Tag Archive: Admissions

  1. Your Score is Relative

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    When Diana Orozco ’16 was applying to college, she wasn’t getting any help from her mother. Rather, her mom was too busy doing her own high school work.

    “While I was writing my college admissions essay,” she said. “I was also helping my mum spell words such as ‘serious,’ in her own homework.”

    A first-generation student whose parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico, Orozco, who traveled from Los Angeles to New Haven two years ago, represents the new breed of applicants to elite colleges. Until the late ’60s, Yale and its peers were more extensions of prep school than campuses open to all.

    Admissions officers, looking to draw the best of the best to these colleges, now actively seek out students from “non-traditional college communities” like Orozco. Admissions officers interviewed at Yale said the University has made great strides in recent years to expand its applicant pool, but that they are still expanding and experimenting with outreach programs.

    But, as Orozco can testify, some students need help just to become competitive applicants. She received support throughout high school, and during the admissions process, but the resoures available to her were the exceptions that prove the rule. Without the help of a multi-millionaire benefactor, Orozco did not believe she could have even left California for college. Her story, along with those of the other students interviewed, spoke to the challenges that accompany students coming from low income communities who approach the world of elite college education.

    Even as admissions use broader metrics to evaluate a greater number of candidates, both they and the students they seek must still deal with the real effects the achievement gap and the lingering prejudices that accompany the admissions process.

     

    The New Bar

    When William Morse ’64 GRD ’74 was at Yale, he saw more students from three or four New England boarding schools than from the rest of the country combined.

    “I went to a Yale where my hockey team was full of kids like John Kerry — we all went to private schools and came from the right type of family,” he said.

    The college application process was a lot simpler back in those years, said Geoffrey Kabaservice, an author who has written about the Ivy League admissions process. Simpler, at least, for those who had connections.

    He added that if you were from the right background and schools, where you went for college was largely a matter of personal choice.

    “There are stories of the Andover senior classes back in the day congregating for one meeting where they all are asked which college they’d like to go to,” Morse recalled. The seniors who raised their hands for Yale were counted and their names were written on a document that was sent to the University — these students were near-certain acceptances.

    Starting in the early 1950s and 1960s, Yale began to shift its policies, looking for a wider range of applicants. The college, in the words of then-Undergraduate Admissions Officer Inslee “Inky” Clark “could do a lot better than the bottom quarter of Andover.”

    But while the current dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, Jeremiah Quinlan, said Yale has reached a level of diversity that “Inky Clark could not have imagined,” the University’s student body is still not representative of all of America.

    The University boasts that 52.3 percent of Yale undergraduates receive some form of need-based financial aid, but the reverse also needs to be considered: 47.7 percent of Yale students come from families that earn over $200,000 a year. Only about two percent of Americans earn this much. Thirty-five percent of Americans at four-year state or private colleges received Pell Grants, the main type of federal aid for low-income students. In contrast, the number of Yale students who receive such grants is about 14 percent.

    The same disproportionately low numbers apply to every group of nontraditional college students. Fifty percent of college students in America are first-generation college students yet they only compose 12 percent of the incoming class of 2017 — more students, 13.8 percent to be precise, were legacies, meaning that either one or both of their parents attended Yale.

    So why are there such major discrepancies between Yale’s applicant pool and that of America’s more broadly?

    For some, the status quo barely changed. Pulitzer Prize-winning Bloomberg journalist Daniel Golden wrote in his book, “The Price of Admission,” that many of the spots available at schools such as Yale are actually reserved for the wealthy or the children of alumni through either legacy preference, the collaboration between a university’s fundraising and admissions office or other means such as athletic recruitment.

    But all seven college admissions officers or college counselors interviewed disagreed with Golden’s thesis.

    Morse said Yale’s legacy students, unlike other recipients of affirmative action, actually tend to have higher test scores and grades than the average applicant. David Petersam, president of Virginia-based education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, said some schools prefer legacy students because they know these students have a genuine love of the institution.

    Still, the University concedes that it hard to move away from traditional pathways. And harder to do so in the most appropriate way.

    In a cover story for its January/February issue, Yale Alumni Magazine published an article with a provocative title: “Reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit: Yale seeks smart students from poor families. They’re out there — but hard to find.”

    Immediately the Magazine was caught in a hailstorm of national criticism. One reporter for The Atlantic said the subtitle implied that the low-income students already on campus weren’t smart enough. A fellow at Harvard Law School, Sara Mayeux, said the magazine was incredibly “tone-deaf” and “insensitive” in its remarks.

    Still, five college counselors interviewed said they were sympathetic to the arguments made in the Alumni Magazine. Michael Goran, director and founder of IvySelect College Counseling, echoed the sentiments of the other college counselors interviewed when he argued the magazine was merely acknowledging the difficulties top schools have in contextualizing the achievements of students from different backgrounds.

    “If it was easy to find these students, Yale would not be expending huge resources on outreach efforts and hiring staff to recruit nontraditional students,” Goran said.

     

    Where do you look?

    When looking for the best applicants, scores are both the first and, potentially, the worst sources of information.

    The current SAT exam, with its straightforward 600 to 2,400 point scale, is not a purely objective gauge of achievement, said Daniel Edeza, assistant director of admissions at Yale. Edeza said social science studies had clearly proven that a student’s test scores often correlated more with the test-taker’s income level than academic ability. According to data collected by College Board, a student’s Writing score on the SAT tends to rise by about 20 points for every additional $20,000 that a student’s family earns.

    “Our job as admissions officers is not to count scores solely,” said Mark Dunn, senior assistant director at the admissions office. He added that although the admissions office saw test scores and GPAs as useful pieces of information, officers would never use score thresholds.

    “Context is everything. We won’t ever outsource our jobs to the College Board or ACT,” he asserted, adding that each candidate is assessed on the basis of how well they performed given the specific resources accessible to them.

    But, when Quinlan and the Yale admissions office talk about “holistic” admissions — one which considers every aspect of a student’s application and does not automatically discount students for any one single score or grade — their arguments are often met with eye-rolls and skepticism.

    David Petersam, president of Virginia-based higher education consulting group AdmissionsConsultants, pointed out that its easy to read these newer approaches as “arbitrary and designed to pursue political goals.”

    Petersam added that many of his rejected clients couldn’t help but feel cheated by affirmative action.

    “They say to themselves, I scored a 2,300, I got straight As, is it really my fault that I went to a good public school?” he said.

    But according to students and admissions officers, critics miss the reasoning behind these policies. Orozco pointed out these critics do not understand the structural disadvantages that she, and students of similar backgrounds, must overcome.

    Orozco grew up in Inglewood, a city in southwestern Los Angeles County which is better known for producing NBA and NFL players than college graduates. Success for kids in Inglewood, according to Orozco, wasn’t attending university, let alone medical school or working on Wall Street. Rather her friends dreamed of graduating from high school and (preferably) without becoming pregnant, she said.

     

    Intervention

    Because of a twist of fate, Orozco didn’t attend her local high school, Inglewood High School, with metal detectors and crumbling buildings. Instead she attended the Brentwood School, a prestigious private school in LA that sends virtually every single student to a nationally recognized four-year college.

    And one way to examine the playing field’s inequality is to follow students like her, who have straddled the disparate worlds of low- and higher-income backgrounds, and can attest to advantages some gain at birth.

    Orozco’s twist of fate came from an unusual personality, one who in Orozco’s words has “changed the lives of dozens of students just like me.”

    Eric Eisner is an abrasive former Hollywood producer who lunched with Tom Cruise and dined with Martin Scorsese. Yet after retiring in his late 40s, he found himself not at a golf course as expected but in some of the worst schools in LA. After meeting students in low-income neighborhoods who score in the top percentiles of standardized tests or who receive glowing recommendations from their teachers, Eisner “adopts” the students as “Young Eisner Scholars.”

    Eisner and his team bestow YES scholars with tremendous resources and personal attention, rather than simply setting stipends.

    “We treat every kid in the program as if they were our child,” explains Eisner, adding that it was this attention to detail meant that he had to cap the number of students his organization could accept to give each individual the attention they deserve. Jesus Morales, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, said he and his fellow YES scholars talk about Eisner to their friends more often than they speak about their parents.

    Yet for Orozco, her challenges did not end with her acceptance to a high school that sends dozens of students each year to selective East Coast colleges. Rather in many ways, her challenges were only beginning.

    For one thing, she felt like she was entering a foreign world. Now she was going to a school where students would regularly be given their own Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs when they turned 16.

    “I experienced a world I had never seen before,” she said, adding that some of her classmates would frequently use the noun “private jet” or “PJ” as a verb to explain their travel plans. “I’m just going to PJ to New York this weekend,” was one expression Orozco said she heard on multiple occasions.

    At school, Orozco and Roger Lewis, a scholarship student at the private school Loyala High School, said all the black and brown students stayed friends with just one another. Orozco emphasized that any social segregation was not intentional or explicitly imposed. Rather her unique socioeconomic situation made it impossible to always relate with richer members of the school.

    Jim Patterson, an Upper School dean at Harvard-Westlake, said the concerns that Orozco and Lewis faced at Brentwood and Loyala were not unique. Harvard-Westlake — considered one of the most prestigious schools on the West Coast — often recruits high-achieving low-income students, and it has developed ways to approach the problems they face.

    The school places these students under the care of an Upper School dean (Harvard-Westlake’s version of a college counselor) and works with these students to help them transcend the social difficulties they may face upon arriving at Harvard-Westlake, he said.

    Still, he concedes that it is a difficult task. Seven students interviewed on Harvard-Westlake’s campus said social cliques were often predicated on wealth and status. And all six YES scholars or scholarship students interviewed for this piece said the consequence of income inequality do not end in the cafeteria but extend to the classroom.

    Jeffrey Bradshaw, a former student at Pilgrim High School whose tuition was paid by the billionaire philanthropist Ron Burkle, said he always thought he was a smart kid before entering the private school as a sophomore. A straight-A student at his old high school in Compton, Bradshaw brought that same braggadocio when selecting his sophomore classes at Pilgrim.

    “I signed up for AP classes left and right, I was just happy this new school was offering them,” he said. On his first AP Biology test of his sophomore year, Bradshaw scored a flat C. No one else in his class scored below a B+.

    Upon receiving the test, he remembers bursting into tears and storming out of the room. The same trail of Cs and the occasional B haunted him throughout his sophomore year.  Bradshaw’s mother, a receptionist who once worked for one of Burkle’s companies, remembers her son telling her every day that he would drop out of Pilgrim and return to his local public school where the classes were much easier and the expected workload was significantly less.

    These memories are not unique to Bradshaw, but rather a similar tale each student told the News.

    Orozco remembers crying to her mother after receiving a C on first paper. She eventually pulled her grade up to a B+ and overcame that initial shock. By the time she graduated, Orozco was near the top of her class.

    “I would work so incredibly hard but I would never let anyone tell me that I wasn’t smart enough,” she said, adding that this was a trait she still holds to this day whenever she gets a bad grade or struggles with a problem set at Yale.

     

    Further into the gap

    But despite the occasional bad grade she received as a freshman, Orozco is still at Yale, and excelling. She is in many ways the poster child of a student who, with a little bit of help, exceeded her socioeconomic expectations.

    Indeed, the students who found their way to private high school through this sort of scholar program interviewed for the piece were unanimous in expressing their gratitude for the opportunity.

    “I dodged a bullet. Literally. While I complained about struggling in classes, some of my kindergarten friends were in gangs or had knocked a girl up,” Bradshaw said. After a significant pause on the phone, he spoke in a softer voice. “Remembering this has always made me thankful of God and keep things in perspective.”

    Mark Barnett was not as lucky. He did not score high enough to qualify for a YES scholarship.

    Instead, he remained in Inglewood High School. There he found himself skating through classes and receiving good but not great grades. When he took the SATs, Barnett scored a 1,720, the 79th percentile. He added that there were many words on the test that he had never even seen before.

    Upon entering San Diego State, Barnett felt out of place. A prospective English major, he quickly grew disenchanted after going through the same struggles that Orozco and Bradshaw first felt in high school. After his freshman year, he dropped out to attend a community college in Santa Barbara.

    Yale, unlike San Diego State, boasts tremendous resources and support systems. But even here students who do make it through the application process from poorly performing public schools have often felt out of place.

    “I felt like I was so behind everyone else. There was such a strong temptation to just quit and give up, the gap seemed that insurmountable,” John Gonzalez ’14, a senior from Modesto, Calif. recalled. Mikhail Reece ’16, a football player from Tampa Bay, Fla. said he had never had a workload comparable to what he faced his freshman fall.

    Quinlan said his office and their partners in the College Dean’s Office and the Office of Institutional Research track the performances of students that the University admits, and they are aware of these issues.

    The University is continuing to develop resources such as the Freshman Scholar’s Program or the pre-calculus modules that will arrive next summer to better prepare students whose transition to college is particularly challenging.

    All three admissions officers interviewed said they would often have to turn down students who, despite excelling given their background, were not prepared for attending Yale.

    “We have something like a Hippocratic oath as admissions officers,” Edeza said. That is, do no harm.

    Still, he and Dunn both stressed that the admissions office accepts students who may struggle initially but with a little additional support will eventually flourish. Often, officers debate what it means for a student to be a “success” — will they have the highest GPA at Yale from the get-go, or will the make the biggest impact on their communities after graduating?

    Eisner said it was for this reason that so many of his YES scholars do exceptionally well in the college process.

    “There are relatively fewer qualified black or Hispanic students who can score in the range that other applicants, especially Asians, can score,” said Eisner, adding that because the pool is so slim, top colleges fight over elite-scoring African-American and Hispanic students knowing that they can all do the work. He pointed to Kwasi Enin, the Long Island, N.Y. senior who has made national news for his acceptance to all eight Ivy League schools, as an example of how coveted high-scoring minority students are.

     

    Bridges

    If 90 percent of success is showing up, then this applies to not just applicants but also to colleges — who must raise awareness that the ivory tower is open to all deserving candidates.

    Quinlan said Yale’s focus is not on fighting for the small pie of high-scoring low-income students who are already applying to elite colleges. He added that there are many of these students across the country who do not even apply to selective colleges, and it is these students who Yale wants to attract.

    “One of the core priorities of my first year [as dean of admissions] is finding and encouraging the brightest students to consider Yale,” he said.

    Harvard Kennedy School of Government public policy professor Christopher Avery, who has been cited frequently by University President Peter Salovey and Quinlan when explaining the importance of Yale’s outreach efforts, said his research and the research of others demonstrates that only 34 percent of high-achieving students in the bottom quarter of income distribution attended one of America’s 238 most selective colleges whereas 78 percent of students in the wealthiest quarter of the income distribution did so.

    Students from low-income areas interviewed said Avery’s research was not surprising.

    “Unless a school had a really good football or basketball team, I had no idea what any of these schools were until I came to Pilgrim,” said Bradshaw, adding that many of his friends from home had only heard of Harvard. Even then, he said they didn’t know anything about Harvard except that it was apparently where you went if you were going to be president.

    One way we can encourage low-income high-achieving students to apply to Yale is by accepting more students who come from that background in the first place. Quinlan pointed out that you must build momentum, and signal to these communities that Yale and our peer schools are accessible to anyone who is bright and capable.

    Barnett said he applied to San Diego State only because one of his teachers went there.

    “I always assumed that a school is a school. It’s the innate ability of the student that mattered and anyone reading the same book can learn the same material,” Barnett said. He did not realize there was a substantial difference between San Diego State or Stanford until he heard from classmates in college of the incredible resources and attention that are available to low-income first-generation students at some schools.

    Changing these perceptions is part of our jobs as admissions officers, said Edeza. Edeza’s background is one similar to Barnett and Orozco. His father did not graduate from elementary school and his mother did not graduate from middle school. He went to a large underperforming Los Angeles public school. Still, he found his way to Yale through the help of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a private organization that raises awareness of the college application process for gifted students.

    He said one core part of his mission as the admission officer in charge of Los Angeles is to work with organizations such as AVID and YES to ensure more students are made aware of the possibilities of a Yale education.

    When Corinne Kentor ’16, a student ambassador, visited Oak Park High School, a public school for middle-class students in Los Angeles, the questions she dealt with at the beginning of the session were almost exclusively about numbers: how many APs she had taken, what her GPA was or her SAT scores. After Kentor had skillfully put this subject to rest using the standard admissions line — each application is unique so each person’s scores can’t be compared — she proceeded to explain Yale’s financial aid policies.

    At that moment, the sleepier heads in the room were roused. Seven attendants interviewed said they were astonished at how generous Yale was with financial aid.

    “I had always thought of Yale as that place for characters from Gossip Girl or Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons,” said junior Faiyaz Khan. He added that he had never heard of Yale’s policy to allow all families earning under $65,000 to contribute nothing to their child’s education — a policy for which his family would qualify.

    According to internal data collected by the University, its outreach efforts are working. Data tracking the student ambassador program — which sends current Yale undergraduates to high schools that likely cater to low- or middle-income Americans — demonstrates that high school students are more likely to apply to Yale if student ambassadors visit and discuss Yale’s robust financial aid policies.

    Avery’s research also shows there is much work to be done.  Geography continues to be one of the biggest barriers to college admissions, he said, adding that at the very least, high-achieving low-income students such as Orozco in metropolitan areas have access to programs such as the YES organization or Prep for Prep.

    And, for other students and families, lingering perceptions of elitism and distance can further drown out Yale’s outreach efforts.

    Orozco recounted the first time her mother heard about Yale. She was watching a Mexican TV show when a wealthy man mentioned that his daughter was attending Yale, she said, adding from that moment onwards her mother always assumed Yale was a school where rich people sent their kids.

  2. Boola Boola?

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    The “Yale College Class of 2018” Facebook page launched on Dec. 16, 2013, the same day that admissions decisions were delivered to the University’s early action applicants. Within minutes, the site’s membership swelled with excited prefrosh, who peppered the “timeline” with exclamation marks, congratulations, caps-locked comments and other expressions of sheer elation.

    Just a few years ago, I stood in their shoes. I posted overeager comments and questions in the group, made new Facebook friends and planned out the next four years in my head, considering all the interesting people I was sure to meet and the enlightening courses that I would take.

    “So excited to bond with you guys over Taylor Swift’s new album!”

    “Any other people here who are interested in both pre-med and the humanities?”

    “What is everyone’s favorite movie?

    But this winter break, I was the one congratulating students and offering some answers. As an undergraduate recruitment coordinator for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, I engaged with admitted high school students whose attitudes ranged from relieved to overwhelmed, extroverted to insecure.

    One sentiment, however, was common among the new admits: They were all happy with their acceptance. They all appeared to be unmistakably in love with the University.

    When I arrived outside of Lanman-Wright Hall in 2012, suitcases in tow, I shared in this idealism. It took just a few weeks for me to realize that Yale was not the fairytale fortress that I had envisioned. There were people I didn’t like, classes that were at once boring and incredibly stressful, and a social culture that I wasn’t used to.

    But I was still happy — and am still happy — with my time here at Yale. For a while, I assumed that we all were. Even if I can never seem to muster the level of school spirit that pervades Harvard-Yale Games, or if I sometimes wonder whether I would have been “a better fit” at Harvard or Princeton, I am content with where I am.

    Recently, however, I have been getting a far different impression. If my Twitter feed and the string of national headlines are any indication, Yale has been faltering under the limelight.

    In a Jan. 21 New York Times piece, the University was described as having “gotten a schooling” from the founders of Yale Bluebook Plus, an online course catalog that was conspicuously shut down by the administration on the first day of the semester’s shopping period. Students and onlookers alike denounced Yale for practicing censorship, and for its opaque handling of the situation.

    This incident, along with a slew of others including negative reactions to Title IX reports and criticism of the search for the new Yale College Dean, pointed to a striking dissonance between our professed pride for our school and our willingness to condemn it.

    When I revisited the Class of 2018 Facebook group in early January, I saw that the Times story had been posted by an admitted student. The bad news had reached the incoming class — a group of students just recently inundated with reasons for why Yale was the ideal place to spend the next four years — and I wondered what I would have thought if the controversy had surfaced two years ago. I wondered if I would still have chosen to be a bulldog.

    * * *

    Suzanne Ingram ’86 gets the Yale Daily News delivered to her door each morning in Wilton, Conn. At the end of the week, after she’s done with the papers, she walks over to the house of her neighbor, Adrian Offinger ’42. They look at the papers again together, and oftentimes, they talk about some of the pieces for a few minutes.

    Lately, Offinger has been dismayed by the paper’s opinion section. Every piece seems to argue against something or advocate for some sort of change, he told Ingram.

    If everyone wants to change the University so badly, why do they even choose to attend Yale? he asked her one day.

    Offinger attended Yale during a completely different era — a time in which, for instance, there were still no female students on campus. But his concerns about criticism of the University are shared by some students today.

    “There are a lot of things that we can’t understand because we’re not on the administration side,” Hannah Gonzales ’16 said, adding that she often wonders if students are too forceful in their demands for change.

    While she generally supports student initiatives, she said she sometimes feels out of place for not agreeing wholeheartedly with some of the arguments made against the University. As a prestigious brand, Yale has to protect itself, she said, which may mean restricting student voices —  the University’s power to do so is one Gonzales does not always support, but ultimately accepts.

    It’s possible that this more sympathetic view toward administrative control is something that comes with age. All three Freshman Counselors interviewed acknowledged that there exists, to some extent, a “culture of controversy” — or more crassly, complaining — within the student body.

    Yale students enjoy the attention that accompanies having their opinion heard, Gonzales observed.

    This social impulse is rooted in psychology. According to Professor John Bargh, people generally pay more attention to negative events because they challenge our survival and are unusual occurrences in our otherwise consistent lives. When compounded with the human instinct to focus on the local, this negativity bias causes students to focus their attention on even minor incidents.

    * * *

    Prospective students don’t appear to be fazed by this year’s controversies. This winter, Yale College received more applications for admission than ever before in its history.

    Stephen Hall ’14, a Jonathan Edwards College freshman counselor, isn’t surprised by this development. To him, the national headlines don’t signify scandal. Rather, they are manifestations of the student body’s culture of activism and innovation — traits for which Yale recruits.

    Moreover, Hall said the current student body forgets that these controversies are often preceded by prior instances of cooperation between students and the administration. He recalled entering an app competition in which Yale Bluebook was a contender. Although Yale Bluebook was not selected as the contest winner, the then-newly designed website was eventually acquired by the University.

    “It’s not like they’re quelling all the innovation,” Hall said, adding that the University’s move to buy a student-developed application was “just as revolutionary” as its recent blocking of Yale Bluebook Plus.

    If we really looked, Hall said, we would be able to find examples of the University paying attention to student voices everywhere. Newer developments include the implementation of fall break and the extension of dining hall hours after Commons was closed for dinner in 2011. Hall said even his job as FroCo could be viewed as teamwork between the administration and students. Few other universities have such a position that juggles being an employee of the residential college administration with being a student and representing that voice.

    Michael Protacio ’14 added that he believes we pay insufficient attention to the positive happenings around us. Even the claim that there are no positive voices in campus publications, he said, is ignoring writing venues such as Vita Bella, the student magazine celebrating all forms of beauty in life. Still, he conceded that Vita’s small campus presence is perhaps another indication of our fixation on the negative.

    “This is an environment where everyone has been successful by meticulous self-improvement,” he observed. “It’s logical when you see something that you think could be improved to take action.”

    All students interviewed came to a similar conclusion — that the criticisms against Yale only persist because the students behind them love the institution and are driven to improve it.

    For activists such as Sophie Nethercut ’14, a former member of Students Unite Now, vocalizations of student opinion are the only way to propel the University’s progress. She noted that many of the University’s most triumphant policy changes have come about as a result of persistent activism, citing principally the movement to bring coeducation to campus decades ago.

    “Without student voices, you fall behind the times,” Nethercut said. “I think some people are afraid to speak up because they are so thankful to be here, but you can still voice your demands in a way that is respectful.”

    Hall viewed the desire to take action as generally positive. Students may be perceived to be complaining, but they’re largely making things better, he said.

    And it’s this process and act of fighting for change, Hall said, that might actually make Yalies happy — not just the ultimate change itself.

    “If they’re seeing themselves as making a difference and growing here,” Hall noted, “then in some sense they’re achieving their goals and being happy.”

    * * *

    Dec. 15, 2011

    It was 5:09 p.m. when I received my decision. In my excitement, I had clicked past the singing bulldog — my sound was off — and arrived immediately at the welcome letter, so it took me a while to realize what the verdict was.

    No one else was home except for my Bichon puppy Lily, who wagged her tail and shared in my happiness.

    My parents had already each called me twice in the nine minutes between the expected decision time and when the news arrived. My mother later confessed to me that she had gone to church every day that week and kept a Bible in her purse, praying for good news. My father, ever the solemn and quiet type, did nothing of the sort. Instead, he offered words of support over the phone.

    I called my mother first. She cried and yelled the announcement to her colleagues in the bank where she works. I called my father, who said, “Good job, son.” I understood then that this was his way of freaking out.

    My mother and I went out for sushi. I had been too nervous to eat during the day, but even at dinner, I could only bring myself to pick at a few pieces. I was still in disbelief.

    Later that night, my father arrived home and we replayed the opening greeting a few times, to make sure it wasn’t all a mistake. We would do so every day for the next week, just in case.

    I like this story because it reminds me of the good that Yale tries to do. The University’s decision to grant me admission, as unlikely a candidate as I saw myself to be, brought my family together for a moment that has never left me.

    I’ve had my doubts about my place inside Yale’s gothic walls. My idealistic notions have been replaced with sentiments much more muted and complex. And maybe that makes my school spirit more real than the image that first attracted me as a prospective student commenting excitedly on the Class of 2016’s Facebook group.

    I’ve realized, much like the students interviewed, that my dissatisfactions with Yale are rooted in a deep gratitude: for me, everything changed on December 15, 2011, at 5:09 p.m.

  3. Suzy Lee Weiss: You Don't Know Squat!

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    No matter how much stress I’m under, I’m happy to be at Yale. Unlike many of my peers, I never dreamed about going to an Ivy League school. And unlike Suzy Lee Weiss (the bitter white girl who didn’t get into the college of her dreams and blamed everyone and anything), I am quite a diverse person. Without giving my entire life-story, I will say this: half-Chinese and half-Guinean, I was born in Beijing and lived in three continents before moving to America, where I handily obtained my citizenship the fall of my senior year in high school, right before college applications.

    I promised myself I would try to restrain my aggression, but I have to say this one thing: STFU, SLW, you don’t know squat about squat. You’re not funny either. You try to simplify college admissions to a checklist of race, sexuality, immigrant status, public high schools. Had you been Shawn instead of Suzy, I’m sure you would have thrown gender into the mix.

    In the words of a friend, there’s been so much institutional racism — and there still is — that there needs to be some sort of resolution. Even now, affirmative action doesn’t do nearly as much as everyone, Suzy Lee included, seems to think. Affirmative action only forces colleges to look at applicants they wouldn’t normally look at; it doesn’t guarantee admission. Does she know the struggles of marginalized peoples at all? If she did, she wouldn’t wish for our burdens unless she knew about the heavy weight of that load.

    As a minority, I have to work twice as hard for half as much recognition as a white person. As a woman, I have to work twice as hard for half as much recognition as a man. I stopped taking math after multivariable calculus, but those are some skewed ratios. So stop complaining, SLW. You just weren’t good enough.

  4. Understanding Suzy Lee Weiss’ Anger

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    Two weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Suzy Lee Weiss, a high school senior who had received the short end of the college admissions stick. In her essay, Weiss argues that the common admissions rhetoric of “Be yourself!” is misleading, complaining that the advice is only helpful for tri-varsity athletes with nine extracurriculars and two moms. Understandably, the editorial swept across the Internet. Gawker’s Caity Weaver published a 1,000-word exegesis in response, tearing down Weiss’ argument bit by bit.

    But the backlash wasn’t unwarranted. What takes Weiss’ editorial from the familiar rants of spurned high schoolers to something genuinely discomforting is her flippant tone regarding … everything. She blames her rejection on mostly external factors (“My parents gave up on parenting me”), whines about diversity’s role in the admission process and mocks the notion of charity. Even more troubling: her claim that, had it helped her cause, she would have lied about her sexual orientation, created a fake charity or pretended to have Native American heritage (this, according to her, involves wearing a headdress to school). Weiss’ cynicism doesn’t make her any more sympathetic.

    But Weaver also gets it wrong. She writes, in response to Weiss, that a good SAT score is a “very reasonable requirement for college admission,” as if cramming hundreds of stressed teens into a stuffy room for five hours — making them answer questions that some have argued are easier for certain demographics — gives anything other than a very narrow definition of “aptitude.” Weaver also assumes that Weiss interpreted the “Be yourself!” dictum as “Do nothing,” despite the fact that Weiss never mentions anything about her own resume. Asserting that hard work is a requirement for admission is one thing; shaming someone for being lazy with very little evidence is another.

    Discounting the grosser parts of Weiss’ essay, there is some truth to it. Though Weaver correctly points out that “Be yourself!” is not the only advice colleges give to applicants, the criteria for admission still seem vague. This is probably insolvable; each college, each applicant, is far too different to determine a universal standard for a student deserving of acceptance. Still, there is a general notion that hard work and passion — or at least the appearance of those virtues — have high value for college admissions officers. This leads to the problem of high school students resume-building to game the system, doing for the sake of doing. Weiss’ sardonic attitude could be read as a reflection of this mentality.

    The problem seemed especially intense at the boarding school I attended. In addition to the hypercompetitive spirit that drove so many perfunctory activities — the line, “Well, it’ll look good for college,” was tossed about regularly — the prestige of my high school undoubtedly made certain students feel entitled to admission at an elite school. This only resulted in more hurt feelings when things didn’t go as planned, when hard work didn’t pay off, when nothing in the world seemed fair.

    Weiss’ grumbling leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I understand her frustration. We are so intent on finding out why (“WHY?”) we were told no, why we aren’t good enough and whether there is anything we could have done about it. A similar desire pervades Yale, whether it’s stressing out about summer internships, society tap or grades. We want to feel validated. We want to feel appreciated. Rejection causes us to look inward and dig up aspects about ourselves we might not want to find.

    Two years ago, I discovered I was deferred from Yale’s early action pool. My reaction was similar to Suzy’s (minus the racism): I felt personally attacked, frustrated, unappreciated. As time wore on, as it will for Suzy, I became less beholden to a judgment made on a 500-word essay and three numbers. At Yale and beyond, we will experience rejection, whether it’s fair or not. Given that constant, I’d rather try to keep perspective on what I can change rather than agonize over that which I cannot. I hope Suzy will learn to as well.

  5. High school senior posts college rejection op-ed

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    Last week’s flurry of college admission decisions left thousands of high school students elated by their acceptances and another hundreds of thousands disappointed at their rejection letters. On Friday, one rejected student posted a tongue-in-cheek commentary in The Wall Street Journal on her college application experience, a piece that has garnered national attention and sparked hundreds of comments.

    “What could I have done differently over the past years?” asked Suzy Lee Weiss, a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, Penn. In an article titled “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me” — which also bears the subtitle “If only I had a tiger mom or started a fake charity” — Weiss satirically explored several stereotypical applicant profiles that are admitted by selective colleges.

    Offering up “about as much diversity as a saltine cracker,” Weiss lamented that she could not claim minority status to boost the desirability of her application. Additionally, because she didn’t perform volunteer service, score impressive-sounding work experience or have parents who encouraged her to pursue “hobbies that make admissions committees salivate,” Weiss grieved her lack of a special talent or hook that could have won her a letter of acceptance.

    “Colleges tell you, ‘Just be yourself.’ That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms,” Weiss said.

    In her final paragraph, however, Weiss admitted that she is to some extent “an underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures.” Addressing “those kids who by age 14 got their doctorate, cured a disease or discovered a guilt-free brownie recipe,” Weiss said she is still “desperately jealous” of their success.

    Comments on Weiss’s article ranged from encouraging to sarcastic. Several comments assured Weiss that college rejection letters are not the end of the road to success, and others praised Weiss for her witty writing and refreshing thoughts. Another comment, however, suggested that “maybe she should have spent more time doing her homework, instead of watching TV.”

  6. Application numbers rise 3 percent

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    Yale received an all-time high of 29,790 applications total for the class of 2017, marking a 3 percent increase over last year’s total of 28,977 applications.

    Yale expects to admit roughly 2,000 students from the applicant pool — about the same total as last year, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel. Due to the increased number of applications, Yale’s acceptance rate for the class of 2017 is expected to drop “a bit below” last year’s 7.1 percent acceptance rate, Brenzel said in a release this afternoon.

    Brenzel added that he believes the year-to-year fluctuations in total application numbers “have little meaning in themselves,” because increases or decreases in the numbers can reflect anything from changes in a school’s promotional strategy to the varied interests of applicants within a particular year.

    “The scores and grades of our applicants, our admitted students and the students who accept our offers all reflect our consistent practice over time – they have averaged the highest of any college’s in the nation,” he said.

    From the early round alone this fall, Yale received 4,520 applications and accepted 649, a 14.4 percent acceptance rate.

    Columbia announced last week that it received 33,460 applications, while Dartmouth said it received 22,400 applications.

  7. Harvard sees increase in early applications

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    Harvard has received 4,856 early applications this year, marking a nearly 15 percent increase from last year’s figure.

    This round of applications is only the second year that the school reinstated its early action program after eliminating it in 2007. The admissions office sent offers of acceptance to 18 percent of the 4,228 students who applied early action last year, compared to 3.8 percent in the regular decision pool.

    Yale received a total of 4,514 early applications this year, up 4.4 percent from last year’s count of 4,323. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said he expects to admit somewhere between 650 and 750 applicants in the early action round.

    Along with Yale and many other universities nationwide, Harvard extended its Nov. 1 early application deadline this year in the wake of power outages and other delays on the East Coast caused by Hurricane Sandy.

    Early applications rose at the majority of the Ivies this year — six schools have reported increases in their counts, and Dartmouth is the only school that experienced a decrease. At this time, Cornell has not yet released its figures.

    Harvard applicants will be notified of their decisions by Dec. 13.

  8. Admissions Office extends early application deadline again

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    The Yale early application deadline has been further extended to Nov. 9 for students still impacted by the residual effects of Hurricane Sandy, which tore up the East Coast last week.

    The Office of Undergraduate Admissions announced at the end of October that the Early Action deadline for hurricane-affected students would be extended from the original date of Nov. 1 to Nov. 5. This Monday, the office announced that the deadline is now midnight on Nov. 9, to account for “power outages and school closings.”

    “If it is impossible for you to submit your application online, you may mail it to us by the same deadline,” read a notice on the admissions website. “We will communicate with students from the affected areas by email after November 9 with additional information regarding the review of their Early Action applications.”

    The admissions page also notes that some students who were scheduled to take the SAT or SAT Subject Tests on Nov. 3 — when test centers were closed due to weather conditions — will still have their results considered, after they come in from the rescheduled test date.

    The office notes that it will communicate with students from the affected areas via email after Nov. 9 to provide additional information about the review of their applications.

  9. Admissions Dean Jeff Brenzel to step down in 2013

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    Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel announced today that he will step down from his position at the end of the academic year in June.

    Brenzel notified students in Timothy Dwight College of his decision in an email this afternoon, following an email on the subject that University President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Mary Miller sent to administrators and admissions office staff less than an hour prior. Brenzel will continue to serve as the TD master next year, a position he has held since 2010, and will begin teaching again in Yale College.

    “I’ve loved both of my dual, and sometimes dueling, roles: admissions dean and college master,” Brenzel said. “It’s both fascinating and compelling work to be responsible for bringing together the entire undergraduate community of Yale.”

    Brenzel did not specify the exact reason for his decision, but he said he is “ready to take advantage of yet another Yale opportunity and start another Yale adventure.” He added that he is looking forward to spending more time with students in Timothy Dwight.

    Brenzel, who arrived at Yale in 1971, stepped into his role as dean of undergraduate admissions in 2005.

    University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 will chair the search committee for a new dean of admissions.

    Read his full email below:

    I’m writing a personal note to follow up President Levin’s campus leadership announcement below, regarding my decision to step down from my position as Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at the end of this academic year in June.

    Happily, and more than just happily, I will continue as your Master in TD and I will also be taking up teaching again in Yale College.

    Who could be more grateful than I am for Yale opportunities? Startled by my letter of admission, I arrived here from Kentucky in 1971, graduated in 1975 a philosophy major, and launched into the world anticipating, sadly enough, that Yale itself would never again figure in my life.

    For a long time, however, I volunteered as an admissions interviewer and served in local alumni organizations, discovering a second Yale life as the member of a worldwide community. Then when I was twenty years out, Yale signed up as a customer for a new education venture I had started – my third Yale engagement.

    Six years later, the President appointed me director of the alumni association, a fourth Yale phase. Four years after that I began teaching in Directed Studies, my fifth Yale endeavor. Four years later again, in 2005, the President asked me to take stewardship of undergraduate admissions, Yale role number six.

    So finally we get to lucky number seven: being appointed Master of Timothy Dwight College in 2010, almost forty years after walking through the Temple Street gate, back when I was as green a prospect as ever checked into entryway F.

    I’ve loved both of my dual, and sometimes dueling, roles: admissions dean and college master. It’s both fascinating and compelling work to be responsible for bringing together the entire undergraduate community of Yale. It’s also a unique privilege to welcome a group of freshmen that I’ve admitted into the residential college community that I experienced and treasured here myself.

    At the same time, I’m ready to take advantage of yet another Yale opportunity and start another Yale adventure. I am very glad that starting next fall I’ll be able to spend significantly more time with you here in TD. I’m also excited to be diving back into scholarship and also back into the classroom as well: teaching in the Directed Studies philosophy courses, collaborating with Carlos Eire of a new course we will be proposing for next year on the Catholic tradition, and co-teaching as well with Adam Glick (father of Noah, TD ’14) in his terrific seminar course Great Big Ideas.

    We’re about to launch into reading several thousand early admissions applications on Hillhouse Avenue, which means bearing down hard in both of my current roles from now through June. But I can’t hold back from telling you how much I’m looking forward to what’s ahead in TD.

  10. Early action extension applies only to some

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    The extension of the Early Action application deadline to Nov 5. will only apply to students directly affected by the storm, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

    “This only applies to students directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, i.e. those living in the Northeast,” reads a clarification on the Admissions Facebook page, in response to an applicant’s question about the conditions of the extension.

    Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 said in an email that the closure of the physical office space does not generally disrupt the office’s work at this time of year, since all applications reside in an online system and admissions officers with Internet access are still able to read them. But, he said, the office is still closed to employees and visitors alike due to unsafe weather conditions.

    “In any event, we have contacted all candidates who had registered for a campus visit or an on-campus interview for Monday or Tuesday to let them know of the closure, and let them know of opportunities to reschedule,” Brenzel said in the email.

    The Yale Admissions Office had extended the deadline for early action applicants by four days, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5, in light of the Frankenstorm.

    According to the Admissions Facebook page, the Common Application and Yale Supplement will still be due at the regular Nov. 1 deadline for students outside the Northeast and not directly affected by the storm.

  11. Citing hurricane, Yale extends early action deadline

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    High school students applying early to Yale will now have a few extra days to polish their applications: In anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Sandy this week, the Yale Admissions Office has extended the deadline for Early Action applications to midnight on Nov. 5.

    The deadline, which was originally midnight on Nov. 1, has been extended to account for students who will be affected by the storm.

    “This applies to both your own application as well as the supporting documents sent on your behalf,” read a notice on the Yale Admissions Office website.

    Several other eastern universities — including Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania — have also announced extensions to their early application deadlines because of the storm.

    “We hope this helps relieve some of the stress and anxiety you might be feeling as the storm approaches your region,” says a notice on Columbia’s admissions website.

    Last year, Yale extended its Early Action application deadline by a day when a surprise snowstorm shut off power for over 2 million people in the Northeast.

  12. After Harvard rejection, family sues admissions counselor

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    Many complain about the cost of college today, but there are few who can rival the costs that face Hong Kong couple Gerald and Lily Chow.

    The couple had funneled over $2 million to U.S.-based college admissions consultant Mark Zimny after he promised to use his connections and advice to get the Chows’ two sons into Harvard University. But when their sons did not receive admission letters, the Chows decided to take their issues to court and are charging Zimny for fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

    The Chows allegedly met Zimny during one of their sons’ graduation ceremonies, when Zimny told the Chows that he was a Harvard professor who owned a college counsulting firm “IvyAdmit” that would guarantee both sons’ acceptances at the university. Zimny affirmed that he would “grease the admissions wheels,” according to the Boston Globe.

    While some people may deliberate the morals of a man who counsels high school students on getting accepted to a college where he teaches, the Chows were bold enough to enthusiastically accept Zimny’s offer.

    The Chows initially wired at least $8,000 a month to Zimny’s company as IvyAdmit tutored, mentored and allegedly wrote papers for the two boys while they attended New England preparatory schools.

    In one case, Zimny told the Chows that American universities and elite boarding schools treated Asian donors as “outsiders” and were more suspicious of them, the Globe reported. He said the family should build relationships with elite universities through intermediaries that held preexisting relationships.

    But $2 million later, the Chows’ sons are still not Harvard-bound. And, in an act of what some would call incredulous chutzpah, IvyAdmit’s website continues to remain operational. Zimny still responds to company emails, including one that the Globe reporter had sent while investigating the story.

    Had the Chows ever Google searched ‘Mark Zimny,’ they might have realized that Zimny had left Harvard two years before the two forces first met.