In my four months at Yale, my vocabulary has expanded, growing to include words like Andover, Exeter, Deerfield and Choate, to name a few. As a girl from a large public high school in Texas, I had never heard of elite Northeast prep schools, “feeder schools” to top-tier schools like Yale. In the last two years, for example, Exeter alone has sent over 40 students to Harvard and Yale, a shocking fact that you can easily find by Googling their school profile. These names have slowly become woven into my life through “About” sections on Facebook profiles, colorful felt banners pinned on dorm room walls and conversations with people who have now become some of my dearest friends here at Yale.
Frankly, you don’t have to spend a lot of time here to realize the lack of socioeconomic diversity. Even if you didn’t go to Andover, it’s likely that you came from a solidly middle class, if not upper-middle class, background and went to a public school in a good neighborhood, much like myself. People who have struggled with financial difficulties at home, worked a job to fund their own expenses and dropped a class during shopping period solely because of a $200 textbook are in the minority here at Yale.
Take the class of 2021 profile, for example. Yale’s partnership with QuestBridge and need-blind admissions have boosted the percentage of first-generation students to 16.6. However, that’s matched by an almost 12 percent legacy rate. But, if that isn’t enough for you, consider the distribution of high schools attended by members of the class. 21.38 percent of students attended “independent day schools,” a less overt way of saying private school. Throw in 7.7 percent who went to boarding schools, then 7 percent at private religious schools, and you’ve got 36 percent who went to some variety of private school. One might say that the flip side doesn’t sound that bad — after all, 63.4 percent of the class of 2021 went to a public school. But when you consider how many of those public schools were in middle class and upper-middle class neighborhoods, you’ll see a clear picture of a class that is missing low-income and lower-middle class students.
That’s a simplistic breakdown of the class of 2021, but the underlying truth remains. While there are many factors at play, the fact is that a student from Andover is much more likely to get into Yale than a low-income student from a rural public high school, even if they are equally talented. Some might argue that the Andover student has worked hard to get into Andover in the first place and might have an impressive resume. But remember that the student from a rural public school didn’t have the resources to pay for test prep and a family cheering on their Ivy League dreams. At that point, you might see how it’s unfair that in every scenario the student from Andover is more likely to be the one sitting next to you in your first year seminar.
There’s also an argument out there that schools like Andover aren’t just made up of students who are wealthy enough to pay its tuition. After all, 48 percent of Andover’s student body is on some form of financial aid. But let’s be honest with ourselves — how likely is it that all 48 percent of those kids (or even the majority of them) are low-income students rather than middle class or upper-middle class? How accessible are opportunities like Andover made to low-income students, and how many of them are able to attend these schools without feeling social isolation? At the end of the day, when all your friends are raving about the latest MacBook and asking everyone to pitch in for the private limo they want to rent for prom, how do you engage with those conversations when you’re worried about whether your laptop will make it through the next week or your family’s financial situation back home?
I’m not questioning anyone’s place here at Yale or trying to make any sort of judgment on who “deserved” to get in. I am surrounded by friends from prep schools and public schools, none of whom I can imagine my Yale experience without.
I do, feel, however, that it is the job of the people who are already here at Yale, who are already secure in their spot here, to expose and question the lack of socioeconomic diversity in our student body for the purpose of future classes. The solutions are unclear, but I’m hoping that this article will spark conversations that bring us closer to them. If Yale and Yalies fail to take up that mantle, then we are robbing ourselves of the life stories of those, who, by virtue of circumstance, never step foot on this campus.
Katherine Hu is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .