Karen Lehmann swore she would wait for the letter. But at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, the pressure became too great, and Lehmann gave in. She logged on to the Yale admissions Web site — and found out she had been admitted to the Class of 2006.
“I wouldn’t let anyone else be in the computer room with me,” Lehmann said. “I typed in my name and my birth date and my social security number. And then you clicked submit and then there was a 30-second, agonizing pause while it said, ‘We are checking your file,’ … then the actual site came up with the bulldog and the big blue ‘congratulations’ across the top, and music playing in the background.”
By 7:00 on the morning of Dec. 17, the day the Yale online notification site for early-decision admissions was to open officially, there were already 1,600 hits on the Web site. Despite notices on the Yale admissions site telling applicants that the decision notifications would not be available online until Monday the 17th, the admissions office had activated the site on the 14th, the same day decision letters were mailed.
Applicants found out through guidance counselors, friends who had already succeeded in obtaining their notices, or sheer persistence in attempting to log in that the decisions were available early.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Shaw said he was pleased with how the online notification system worked. He said the Web site had a hit rate of 80 percent among the 2,115 applicants.
“We had really great success,” Shaw said. “Every site had been visited multiple times, so it was suggested that not only did the student see it, but they kept bringing back family members, friends.”
Lisa Kant, a senior at New Haven’s Hopkins School, said she was impressed by how personalized the site was.
“It said ‘Congratulations Lisa’ and then it had a list of [Yale students from] my area,” Kant said. “It had a way for you to fill out info about yourself and find the names of people with similar interests. I went on it a bunch of times.”
Harvard and Dartmouth also piloted their own virtual notifications for early-decision applicants this year, each differing slightly from Yale’s model. Dartmouth used a secure Web site similar to Yale’s, but whereas Yale opened the site the same day it mailed out traditional paper packets, Dartmouth waited to activate the site until six days after they had mailed their letters.
“We decided that we wanted to allow enough time for the letters to get there,” said Karl Furstenberg, the director of admissions at Dartmouth.
Harvard decided to use personal e-mails to inform its applicants of their admissions fate, sending e-mails only to those students who had expressly said they wanted to be informed through this channel. Marlyn McGrath Lewis, the director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, said Harvard had decided not to use a Web site because of security concerns, but Harvard’s e-mail system had technological glitches of its own. About 100 of the e-mails bounced back and never reached their anxious recipients.
“It was a great inconvenience for my office staff because people were calling in panic,” McGrath Lewis said. In spite of the problems, McGrath Lewis said she is not planning to change the system for the future.
The primary complaint lodged by students who logged on to the Yale Web site was that they weren’t sure whether they could trust what showed up on the computer screen.
“At first I didn’t really believe it,” Lehmann said. “So I printed it out, just to have a written document in case they sent me a rejection letter in the mail, as proof that I had once been into Yale.”