Part 1 of 2: University targets science students

As part of University-wide efforts to transform Yale into a world-class science research institution, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has made recruiting science and engineering students a top priority.

The Admissions Office’s outreach efforts, which began around five years ago, include programs that exclusively aim to boost both the number and quality of science students at Yale. A new science and engineering viewbook was published this fall to supplement the original version, and prospective applicants who are interested in the sciences can now watch an online video about research opportunities, take campus tours of science and engineering facilities and receive school visits from student ambassadors.

Jeff Brenzel, the dean of undergraduate admissions, said the Admissions Office is also overhauling its recruitment presentations with new multimedia. So far, the efforts have seen moderate success, in the form of a small increase in the number of prospective science and engineering applicants over the past several years, Brenzel said.

“We are hoping to see a few more science majors, while at the same time, our efforts are primarily focused on making sure the very top science students in the world choose Yale,” Brenzel said.


The Admissions Office tries to win over exceptional science students in a more personal way, by giving students’ contact information to professors with related interests, said Meg Urry, chair of the Physics Department.

“[The Office of Undergraduate] Admissions lets individual professors know if there is a prospective freshman who has particular synergy or related interests,” Urry said in a e-mail Sunday.

Urry said she has one to three of these conversations each year, tailoring them to each prospective student’s specific interests, and how those interests would be well served by the Yale academic experience. For example, she said, on Sunday morning she called a prospective freshman who is interested in both physics and the issue of women in the sciences. Urry said they discussed the Perspectives on Science freshman program, about which she said the student was excited. They also discussed the Yale Drop Team, she said, which does micro-gravity experiments with a NASA “zero-gravity” plane that flies up and free-falls down.

Throughout the year, science and engineering department chairs are constantly discussing new ways to recruit interested freshmen, said Tom Pollard, chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department.

Pollard, too, has made many such calls, including one to a student who had done research for four summers at the university level. The student now wants to work in his lab, Pollard said.

In order to distinguish Yale from its peers, Pollard said, he touts the University as an institution with top-notch sciences that also allows students to pursue a well-rounded education and an active social life.

“Yale students have much more fun than MIT students,” Pollard said.


But within the Admissions Office itself, broader outreach efforts center on increasing the visibility of Yale’s science and engineering programs. A special section of the Admissions Office’s Web site is devoted to science and engineering, featuring several links, including one to the Web site of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Applicants can also ask questions about the sciences at Yale via a special e-mail address connecting them with current science and engineering students. Another link leads to the new 40-page viewbook highlighting Yale’s billion-dollar investment in campus science and research facilities and featuring profiles of students and faculty involved in various research projects on campus.

This month, the Admissions Office also added a link on its Web site to a promotional video produced by the Yale Office of Public Affairs. Titled “At Yale, the World is My Laboratory,” the 11-minute clip shows Yale students participating in field research opportunities around the world.

Beginning last year, the Admissions Office has also sent Yale students to the nation’s top high schools during semester breaks to promote the University’s science and engineering programs. The initiative is an offshoot of the Admissions Office’s main student ambassadors program, which was designed to attract high-achieving low-income students, Brenzel said.

“Yale has made a really big push with its science presentations,” Laurie Kobick, college counselor at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., said. “We have had admissions representatives as well as student alumni come and speak at our school.”

Eric Bersin, for example, a senior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., said Yale’s biomedical engineering program and campus upgrades were among his primary reason for applying early in the fall. (Bersin was deferred.)


But convincing prospective students that Yale offers an excellent science education will take time, college counselors said.

“Most of our students don’t put Yale at the top of the list when they are applying to college,” Barry Baker, director of college counseling at the California Academy of Math and Science, a top-ranked magnet school in Carson, Calif.

Science ambassador Katelyn Martin ’12 said the students at Southwest DeKalb High School and Pace Academy, in Decatur and Atlanta, Ga., respectively, were more attracted by Yale’s generous financial aid incentives than by its science research opportunities and facilities.

Still, for science students who do apply, gaining admission appears to be no easier. And despite the professors play in luring talented students to Yale, Urry said they have no input regarding admissions decisions.

“As far as I know, we have no influence at all,” she said.

And this fall, over a dozen students applied early to Yale from the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, but only one student was admitted so far, said the director of college counseling, Darby McHugh.


  • ScienceStudent

    Given this push to recruit science students, one wonders why a science lab appears for only a few seconds of the 16 minute celebration of singing and dancing that is our new admissions video.

  • AnotherScienceStudent


    Probably because (almost) none of us can sing. So they figured that we really were’t the target demographic of the video. The lab montage was there, I assume, more as a draw for those humanities and social science students who like CSI.

    (My apologies to those science students who were in that lab footage: I know you guys are doing real, amazing research; it is just that when you put lab work to song, it has a Bones/CSI like feel.)

    Also, it wasn’t like there was that much focus on humanities or social sciences either … the video was low on academic focus. That’s fine, of course, since it isn’t like Yale has to convince many people of its superlative academic record. It’s only point was something like, ” … and we’re happy!”

  • Whaaa ???

    “Transform Yale into a world-class science research institution..? where have you guys been for the last 150 years… By any measure Yale IS a world-class science research institution. Perhaps there is a segment of our student body (or at least two at YDN) who are in another world.

  • @#1

    Because the new admissions video is a steaming pile of rubbish designed to attract only gay men/women who like singing, hate sports, are scared of things that appear hard or possibly inaccessible and like jew-fros. Revolt!

  • Really?

    I agree with whaa? that YDN really needs to be more careful in it’s language. The phrase ” transform Yale into a world-class science research institution” is a bit at odds with the continual top 5 ranking of biology and physics grad programs as well as the near billion dollars in federal grants that fund med school labs alone.

    I agree that undergrad science a Yale is mostly pitiful when compared to MIT, but it’s a liberal arts education so truely there is no comparison. Sure yalies may have more fun then a science schools students, but its not our students that are the ones winning Nobels now is it?

  • @ 3

    Of course it’s a world class institution. But that’s not good enough if you are competing with places like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, CalTech and Princeton. Yale is in a tough spot of having branded itself more of a social sciences school, and it is now in the process of reestablishing an identity as a premier research institution.

  • ’98
  • @3

    If Yale is serious about “transforming Yale into a world-class science research institutions”, learn from Princeton selecting a scientist (such as Nobel Laureate Professor Steitz) as president. The last Yale professor who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry was sued by Yale instead. Shame on Yale! Change has to be done from the top.

  • skeptic

    Re #8…. Nobel Prizes are for accomplishments unrelated to academic administration. Good University Presidents (such as Shirley T. at Princeton) come in all flavors… not related to their fields of scholarship. On further reflection, maybe winners of the Nobel Peace Prize would be an exception.

  • Yale Engineer

    #3 is right, the 2002 nobel prize winner was ousted out of Yale even after it was clear that his research would have great impact.

    The problem is that while the Graduate schools are very highly regarded, high school students don’t even classify Yale as equals to MIT/Princeton/Harvard/Stanford when it comes to science. And that doesn’t even considers engineering.

  • Old Blue ’73

    Interesting that Thomas Jefferson gets a mention in the article as one magnet science high school where Yale might find excellent science and technical students. Yale’s admissions has been much less friendly to TJ applicants than Princeton has over the past 5 years at least.

  • logic

    Deferring 10 of 11 Early Applicants from Bronx Science indicates a lack of dedication to increasing science admits.

  • @9

    I agree with #8. Yale has been run by economist and lawyers for too long. Levin was an economic professor, so why not select a science professor who has science agenda at heart? Let us not forget Yale is an educational institution not a for-profit corporation.

  • Back to the drawing board

    Targeting science students? They should deal with the students right here on campus. For example, paying attention to the consistent complaints over several years about certain science courses/labs

  • @12

    Just becomes someone goes to a Science orientated high school it doesn’t mean that they are the best science students.

    Also, the notion that somehow Yale is not prestigious in terms of science seems a bit off. I was a hard core science person (and still am) but I wouldn’t trade Yale for anything.

  • Old Blue ’73

    #15: “Just becomes someone goes to a Science orientated high school it doesn’t mean that they are the best science students.”
    Of course. Some of those kids do remarkable things in the humanities; they were good enough in math and science to get into those schools. But magnet tech schools like Bronx Science and TJ draw the most talented math and science kids from a large metro area. The fact that Yale seems not very interested in these kids belies the claim made in the article.

  • nudelman

    Science reputation takes decades to “earn”. Having been to both Harvard and Yale, I do think Yale’s science program is comparable if not better, but majoring in engineering at Yale would be a mistake unless there is a DRASTIC improvement in Yale’s reputation – which is not likely. It’s like majoring in art history… at MIT. I’m sure you could get good teaching, but you’re not going to be competitive with the best in the world unless you are exceptional – in that case, you should have gone to MIT, which offers far deeper and richer exposure to engineering.