Despite a steady increase in interest over the past several years, this year the Richard U. Light Fellowship saw a drop in applications.
In the past, the total number of applicants for the Light Fellowship — which gives students the fully funded opportunities for intensive language study in East Asia — has not been made public. However, this year Director of the Light Fellowship Robert Clough revealed that more than 220 students submitted applications for the program. Clough said this was a decrease from last year.
Although Clough did not disclose the number of students who applied last year, he said 141 Light Fellowships were awarded for the summer of 2014. This year’s 140 acceptances were released on Thursday afternoon.
“We have seen steady growth in student interest over the past five years,” Clough said. “We will continue to plan for gradual growth over the next five years as the new residential colleges are launched and student numbers increase.”
The number of Light Fellowship applications often reflects the proportion of students at Yale who choose to study Korean, Chinese or Japanese, Clough said. Approximately 67 percent of this year’s fellowship recipients are studying Chinese, 24 percent Japanese and 9 percent Korean.
The decline in candidates came from freshmen and seniors, Clough added. One reason for this, he said, could be that fewer freshmen enrolled in level one Chinese last semester as compared to previous years.
Though applications may have fallen, the Light Fellowship still provides a major incentive for undergraduates studying any of the three languages, said Japanese professor Mari Stever. She noted that while many students at Yale want to study abroad, many other language programs do not offer the same benefits.
“I think the Light Fellowship has a lot to do with why we have a good amount of learners for Japanese,” Stever added. “The fellowship definitely helps to stabilize our program.”
Chinese professor Fan Liu also said that the fellowship encourages many students, especially incoming freshmen, to begin Chinese language study. Another eight applicants and East Asian Language professors interviewed also suggested the fellowship benefits the three language departments.
Light Fellowship awardee Makana Williams ’18 said most of the people in her Chinese class either had already completed a Light Fellowship program or applied this year. Meredith Derecho ’17, who is a member of the Light Fellowship Student Advisory Committee — a group of past awardees that advise applicants — said many of her friends enrolled in East Asian Language classes because of the fellowship.
Still, according to the Office of Institutional Research, the number of undergraduates registered for Chinese and Japanese overall has steadily declined since 2008, falling 25 percent for Chinese and 55 percent for Japanese. The number studying Korean has remained roughly the same.
“I think the drop in level one Chinese actually will continue because more and more high schools are offering Chinese classes,” Light Fellowship awardee Jae Hyung Kim ’18 said. “My school only introduced Chinese into the main curriculum last year.”
Despite the recent decline in enrollment in Chinese classes, more than four times as many students are still studying Chinese as compared to Japanese. Chinese still remains the third most popular foreign language at Yale behind Spanish and French.
Light Fellowship alumni Yafeng Gao ’16 and Serene Li ’17 said the fellowship provided them with their best summer experience at Yale thus far.
Gao said many former Light awardees have applied to the program again, adding that he is considering taking a gap year using the fellowship. According to Clough, 22 of the current awardees are former recipients of the fellowship.
“The program is very generous,” Li said. “Most of the people I know who applied were accepted into the program and very few are rejected.”
Since the establishment of the Richard U. Light Fellowship in 1996, the program has provided nearly 1,800 awards.