With applications for fall 2012 admission to the Yale School of Drama received and counted, administrators said the school is continuing a three-year high in application levels.
By the school’s final application deadline in early February, 1,369 applications had been received for places in the school’s nine Master of Fine Arts degree programs, according to figures provided by Maria Leveton, the school’s registrar and admissions administrator. Applications have exceeded 1,300 for the third year since 2010, when they peaked at 1,520. For the eight admissions cycles before that, the number of applications ranged between 1,037 and 1,281 — a level that School of Drama Associate Dean Joan Channick DRA ’89 said application counts are unlikely to return to.
“I don’t think we’re going to go back to 11-1200,” Channick said. “The new ‘normal’ is going to be more at this higher level.”
Channick added that 2010 was an outlier year: applications rose 30 percent from 2007 to 2010 and have fallen 10 percent over the last two years.
James Bundy DRA ’95, the school’s dean, said that reasons for application growth may include students’ uncertainty about their prospects in the current job market, the program’s pre-eminence in the field and the increased affordability of a School of Drama education.
Channick agreed that these three factors have been the main drivers of the recent jump in applications, adding that administrators have noted particularly significant increases for departments in which the school has recently appointed notable figures as chairs.
“The new department chairs hired over the last decade, like Ron Van Lieu for acting, Paula Vogel for playwriting and Ed Martenson for theater management, have been experienced, prominent and superb, which has definitely attracted students,” Channick said.
Students apply to one of the School of Drama’s nine areas of study, which include Acting, Playwriting, Directing and Stage Management. The admissions process for each program is conducted independently; the concentrations require unique application materials and have separate deadlines.
With their most recent hires, Matthew Gutschick DRA ’12 said, the school has raised the profile of concentrations other than the historically competitive acting and playwriting programs. As a theater management concentrator, Gutschick said that he applied to no other graduate programs but was specifically drawn to Yale because of its reputation and faculty. He said he was particularly driven to apply after reading an American Theatre Magazine interview with Martenson, the chair of the program he ultimately applied to, which Gutschick said he found “thought-provoking.”
Channick said that significant improvements in financial aid for students, an initiative that has been a priority for Bundy since his appointment in 2002, have made the school increasingly affordable and attractive to applicants. She added that when she graduated from the school in 1989, she owed her alma mater $20,000 in debt, a financial burden she said she is glad students today do not have to experience. Today, students will never be asked to take out more than $6,000 in loans to help pay for their education, a change enacted during Bundy’s tenure, though they may borrow more if they so choose.
“We now provide more robust aid, based on capital gifts and the president and provost’s decision, with the support of the Yale Corporation, to … allocate more [University] endowment income to financial aid [at the school],” Bundy said.
The school increased grants and reduced loans in financial aid packages between 2002 and 2008, Bundy said. Including personal loans and debts to the school, the average indebtedness of School of Drama students has gone from $52,600 in 2005 to $16,600 today, Channick said. She added that the school’s tuition, which has been frozen at $26,250 since 2008, and financial aid packages makes it more attractive than comparable schools with less generous financial assistance packages.
Channick said the School of Drama’s financial aid budget has grown from $1.4 million before Bundy’s appointment to $6.1 million today, adding that the average student now contributes, via loans and his or her personal funds, only 16 percent of the cost of his or her education, compared to 57 percent in 2002.
“Now, 93 percent of our students are on financial aid, they graduate with only $6,000 in loans and aid covers 84 percent of their expenses,” Channick said. “The balance has really shifted.”
Nikki Delhomme DRA ’13, a costume design concentrator who was admitted in 2010, said she would not have been able to return to school had it not been for the School of Drama’s extensive financial aid program. While considering her options for graduate school, Delhomme said she found that Yale provided significantly more support than peer institutions such as New York University and the California Institute of the Arts.
The school may become even more financially appealing to applicants soon. Bundy said that eliminating tuition and establishing stipends for students are key goals of his in the years ahead. After receiving a $100 million donation in 2005, the School of Music ended tuition for its students.
Channick said that the uncertainty of job security in the recession may have accounted for the original peak in applications. But with the economic recovery in the years since 2010, Channick said that the economy may not be inspiring increased applications as much as increased awareness about the School of Drama’s aid policies.
The school has experienced a falling admissions rate due to the fact that programs have not increased the number of students they admit. The Acting Department, for instance, continues to be capped at 16 students, while directing takes only 3 new students each year.
Bundy said the school experienced a “modest but meaningful expansion” in student enrollment with the creation of a new projection design concentration in 2010, which accepts two students per year and will have increased the student body by 3.5 percent by this fall. Bundy added that he does not anticipate any new programs to be introduced in the near future.
“I don’t think we’re in an expansion mode,” Channick said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be ‘big.’”
She added that the school’s ongoing curriculum review program may recommend that the school put up fewer productions each year because the current calendar seems “frenzied,” a choice that could lower the number of students admitted. Channick said that a precedent was set for such a move some years ago, when the number of playwrights and directors admitted was reduced.
Applicants will be notified about admissions decisions in early April.