Yale’s STEM admissions outreach yields success

After two consecutive years of reaching its recruiting goal for students likely to major in the sciences, the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions aims to maintain the same percentage of science-oriented students in future years — along with the aggressive outreach programs that attracted them to Yale in the first place.

To keep in step with Yale’s peer institutions and the University’s expansion of science-related initiatives, the Admissions Office set a benchmark seven years ago that 40 percent of students in the incoming freshman class enroll with the intention of majoring in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics field. Although STEM students compose more than 50 percent of incoming freshmen classes at rival schools Stanford and Harvard, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the Admissions Office is comfortable maintaining its current target of 40 percent despite the rising number of STEM applications Yale receives each year.

Quinlan said the Admissions Office has made “a significant investment in advertising Yale as a great place to do science” in part because the school is more traditionally known for its excellence in the humanities.

While Quinlan said he was pleased that 42 percent of the class of 2016 and 41 percent of the class of 2017 were composed of students likely to major in the STEM fields, he said he was particularly encouraged by the strength of the students who applied.

“In recent years, we’ve started seeing students interested in STEM apply to and choose Yale over schools like Stanford or [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology],” Quinlan said.

The number of STEM applicants to Yale has risen by more than 50 percent since his predecessor Jeffrey Brenzel began Yale’s targeted outreach campaign in 2006, Quinlan said, adding that this growth in applications from students likely to major in STEM fields has driven a sharp increase in Yale’s overall application numbers.

Every high school student who scores well on the most difficult science Advanced Placement tests such as AP Physics are sent stand-alone science and engineering brochures by the Admissions Office, Quinlan said. He added that the Admissions Office will also attend a number of prestigious competitions and events such as the Research Science Institute at MIT or the FirstRobotics National Championship.

Quinlan said the Yale faculty members have played an active role in recruiting STEM students. Three times a year, some of Yale’s most distinguished STEM professors such as Ramamurti Shankar  or Jay Humphrey travel with admissions officers to traditionally STEM-strong areas such as Northern California or New Jersey to host information sessions dubbed “science and engineering forums,” Quinlan said.

David Petersam, president of Virginia-based higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, said Yale is also sending more “likely letters” to outstanding STEM students, indicating before the traditional April 1 date of notification that they will probably be accepted. Students who receive these letters and are contacted personally by admissions officers are more likely to attend that college because they may feel more appreciated or learn more about the school, he said.

Though outstanding students in the humanities or the STEM fields are eligible to receive likely letters, only students who receive likely letters for the sciences are invited to Yale Engineering and Science Weekend, or YES-W. In this program, select accepted students are flown by Yale to spend a weekend in a residential college and see the University’s opportunities and resources in the STEM fields firsthand. Quinlan added that the program, which debuted in 2011 for a three-year pilot program, has been so successful in attracting top STEM students that it received another three years of funding this summer from the Provost’s Office.

“My students are becoming increasingly savvy in realizing that Yale’s small science community is an asset and not a detraction,” said Richard Avitabile, a former admissions officer at New York University and a private college counselor at Steinbrecher and Partners. In prior years, many of his STEM students would choose schools with larger STEM programs and better ranked graduate schools than Yale, Avitabile said, adding that students are now realizing that they can get research jobs and faculty interaction more easily at smaller schools such as Yale.

Current undergraduates in the STEM majors said that they were attracted to Yale in part because of its small STEM program and the broader focus of the University in comparison to more STEM-focused schools.

Emily Baczyk ’17 said that although her dream school had been MIT for many years, she ultimately chose Yale over MIT because she wanted a broader liberal arts education and a diverse student body.

Ike Lee ’15 said that although he knew Yale was not a STEM-focused school, he chose Yale over schools such as Princeton in part because he knew there would be less competition for research opportunities and faculty attention at Yale. Lee added that while the University lacks the breadth of scientific opportunities at other universities, Yale is a leader in the fields it offers.

“No undergraduate will ever exhaust the research opportunities Yale offers,” he said, adding that many of his friends at other schools have been surprised at the ease with which students obtain research jobs at Yale.

When deciding between colleges, Madeleine Barrow ’15 said she was leaning toward Harvard or Princeton until she received STEM-related brochures from the University that changed her mind. Barrow said she was surprised to hear that Yale was often more generous with funding and research positions than better-known schools in the STEM community.

Approximately 23 percent of the class of 2014 and the class of 2015 is currently majoring in a STEM field.

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