Yale reaches out before Bulldog Days

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After the Yale Undergraduate Admissions Office distributed decisions to over 30,000 applicants at 5 p.m. on March 27, the officers gathered for a celebratory dinner. But the very next day, they were back in the office, focused on ensuring that the newly admitted students would want to come to Yale.

In the lead up to Bulldog Days — Yale’s signature three-day program to welcome newly admitted students, which will take place April 22–25 — the office is continuing to expand and develop new online initiatives to reach out to prospective students. Still, both admissions officers and college counselors interviewed said universities are only beginning to tap into the Internet’s potential.

“We think really strategically with regards to our outreach,” said Mark Dunn, senior assistant director of Yale’s Admissions Office. He added that the University carefully considers not only when to contact students but also what types of messages will be most effective for which demographics.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said Yale’s outreach efforts have been drastically revamped in the last two years under Dunn’s leadership. In prior years, Yale routinely sent one broad email with a comprehensive summary of the University’s extracurricular and academic life. But the office decided to scrap that model, he said, because the emails were often too lengthy and failed to capture the complete attention of students.

Last year was the first time that admissions officers sent admitted students tailored emails based on parts of their application such as their answers to the famous “Why Yale” question or the interests expressed in their personal essays. As an example, Quinlan said a student who expressed interest in the Brady-Johnson Grand Strategy program in his “Why Yale” question might have received a condensed email with more information about the class and its associated opportunities.

This year, to streamline the process, admitted students were asked to fill out a survey when they first logged into the accepted student website. According to Dunn, the newly accepted students had to list four parts of Yale that they wanted to learn more about from a selection of 22 options. By the end of April, each accepted student who had filled out the survey will have received four emails that comprehensively explain each of these subjects, he said.

Dunn said Yale’s outreach efforts to accepted students differ from the information that is available to all applicants. Although most of the information in the emails is public information, the admissions office wants admitted students to feel like the outreach effort is an insider’s guide to Yale, he added.

“Whereas if a prospective student asks about [Directed Studies], we would probably give them the basic layout and the syllabus, with admitted students we’ll give them exposure to actual students,” Dunn said. “The crucial goal is to get the admitted student to start imagining himself as a part of our community.”

In addition to the email program, Quinlan said the office is also uploading more content on digital platforms such as Facebook or YouTube each year. This year, for the first time, the University launched a series of recorded Google Hangouts.

The first Google Hangout, in which admitted students could see their questions answered in real time, took place in February, hosted by the Admissions Office in conjunction with a number of faculty who answered student questions about research opportunities and academic programs at Yale.

“We wanted to highlight Yale’s commitment to excellence in undergraduate education with this Hangout,” Dunn said.

He added that the office brought professors from a wide array of disciplines to the Hangout to underscore the University’s intellectual diversity.

Still, both Quinlan and Dunn said the bulk of the school’s recruitment efforts are intentionally driven by Yale undergraduates because admitted students appreciate the passion and sincerity of current students.

In addition to February’s Google Hangout with the faculty, Dunn said the office is hosting a Google Hangout every Sunday in the month of April, during which current students employed by the office answer admitted students’ questions on different themes. The Hangouts are recorded and uploaded on both the admitted students’ website and the admitted students’ Facebook page.

This year is also the first year that students have produced videos to help admitted students envision their lives in New Haven. The four videos, like the emails and Hangouts, are being posted weekly throughout the month to ensure that content continues to be uploaded regularly, Dunn said.

Quinlan said these new initiatives are a reflection of how the Internet’s evolving landscape changes the channels through which colleges can connect with students.

“When I was in charge of outreach, the big thing was Internet chat rooms,” he said, adding that the University scrapped these chat rooms in the past few years because of declining participation by students.

Still, both college counselors and admissions officers interviewed said it is unclear what role outreach efforts play in persuading students where to matriculate.

David Petersam, president of Virginia-based higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, said even though Harvard had to cancel Visitas — its equivalent of Bulldog Days — last year in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the college still recorded its highest yield numbers in recent memory.

“I’m often in two minds about this,” Dunn said, adding that although he thinks the initiatives his office implements do matter, he does not expect Yale’s yield rate to jump significantly, as changes are often developed incrementally from year-to-year.

Two admitted students said Yale’s online presence and outreach is significantly better than the other selective schools.

“My friend group included students who got into not only Yale but also Princeton and Harvard and Stanford,” said prospective student Malina Simard-Haim, adding that she and her friends agree that Yale has been the most enthusiastic and frequent in contacting accepted students.

Kaysie Gonzalez, another prospective student, said Yale’s frequent outreach demonstrates the University’s commitment to a friendly and accessible environment for undergraduate students.

Yale’s yield rate for the class of 2017 was 68.3 percent.

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