Thursday, August 8, 2013

Westchester Applicants: A Leg Up?

Yale Admissions Office:  The marathon resumes soon. (Yale Photo)

Summer is already winding down. For members of the Yale Class of '17 in every corner of the country, August unfurls into that frenetic preparation for the journey to New Haven. New freshmen still recall the glorious minute they viewed the Yale-acceptance e-mail, but now they must start packing. They pack boxes of winter clothes and loads of anxiety for the trip.

On campus, Yale admissions officers are finally coming up for air after a madhouse admission season. In August, they begin the marathon to compose the Class of '18. They will also acclimate themselves to a new dean of admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan '03, who follows the footsteps of Jeffrey Brenzel '75.

The race for a seat in the Class of '18 at selective colleges heats up in September for hundreds of thousands of seniors in high school coast to coast. About 30,000 of them will apply to Yale, and many of them have already prepared first drafts of how they will present themselves to admissions readers. 

The race for Yale is grueling. Less than 7 percent will get an offer to attend. You can bet some prospective applicants on the West Coast, those applying to Yale from thousands of miles away, will assume applicants on the East Coast have an advantage because of their familiarity and access to Yale. 

And you can bet applicants from the East Coast, especially those from New York City and Westchester County, will argue applicants from the West have the advantage because Yale will go extra miles to ensure the Class of '18 includes students from Oregon, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Do Westchester applicants really have a leg up?  

Are they disadvantaged by being too close to Yale? Does a Westchester application risk being lost in an overflowing batch of applications from the Northeast? Is a Westchester application undistinguished and overlooked when bundled with the applications of the large concentration of sons and daughters of alumni in the area?

 New Dean Jeremiah Quinlan '03 (Yale photo)
Yale admissions officers, like those throughout the Ivy League, must say and will say the right things, no matter the conspiracy theories that  abound in admission-land. All applications are reviewed individually and carefully, they will say as they do every year.  All applications are scrutinized, get second and third readings, and are presented to a committee. From the start, no candidate who hails from Pasadena has an advantage over a candidate from Pelham. A candidate from Bedford, on the other hand, from the outset shouldn't have an advantage over the applicant from Berkeley.  First and foremost, the admissions committee will claim, Yale will judge the applicant's ability to handle the rigors of Yale academics. And then Yale will assess the likelihood the applicant will make meaningful, enthusiastic, and broad contributions to campus life--in labs, in college seminars, in singing groups, in cultural centers, on journals, and in late-night conversations in the basement of Trumbull College. 

But year after year, such reassurance seldom soothes the worries of the high-school student with dreams of Commons, Calhoun College and treks up Science Hill.  Students and parents will still hunt ferociously for the "edge," the "hook," the incremental something special that will excite a Yale admissions reader. 

No soul in the admissions office will acknowledge the subtle advantages that proximity and familiarity give the Westchester applicant, particularly the applicant who is keenly interested in attending Yale and can make a swift trip up I-95 to do homework on the essence of Yale.  A second, quick overnight roadtrip to New Haven might be the advantage an applicant can get in an interview or in the "Why Yale" supplement essay.  

With Yale almost in the backyard, an applicant, too, can decide early on whether Yale is the right school for her.  Hence, the Westchester applicant, more knowledgeable about Yale, can choose Yale as her preferred school with confidence and show that confidence vividly in essays and interviews. A subtle, faint advantage? Perhaps so, admissions gurus say. Perhaps not, admissions officers might rebut.
The Class of '17 convenes in New Haven (Marsland/Yale photo)

Meanwhile, her West Coast peer, who has never stepped into a residential-college courtyard, may choose to apply, but with less vigor and with some doubt, unsure about being far from home. Her peer may then choose to direct more application attention instead to the Pomonas, Reeds, Rices and Claremonts.

There could be other unspoken advantages. Yale recruiters, with ease, can visit Westchester high schools.  While encouraging juniors and seniors to apply, they can get to know faces and personalities. They can summon up those eager faces and striking personalities later when they read the blurred, weary lines of thousands of applications later. An advantage? Maybe. 

Yale admissions will have had long-standing relationships with many Westchester schools. They will know intimately the academic offerings and rigors of those schools. There will be decades of a track record and pipelines of students from those schools.  In other words, they won't need to spend precious candidate-reading time learning about an unfamiliar school.  They can bury themselves immediately into what makes the candidate special.  

Yale Commons:  Class of '18 Destination
An application file with "Horace Greeley High School" slapped on top means an admissions reader doesn't need to study and analyze the school's SAT mean scores and GPA ranges to determine whether it challenges the best and brightest who attend.  They can get to the essays and recommendations right away. Yale alumni involved in the interviewing process know those schools well.  For some of them, it's a seasonal rite to announce and boast of the handful of students, year after year, who choose Yale:  Scarsdale, Rye, Hackley, New Rochelle, Fox Lane, and Bronxville.  

Indeed, there are many other Westchester schools with fleeting, erratic track records with Yale.  Some may not have sent a graduate to New Haven in over a decade.  Some of those may not have a sufficient core of children of alumni, who would encourage their offspring to look toward New Haven and send in an application, even if Yale doesn't have close ties.

But ask any senior this fall from any area school if he thinks "Westchester" gives him added points in the process, and watch the rush of anxiety, uncertainty and concern. High-school students in the area  repeat the refrain every year:  "There are only but so many students from the New York area that can be a part of a freshman class." The Westchester applicant will--at least for a moment--wish he can scratch off Mt. Kisco and insert Boise, Idaho, or Jackson, Mississippi in the place-of-residence boxes. Surely, Yale covets the candidate from Carolina, they surmise, more than the applicant from Katonah. 

JE College freshmen reside in Farnham, Old Campus
Nonetheless, because they have explored Yale, may know many who attend and will possibly have a parent or grandparent who graduated, they will still apply-- by the hundreds in Westchester.

And somehow, despite acceptance rates that would discourage even Intel science winners and Internet entrepreneurs with 2400 SAT scores, many from Westchester (by the dozens) will actually get in.  Many of those will choose to attend and eventually be delighted to be assigned to an Old Campus room with peers from Seattle and San Francisco.  

Admissions officers and college counselors usually provide the best advice:  It is a futile exercise, a waste of precious time in the days before Dec. 31 to figure out the whims and strategies of an admissions committee.  Just give it your best shot.


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