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Yale 62

Seeking, Once Again, the Globe’s Best, Brightest and Most Diverse…
… all in the midst of the COVID pandemic

By George Snider

If you have ever said, “I probably couldn’t get into Yale today,” you were probably right – though not because today’s kids are smarter than ever.

When we entered Yale College, mostly in the Fall of 1958, 100 percent of us were born male, and a very high percentage were white. We came largely from the 48 states (still a year away from being 50), and more of us came from private schools than public. We spoke English with ease, though writing may have been another matter. We were likely in the top 10 percent of our class.

How different this year’s profile is.  For the class graduating in 2024, the male / female ratio is 52:48 (vs. 50:50 the year before), and 55 percent self-identify as members of a minority group – principally Asian-American, Hispanic and Black in that order. Two-thirds attended public schools, while only five percent came from boarding schools (Andover and Exeter, watch out!). In addition to all 50 states, over 50 foreign countries are represented. Ninety-four percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, and 49 percent cite English as a second language. Fifty-nine percent receive financial aid.

So what are your – and your grandchildren’s – odds today of getting into Yale, even if you and they are especially bright? Much smaller.

I cannot locate the number of applicants for the 1000-member Class of 1962, but more than 35,000 students have applied in recent years for some 1,600 spots. Because the number of first-year students was down this academic year, reflecting the approximate 340 students who chose a gap year because of Covid, Yale’s first-year class will be larger this September – probably the largest ever – to allow for returning deferred students and the number of admitted graduating seniors who come to New Haven. Still, that’s only a 5 to 7 percent admissions rate. According to Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan, the overwhelming majority of those 35,000+ students have the academic chops to get in, so the funnel is quite narrow indeed.

Enter the Yale Alumni Schools Committee (ASC) — a group of volunteer alumni from across the country who interview aspiring high school seniors for both Early Action and Regular Decision, this year by Zoom.  Volunteers are under the control of regional directors, including our own Murray Wheeler for the Boston metropolitan area. After the interview, the ASC member files a narrative online report, accompanied by a five-choice ranking ranging from “absolutely superior, unusual or rare” to “not recommended.” “Outstanding” is just the second-highest grade.

Applicants are free to decline interviews, and not all who want them will receive one. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Zoom process is scaring off some traditional interviewers and perhaps some applicants as well. But even for students receiving an interview, the alumni report is only a small part of the admissions process and occurs near the end. Each student application is first reviewed by an assistant dean responsible for a given geographic area. If the student survives that round, his or her application is then reviewed by the entire Admissions staff, perhaps for 10 minutes or so. Again according to Quinlan, the ASC report may help “push” an application into the small “accept pile,” or more likely confirm a decision to reject or defer it for final consideration at the end of Winter. The Regular Decision date just been pushed back until the evening of Tuesday, April 5, as Yale and the other Ivies struggle to review an increased number of applications.

Classmate Lee Bolman was an ASC volunteer for five or six years while still living in Kansas City, and he never had an applicant accepted – a fate shared by many others. “Some students were spectacular and others not,” he says, “but the reward lay in getting to know some very interesting people. Writing the online report was less rewarding.” Bolman’s own youngest son was turned down by both Yale and Princeton – but then accepted by Harvard.

Classmate Bob Breault in Tucson has had better success this year, having one of the students he interviewed accepted during the Early Action round, while another was deferred for consideration during the Regular Decision round. He too enjoys getting to know some very talented kids.

One thing for sure is that the Yale admissions process is highly opaque. Neither applicant nor interviewer is ever given any explanation for the University’s decision, whether yea or nay, and that is probably for the best – given the litigious nature of our society. (In fact, Yale was sued by the U.S. Government last Fall over its admissions process, which the Dept. of Justice alleged discriminates against whites and Asian-Americans. On February 3, the Biden administration dropped the suit, although a private group called Students for Fair Admission said it would re-file it.)  Over time, there is likely a fair degree of burnout among ASC volunteers due to the high ratio of rejections to acceptances that they experience.

And, for those of us who still interview at 79 or 80 years of age, are we too old to relate to kids still in their teens – and vice versa? (Classmate Wheeler says “yes.”} Certainly the Yale College they will experience is nothing like the one we experienced, especially when Covid is factored in. With the University’s one-student-per-room policy at the moment, significant numbers of upperclassmen currently reside off-campus, while others have chosen to study remotely. The uncertainty about what life will be like next Fall makes planning much more difficult for students, faculty and administrators alike.

But even if the novel coronavirus did not exist, a visitor would see much different campus life than existed when we entered Yale. Yale Daily News is now found online, women belong to the Whiffenpoofs, Directed Studies is now focused solely on “influential texts,” and there are more senior societies than one can shake a stick at. For sure, this is not the Yale of 1958-62, and admissions reflect that fact.

What have been your experiences with Yale admissions? Let us know below.

4 comments to Seeking, Once Again, the Globe’s Best, Brightest and Most Diverse

  • Dick Ward

    Interesting that George Snyder’s note mentions the Yale Alumni Schools Committee (ACS). I served as an interviewer of high school students for several years in the1980’s while I was working in Brussels, Belgium. Most were sons of Americans working in the Brussels area. Like others, I never had an applicant actually attend Yale. I did interview and strongly recommended an outstanding young minority whose father was in the military. He was accepted by Yale, and apparently by Harvard as well, but ended up going to West Point. He was the only applicant that I interviewed who was accepted to Yale. It was a bit frustrating to interview and recommend some fine young men without learning why they were not accepted, but it was enjoyable to talk to and get to know these applicants.

  • George Snider

    Thanks,Dick, for your comment. During my five years with ASC, I was more adept at keeping a poor student out than in getting a one-of-a-kind in. That contributed to the burnout mentioned in my article. Could I have done better if I had only written a more compelling online report? I will never know.

  • Tim Adams

    I wondered how our son, one of our twins who were both accepted to Yale in 1988 and unlike his twin brother who attended Harvard , graduated from Yale in 1992. could interview current applicants. Guess it’s because he was born a white male, was in top 10% of his public s his rural MN public school, and had a legacy father who played hockey! However, the Harvard twin’s son was turned down by Yale in 2014 and went to excel in an honors program at U MASS and now has a graduate degree and a good job in Environmental Engineering. I am saddened to think that my grandson was “lucky” to not be a Yale graduate. And the family is certainly better off financially! And yes, English is my grandson was or. And remains a male and English is his native language!

  • I was the local director for my region for about 40 years and had another 9 on the ASC in CA. and England. Whilst I was disappointed many times by the rejection of candidates whom I thought should have been accepted, I did get some accepted over the years and agreed with the decisions on the particular candidate. My 49 years came to an abrupt halt when Dean Brenzel asked me to resign because of an email response to my “handler” at the admissions office over an Asian accepted over a very capable Caucasian after I told him the Asian was going to go to Princeton, so not to take the Asian. Putting this in writing was a fatal error because dean Brenzel told me the US Dept. of Education has access to these kinds of records and showing any sort of ethnic bias is absolutely the wrong thing to do in today’s very sensitive world. I bear no hard feelings and am glad I was able to make a contribution over the years, interviewing between 4 and 6 candidates per year.