We certainly don’t measure our self-worth by how selective our alma mater is, but it is undeniably satisfying when lots of high-school seniors see the light and truth and apply to Yale as their first-choice school.
But with that said, Yale’s 13 percent decline in early applications this year is no cause for worry. More importantly, the decline should not be a factor when the administration reviews Yale’s early admissions policy in order to decide whether to keep the early option or to follow Harvard and Princeton’s lead in eliminating it. There are many strong and principled arguments for and against accepting early applications, and numbers such as this are of minimal importance compared with those arguments.
Yale’s hyperselectivity — last year, we accepted just 8.6 percent of applicants, the lowest acceptance rate in Ivy League history — is neither a clear good nor a clear bad for the University. On the one hand, it in theory ensures that Yale takes only the best of the best students from around the world. On the other hand, it creates a stressful environment for high-schoolers. Yale’s trumpeting of its low acceptance rate, moreover, creates the impression that Yale seeks to keep the rate low as an end in itself and the fact that some university rankings, most infamously that of U.S. News and World Report, weigh student selectivity certainly appears to give Yale an incentive to keep the number down in order to look good.
Selectivity itself is never an end — putting together a good class of diverse, talented and motivated new Yalies is the goal. In the talk about Yale’s numbers this year, mostly in comparison with institutions such as Princeton and Stanford, which saw slight increases in their applicant pools, it’s important to note this: The difference of a few hundred applicants is quite unlikely to change the caliber of the class of 2011. We are a selective school because are a good school; we are not a good school because we are selective.
The insignificance of the decline is relevant in another, more pressing way: The ongoing debate on early admissions. Harvard and Princeton earlier this year eliminated their early programs, saying that early admissions disadvantages low-income and minority students. Attention now is obviously being paid to Yale, which is still reviewing its policy. The News hopes that in that review, Yale will not consider this recent drop as a strike against our early action policy.
More discussion is needed as to the merits of our program, but we should not, for example, think that we need to get rid of early action in order to avoid looking bad if the number of applicants continues to fall.
In the meantime, though, we should focus on what really matters here: improving the academic resources and financial aid available at Yale in order to keep attracting the best possible students, for the class of 2011 and beyond.