Admissions officers travel to Africa

In its quest to broaden Yale’s pool of international applicants, representatives of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions are visiting Africa for the second time in two years.

As a part of her fall travel itinerary, admissions officer Rebecca Westphal has visited schools and U.S. government-funded advising centers in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland over the past week. Her journey will end this Friday with a public presentation in Ghana. While the Admissions Office’s outreach efforts are broad in scope, those within the office say that time and logistical constraints mean that some African students still slip under Yale’s admissions radar each year.

“Overall, we always wish we could reach more places, more students and more schools,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel wrote in an e-mail. “Our admissions travel is forever a matter of maximizing what we can do with the means available, both to open access to Yale and also to compete for what we believe to be the best prepared students in any country we visit.”

Jean Lee, who coordinates Yale’s international recruitment efforts with Westphal, said the Admissions Office works closely with peer institutions, local organizations and EducationUSA, a global network of 450 education advising centers supported by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

As part of this trip to Africa, Westphal is traveling with an admissions officer from the University of Pennsylvania. Yale has also worked in partnership with KenSAP, an athlete-scholar project targeting disadvantaged students in Kenya; the Zawadi Foundation, a non-profit organization for disadvantaged African children; and the United States Achievers Program, which aims to provide access to higher education for lower-income youth throughout the developing world.

Indeed, Yale’s partnership with KenSAP gave Kenyan international student Victor Mutai ’11 access to the admissions guidance that allowed him to successfully apply to Yale.

“I guess I am lucky because I was admitted to a program that introduced me to U.S. schools and helped me prepare for SAT and also gave me guidance on how to apply,” Mutai wrote in an e-mail. “Graduating from a Kenyan public school, it was hard even to understand the application process.”

Kwabena Antwi-Boasiako ’11, who attended a public school in Ghana, said he applied to Yale upon the suggestion of an EducationUSA advisory officer.

Like Mutai, Antwi-Boasiako did not attend an admissions presentation prior to applying to Yale. He added that when it comes to school visits, Yale often ends up visiting schools where the student body is likely to be well-informed about the college application process.

For example, representatives from Bishops College in South Africa and Waterford Kamhlaba in Swaziland, which both appear on this year’s admissions travel itinerary, wrote in e-mails Monday that their student body is well acquainted with the U.S. college admissions system and regularly sends students to American colleges.

Lee noted that evening presentations made by Yale admissions officers are open to the public and are publicized online and through mailings to school guidance counselors known to Yale or its affiliate organizations.

And indeed there appears to be strong interest in Yale among African students, including those who do not attend schools that Yale visits.

Westphal said that her presentation at the Hillcrest School in Kenya was attended by over 100 students from 20 to 25 schools.

“Well over half of them [came] from public schools and some of whom had travelled a number of hours to get there,” she added.

At Bishops College in Cape Town, 47 of the 50 students in attendance came from other schools in the area.

Still, getting the message out to this growing number of interested African students will require Yale to pay more visits to public and local private schools, Mutai said. He said that most students at his nationally-ranked public high school and in Kenya in general have very little idea of how the U.S. admissions system works.

Part of the reason, he explained, was the Kenyan higher education system, which admits students to universities solely on academic merit. As a result, he said, there is no guidance counselor at his high school.

Another reason may be cultural: Antwi-Boasiako felt uncomfortable about the self-reflective nature of the U.S. college application, which he thought compelled him to “brag” about himself.

While Antwi-Boasiako said Yale has visited his school following his admission, Mutai said his school has yet to receive a visit or any information from the Admissions Office. If KenSAP had not targeted him because of his tribal affiliation and athletic ability, he like most of the other students at his school would have had virtually no idea how to navigate the U.S. college admissions process, he said.

Brenzel noted that because the Admissions Office must spread its resources across the world in just a few trips, officers could only visit “a tiny fraction” of the schools in an individual country. He praised KenSAP for its efforts with students like Mutai whose schools Yale representatives did not visit.

“Organizations such as KenSAP, whether in Kenya or other countries, help us identify extremely deserving and high-achieving students coming from a wide variety of schools,” he said in an e-mail.

Ethiopian international student Lina Ayenew ’10 noted that a visit from a Yale representative would have made her application process smoother. Still, she noted that students at disadvantaged schools faced larger difficulties.

“Sadly, underprivileged schools are not just overlooked by Yale; they are overlooked by the local government as well,” she said. “So I understand why Yale would focus on the more well-established schools whose students will be able to survive and thrive within Yale.”

As part of its international recruitment drive this year, Yale admissions officers have also visited countries in Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Correction: October 21, 2009

An earlier version of this article misrepresented the gender of Kwabena Antwi-Boasiako ’11. On several occasions, he was referred to as “she.”

Comments

  • ’12

    A worthy cause. Thanks for covering this YDN.

  • ES ’10

    The self-reflective portion of the American college application says very little about an applicant’s ability to be successful at a top college. It simply measures the applicant’s ability to project good character in writing. Certainly for science majors, this skill is irrelevant. Perhaps our admissions office could learn something from the Kenyans.

  • cool

    nice, but i wish, as one of the interviewees said, yale admissions really sought out high-achieving kids going to some of the less distinguished schools in africa. not just the students already blessed by attending a well-established institution. of course, that can be said around the globe. it’s a hard process to reach out to the lesser known, underprivileged schools, but well worth it when you find one or two students who exceed all expectations.