By the end of September, roughly 20,000 high school seniors from across the nation will receive a postcard from Yale with information on the University’s financial aid program and instructions on how students can waive application fees.
Although the Undergraduate Admissions Office first sent similar postcard to high-achieving low-income students in the summer of 2013, the program has expanded this year to include an additional round of mailings and a personal letter written by a Yale College senior. Based on the success of last year’s postcard initiative, admissions officers interviewed said they expect this year’s mailings will help encourage more students from less affluent neighborhoods to apply to the University.
“This initiative is a way of targeting a message at a group that we’ve not really been able to target before,” said Mark Dunn, assistant director of admissions.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the admissions office has made diversifying the University’s applicant pool and growing the number of high-achieving low-income students a key priority for a number of years.
But these students are often the least likely to apply because of significant information barriers, according to Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez, the admission’s office co-director of multicultural recruitment.
Although high-achieving low-income students — defined as students who come from families with income levels below $41,472 but score in the top 10 percent of SAT scores — would likely be competitive applicants to Yale, these students are more likely to apply to less selective local institutions because they are often intimidated by the selectivity and hefty tuition prices of schools such as Yale, said Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor Chris Avery, who has published research on this topic with Stanford education economist Caroline Hoxby.
“Obviously there are a lot of factors involved, but our research this summer has shown this initiative was very successful in moving the needle [in getting students to apply],” Dunn said.
Although the overall applicant pool for the class of 2018 grew by 4.4 percent, Dunn said the increase in applications from students who received the postcard was approximately 14 percent.
This June, the admissions office sent high-achieving low-income students a postcard that emphasized Yale’s net price for most admitted students and the zero parental contributions for families that make less than $65,000 a year. In mid-to-late July, these students also received a letter from Evelyn Nunez ’15, a student employee in the admissions office.
Dunn said Nunez’s letter, which reminisced about her personal journey through the application process as a high school senior, was intended to humanize the information about Yale’s financial aid and emphasize the University’s welcoming environment for prospective applicants from low-income backgrounds.
While Yale has kept tabs on prospective applicants for years by purchasing the data of students who score highly on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Tests (PSATs) or Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) from the College Board, Dunn said new statistical tools provided by the College Board have made it possible for Yale to identify which students in the admissions office’s database are likely to come from low-income families.
Dunn said the admissions office has been using a new College Board product entitled Segment Analysis Service, a geolocation service that provides data on the students’ addresses to identify applicants listed on Yale’s database who live in a neighborhood where the median family income is below $70,000 a year. Postcards are sent exclusively to these students, he said.
Michael McCullough — president and founder of the Questbridge program, a nonprofit organization that links high-achieving low-income students with elite colleges — said it is important that schools such as Yale used innovative outreach methods to connect with low-income students who do not live in one of America’s major cities. He cited research by Hoxby and Avery that showed low-income students who do not live in a large metropolitan area are far less likely to apply to selective colleges than students who live in cities such as New York.
Sheryll Cashin, a Georgetown Law professor who has written extensively about higher education, said she is highly supportive of the University’s decision to reach out to students from low-income neighborhoods.
While Yale and its peers recruit students from ethnic groups that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, Cashin said these schools need to do a better job of recognizing that the most disadvantaged students are not necessarily those who are black or Hispanic but who come from low-income environments with worse schools and a cultural stigma against higher education.
Abdul-Razak Zachariach ’17, a student from nearby West Haven who identified as low-income, said he is hopeful the postcards not only discuss Yale’s strong financial aid program but also tell low-income students that they belong on this campus.
“Yale has incredible resources and the numbers are staggering, but it’s easy to feel like just a part of the quota [as a low-income student],” he said.
Zachariah said he only began considering Yale as a realistic target school after years of living nearby and visiting the campus.
Still, Saran Morgan ’18, a Questbridge Scholar, said she is skeptical that this mailing will be effective. She added that she received many pieces of literature from various schools but mostly ignored them as an applicant.
Christopher Rios ’18 said he thinks the University should send this information to all students and not just low-income students.
But Dunn said the admissions office also needed to consider the cost of the program because it is being funded through the office’s annual budget.
Yale received a record-high 30,932 applications from the class of 2018.
Shreyas Tirumala contributed reporting.