Yale Admissions Office hits the road with peer schools

Despite being competitors on the field and in college rankings, Yale and other selective universities on the East Coast are teaming up to reach out to a wider range of high school students across the country.

For roughly five years, the Yale Admissions Office has partnered with its counterparts at Brown and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to hold joint-travel information sessions for high school students from coast to coast — a partnership that will expand from three trips each spring to four. Additionally, next fall, Yale will join a pre-existing partnership between Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia for another set of joint trips, focusing on areas of the country that have traditionally been underrepresented in these schools’ recent application cycles.

“We’re strategic in which states we’ll travel to each year,” said Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, adding that each spring, the Admissions Office plans the travel schedule for the upcoming year, after analyzing the number of applications Yale received from various regions of the country in the last admissions cycle. Quinlan said that Yale admissions officers are more likely to host information sessions in regions that have sent disproportionately fewer applicants to Yale than population and achievement markers would expect.

At the joint-travel information sessions run by Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia, admissions officers emphasize not the differences between the universities but the similarities in terms of affordability and accessibility, said Gregory Roberts, dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia. Roberts said the three schools — which Yale will soon join — look to target pockets of the country with high populations of prospective first-generation college students or students with high need for university financial aid, adding that Yale’s involvement arose from a discussion between Quinlan and William Fitzsimmons, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Harvard.

Despite the rivalry typically shared by Yale and its peer institutions in the realm of admissions, Roberts, Quinlan and outside college admissions experts interviewed all said that group travel has become an increasingly popular trend among colleges, as it benefits both the students and schools.

“Traveling with your competitors allows you to learn trade secrets and talk shop,” said David Petersam, president of Virginia-based higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants. Petersam added that each school benefits from sharing each other’s insights and strategies to better reach out to potential applicants, citing MIT’s innovative use of social media as one strategy that Yale and Brown admissions officers may have picked up on after traveling with their MIT counterparts.

Joint-travel information sessions allow students to receive relevant information in a more streamlined and centralized manner, said Richard Avitabile, a former admissions officer at New York University and a private college counselor at Steinbrecher and Partners.

Sam Faucher ’16, a student from Idaho, said single-college information sessions were often inconvenient.

“Even when schools like Yale did come to Idaho, it didn’t make sense for some of my friends to attend,” Faucher said. “Some of these kids lived on farms that were a couple of hours away from town. Why would they come to town for just one college’s information session?”

According to survey responses, Quinlan said, students who attend the joint sessions and students who attend Yale-only information sessions usually express similar levels of satisfaction.

Petersam said the joint-travel information sessions do not increase competitiveness amongst the schools, as such competition is inevitable and the “brand recognition” of these schools is already high.

“You really can’t hide your competitors from the kids. Yale wouldn’t be able to hide Stanford or Harvard from high-scoring applicants just by refusing to travel with them,” Petersam said.

Quinlan said that Yale’s partner schools share Yale’s desire to reach out to high-achieving students who do not apply to selective institutions, adding that it is important that the schools also practice need-blind admissions and maintain robust financial aid programs.

While the expansion of group travel over the coming year will lead to cutbacks in the Yale Admissions Office’s stand-alone travel, Quinlan said, he does not expect the Yale-only model will not end anytime soon, as it is still the best way for Yale to reach regions that are steadily represented in the student body.

“Group travel is most effective in spreading the word to underrepresented communities, but it’d be counterproductive for Yale to visit an elite high school that continually produces a lot of Ivy League students with a rival school,” said William Morse ’64 GRD ’74 — a former admissions officer at Yale — adding that the growth of joint-travel information sessions over the last decade is a sign of selective universities taking more nuanced approaches to admissions.

While Yale reaches out to top students at schools such as Andover and Exeter to persuade them to choose the University over its peer institutions, Morse said, in other cases, Yale needs to reach out to top students in more diverse communities to convince them to even consider applying to selective universities in the first place.

Yale will begin its partnership with Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia in fall 2014.

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