At first glance, Yale’s Admissions Committee seems to seek out diverse classes of students. Geographically, the class of 2020 is very diverse — there are students from all 50 states and 118 countries. Racially, there is numeric diversity in underrepresented minorities as well: 10.8 percent are African-American students, 12.9 percent are Hispanic students and 2.5 percent are Native American. Any incoming FroCo group could make a great brochure picture.
Yet Yale still selects for wealthy students from high-resource private schools against working- and middle-class students from county (non-charter, non-magnet) public schools.
Only 60 percent of students in the class of 2020 came from public schools, while the rest came from schools that charge tuition. Although this is a majority of the class, these numbers are well below the national average. Over 90 percent of American students overall attend public schools.
Even the 40 percent of students who come from private schools are not distributed equitably across all American private schools. Yale, and its handful of peer institutions, admits a disproportionately high number of students from a few private “prep” schools scattered around the country (but especially in the Northeast) deemed “feeder schools.” The boarding schools include Exeter, Andover and Deerfield. The day schools include Fieldston, Sidwell Friends and Groton. Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, for example, is a feeder, having sent 46 students to Yale in the past five years alone. By contrast, my (high-achieving) public high school has sent three people in the past five years — one a recruited athlete.
Yale might account for this trend in a few ways.
First, it might suggest that applicants from top private schools are, in fact, the most deserving of admission to Yale. When Yale’s pool of applicants is over 30,000 per year and Yale itself claims it could develop several iterations of equally good classes to admit, I am hardly convinced.
Second, Yale might suggest that many private school applicants are admitted as recruited athletes for WASPy, expensive, Northeastern sports like golf, sailing and crew. Of course, this is unacceptable. Yale is a school, not a bourgeoisie country club. Yale should obviously admit for academics, rather than Nantucket cultural capital.
Third, Yale might suggest that many of those private school students are admitted, in part, because they have legacy status. But when legacy status perpetuates generational privilege — and leaves meritocracy foggy at best — this is a poor excuse. Yale should admit the working-class student whose earnings from her after-school job helped pay the gas bill rather than the Hotchkiss student whose parents met in their mutual sophomore year at Branford Screw. And given Yale’s endowment, Yale can easily make this a reality.
A lot of Yale’s admissions practices boil down to maintaining the status quo. I’ll admit, Yale used to tip the scales even more in favor of the rich and well-connected. But even today, Yale seems to lean on practices firmly rooted in its old-boys-club past, marginalizing hard-working public school students around the world.
As the Admissions Committee reviews early applications to the class of 2021, I dare them to challenge that status quo. Yale doesn’t have to admit tens of students from a single school each year — even if making that decision might tarnish those wink-and-a-nod relationships. Yale doesn’t have to admit armadas of boat-shoe-clad bourgeois badminton players.
Admitting an economically diverse class — that is, one that actually reflects the middle-class, public school reality of most of American high schools — is critical to Yale’s mission, relevance and moral fiber.
Yale: If you were to admit more middle-class students educated in American public high schools, your relationship to New Haven would change. Instead of admitting students who will happily tweet about structural inequality but are afraid to take a public bus, you would admit students who regard New Haven as a real microcosm of the broader story of American cities.
When you admit students from those backgrounds, you admit students who recognize how profoundly privileged we are to be here. When you admit students from those backgrounds, you admit students who see work — not parental connections, not a donation, not an expensive college counselor — as the most effective way to get ahead. Most importantly, you admit students who don’t take things for granted.
Yale admissions are complicated, and there probably aren’t many students here who don’t deserve their admission. But in the context of Yale’s super-selective admissions process, there’s a glaring disconnect between the groups Yale tends to favor and the groups that make up the bulk of America’s talent. If, according to its mission statement, Yale “inspires the minds that will inspire the world,” Yale needs to inspire more minds from more places to truly make the world a better, stronger and more cohesive place. In admitting the class of 2021, this needs to be our ultimate prerogative.
Emil Friedman is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .