I still have my first Yale postcard sitting on my desk at home. Its invitation — to attend a Yale information session — was thrilling. Every time I see the postcard sitting on my desk, I remember excitedly discussing college options over dinner with my dad after the event. Up until then, I had never seriously considered applying to Yale.
Amanda Graves, a senior at a New Jersey public high school, recently wrote an opinion column for the Washington Post disparaging this sort of communication. She implored elite universities to stop recruiting so many prospective high school students with letters, emails and brochures.
Amanda Graves, your piece was heartfelt. But Yale, keep sending the letters.
According to Graves, Yale targets roughly 80,000 students with promotional materials each year. She asserts that Yale’s promotional push is motivated by its self-interests — the pursuit of prestige and a top U.S. News and World Report ranking that relies on a large applicant pool and a low acceptance rate. But there are compelling reasons, disregarding an increased applicant pool, why Yale should send letters far and wide.
Extensive recruitment is needed to attract diverse applicants. Moreover, this recruitment can empower students who attend schools lacking a college-going culture to apply — not just to Yale, but also to college in general. Often, these same students need reliable information about elite colleges’ financial aid opportunities for low-income families. Too many students think private colleges are prohibitively expensive when, in fact, financial aid can greatly reduce the sticker price.
I come from one of these schools, where not everyone is expected to go to college. A year after I graduated, Yale began visiting my Michigan public high school to meet with students. I was thrilled. Schools outside of Michigan rarely visit our guidance department. Not every student has a parent with the gas money, time or interest to take his or her child to an admissions event. In a school district struggling to encourage students to apply to college, Yale’s outreach efforts — which advertise both the University’s accessibility and affordability — can be revolutionary for students. Though the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school should not be the only incentive to work hard in and out of school, awareness of that possibility encourages students to imagine a broader range of opportunities for their postsecondary education. Ultimately, widespread outreach reaffirms that Yale is an option for everyone, not just students from the “right” schools or the “right” zip codes.
Graves criticizes Yale for buying SAT and ACT score information from test agencies and then sending information to applicants who do not fall within the standard range of accepted students’ scores. Following the Yale admissions ethos, however, decisions are made based on a comprehensive understanding of applicants’ qualifications and circumstances. A single metric — like an SAT score — isn’t sufficient for rejection. If Yale recruits only students who ace the SATs, it will neglect students for whom test scores might not be their strongest suit. Furthermore, SAT scores can’t be compared without considering the test-taker’s background and the context in which he or she received their scores.
Moreover, students who receive communications from Yale or other elite colleges are not coerced into applying there. Marketing relies on successfully engaging its audience. There are few columns written voicing frustrations about advertisements promoting products that average consumers are neither interested in nor able to afford. What makes college advertisements any different?
Graves demonstrates critical thinking skills in her column. She is fully capable of discerning that her chances of admission might be low — as is the case for most candidates. The recipients of college mailings are responsible for their reactions to them. The very fact that the admissions materials she is critiquing are not successful in encouraging her to apply undermines her own argument.
Graves’ column is not without strong points, including her assertion that “[kids] need experienced guidance counselors who can help them through the complicated process.” But students’ need for guidance counselors is not contingent on what universities send to their mailboxes.
I admit that the college application process — and college marketing tactics — are flawed. In retrospect, I know my postcard from Yale was nothing special. But not everyone has a gallon of gas and parents to drive him or her to an information session. In order to fulfill Yale College’s mission, it is critical we reach students from every background, through any initiative that proves effective.
Kelsi Caywood is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.