This year marks the 10th anniversary of the University’s student ambassador program, which has grown in scale and scope since the program’s launch in 2005.
The program sends current Yale students to high schools across the nation, in hopes of reaching communities and schools that have not traditionally heard about Yale. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, who created the program in the fall of 2005, emphasized the initiative’s success in reaching high school juniors and convincing them to apply to Yale.
“I can’t imagine trying to do the work that we do and having the conversations with high school students and parents that we have without the ambassador program,” Quinlan said. “It’s become a central part of our outreach effort.”
Since its inauguration in 2005, Director of Outreach and Recruitment Mark Dunn ’07 said the program has expanded from 130 student ambassadors to 319 during the 2014–15 academic year, and from 1,500 estimated student attendees to 8,411. Dunn described the expansion as a “major, exciting increase” in not only the number of student participants, but also in the number of schools reached and high school students with whom the University has connected.
In recent years, the program has really been a data success story, Dunn said. Though it is logistically challenging to assign ambassadors to address 700 schools across the country, he added, the office has enlisted admissions officers to assist with ambassador assignments in certain states, since admissions officers have specialized knowledge about specific geographic areas.
“What I’ve been able to do is equip my colleagues with really good data that we have about where we’re likely to see high-achieving, and high-achieving low-income students in these high schools,” Dunn said.
Dunn said this has resulted in a greater number of assignments to student ambassadors to schools in their areas, and had a positive effect on the retention of the program.
Jesus Caro ’16, a participant in the program, said he applied because very few students from his high school in California believe they are qualified to apply to schools like Yale. Most of them know very little about the school aside from the name, Caro said, and he thought the ambassador program would be the perfect way to change that.
“It’s fulfilling to start a visit with students only knowing Yale by name and ending with at least a few of them convinced to apply and excited for what it has to offer,” Caro said.
Carter Guensler, a current freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was admitted to Yale, said the University’s most effective tactic in convincing him to apply was the student ambassador visit to his high school.
“[The ambassador] sure did know how to do his job — great, funny stories, wonderful delivery -— he really convinced me that I want to be at Yale for the next four years,” Guensler said.
However, Guensler declined the University’s offer to take a prestigious merit scholarship at UNC — the Morehead-Cain.
Though the Admissions Office was unsuccessful in yielding Guensler, Dunn said the student ambassador program can often play a role in convincing students to attend Yale, particularly if they have already been accepted by the time an ambassador visits their school.
Still, Dunn said the program’s success in yielding students, and in convincing them to apply, is hard to quantitatively measure. This is because most of the student ambassadors talk to juniors when they visit high schools, and the Admissions Office has never tried to connect multiple years of data. “Qualitatively, we see applications where students answer the ‘Why Yale’ question by saying they met an ambassador at their school,” Dunn said. “But there’s not really a good quantitative case yet in terms of how the visits actually translate into applications.”
But Caro said the program is still a great way to educate students about Yale — particularly students who underestimate their potential to attend top-tier universities. He also said receiving payment was an added bonus, making participating in the program a “no brainer” to him.
“I think it makes all the difference when someone with your same educational and economic background — for the most part – tells you ‘I got in, so what makes you think you don’t have a chance?’” Caro said.
Last year, student ambassadors visited schools in 46 different U.S. states.