The front page of last Friday’s News trumpeted “Admit rate hits all-time low.” A year ago, the News’ front-page headline blared “Class of 2015 admit rate lowest ever.” For most Yalies, these are not mere statements of fact; these are badges of pride. And therein lies the problem.
Yale, like its peer institutions, has seen acceptance rates steadily decline in the past few decades. No doubt this is due to both increasing population and a tremendous easing of the application process—inner city recruiting, an online process and the common application. And although birth rates hit their peak in 1990, heavy recruiting has resulted in continued increases in the number of applications Yale receives.
All of this is well and good. The fact that Yale is now more accessible to a broader swath of the population indicates that we are getting ever closer to the meritocratic ideal that governs American college admissions. But there is a problem with the glee that often accompanies our super-selectivity.
As my friends and I flipped through the News at breakfast last week, I heard not an insignificant number of relieved sighs: “Whew! We got back under Columbia! Last year was embarrassing.” Pride in the unprecedented accessibility of our application system is warranted, but smug satisfaction with our own exclusivity is as unattractive as it is unhealthy.
There is no doubt that exclusivity is an important part of what makes Yale a spectacular university. The buildings and resources are lovely, but most of us — faculty and students — come here because we want to be surrounded by peers who are among the most talented of our generation. Certainly, our acceptance rates are an important indicator — and guardian — of that standard.
But there is something twisted about measuring our worth by the number of people rejected. The very fact that there are hundreds of students who are accepted and rejected by different schools of comparable academic caliber and admissions rates testifies to the fact that college admissions at many of these schools is largely a crapshoot. So measuring institutions’ worth by the miniscule drops in admissions rates simply seems infantile.
Five months ago, I used my space here to express distaste with Harvard’s “We are the 6%” t-shirt for the Harvard-Yale game. It was pathetic when Harvard students trumpeted their admissions statistics then, and it is equally pathetic that we follow suit now. Selectivity is not a value in and of itself; it is merely a reflection of a wide array of gifts that will hopefully be put to use for the advancement of knowledge and the bettering of the world.
So what if the News chose to trumpet the talents of those accepted rather than the number rejected? Of course, the basic acceptance rate is a nice, clean, easy statistic, but what if we emphasized the number of artists, athletes or musicians in the incoming class — or even the weekly hours they devoted to service or their SAT scores? Any of these would at least reflect something substantive and positive. We are not here to pat ourselves on the back for beating out the Joneses.
It is precisely the pretentiousness of trumpeted admissions statistics that provides the context for Rick Santorum’s dismissal of college snobbery. A college community that sees the diminishing percentage of admitted students and congratulates itself on its own greatness has forgotten its purpose.
Santorum is right; there is nothing wrong with attending a trade-school or becoming a carpenter or a plumber. Most of us will not go into those sorts of professions, but we if we derive any superiority from that fact, then we deserve all of Santorum’s vitriol. Our self-worth should have nothing to do with those the 93.2 percent who don’t enter Yale’s gates, but with what we build with what we’ve been given.
Yishai Schwartz is a junior in Branford College. His column runs on Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.