Yale’s early admissions race has become increasingly crowded each year, and preliminary counts show that this year will be no exception.
Based on ongoing tallies, the number of early action applications submitted to Yale will increase modestly compared to last year’s total of 4,888 applications, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel told the News this week. Though exact figures will not be released for at least several weeks, a dozen financial aid experts and college guidance counselors interviewed said the nation’s economic crisis will only add to the appeal of Yale and its financial aid program, especially given the sweeping aid reforms announced in January — although it is unclear how widely the message of Yale’s reforms has spread.
To cope with the influx of applications, the admissions office has hired two additional officers to increase its staff to 22 people, Brenzel said.
Still, the initial counts indicate that this year’s rise in applications will not compare to last year’s 36 percent surge after Harvard and Princeton universities admitted their first classes without early admissions programs.
But Brenzel declined to attribute any increase to the economic downturn over any other factors.
“Application numbers tend to fluctuate because of a number of different variables,” he said in an e-mail message.
SAFE FROM THE PANIC?
While some students may now consider scrapping applications to expensive private colleges in favor of in-state public universities, Yale will be largely unaffected by this trend, financial aid experts and college counselors agreed.
The current economic crisis has thrown many high school students and parents into a state of alarm, said Ronald Ramsdell, the founder of College Aid Consulting Services, based in Minneapolis.
“Families are panicking,” he said. “Because of the fear of not retaining the funding to afford a school, they are looking at either a state school or, worst case scenario, a community college.”
This situation has already started to play out in this year’s admissions cycle.
At St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va., seniors have remained interested in highly selective schools, Director of College Counseling Michael Carter said. But many have begun adding public universities to their application lists since the spring, he added.
“This class was one that, back in the spring, was looking at predominantly private colleges,” Carter said. “Now, suddenly, to a certain extent, the brakes have been applied.”
But wealthy schools such as Yale will likely be immune to an applicant aversion to private universities, since many students and families are aware of their strong financial-aid programs, said Justin Draeger, vice president for development at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
“I don’t suspect that there will be any change with the Ivies,” he said. “If you’re on track to go to an Ivy League school, whether you’re low income, middle income or upper income, you’re probably still going to be able to go.”
Interest in financial aid has been growing nationwide. In the first two quarters of 2008, 8.9 million college students filed federal financial aid forms, a 16 percent increase over last year’s total, according to data released by the federal government in July.
‘NOT ALL STUDENTS ARE AWARE’
But though a large percentage of potential applicants may be well-informed on Yale’s aid offerings, many students in the low-income sector Yale has been aggressively targeting may not realize the extent of the aid available.
Students sometimes dismiss Yale out of hand based on its tuition sticker price, this year at $46,000, said Sandy Bean, coordinator of the college and career center at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, a public school in Washington, D.C., serving a high proportion of economically disadvantaged students.
“The biggest problem we have is convincing very bright minority students that they can go to a place like Yale,” she said. “Not all students are aware. They look at price tags and they get very frightened.”
The admissions office has tried to publicize its revamped financial-aid program through its Web site, high school presentations, alumni volunteers and other communications materials, Brenzel said.
And last year for the first time, Yale partnered with QuestBridge, a non-profit organization that tries to match low-income, high-achieving students with top universities.
Yale, along with Harvard, has also benefited from intensive media focus on its financial aid reforms, said Matt Reed, a policy analyst for the Project on Student Debt, a non-profit institution that aims to increase economic access to higher education.
Though some potential applicants may still be in the dark on Yale’s financial aid policy, four members of the University’s current early applicant pool interviewed said Yale’s financial aid played a significant role in their decision to apply.
George Hunter, a senior at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., said he paid close attention to the types of aid available at his top choices.
“The Yale financial aid package was one of the main reasons why I applied there early,” he said.
Yale also offers a new financial aid calculator on its Web site, which can be helpful in gauging an aid package before applying, said Kay Chen, a senior at Ward Melville High School on Long Island.
“My parents and I were just talking about how much money we could save if I get in,” she said.
An additional factor influencing students’ decisions, especially given the economic climate, may be Yale’s non-binding early action program, Carter said. Many of the students he counsels at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School are avoiding binding early decision programs at some colleges in favor of non-binding early action programs like Yale’s, he said. (All schools in the Ivy League except Yale, Harvard and Princeton offer binding early decision programs.)
Last year Yale College admitted 1,952 out of 22,813 applicants for a record-low acceptance rate of 8.6 percent.