As the use of affirmative action as a factor in undergraduate admissions comes under fire, Yale students appear split on several other admissions criteria in a January survey administered by the News. Students were mixed on using a “recruited athlete” status as a “plus factor,” but the majority of students did not support using the metric of being the child of an alumnus or donor — either current or prospective — as “plus factors.”
Months after the Department of Justice opened an investigation into Yale’s use of race in admissions and potential discrimination against Asian Americans, the News polled students on their opinions of various other “plus factors” used by the admissions process in their deliberations. The survey, which had more than 1,400 respondents, polled students on three specific factors that admissions uses in deliberations — legacy status, recruited athlete status and whether or not someone is the child of a past or prospective donor.
According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan, “plus factors” are “certain aspects of a student’s application” that enable the admissions committee “to build a class that both individually and collectively benefit the most from and give the most back to Yale.” The University uses a variety of such factors, including being a recruited intercollegiate athlete, identifying as a first-generation college student, coming from a low-income background, being a member of an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or having “extraordinary creative ability,” as evaluated by Yale faculty members.
“The admissions committee treats every feature of an application as complementary, and none alone is determinative,” Quinlan said. “All factors are considered in the context of the application and the student as a whole. In evaluating applicants, Yale looks at their backgrounds, their interests and their likelihood to engage with Yale’s community in any number of ways. In seeking to enroll a diverse class, the admissions committee does not make use of any quotas.”
Among all students surveyed, 64 percent said that the University should not consider being a child of a current or prospective donor a “plus factor” in admissions. Twenty-two percent said that the University should, and 12 percent had no opinion.
In November, the News revealed that the Office of Development gives special treatment in the admissions process to “VIP candidates,” who Adam Cohen, program coordinator for Yale’s Office of Development, characterized as “donors,” before correcting himself to say “guests” in November.
VIPs in the admissions process are given the opportunity to tour Yale’s campus and speak to FroCos — first-year counselors — before they apply to Yale. No such program exists for non-VIP applicants, until they have been accepted to the college.
According to an ex-admissions officer who agreed to speak to the News on the condition of anonymity in October, 30 to 40 applicants receive institutional distinctions — Yale’s term for donor-relevant applicants — 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.
When asked for comment this week Yale Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Joan O’Neill directed the News to Quinlan, saying she was “not involved in the admissions process.”
When asked about the survey results pertaining to athletes, Director of Athletics Vicky Chun told the News that the mission of Yale athletics is to “develop future leaders who can make a meaningful difference in the world.”
Forty-three percent of students were in favor of having “recruited athlete” status be a “plus factor” in admissions. Forty-one percent were against the practice and 14 percent had “no opinion.” Of the student athletes surveyed, 88 percent supported admissions using being a recruited athlete as a “plus factor.”
“Since I arrived at Yale, I’ve been extremely impressed at the values and ethics of our student body — and especially of our student athletes — and think it is important we continue to look for ways to develop the leaders Yale is known for,” Chun said in a statement to the News.
When students surveyed were asked if they believed “the University should consider being a legacy student a ‘plus factor’ in the admissions process,” 58 percent of respondents answered “no,” while 24 percent answered “yes” and 17 percent had “no opinion.” Legacy students are defined as students who have a parent who attended Yale.
Last year, Students Unite Now, an advocacy group on Yale’s campus, signed onto a national letter asking colleges to re-evaluate legacy preferences in the admissions process. The letter — penned by the organization EdMobilizer, which advocates for low-income and first-generation students around the country — calls on universities to make public all data about legacy treatment and all internally written admissions policies, as well as to form a committee of students, alumni and administrators to re-evaluate those policies. The letter also received support from student organizations advocating for the rights of low-income and first-generation students at universities including Brown, Cornell and Harvard.
Interestingly, when legacy students were asked the same question, the results resembled those measuring the university at large. Approximately half of legacy students surveyed said that the University should not use legacy status as a “plus factor” in admissions. Thirty-two percent said the University should and 18 percent had no opinion.
When asked about other plus factors the office of admissions uses in deliberations, Quinlan said that some “include but are not limited to: Will the applicant be the first in his or her family to attend college? Is the applicant from a low-income background? Has the applicant demonstrated extraordinary creative or athletic ability? Is the applicant from a place in the United States or elsewhere that is unique within our community?”
A 2016 Gallup Poll said that 70 percent of Americans support exclusively merit-based admissions to institutions of higher learning.
Skakel McCooey | firstname.lastname@example.org