The admissions game at the Yale School of Drama has become more dramatic than ever.
The school received its largest applicant pool in its 55-year history this year, with 1,520 applicants for roughly 75 seats in the school’s incoming class, making admission to the school more cutthroat than a Shakespearean tragedy. The number of applicants this year increased 19 percent increase from last year — the tail end of an upward trend caused by the recession, which funneled working professionals back to school — making the admissions rate roughly 5.3 percent.
The slow economic recovery has yet to fill the gaps in the job market, said Joan Channick DRA ’89, associate dean of the school. She added that some jobs may never resurface, as many theatres have learned to manage with smaller staffs, encouraging some thespians to return to school to bolster their credentials.
“It’s hard to pinpoint precisely all the factors that drive the increase in applications,” Channick said. “I’d say the recession was a factor.”
But Channick added that the race to get through the school’s doors has become more intense for several reasons — most importantly the expansion of the school’s financial aid program — that has made attending the school a viable option for more applicants than ever before.
Indeed, since Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 took over in 2002, raising money for financial aid has been a primary focus, alongside the bolstering of the school’s faculty and the broadening of its curriculum, Bundy said. Over the past eight years, the school and the associated Yale Repertory Theatre have raised more than $20 million. Among this sum are “several seven-figure gifts for financial aid,” he added.
“The two most important questions at a school of any kind are who comes to teach and who comes to learn,” Bunny said in an e-mail. “Financial aid is a driver of competitive advantage in recruiting students — it’s critical to our success.”
Looking back to the 2001-’02 academic year, the school offered just $1.4 million in financial aid, with 73 percent of students signed up to receive aid. Meanwhile, this coming year, $6 million has been set aside for need-based aid, with 93 percent estimated to receive some amount of financial help. The new financial aid policy has also been designed to allow drama students to graduate with as little as $6,000 in loans, versus the $37,500 they were expected to borrow before 2002.
This effort is common among a number of the University’s professional schools, including the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Music, which recently received a $100 million gift that eliminated tuition for the school’s students. Though the School of Drama has yet to find a similar bounty, it has been able to offer more aid than some of its better-endowed counterparts, including the Law School and the School of Architecture.
“We’re all trying to find more funding, especially for financial aid,” School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said two weeks ago. “But until then, we have to do the best with what we have.”
Next year will be the first year the school will offer its projection design concentration, which opened an additional three seats in the school this year.