Last week, the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions finished training 120 students who will represent Yale in high schools across the country as part of this year’s Student Ambassadors Program.
Through the two-year-old program — which was tweaked this year to allow Yalies to develop ongoing relationships with particular high schools — current Yale undergraduates will visit high schools in their home areas during vacations. Student ambassadors plan to visit 335 schools with high-achieving, low-income student populations in 37 states and the District of Columbia this year to give presentations about Yale student life, academics, financial aid and the college application process.
Jeremiah Quinlan ’03, director of outreach and recruitment at the admissions office, said Yale is one of the few colleges to use undergraduates to make contact with schools that do not traditionally consider Yale an option for their students.
“The Ambassador program is unique in that it places Yale students, not graduates or admissions officers, in schools and face-to-face with high-performing and low-income high school students,” Quinlan wrote in an e-mail.
Quinlan said the main change to the program this year is that student ambassadors will visit schools more than once over the course of the year.
“By making repeated contact, ambassadors can develop more meaningful relationships with students and administrators,” Quinlan wrote.
As a member of the Undergraduate Recruitment Committee and chair of the Education Center at the Roosevelt Institution, Lindsay Ullman ’08 was part of the student-led effort to formulate the selection process for both the high schools and Yale student representatives.
Ullman, who visited three schools last year near the Finger Lakes in New York, said the interaction between undergraduates — who have recently gone through the application process themselves — and the high school students helps to make applying to Yale seem like a more realistic possibility.
“We try to make Yale not seem like a school that is far away and impossible to reach, but really something that is accessible if you are qualified,” she said.
Chris Palencia ’09 said during his five visits to schools last year, it was encouraging to witness students’ enthusiasm about his presentations. After speaking to an unusually large audience of 60 students at a school in southern California, he said, he left with pages of students’ contact information, indicating a high level of interest in Yale.
Ambassadors are required to read a manual and attend one information session, during which they are instructed on how to arrange visits with schools and how to explain Yale’s financial aid program. Ambassador Matt Delgado ’09 said that while he thought the instruction the ambassadors receive from the admissions office staff could be enhanced, the most important preparation for giving a talk was enthusiasm about Yale.
“In some regard I feel that there should be a little more training, but they give you the facts and you just go in wholeheartedly and talk about Yale,” Delgado said.
Students said they recognized the importance of receiving advice from students throughout the application process. Ilana Yurkiewicz ’10 said she thought that hearing the first-hand accounts of Yale students was more meaningful than listening to a speech by an admissions officer.
Blair Benham-Pyle ’10 said in her opinion, Yale representatives could do a better job making the University seem more accessible to lower-income students.
“I think socioeconomic diversity could be better at Yale,” Benham-Pyle said. “I think a lot of kids in lower socioeconomic classes do not even think about applying to Yale, and it would help if financial aid was better publicized.”
In the spring of 2005, Yale removed the parent contribution for students from families earning under $45,000 and reduced it for students from families earning between $45,000 and $60,000.
Ullman said Yale was one of the first schools in the country to start a program to facilitate contact between undergraduates and high school students.
“I was surprised that this was a really ground-breaking effort,” she said. “Any admissions office has the responsibility not only to admit the most qualified students, but also to find those students.”
Last year, the Student Ambassadors Program reached almost 1,500 high school students in 35 states and the District of Columbia.