newman said Yale is also able to attract applicants with a strong interest in sustainable practices, especially now that “it’s no longer expected that it’s just the smaller colleges, such as the College of the Atlantic or Unity College,” that can offer an environmentally conscious education.

Newman said Yale has a proven, long-term commitment to sustainability, and she added that students are able to take an active role in environmental programs on campus and in the classroom.

“The way that we do business is now becoming an integral and mainstream part of the University,” Newman said. “And that is shifting from an accepted to an expected way of running a campus. It’s mainstream.”

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