Yasmine Halmane, Photographer Editor

For the first time in three years, Yale admissions officers visited high schools across the country to offer in-person school visits.

This is the first season since the pandemic hit in which Yale’s admissions office returned to high schools in-person. In addition to school visits, the office relaunched its student ambassador program. About 270 current Yale College students, newly hired as ambassadors, will visit high schools in their home areas during the November and winter recesses to discuss the Yale experience with current high schoolers. 

“I was thrilled that we were able to send our staff out across the country and around the world this fall,” wrote Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid. “This travel helps attract future Yale students to our applicant pool and helps inform our admissions officers as they carry out our holistic and contextual evaluation process.”

What do visits from admissions officers look like? 

The fall school visit season runs from around Labor Day through October,  according to Mark Dunn, the senior associate director for outreach and recruitment at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Admissions officers are assigned broad geographic regions, and they select schools from that region to visit. 

Because visit season is limited, Dunn said that there are two primary approaches that officers take: one, to go to schools where they are convinced students will apply to Yale, or two, to go to schools where a visit from an admissions officer may inspire higher Yale application rates.

Admissions officers generally try to balance both of these approaches, using data about prospective students, recent applicants and school area to inform their ultimate decisions. These data include past admissions statistics — such as the number of students who applied, who were accepted and who ultimately matriculated — and whether the Admissions Office has visited the school recently, among other factors.

Quinlan stressed that for admissions officers, too, these visits can be valuable. Before becoming dean of undergraduate admissions, Quinlan worked as an area admissions office. He called school visits a “highlight” of his time in this role and noted that this experience has helped inform his work as dean. 

“Walking into hundreds of high schools across dozens of states has been an invaluable learning experience that has informed my work as dean,” Quinlan wrote. “I believe all admissions officers gain a great deal of insight and perspective by meeting with students and counselors in person in their high schools.”

Dunn shared similar views, writing that he thinks admissions officers benefit from seeing first-hand the “diverse range of contexts” of Yale applicants’ high schools.

Balancing virtual and in-person

Rebecca Rutsky, director of college counseling at the Alabama School of Fine Arts — a school visited by Yale admissions officers — told the News that some positives emerged from virtual visits during the pandemic, notably that students looked into more colleges and were perhaps less intimidated of considering certain schools. 

Similarly, given her high school’s location in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, Rutsky added that virtual tours and visits reduced the barrier of traveling to the northeast to visit Yale and other prestigious universities. 

However, she thinks that in-person visits are “always better,” as they help establish personal relationships between a school and universities.

Dunn shared similar views, writing that adapting Yale’s admissions outreach to a virtual model over the past two years taught the office that virtual visits are “viable” but also “less effective” than in-person visits. 

For Rutsky, it is important to retain the benefits of virtual tours while also maintaining the personal connections possible through in-person visits. Rutsky has noticed a steep decline in the number of colleges coming to her school. Before the pandemic, around 65-70 colleges visited her students in-person. Now, the number is closer to 30.

“We should have the best of both worlds,” she said. 

Earlier this month, Dunn traveled to Rutsky’s school for an in-person information session. Generally, Rutsky feels that Yale is “on the forefront” of returning to an in-person schedule. 

“I don’t know why people aren’t coming back, if it’s a money issue or they think virtual tours are enough,” Rutsky said, “but my kids aren’t going to virtual tours.” 

Ambassadors program

Another way Yale admissions connects with students from rural and small towns is the Ambassadors program. According to Associate Director of Admissions Corinne Smith, the program seeks to reach qualified students across the nation who may not otherwise think of Yale as a viable option as well as spreading Yale’s “message of affordability.”

Similar to in-person admissions officer visits, this is the first time the admissions office has run the ambassador program since COVID-19-related public health restrictions. 

Current sophomores, juniors and seniors who live in the United States were invited to apply on Oct. 6, with submissions due by Oct. 16. Smith told the News that the office received 310 applications — numbers consistent with pre-pandemic rates. By Oct. 20, 270 students were offered the job. The office aims to send ambassadors their school assignments by Nov. 4. 

“We haven’t run the program since fall 2019 and weren’t sure what interest would look like post-pandemic,” Smith wrote in an email to the News. “Our team was very excited and encouraged to see that application numbers are on par with previous years.”

Ambassadors are able to highlight similar themes as admissions officers — such as financial aid and student life — but from a student’s perspective.  According to Smith, high school students are “very receptive” to hearing from ambassadors. 

A core benefit of the ambassador program is the ability to reach more rural students and small towns, especially given the limited time available for admissions officers when traveling in the fall for standard school visits. 

“Over 80 percent of the United States’ land mass is considered rural (with some estimates above 90 percent),” Smith wrote. “That’s a lot of ground to cover — literally. Being able to pay current students who live in or near these communities to connect with prospective students while they’re already home for break has been a great (albeit imperfect) solution.”

The ambassador application form is also a conduit to promoting the Rural Students Alliance at Yale to current Yalies from rural or small-town backgrounds. 

RSAY offers a space for these students to form communities with one another and aims to increase awareness of the rural student experience at Yale. Their programming includes guest speakers, panels and film screenings with the intention of “increasing presence of rurality in academic inquiry,” per the group’s Yale Connect page.

First-year students are not part of the fall semester ambassadors program, as the office thinks it important for students to have at least one full semester of Yale experience. 

Another application cycle will launch in the spring, at which point first years will be invited to apply. 

Anika Arora Seth is the 146th Editor in Chief and President of the Yale Daily News. Anika previously covered STEM at Yale as well as admissions, alumni and financial aid. She also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production & Design editor and was one of the inaugural Diversity, Equity & Inclusion co-chairs. Anika is pursuing a double major in biomedical engineering and women's, gender and sexuality studies.