Yale Daily News

Yale College’s record-setting application pool and ensuing record-low 4.62 percent acceptance rate can likely be attributed to factors such as test-optional admissions and virtual outreach this past application cycle, according to senior members of the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

On April 6, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions announced that it had accepted 2,169 students to the class of 2025 from a pool of 46,905 applicants, a 33 percent increase from the previous year’s pool of 35,220. In an interview with the News, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan said much of the growth in the application pool came from large increases in international applicants, as well as domestic applicants from historically underrepresented groups including applicants of color and first-generation applicants. 

Quinlan attributed the increase in the pool to Yale’s test-optional admissions policy, its virtual outreach efforts and a general “uncertainty around higher education” that may have pushed applicants toward more well-established institutions like Yale. And although admissions officers are not sure what next year’s cycle will look like, the test-optional policy and some virtual outreach will continue.

The admissions office was “pleased” with the diversity of this year’s applicant pool, but Quinlan told the News that the admissions office does not draw conclusions about the success of the admissions cycle based on the size of the pool. 

“We don’t measure success by the number of applications we deny,” Quinlan said. “In everything that we do strategically, quality and diversity is more important than quantity. Quantity is just something you have to deal with when you clearly have such a huge increase in applications.”

Yale’s peer institutions saw similar increases in applications and selectivity, with universities such as Harvard and Columbia seeing application increases of 43 percent and 51 percent, respectively. All eight Ivy League schools reported increases in their application numbers this year.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions does not release numerical statistics about the makeup of the applicant pool.

Changes to the applicant pool and reasons for the increase

Although Yale’s application numbers rose across the board, certain demographic groups saw higher increases in applicant numbers than others. Quinlan told the News that there were four distinct trends that the office saw — an increase in international applicants, a more racially-diverse domestic applicant pool, an increase in applications from students interested in social sciences and a larger increase in applications from women than in applications from men.

Quinlan said that some of these trends can be at least partially attributed to specific Yale policies, such as more international outreach and test-optional admissions policies that may have led to more diversity in the pool.

The elimination of standardized testing requirements has been widely reported by news outlets as the main reason for overall application increases during the 2020-21 cycle. Although Quinlan said that the reasons are more nuanced than that, he agreed that test-optional policies likely played a significant role.

Yale announced in June that it would go test-optional for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, citing testing site closures and testing delays due to COVID-19. In its announcement, and throughout the cycle, the admissions office assured applicants that they would not be penalized if they chose to omit test scores. 

According to Quinlan, the increase in diversity of domestic applicants can be attributed in part to Yale’s test-optional policy. He cited the “common narrative” that test score requirements can discourage students from historically-underrepresented backgrounds from applying to selective institutions such as Yale. Other institutions who lifted their testing requirements have seen an increase in applicant diversity similar to that of Yale, Quinlan said.

Mark Dunn, the director of communications and outreach at the Yale admissions office, told the News that in practice, Yale’s test-optional policy did not change the way that the office read applications. He said that admissions officers read files without any preconceived notions about whether the applicant should or should not have submitted test scores — they evaluated the application the same whether there was a test score or not.

“We missed having the testing, there’s no doubt about it,” Quinlan said. “The testing can be a valuable predictor of how well a student can do academically at Yale. But in the absence of testing, I did feel like the committee was able to respond appropriately when we felt confident based on the other aspects of a student’s application, and we paid careful attention to those aspects.”

In addition to the test-optional policy, Quinlan pointed to Yale’s virtual outreach efforts throughout 2020 as a factor for the application increase. During a typical year, Yale’s outreach to prospective students is centered around in-person tours and on-campus information sessions, as well as nationwide tours and presentations by admissions officers. But this year, all of those efforts were conducted virtually.

According to Dunn, the switch to virtual outreach allowed Yale to connect with significantly more students, especially those abroad or in rural domestic locations that are not typically visited by admissions officers. In 2020, from April 1 to Sept. 15, 39 percent more students registered for a virtual information session than students who registered for in-person information sessions in the same period in 2019. As of Oct. 19, 47,000 prospective students had registered for joint virtual events featuring Yale, as opposed to around 8,500 prospective students throughout the entirety of 2019. The admissions office did not have updated statistics from April. 

“The expansion of our virtual outreach programming … helped us reach parts of the planet that Yale admissions officers have never been able to visit,” Keith Light, associate director of admissions and director of international admissions, wrote in an email to the News. “I think many of the students we reached virtually may have never been in contact with a representative from any US higher education institution before this past year.”

International applications were the largest increase of the cycle, Quinlan said. He attributed much of this to virtual outreach efforts that allowed international students to learn about Yale without needing to visit the United States.

Light told the News that international outreach is especially important because in many parts of the world, a liberal arts education can be a foreign concept. Being able to conduct virtual outreach allowed admissions officers to reach many more international students than in a typical year, Light said.

“I think the increase in international applications and increased engagement with our virtual outreach is a positive sign that more promising students from all backgrounds see the value in our model of higher education generally, and in the Yale experience specifically,” Light wrote.

The final reason that Quinlan cited that may have influenced the application increase was uncertainty surrounding higher education during COVID-19. Conversations have been prevalent in the past year about the ways in which colleges and universities have fared during COVID-19, and how they might fare afterwards. Students therefore might have been more inclined to apply to “well-known institutions with lots of resources,” according to Quinlan.

Quinlan did not cite a Yale-driven reason for the increase in female applicants or applicants interested in social sciences.

Takeaways for next cycle

Yale announced in February that it would continue its test-optional policy for the 2021-22 admissions cycle due to the ongoing pandemic. According to Dunn, the admissions office plans to continue to conduct at least some form of virtual outreach next year and beyond. But Dunn said that he does not know what to expect in terms of next year’s application pool.

“A year ago, we were sitting here and saying ‘you can make really good arguments that the applicant pool is going to go down, that it could go way up, or that it might stay the same,’” Dunn said. “And I feel like that’s the same sort of situation we are in now looking ahead.”

While Quinlan said it is “hard to speculate” as to how the applicant pool might look moving forward, he said that he expects factors such as test-optional admissions and virtual outreach to continue to play a role. But he added that should the public health situation improve, the impact of those policies might decrease, as more students resume daily activities that might prevent them from participating in virtual outreach events and as more students potentially sit for standardized tests.

In admitting the class of 2025, admissions officers read nearly 47,000 applications in the span of five months, and Quinlan said that endeavour makes him feel prepared for whatever the next cycle brings.

“We accomplished a tremendous amount over the last five months, so I feel pretty confident moving forward that we can handle whatever is coming our way,” Quinlan said. “But I don’t know what direction our applicant pool will take. I do know that we’re going to remain committed to making sure that students and families around the country and around the world understand how affordable Yale is, they understand how diverse it is, they understand what a unique place it is … and I think we will always take some of the lessons we learned from this year and bring them forward.”

Admitted members of the class of 2025 are currently engaging in a virtual version of Bulldog Days, and have until May 3 to reply to their offer of admission.

Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu

Amelia Davidson was the University Editor for the Yale Daily News. Before that, she covered admissions, financial aid and alumni as a staff reporter. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, she is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in American studies.