With Nov.1 approaching, all around the country particularly ambitious high school seniors are scrambling to complete the thousands of applications that are flooding into the Admissions Office. This is an admissions race we all went through to get into Yale, and one none of us would ever want to go through again. But the truth is, every year, also at this time, Yale students are completing very similar applications — complete with essays recommendations and interviews — to get back into Yale after taking time off. This is not a process for the students you see smiling on Admissions brochures. This is a process seldom discussed by Yale officials: the grueling, arbitrary process known as readmission.
Ultimately, it is not surprising that the readmissions process is generally kept under wraps: the institutionalized way for students to take time off from Yale is the leave of absence, a definite period of time, a semester or a year, after which no readmission is required. Readmission is required of those students who take time off of Yale for medical or personal reasons (including poor academic performance) with an unspecified return date. Sometimes, the choice is largely made by Yale. The University can, for instance, recommend medical leave for a student it thinks is endangering himself or others or not cooperating with University officials in taking appropriate steps to evaluate the illness. Other times, students may make their own decision to take leave of Yale.
Of course, it is good that Yale has a system whereby students can take an indefinite amount of time off, especially if they are incapable of being productive members of the Yale community. But in the experience of those who take withdrawals, the process is agonizing and, for some, reeks of banishment. Ironically, this feeling of exile is more present when a student applies for readmission than when he first leaves.
The readmissions process starts when a student makes a formal request to return to Yale. Students who take medical leave from Yale must generally wait one full term before returning, although the University allows some flexibility. Students who take a personal withdrawal must wait two full terms. From this point, the experience differs from case to case, to say the least. This is partly due to the fact that Yale is quite good about granting each application some degree of personalization. But partly this is a result of the shaky quality of withdrawal regulations. Those who wish to reapply to Yale must complete an application (shorter than the normal admissions application) and must often provide recommendations. Students are also required or strongly encouraged — depending on the regulations you read — to take two courses at another institution before returning to Yale. And while those eager high school seniors find out in April (or December) about their admission to Yale, readmitted applicants are often advised of the committee’s decision just days — days! — before the term begins, hardly enough time to reserve an airplane ticket to New Haven.
But perhaps the most egregious problem with the process comes in the distinction between the medical withdrawal and the personal withdrawal; and specifically, when it comes to mental illness. Technically, mental illness can qualify a student for a medical withdrawal, but then only if it is certified by the department of mental hygiene at Yale University Health Services. There are cases, however, where a diagnosed mental illness has instead resulted in a personal withdrawal. This is a terrible, but perhaps not unsurprising, example of discrimination against those with mental illness, and the stigma associated with mental health issues. Bipolar disorder, depression, anorexia and schizophrenia are all examples of diseases, no different from cancer or mononucleosis. Moreover, many personal withdrawals are the result of poor academic performance; it seems preposterous to consider people with illnesses and those who have under-performed academically under the same policy. To allow mental illness to be categorized separately from other types of illness is to see those affected by it as fundamentally different from other sick people. Moreover, it is generally seen as more difficult for a person who took a personal withdrawal to reenter Yale than for a person who left for medical reasons. This leaves mentally ill people who must resort to personal withdrawal at a disadvantage for regaining admission to Yale, contributing to the stigmatized nature of mental illness. Any one of us could be faced with cancer and could have to make the decision to leave Yale. But similarly, in a given year, one in five adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder — this person could be any of us too.
Those who for whatever reason must take time off from Yale often are faced with a realization that they are leaving a place that holds great meaning for them, and generally are doing so at a very traumatic time in their lives. And many students who must leave Yale value their education and take it much more seriously than the general college population. We all love Yale, and many of us will feel at the end of four years here that we never want to leave. To have to interrupt this experience is a gutwrenching decision to make, but one that some of us may very well have to. When Yale decides to admit a student, it makes a commitment to him until graduation. The University should do whatever it can to support students who must leave Yale, and should treat them decently and fairly when they decide to return.
Jessamyn Blau is a junior in Morse College.