Courtesy of Yale News

On Oct. 1, current first-year counselors received an email from Adam Cohen, program coordinator for Yale’s Office of Development, asking them to host two “VIP” high schoolers for lunch and a campus tour.

A current FroCo, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the University, said that upon receipt of the email, fellow first-year counselors were confused by the term “VIP” and taken aback that those “VIPs” were high school students.

This was not an isolated incident — according to another email obtained by the News, first-year counselors received similar notes in 2017.

In both 2017 and this year, the meetings occurred before any application deadline had passed, raising questions about how the Office of Development selects its “VIPs” and why some prospective applicants receive preferential treatment.

COURTING VIPS

In 2017, rising first-year counselors received their first email from the Office of Development in April, shortly after they had been selected as FroCos for the class of 2021.

The email, which was provided to the News, explained that the office hosts “special visitors, prospective students and donors,” many of which request meetings with current students to learn more about the Yale experience.

According to a former FroCo, who asked to remain anonymous, the email encouraged first-year counselors to serve as “Yale College Development Ambassadors” and “to build [their] own network as [they] move toward graduation.” The email suggested that the FroCos grab coffee or lunch with “a donor family or prospective student,” lead a private tour of their residential college or participate in a student panel at a development event.

Four months later, several first-year counselors from one of Yale’s residential colleges, including the anonymous former FroCo interviewed by the News, received a second email asking them to meet with “a donor’s twin daughters who are interested in having lunch with a rising senior from [redacted residential] College.”

A third email, sent eight days later, made “one final plea” to the college’s FroCos, because the Office did not “have any [redacted residential college] students on our list of Yale College Development Ambassadors and we definitely have [redacted residential college] Alumni who would love their children to meet a current [student].” All three of the emails sent to the former FroCo were obtained by the News.

The former FroCo told the News that first-year counselors had lunch with prospective students and their parents on multiple occasions. During the meals, they discussed their experience at Yale and responded to any questions from the family. The source said that the lunches took place in their residential college and lasted an hour.

A group of first-year counselors and some students recommended by faculty are selected as “Yale College Development Ambassadors” each year, Cohen told the News. Cohen said that the ambassadors meet with prospective students with similar academic and extracurricular interests. He added that the number of ambassadors varies from year to year, though few FroCos generally apply for the position.

However, when asked about the program, Vice President of Development Joan O’Neill told the News that she was “not sure” to what the name “Yale College Development Ambassadors” referred to.

“[This] is not a group that exists within development or the alumni association,” O’Neill said. “That being said, we all view ourselves as ambassadors for Yale.”

When asked about “VIPs” that visit campus, Cohen first characterized the VIPs as “donors.” But after a quick pause, he recharacterized the visitors as “guests” that come to campus. He said that the term “VIP” is used to preserve the anonymity of these guests. Cohen did not specify how many “VIPs” visit Yale each year.

It remains unclear how the University selects to whom to offer the VIP treatment. But on Yale’s admissions website, no similar program is listed for other applicants and prospective students who would like to meet with current Yalies before the admissions decisions are released.

Julia Chertkof ’21 told the News that when deciding whether to apply to Yale through its early action program, she wanted to stay on campus overnight and shadow current students. Many other colleges she considered offered such opportunities, Chertkof said.

But after looking at Yale’s website and calling the Office of Admissions, Chertkof learned that Yale does not offer any visiting program for prospective students. She was told that the University only offers such programming to admitted students.

University President Peter Salovey’s chief of staff, Joy McGrath, directed all questions about the relationship between the Development and Admissions Offices to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan and O’Neill. McGrath added that “the President remains at arm’s length from the admission process and would not have anything to add.”

VIPS AND ADMISSIONS

Beyond asking FroCos and other students to meet with “VIP” high school students, the Development Office also compiles a priority list of “institutional cases” — Yale’s term for donor-relevant applicants, according to an ex-admissions officer who spoke to the News on the condition of anonymity.

At first, admissions officers separately review applications and evaluate candidates without any knowledge of “special designations” yet to come. Special designations are reserved for athletic recruits, artists and musicians who submit supplemental materials to be reviewed by a relevant University department and “institutional cases.” After all applications have received initial evaluations, the source explained, the officers receive the lists of students with special designations, including the Development Office’s priority list.

With these designations revealed, candidates are then discussed in committee.

“I think this is the highest integrity way to handle such applicants … since it allows admissions officers to make honest judgments during their first readings without being biased by the knowledge of any special considerations later to materialize,” the ex-officer said. “This brings some valuable objectivity to committee discussions after the additional designations have been included.”

For admissions candidates who have already received a positive initial evaluation, these distinctions merely serve as another boost that further advances their candidacy.

However, if the officer had initially levied a negative evaluation, things become more complicated, according to the ex-officer. Although they said that being on the development list would not in and of itself force the committee to discuss an applicant with a negative evaluation, such applicants could still merit further discussion at the discretion of admissions officers present in the room.

The ex-officer explained that there are different levels of distinction assigned to applicants. “Top priority distinctions” — which can be assigned to candidates for exceptional artistic, athletic or institutional reasons — are rare, but signify that some entity in the Yale administration is “strongly promoting an applicant,” the ex-officer said. Not everyone from the Development Office’s priority list receives a “top-priority” distinction.

Still, the ex-officer added that in their experience, the Admissions Office can and does reject candidates with special designations — even those with “top-priority” distinctions.

They estimated that roughly 30 to 40 applicants receive institutional distinctions of varying levels of priority each year. Of these applicants, the ex-admissions officer approximated, most were “strong-to-average” applicants relative to the regular applicant pool. But they added that five to 10 are weaker candidates and therefore subject to greater debate during admissions committee deliberations.

“I have a great deal of respect for Jeremiah [Quinlan] and the rest of the [Admissions Office], and I think they do their jobs honestly and well,” the ex-admissions officer added.

Quinlan told the News in a statement that all applicants submit the same materials and are “evaluated through the same whole-person review process.”

He confirmed that some members of the Yale community — which can include “Yale leaders, faculty, staff, and current students” — advocate for applicants.

“Their advocacy is considered along with all of the other information included in an application, and with other institutional priorities,” Quinlan said. “The Admissions Committee will never vote to admit a student who is not qualified to succeed in both the academic and non-academic life of Yale College.”

THE YALE COMMUNITY

The News contacted 20 alumni who have made major donations to the University in recent years. Only one of them provided a comment on the situation.

Jack Baublitz ’59, who, together with his wife Priscilla, set up a charitable gift annuity to endow a scholarship for engineering students, said he has been donating to Yale on a regular basis since graduation.

When asked about whether the University ever insinuated or promised that his descendants would be given preferential treatment in admissions if he donates to the school, Baublitz responded with a firm no. Baublitz said that both of his sons attended a college other than Yale. He added that he and his wife were motivated to donate to Yale simply because they wanted to support engineering students.

Still, although the University does not guarantee its “VIPs” admission, some members of the Yale community expressed frustration with the preferential treatment given to donors’ children even before they apply to the University.

One of the current FroCos said that first-year counselors participate in “a whole bunch” of inclusivity and diversity trainings before they start working. The FroCo felt that the way the Development Office used FroCos to appeal to potential “VIP” applicants was incongruous with the ideas espoused in FroCo training. They explained that the training stressed understanding where the FroCos’ counselees “come from” and making sure “they have all the resources” they need.

“I and a lot of other FroCos I know feel disappointed, but not surprised,” they said in an interview. “We know that [this] kind of inequity goes on at Yale, but it was shocking to see that kind of special treatment.”

Lorenzo Arvanitis | lorenzo.arvanitis@yale.edu

Skakel McCooey | skakel.mccooey@yale.edu