Yale to offer summer bridge program

In an effort to mitigate the rocky adjustment period some students face when they first come to college, Yale will debut a brand new summer program this year.

During the second Summer Session, which will take place in July, Yale will invite roughly 30 rising freshmen to participate in a five-week summer bridge program designed to introduce them to Yale’s academic and social environment. The initiative — which covers all tuition, transportation and housing fees for participants — is a three-year pilot program that was initially conceived in 2008, but financial constraints forced Yale College to put the project on hold until fall 2012, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said. Though William Whobrey, assistant dean of Yale College, said he and the Admissions Office have not decided how they will select an initial cohort of students for the invitation-only program, he added that they will look for students whose high school backgrounds might not have fully prepared them for Yale.

“I think we want to make sure that Yale College and the Admissions Office work together to develop and create a set of opportunities that will make it possible for a whole range of students to take full advantage of the offerings in Yale College,” Miller said.

Students in the program will live in residential colleges with student counselors and be enrolled in English 114, an introductory writing course. Miller said a report by the Committee on Yale College Education showed that students who took English 114 in their first semester at Yale performed more strongly in subsequent semesters than those who had not, adding that the course helps students develop critical reading and writing skills for a college environment. Whobrey said administrators considered similar programs at peer institutions, such as Princeton and Stanford, while it was designing Yale’s summer bridge.

Whobrey, who is also dean of Summer Session and Special Programs, said the summer bridge program aims to give students experience in a Yale classroom, in addition to familiarity with University resources including libraries, archives and tutoring programs.

“We know from the college deans that some students run into trouble because they don’t ask for help soon enough or think things will get better on their own,” Whobrey said. “There are all sorts of people out there who are ready and able to help, but of course you have to know who they are.”

Jamieson Bilella, president of the North American Association of Summer Sessions, said an important aspect of summer programs — and especially of bridge programs such as Yale’s — is relationship building. Being on campus with other Yale students will allow the summer bridge participants to preview the college social experience, he said, in addition to getting a feel for the academic environment.

Aaron Fulk, associate director of college counseling at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in California, said he thinks any large university with the resources and funding available should aim to offer bridge programs. Fulk — who has worked with the non-profit Questbridge program, which pairs low-income, first-generation college students with top U.S. colleges — added that for students coming from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds, social preparation is almost more important than academic preparation.

“Any students who are admitted to Yale are obviously pretty bright students,” Fulk said. “I think any student admitted to Yale is going to be fully capable of doing the academic work. The challenges those students encounter are typically the result of being thrown into a social atmosphere that in no way resembles their home life.”

Steven Mendoza ’14, who was the first person in his family to attend college, said he would have loved to take advantage of Yale’s summer bridge program had it existed in the year he was accepted. Freshman year felt “like a bomb was dropped on me,” Mendoza said, adding that it took several semesters for him to become as comfortable on campus as other students seemed to be from the beginning.

Mendoza also said he thinks offering a program in the summer is a good idea because students will not have all the distractions of the school year and can truly focus on adjusting to college.

In 2012, a study by the National Center for Postsecondary Research found that summer bridge programs significantly benefit students’ academic work in their first year of college. By the end of their sophomore year, however, the students’ work showed no significant difference in comparison to a control group of students who did not receive pre-college summer academic support.

Admissions decisions for regular decision applicants to the Class of 2017 will be announced online March 28.

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