Inside the Yale Admissions Office Podcast Transcripts

Episode 1: Reading

Episode 1: Reading

Hannah and Mark discuss how officers read applications, make notes, confer with colleagues, and prepare to present applicants to the Admissions Committee. Every year officers read more than 35,000 applications cover to cover and collectively make admissions decisions on each one. Admissions Officers Julian and John join as guests to discuss their strategies for reading and rating files.

Yale Podcast Network–
[Mark] Hello, and welcome to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] Hey, Hannah, where are we right now?
[Hannah] We are actually inside the Yale Admissions Office on beautiful historic Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut.
[Mark] That’s where we are, quite literally. Specifically, we are in Reed’s office up on the third floor. He’s been generous enough to let us barge in here and record this podcast.
[Hannah] Thanks, Reed.
[Mark] And Hannah, why are we recording a podcast in Reed’s office?
[Hannah] Yeah, so what we wanted to do with this podcast is really just make the admissions process a little bit more transparent. I think that people tend to think that our work is mysterious, and it’s really not. We’re happy to open the door a little bit and let you know what really happens inside our office. And we always tell our applicants that, in their essays, they should try to show, not tell, so we’re going to try and take that good advice and show you what goes on in our office through this podcast.
[Mark] Yeah. I have found over the years that people sometimes imagine that we have some sort of vested interest in keeping things secret, that there’s some sort of insider knowledge that we don’t want you to know. And even worse, I think there are– I know there are people out there who try to sell their services, with the idea that they’ve got this insider knowledge. And I’ll just say right off the bat, I think that’s a total baloney sandwich–
[Hannah] Complete nonsense–
[Mark] –to put it in G rating terms. We want to tell you all what we do, and show it.
[Hannah] Yeah. So we’re offering you a free public service. Hopefully it’s helpful if you are a student thinking about applying to college, if you are the parent of a college applicant, a school counselor, a teacher, if you’re just a curious member of the public who wants to know more about selective college admissions at a place like Yale, this is the podcast for you.
[Mark] Yeah. And look, we know that there’s a lot of anxiety about the college admissions process out there. We are very sensitive to that. This is a world that we are in every single day. But in my experience, a lot of the anxiety revolves around an image of the process that is just not true. It’s not how things actually work.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] So we hope that, by showing the process and explaining it, showing how it really works, that that might make people a little bit more comfortable with it and have a more positive experience as they’re going through it. Also, our work is just really interesting and fun. Hannah and I love our jobs. I think most of our colleagues do too. I think it’s a good sign that we like our jobs– that we’re going to make a podcast all about it.
[Hannah] Yeah. And just to be clear, no one asked us to do this. We’re not getting paid extra for this or anything. We actually had to pitch it to quite a few people and say, hey, let us do this podcast about our jobs.
[Mark] Some skeptical people–
[Hannah] Yeah. Yeah. We’ll show them. So we’re going to walk you through how we review applications, the Admissions Committee process, how we take the 36,000 applications that we get every year and get it down to the roughly 2,200 that we offer admissions admission to Yale to. We also do a lot of other stuff too in this office. We’ll talk about our outreach travel– we travel all over the world– events that we host, working with partners around the university.
[Mark] Yeah. We’ve had a lot to talk about. I think we’ll have multiple seasons of our podcast. We should go ahead and say, though, what we’re not going to do on the podcast–
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] –in episode 1. So first and foremost, we are not going to be talking about individual applicants. You won’t hear us say, oh, I love this thing that this young woman did in her essay, or I was so impressed with this activity. That would be tacky. It would almost definitely be illegal–
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] –as well. So we’re going to respect applicants’ privacy. It’s also not going to be a podcast that’s all about how to get into Yale. That’s not the goal of this. A theme that you’ll hear throughout the podcast is that we are interested in admitting students. We’re interested in meeting real people. It’s not about just playing the game with an application. So that’s not what this will all be about.
With that, it’s not going to be a bunch of application advice. We put a lot of that on our website. I think it’s pretty good. I run our website, so go check it out—admissions.yale.edu. But this would be a really dull podcast if it were just Hannah and Mark hashing through the website.
[Hannah] Right. We will not do that to you. So for today’s episode, we’re going to talk about reading. That is what we are spending most of our time doing. Right now it’s a huge part of our job, and in particular, this time of year, it’s what we’re doing when we’re not recording podcasts. So reading applications is a lot of work, but we take it one application at a time.
[Mark] There’s a lot of things we could cover with reading. To make this bit-sized today, we’ll go cover some of the basics. I think we’ll have lots of opportunities in later episodes to get into specific parts of the application, and things that tend to stand out for us, things tend to not work, but today we’re going to cover things like, how do we divvy up files? What actually happens when you click Submit on your application? How do we read those applications front to back, and what are we thinking about when we are reading a file and making our notes on it?
[Hannah] Yeah. So the most basic thing to understand is that, in our office, we read files based on geography. So we have about 25 full-time admissions officers here at Yale, and we are each responsible for a region. So we split up the entire US and the rest of the world by region. My region is parts of Europe, New Zealand, and Brooklyn, New York. It’s a little scattered. Some people have more cohesive regions.
But what that means is that I’m responsible for the applications that come from those places. I’m the first person to read those applications, and I’m the person who will shepherd them through the Admissions Committee process.
[Mark] Yeah. I really like the way that we do things here. Some schools do it this way. Others have a more deliberately random approach. What I like about it is that it gives us some area expertise. My area, for example, is a lot of the Southeastern United States. I grew up in Georgia, so it’s really fun for me to go back down south and represent Yale there when I’m doing outreach travel.
And then it’s fun for me to sort of be the representative of the South here at Yale as well. It also means that I have an office full of experts on different parts of the country and different parts of the world. If I’m getting an application, let’s say, from a student who’s graduating from high school in Alabama, but spent the first three years in Auckland, I would say, Hannah, I’ve got this student who’s talking about the all-greenbacks Kiwi rugby team. What is that? Can you do the second read on this file? So it’s a great resource for us. And what we’re going to do next is talk to a special guest, our colleague Julian.
[Hannah] Julian is another admissions officer and good friend of us. So he’s generously agreed to be our first ever podcast guest, so–
[Julian] Honored–
[Hannah] Thanks, Julian. So let’s dive right in. We want you to help us explain a little bit about how we read applications. So I thought the first thing that might be helpful to go over is you’re an admissions officer, you open an application. What is the order in which you read the information?
[Julian] Sure. So I don’t think reading applications is as impersonal as people like to talk about. I find that the order in which I read an application is kind of like introducing myself to someone in person. So I want to know where you’re from, your hometown, a little bit about your background– so where you’re going to high school. And that’s really where I start.
I want to make sure that students have the right preparation to do the work here and to succeed. So I will first dig into the transcript, check out the student’s performance thus far. And if I am unfamiliar with the school, I will make sure to educate myself on that school’s profile to make sure I have a good understanding of what’s going on in that community. Then I’ll dig into even more personal stuff, deeper in the application, like the essays and how they spend their time.
[Hannah] So when you said before that you introduce yourself to an application– to an applicant with their part of the file, that’s super important for you, because you read for so many different parts of the world.
[Julian] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] So one of the first things that we see when we open up an application is some basic demographic information, like–
[Julian] Right.
[Hannah] –where the student grew up, what their parents do. This helps us get some context about where it is that the student is coming from, how they were raised, that sort of thing.
[Julian] Right. One piece is certainly their birthday. And I’ll think to myself, oh, the student is an Aries. And then I remind myself that I’m an admissions officer, and I should be thinking about their academic preparation, and not just their astrological signs.
[Mark] Yeah. Just for the record, let’s clarify. Your sign is not a factor in the admissions process.
[Julian] It’s true. It’s true.
[Mark] So let’s talk a little bit about the other parts of the application. Once you’ve gotten to know a student from what they’re providing in their part of the application, how does your picture of a student develop once you start to read from other sources– from the teachers and the counselors who are also writing on behalf of the student? How does that change or confirm the picture that you’ve started to get in your mind?
[Julian] Yeah. I think the person behind the application starts to become a little bit more vivid, knowing not only are they receiving these types of grades and marks in their classes, but how are they going about getting those grades? What’s their approach in the classroom? And the teacher recommendations are amazing, in terms of understanding a student’s intellectual flavor and how they go about digesting information.
We see, and I see, so many idiosyncratic differences across different students even within the same school, and even within the same class, which is great, because then it helps me imagine what kind of contributor they would be in classes, both small and very large here at Yale.
[Hannah] This is also a good place just to clarify that we read every single application that we get cover to cover. It’s not the case that, if there’s something we see in an application, we stop reading it. So those teacher recommendations, counselor recommendations, the essays students write, they are being read in full by a member of our staff.
[Julian] That’s something I’ve really liked about the way that we do our work here. We expect students to talk about themselves and present themselves in so many different ways. And since we do have teachers’ perspectives in the file, and normally guidance counselors or another school official, we get to understand the student through so many different lenses. And that’s why I think it’s on us to make sure that we are doing right by each applicant by really taking the time to examine every single piece that’s sent our way, and not just picking out certain materials that are most important to us, since I really do believe in the whole person evaluation process and understanding a student through these really different materials.
[Mark] What do you tend to write in your work cards while you were reading an application? What are you noting, and why are you noting it?
[Julian] So especially as the first reader of an application, it’s my job to present somewhat of a roadmap of the application. So not only am I documenting the objective information in the application, but I’m also trying to provide a sense of the student’s voice, how these pieces are coming together. So in real time, I’m hoping to analyze how gripping a student’s essay was or how teacher recommendations are in conversation with topics covered in the essay.
So not only am I describing what I am seeing– I’m also trying to analyze how a person emerges as I look at all of these things put together. And then, at the end of the day, I’m hoping to just give some pitch. This is a student– as a really short quip, a pithy little remark at the end of my card that tries to synthesize the really dynamic person that we meet all throughout in a way that puts my analysis in conversation with the admissions officer who may be reading the same application behind me.
[Hannah] All right, so you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t talked much about scoring applications. We use write-ups in our work cards to keep track of what we’re reading. And we use some ratings, but not really in the way that you would think.
[Mark] Yeah. I think most people imagine that the process is really quantitative, and that there’s a rubric that we’re using, and that, as an applicant, your goal is to maximize your score on each of these different sections. And you are thinking about dividing the application up into these different segments and trying to score the most points in these different areas.
And that’s really not how it works. So to talk about that, we actually are bringing on to the show a colleague of ours, John. And he is an expert on a very different kind of scoring system than what we use. So hi, John. Welcome to the podcast.
[John] Hi.
[Hannah] Hey, John.
[Mark] We brought you here today to talk about gymnastics.
[John] Oh my God.
[Mark] So folks probably don’t know John is a big fan of gymnastics.
[John] Huge–
[Mark] You, I think better than anyone in the office, could explain how gymnastics is scored.
[John] Yeah.
[Mark] So could you give a little quick explanation for how gymnastics is scored?
[John] Sure. It’s funny, because people in their minds are still thinking about the perfect 10 when it comes to gymnastics, and for NCAA gymnastics, that is still the scoring that is used. But in this current kind of Simone Biles greatest of all time era, there’s a different scoring system that still utilizes a perfect 10, but also a different score called the difficulty score.
So essentially, in the past, gymnasts weren’t really rewarded for how difficult their skills were– just how well they did them. And now, in this era of triple twisting double somersaults on the floor exercise, we need to reward that difficulty. So gymnasts now are awarded two scores. One’s called the D score, or difficulty score, which captures how difficult the routines are. And the other is called an E score, or the execution score, which captures how well they do those skills.
[Mark] That’s really helpful.
[John] Yeah.
[Mark] I learned a lot.
[Hannah] And I had no idea that’s how it worked, so thank you.
[John] I know. And then you add them together, and then you have the overall score.
[Mark] So when you’re reading applications, is there a D score, and an E score, or Q score, or a G score?
[Hannah] Can you get a perfect 10 when you apply to Yale?
[John] Right. And I think the answer is no. But people are always concerned with, how am I maximizing my difficulty? Or given that difficulty, how am I doing it perfectly? And if that was how we evaluated applicants, if that’s how we came to understand the people behind the applications, then frankly, we wouldn’t have a job.
[Mark] Right.
[John] We wouldn’t do what we do.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Yeah. So give me a sense of what you are noting when you’re reading a file, and when you’re using ratings, what you’re using them for, because they’re not going to be added together at any point. It’s not going to be split into an algorithm, and we’re not going to rank candidates like we might rank you know gymnast floor exercises, where Simone Biles is obviously going to be at the top because of her largest combined score.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] So how are you using the ratings in your process?
[John] Yeah. I think the way that we– or a lot of us think about ratings are indicators to not only ourselves, but other people that are eventually involved in the admissions process for where strengths of the file lie. And so I think the main takeaway, when I’m rating parts of a file, is that they will never be standing alone as a number or a digit in a vacuum. These are ratings that we use to help us better understand the way a file has been read, the way a file may be presented. And none of those ratings are ever looked at independent of a full conversation with so many people in the room.
[Mark] And I think that’s a good transition actually to our next topic, which is about what happens to a file after you read it. So let’s say that you’ve read a file. You were excited about it. You’ve made all sorts of notes and ratings on it. What happens next?
[John] Yeah. I think the interesting thing about our reading process is it’s a process. Files are not just read once and then completely forgotten about. Files are read and then considered. So many different things can really happen to a file, but I think one important piece that some applicants may not know is that, when new information comes in, we consider it.
So once the file is read, sometimes additional pieces of information come in, and we note that and we update our comments as needed. Sometimes files continue to be read. The most competitive files in our process getting multiple opinions– sometimes two, three, four– as many opinions as our Admissions Committee feels is needed to really fully understand the candidacy.
And after a file has been read by a certain number of readers, then actually, all of the files that our office receives goes through what’s called a committee process, where the notes that have been taken the ratings that have been given are then considered and discussed by a roomful of people, including admissions officers, deans at Yale College, faculty members, and most importantly, an entire stash of snacks from Costco.
[Hannah] Most importantly–
[Mark] Most important–
[Hannah] Absolutely. But while we’re here, let’s talk a little bit about the reads that happen after the area officer reads a file. So in our office, we call this either outside reading or second reading a file. We use those interchangeably. And most of the time, a file gets outside read or second read by a random other person in the office, but we also have some areas of expertise. So if John, as an area officer, is reading a file and he thinks to himself, oh, I really want some other specific person in the office to read this because of their area of expertise, he can send that along.
[Mark] Yeah. And we all do outside reading ourselves. I have to say, I really like doing outside reads. It’s a nice break. I get to see a different part of the country, different types of students. Oftentimes, they’re involved in different activities. And if I’m suddenly reading someone from Southern California, they might be surfing, and that’s not something that I’m used to seeing. So John, what do you like most about doing outside reads? Or how is the outside world different than an area read?
[John] Right. I think one of my favorite parts about outside reading actually gets to the core of why I really enjoy this work in general. And it’s the fact that we as admissions professionals are asked to think critically and intellectually about young people from all across the country and around the world. And as cheesy as it sounds, it’s really fun. It’s difficult work. There’s a lot of critical thinking that goes into reading of any kind, but especially when you’re weighing in on a file that has already been read at least once, and especially for a file that is outside of your regional area of responsibility, there’s a lot of critical thinking that goes in that I think keeps a lot of us engaged throughout the year.
[Hannah] Yeah. And when we’re outside reading, just like when we’re area reading, we’re taking notes. We’re writing up little work cards. And all of that is to serve the purpose of directing the committee conversation, which is what is going to happen next.
[Mark] Yeah. Really, everything in the reading process is leading towards committee. That’s where the magic really happens. I think people tend to imagine that we as admissions officers are these deciders, that were going through, reading this, and saying, yes, this is good, or no, this is bad. And really, the reading process is just step one. It’s our job of really preparing for a conversation that happens in that committee room.
And I think that’s also a difference that people don’t always appreciate, that that write-up that we’re putting together– it’s really designed to facilitate a conversation and a lot of that critical thinking that you were talking about. It’s really, I find at least, centered around this question of, what do I want to talk about with my colleagues in the room?
[John] Yeah. And we all, I think, approach our work with a sense of humility, in that we may feel a certain way about a file, but our brilliant and thoughtful colleagues may feel differently. And that outside reading process really introduces multiple opinions to every file in a way that I think really is a wonderful, almost series of checks and balances, making sure that no one person is deciding the fate of a file all by him, her, or themselves.
[Hannah] Exactly– and that is really why we do this whole committee process, which we are going to talk about in depth next episode. We will take you inside the committee room. You’ll hear a little bit about what we talk about in the committee room, how we discuss applicants. So we’re really looking forward to sharing a little bit of that next time on Inside the Yale Admissions Office.
[Mark] All right. We just made history. This is the very first podcast recorded inside the Yale Admissions Office. Some final thanks to our friend and colleague Jill, who is both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer–
[Hannah] Thanks, Jill.
[Mark] Imagine that. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed here are mine and Hannah’s, and they do not necessarily represent the views of Yale University.
[Hannah] Thanks for listening.

Episode 2: Committee

Episode 2: Committee

Every admissions decision is made by a committee composed of five members of the Yale community. Hannah and Mark take listeners inside a real admissions committee discussion and describe how the members reach consensus and make decisions. Admissions Officers Jill and Alfie join as guests to discuss their roles as a committee presenter and a committee chair.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
Yale Podcast Network.
[Hannah] Hello, and welcome to episode two of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. Here we are inside the Yale admissions office once again. I’m Hannah.
[Mark] And I’m Mark.
[Hannah] And today, we’re going to talk to you a little bit about the committee process.
[Mark] Yeah, we’re making history. We are going where no podcast, where no recording device has ever been before– inside an admissions committee meeting.
[Hannah] Yeah, it’s definitely very exciting. It is really when decisions are made. And while we’re reading applications, it’s a very sort of solitary and solo process. And then we get to the committee room, and everything, in my opinion, kind of snaps into place. This is where it all happens. But right, it’s not this intense, scary, very serious room. I mean, the work we do is obviously quite serious. But it’s also really fun, and exciting, and kind of where the magic happens.
[Mark] Yeah, I kind of think that there are maybe two different visions you might have of it. One might be– two movie allusions. One would be one of my favorite scenes from Mary Poppins, where Dick Van Dyke is in his old man makeup, and you’ve got the old bankers, you know, singing their song about tuppence, and there’s these, you know, super old, scary dudes. The other is from 12 Angry Men, right? And you’re imagining these super combative people who are standing up, and yelling at each other, and will get into these big arguments, and like, come to blows. And neither of those is a good picture of what happens at all, no. So just–
[Hannah] Definitely not
[Mark] –I’ll put that out there, that’s not what you should be imagining here.
[MUSIC SIGNALS TRANSITION TO COMMITTEE ROOM]
[Mark] All right, so it’s a little after 8:00 AM. It’s a rainy Wednesday morning in February. And I’m getting things set up in the committee room, where I’m going to be all day with my colleague, Jill, presenting her area. So we’re in a room that’s about the size of a living room. We’ve got a big horseshoe-shaped folding table that’s in the middle of it. And that is pointed at the wall, where we’ve got a big screen TV set up. And that is going to be projecting documents from different applications throughout the day.
We also have our enormous stockpile of snacks ready to go. I can see Fritos, and Nutri-Grain bars, and chocolates, and all manner of caffeinated beverages as well because we’re going to be here for the next nine hours or so. There’s also a big cup that is full of sharp pencils because we will all be taking notes on pages of our slate as we’re going through. And we’ll actually be recording the individual votes on paper as well.
So I’m going to get the computer set up. And we will be ready to go in just a few minutes.
[MUSIC SIGNALS TRANSITION TO THE STUDIO]
[Mark] And we’re back in our studio.
[Hannah] Let’s talk a little bit about who is in the room for admissions committee.
[Mark] Yeah, there’s usually five people. One of those people is going to be the area admissions officer– so the person who is presenting, and who’s read the files themselves.
[Hannah] We will also have a chair, who is a senior admissions officer. We might have another admissions officer in the room. Yes, we usually will have another admissions officer in the room.
And then we have two people from outside of our office who will join us.
[Mark] Yeah, and they’re designed to give two different perspectives. So we will always have, in this time of year, a faculty member. Can be from any department.
Just this week, I was in committee for three different committees. I had a professor in psychology, a professor in history, and a professor in chemical engineering.
[Hannah] Yeah, and then we’ll have a Dean of Yale College– usually, that’s a residential college dean, or someone else who works within the Yale College Dean’s Office to give us that other kind of student life perspective in the committee.
[Mark] And we said that committee makes a decision on every applicant, and that’s true. But we have more than 35,000 applicants this year. So I actually did the math before this episode, Hannah, and I sort of added things up.
[Hannah] Here we go.
[Mark] And so yeah, if you imagine if you spent five minutes, let’s say, on each one of those 35,000 applicants, OK, that would turn into 175,000 minutes. That translates into about 3,000 hours. If you translated that into eight hour workdays, you would have– and I love this– exactly 365 eight hour workdays of committee–
[Hannah] Oh, amazing.
[Mark] –it would take you to get through each and every one of those. So no, committee does not discuss every applicant. But they do decide on every applicant. So explain how that works, Hannah.
[Hannah] Yeah, so we do devote a lot of time to going through our lists of applications. We have two committees running all day, five days a week for six weeks during the regular decision process. We are looking at printed slate that tells us a lot, gives us a little bit of code about each applicant that we can glance at and understand the basics of what we’re about to see.
[Mark] Right, so we’re looking, essentially, at the homework that the area admissions officer has done. And we’re seeing information about both the applicants and the admissions officers’ read of those applicants. And it’s a lot of data. And the area admissions officer has decided, essentially, which of these cases the committee should be talking about. But the committee is going through that slate and looking at each and every one.
I use another movie reference– this a movie-themed–
[Hannah] How many movie references can we get in here?
[Mark] So this one’s The Matrix. And I hope that folks listening have seen The Matrix. And there’s a great scene where the character, you know, who’s in the ship is looking at all the screens, and he’s explaining how he can read the matrix. And he’s like, after a while, you just don’t see the code anymore.
And I feel like you sort of get to that point, right? Like, I can read a slate, and I can learn a lot about the applicants that are there, most of whom the area admissions officer– I can understand why we’re not going to be having a full discussion about the applicants on that slate.
[Hannah] Right. Confession– I have never seen The Matrix.
[Mark] [GASP] What?
[Hannah] Which is crazy, because it’s totally–
[Mark] You’re missing out.
I know, it’s just one of those cultural holes I have.
[Mark] Oh, man.
[Hannah] I feel like now, it’s too late.
[Mark] I saw it in ninth grade, and then I was a philosophy major. So this is an important part of my life.
[Hannah] I feel like I have no excuse. I was within the age range of being able to see it. Yeah, I don’t– I don’t have anything to say for myself.
[Mark] Yeah, you’re missing out on an enormous number of cultural references. And Keanu Reeves’ best work, I mean– which is not saying much, but by far.
[Hannah] All right.
[Mark] You’re missing out.
[Hannah] Anyway, as committee members, though, if we are looking at a slate, we do have the opportunity, even if a candidate isn’t kind of on the list of who that area officer was planning to present to us in full, based on what you see on that slate, you could say, hey, this looks interesting. And for whatever reason, we might want to dig in and take a look. And that happens quite often. So there’s this sort of series of checks and balances in the committee room.
[Mark] That’s right. And sometimes, that winds up being a full discussion, sometimes, just a quick sort of, oh, what’s going on here, and you kind of get a quick answer. But yeah, it’s your job as a committee member to be thinking about every applicant that’s on that slate.
[Hannah] Right. So let’s talk about what happens when we actually hear a case as a committee. Everyone starts with the area officer reading their work hard. And we touched a little bit on what this is when we talked about the application reading process in our last episode, but it’s kind of a redaction of the file, and sort of ends with a little bit of direction as to what would be helpful for the committee to read, or where we could dig in a little bit further.
[Mark] Right, so the officer is reading verbatim from their notes. So we’re going to hear their notes on what the student’s activities were, any awards they’ve won, for example, things like what their essays were about, what their teacher recommendations said about them, and those summary comments. And that, it feels to me like I’m back in third grade, like, reading aloud to the class. Because you know, I have to stick to my words, but make sure I’m like, you know, enunciating, and people can follow along with what I’ve written.
[Hannah] Right, right, exactly, you sort of have to sit up straight and project. It’s like, kind of fun and nerve-racking in this– I don’t know.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Yeah. So after that happens, the committee gets to discuss the case. And a discussion of a single applicant can take 30 seconds or 30 minutes.
[Mark] Yeah, and it will just depend on the specifics of the case and the people in the room. We have someone who is at a computer, pulling up documents by request of the members. So we might have heard what the first essay was about, and you’re like, that sounds really interesting. I want to see that.
And we’ll pull it up on a big screen. And you’ll have five people sitting around a table looking at it. And know that everyone in that room is going through the exercise with an interest in figuring out who this person is, and what kind of contributions they would make to Yale.
We’re not up there looking for comma splices or another and saying, no, get this off the screen! This is terrible, move along. We are really sort of trying to figure out who this person is. And it’s really fun.
[Hannah] It is fun. And usually, or always, the people who are making up the committee are people who are really committed to Yale, who really like being here, and working here, and seeing what the students can do. So it’s exciting to sit around a room with people like that, and talk about the potential of applicants to really take advantage of the full Yale experience.
[Mark] And I think that might surprise people. I can imagine that folks would think that a highly selective process is sort of focused on pinning laurels on people, sort of saying, all right, who’s earned this the most? Who’s most deserving of this or that, or maybe trying to project out who’s going to be president, or who’s going to create the next Tesla or something like that?
And I don’t know how to do that. That’s not my job. That’s not the committee’s job. So our discussions are really focused on the Yale community, which is why it’s so helpful to have the faculty and the deans in there.
[Hannah] In the committee room, it’s helpful to often have a discussion about applicants and really kind of talk things out. Sometimes, a case will be really clear-cut that we talk about. And there will be nothing to sort of hold us up. We’ll just be really, really excited to admit a student.
And other times, we might be excited to think about admitting a student, but maybe there’s something we really need to talk out. So an example of that might be maybe the student doesn’t have a pristine academic record. Maybe they had sort of a bumpy start to high school, or there were some extenuating circumstances. And those things, it’s really helpful to talk in the committee setting, as opposed to trying to suss it out on your own as a lone application reader.
[Mark] That’s right. As an area officer, it’s really useful. I will go to committees and be like, guys, help me think through this. I don’t know. I’ve tried to document as much as I can about what’s going on here, but it is complex. And I need your help to suss through this. And we will just dig in.
[Hannah] I mean, I love committee because it’s really when everything kind of clicks into place for me. The discussion will often sort of bring up issues, or questions, or exciting things that you don’t necessarily pick up on in your first read. And everything just kind of becomes a little bit more clear.
[Mark] And it is hard work, but it’s a fun way to spend a day. You know, I come home from a day in committee in a really good mood, particularly at this time of year, which is February, March. Like, there’s no better way I can think of to spend a day than sitting around with my colleagues, talking about really interesting and cool students. Like, I leave every admissions committee impressed and excited about the people that we’re talking about. And you know, it’s really a fun privilege to be able to say, like, we just admitted this person to Yale! That’s so cool!
[Hannah] Yeah, it totally is.
[Mark] Doesn’t get old.
[Hannah] No, it never gets old. Just so we’re not painting a totally rosy picture of it, though, it can also be really emotionally draining and exhausting.
[Mark] Yeah.
[Hannah] Like, it’s exciting, but it’s tiring to sit in a room all day and make sometimes really tough decisions. Sometimes we’ll be reading applications, and we’ll be reading an essay, and everyone in the room is in tears.
[Mark] I mean, I’ve had the experience of getting choked up after a vote happens, you know? Like, you can imagine the Hollywood sort of music is swelling to that moment. And I usually am sort of like, (TEARING UP) let’s keep going, please. Like–
[Hannah] Right, right, right, we have to move on!
[Mark] - Do the next one. Let’s not linger too long. There are some things that can just be really funny in the committee. There’ll be a great comment that someone will make that will become the sort of running joke for an entire day in committee. And you really bond with the other people in that room with you.
[Hannah] Yeah, and like we said, we also have that screen up, so we can pull up different parts of the application. And that can be fun, too, because we’ll often do a little bit of research as well. So for example, I’m on our international team. And we were in international committee earlier this week. And we were kind of bouncing all around continental Europe. And every time we’d enter a new country or a place where, you know, it wasn’t quite obvious where the applicant was from, we’d pull it up on a map. We’d look at Google Images, and we kind of set the stage. And that’s a really nice way to kind of get sort of grounded in each individual case.
And the other fun thing that we do in international committee sometimes is we’ll say, hey, let’s work through lunch, and let’s order the cuisine of the part of the world that we’re in today. So that’s all–
[Mark] Oh, I want to do that for our southern committee, is I want to get some barbecue going.
[Hannah] Oh yeah, totally.
[Mark] We should make that happen.
[Hannah] Highly recommended.
[Mark] Would be fun, yeah. Back to the experience of being an officer presenting in that committee, I feel like we all have some applicants– I would say probably even most applicants, right, where you are just presenting the facts, and you’re sort of saying, well, I hope that this works out well. But you don’t feel like you as an admissions officer played much of a role, right? Like, you just read the file, presented the strengths of the file, the committee dug in.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] There are some, though, where you really feel like, oh man, I want to make this case. Like, I caught something in here I’m not sure that everyone else would have caught. And I want to make a case for it.
And that is the piece that really never gets old to me. Like, that’s the most satisfying and also heartbreaking piece of it as well, because it doesn’t always go your way sometimes. Everyone has the experience of really rooting for someone, and you make your best case, you put your best foot forward, you let the applicant put their best foot forward, and you just don’t get the votes.
[Hannah] Every decision that we make is made by vote. And we actually have these little voting clickers that– like, little clickers you might use in a lecture class or something like that, where we–
[Mark] Instant polling.
[Hannah] Instant polling, yeah, yeah, yeah. So our votes are anonymous. For an applicant to be admitted, four out of the five votes need to be an admit vote.
[Mark] Yeah, and there’s a chair. And the chair’s job is really to sort of facilitate that discussion that we’ve been talking about, that as I said, could be really quick, could be really, really long. We could wind up not looking at anything in the application. We could look at virtually every document, kind of just read it together.
But it’s the chair’s job to sort of say, OK, I think we have talked about this enough. It’s time to vote. And when we do, we pick up those clickers, and we press a button. And we all then crane our necks to look over to the computer screen, another computer where the votes are tallied. And it’s– just click the button, and then the vote is revealed.
And I don’t know, I find it sort of quaint that even with all this technology now, the vote is actually still recorded on paper.
[Hannah] Yes, which is nice, because there’s truly nothing more satisfying than writing that little A on your sheet of paper. Feels really good.
[Mark] That’s right. Yeah, as an officer, when you’re presenting, you get to note on your slate too.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] (WHISPERING) Yes! A! Got in! So we recorded a real committee earlier this week. Here are a few sound bites from inside the committee room.
[MUSIC SIGNALS TRANSITION TO COMMITTEE ROOM]
[Speaker 1] A, you’re looking at Fort Myers, Naples, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach. So basically, we’re looking at everything along this coast, and then everything over here, no Miami. So Miami’s metro [INAUDIBLE].
[Speaker 2] That’s just a great piece. That feels really authentic, right?
[INAUDIBLE] yeah.
[Speaker 2] Maybe the second teacher rec kind of wanted to get the best argument on this.
[Speaker 1] Ready to vote?
[Speaker 3] Yep.
[INAUDIBLE]?
[Speaker 3] There you go.
[Speaker 1] [INAUDIBLE] where he puts all those photos–
Yeah.
[Speaker 4] –I like that.
[Speaker 3] He sounded to me like an extraordinary human being.
[Speaker 2] Mm-hmm. Should we read something?
[Speaker 3] Yeah.
[Speaker 1] Yeah.
[MUSIC SIGNALS TRANSITION BACK TO THE STUDIO]
[Mark] And we’re back in our studio, also known as Reed’s office, with Jill, who just wrapped up a full day of presenting part of her area in the committee room. I was there. Great job, Jill.
[Jill] Thank you.
[Mark] How do you feel?
[Jill] I feel so good. Committee is actually probably my favorite part of this entire process.
[Mark] It will surprise no one listening that Jill is training for a marathon right now, because–
[Hannah] Oh, man.
[Mark] –Jill was literally just talking all day. And I’m usually just exhausted and don’t want to talk to anybody after committee, and she’s still going.
[Jill] Oh, no, committee energizes me.
[Hannah] Wow.
[Jill] Gets me going.
[Hannah] I’m impressed. Tell us a little bit about how you prepared for today.
[Jill] Yeah, so I think the biggest thing that I do when I’m preparing for committee is to go through, honestly, all of the applicants that I’ve read for the areas that I’m presenting, and looking at my notes, and then looking at the outside reader’s notes, and determining what students I’m going to bring to the table in committee. I want to make sure that I am giving them pretty much the best chance when I go into that room. I will edit my cards to make sure I’m hitting all of the right points. I will make sure that I’ve read over the outside reader’s cards so that I know exactly what all their little notes and what acronyms mean so that when I get into that room, I really am the expert on not only my area, but also the notes that I’m reading out to committee, the students in my area, the schools, et cetera.
[Mark] Any surprises in today’s committee?
[Jill] There were a few surprises, sometimes. I think one of the biggest things is when we’re going over the notes and committee starts having a discussion, sometimes, the conversation can seem as though it may be going in a down direction, so we might be denying the student. And then we get to the vote, which is an anonymous vote, and then everyone was like, yeah, we want to accept this kid.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Jill] And that was how the vote turned out. And so those are always surprises. And then on the other side of the table, when it comes to surprises, a lot of the times, they come in the form of a student that I thought was maybe a really, really great fit for Yale. I was super excited to bring them to the table. But then in the process of hearing committee’s discussion about all the different types of students that I’ve already been presenting, you start to realize what the larger pool looks like. And you start to realize that even though, when I was reading my tiny little area and one of my kids, and they seemed like a real standout, in presenting all of my other standout kids, that kid kind of falls a little short.
[Hannah] Along those lines, did you have any, like, big disappointments today? Is there anything that’s going to keep you up at night?
[Jill] You know, nothing that’s going to keep me up at night. I think we always have the kids that we’re really rooting for. And it doesn’t always go in your favor. You do the best you can to really try to give that kid the best chance. But like I said, sometimes, the pool is really just strong in other areas. And even when you really, really want that kid, there’s other voices in the room. And it’s not just me that gets to make these decisions. And so I think that’s really important. I think it’s good to have that checks and balances. But obviously, at the end of the day, I want all of my kids to get in, all of my Florida kids.
[Mark] Yeah, well, thanks for giving us a little bit of time at the end of a busy day for you. Go take a rest, or I don’t know, maybe take a run since you’re so energized.
[Jill] I might just do that.
[Hannah] Time to start training, Jill.
[Jill] Oh, yeah, it’s going to be a long haul.
[Mark] All right, thanks, Jill.
[Jill] Thank you.
[Alfie] So we’re here with Alfie, who chaired the committee today. And Alfie, we’re here to get your hot take. We were just in the committee room a few minutes ago, and wrapped up.
[Hannah] So tell us a little bit about how you guide the conversation once Jill has presented a case.
[Alfie] Yeah, well, today’s committee, people were just very vocal. So–
[Hannah] OK.
[Alfie] Today, I would say I didn’t feel like I really needed to guide the conversation. But after we’ve heard the card or read a document, if folks don’t seem to be sharing opinions, just asking people for their feedback or thoughts. And if folks around the room don’t feel like they have much to say, that things seem pretty straightforward, then we just go ahead and– I call for the vote.
[Mark] Yeah, so can you talk a little bit about how you decide that it’s time?
[Alfie] You know, it’s almost sort of like a feeling that you can kind of get based on the conversation, on some of the comments that are being made on a file, and just kind of feeling the momentum of where people might be heading, and calling the vote at that point. Or if it seems kind of like people are having good conversation, but feeling kind of stuck, just sort of saying, well, let’s just take a vote and see where we are. And if people feel differently about the outcome of that vote, then we can always continue the conversation.
[Mark] All right, super. Well, thanks for coming in, Alfie. It was a really fun day with you and Jill in committee. And thanks for your insights.
[Alfie] Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
[Hannah] Thanks, Alfie.
[Mark] We do that over and over and over again.
[Hannah] Yep.
[Mark] All day, every day at this time of year for six weeks. That’s how it happens. Like, that’s– we said we were going to show how the magic happens. That’s how the magic happens.
[Hannah] Yep. And then we walk out of that committee room at the end of every day with sort of a full set of decisions on an area. But it’s not quite over yet.
[Mark] Mm.
[Hannah] There’s more. And those decisions that come out of area committee are not necessarily going to be the final decision.
[Mark] There is still one more act to follow. And we’re going to talk about that in the next episode–
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] –how we wrap things up, tie a bow on it, get ready to actually release 35,000 decisions out to anxious high school students who’ve applied.
[Hannah] That’s right. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go get ready for some more committee meetings.
[Mark] Lots more committee meetings.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] So thanks as always to our friend Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to our former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our beautiful music. Check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours, and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University.
[Hannah] Thanks for listening.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 3: COVID-19

Episode 3: COVID-19

As COVID-19 causes massive disruptions around the world, Hannah and Mark discuss how the Yale Admissions Office has adapted and will continue adapting to new realities for applicants, admitted students, and prospective students. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan joins as a guest to discuss how high school students should think about the selective admissions process in the face of the global pandemic.

New Podcast Network–
[Mark] Hello and welcome to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah, I’m also a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And we are recording this on April 29th 2020. It is week seven of social distancing here in Connecticut, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
[Hannah] That’s right. So, we are not reporting from inside the Yale Admissions Office today. All of our campus offices are shut down. So, Mark and I are a safe six feet apart in an undisclosed location but we felt we really wanted to talk to you a little bit about what our office is doing right now.
[Mark] We had great plans for this episode of the podcast, like a lot of the things that got sidetracked. We thought we were going to be talking about how we kind of finalize the [Yale] class and release decisions, that all happened a few weeks ago. So, instead we are going to talk about how we’ve adapted, how things have changed, and what things haven’t changed as well. And also a little bit about what we’re thinking about going forward.
[Hannah] Yeah, so we’re still dealing with a lot of uncertainty at this time. But we’ve moved through a lot of things and we want to talk to you about that.
[Mark] So, if you are listening to this and it’s months from now, lucky you. It feels like peak uncertainty for a long time now. If you can, send us a message back in time. We really want to know what things are like, is there a vaccine, is the baseball season happening this year?
[Hannah] Mark and I are really concerned about that in particular, as Braves and Red Sox fans.
[Mark]  It’s a burning issue for us.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] Also though if you are listening to this in the future, keep in mind things may have changed. This is a fast moving story and we’re giving you what’s happening right at this very moment.
[Hannah] Yeah. So, our plan today, we want to talk to you about how we’ve handled three different kinds of groups of students through this whole experience. We’ll talk to you about how we worked with our applicants towards the end of reading and committee season in March. We’ll talk about how we’ve communicated with our admitted students throughout the month of April. And we also want to talk a little bit about how we’re working with our prospective students, students who might want to apply in the fall.
[Mark] And even during a normal year in the winter and spring months we are working with all three of these groups. So, they are in the front of our minds no matter what. And we have treated each one of these groups a little bit differently. So, let’s start with the applicants. The last time that we recorded a podcast we were still in the middle of reviewing 35,000 applications for first year admissions. We got pretty lucky with the timing for that group. Our last day that we could work in the office was the last day of our regular area committee.
[Hannah] That’s right. So, if you listen to our previous episode, you heard all about area committee and how that worked. We were super lucky with the timing that we were able to finish out those area committees in person, in our conference room in the admissions office. And then we all went home, took our computers home, took our monitors home and we did the final week leading up to the release of decisions over Zoom.
[Mark] We’ve done this before, sort of. We have had some success with remote admissions officers. We’ve actually had officers who have been presenting and voting in committee from different countries and from different parts of the world. But this was the first time that we convened everyone in a committee remotely from their different offices and basements all around the country.
[Hannah] The only thing I would say that we were missing was the snacks, I think, the committee snacks.
[Mark] We did not come up with an appropriate replacement for that, not even close. Everything else, totally fine. The snacks were missed a lot.
[Hannah] Exactly.
[Mark] This time of year it always involves a lot of guesswork. We are trying to guess how many students we should admit to get to our target class. This year obviously there was a lot of uncertainty about what that would look like. But I feel really good, I feel like we didn’t overthink it at the end of the day. We really didn’t change our approach to finalizing the class at all. Even though our yield, which is what we call sort of the process of admitted students choosing Yale over their other options, it was a really big question mark this year.
[Hannah] That’s right. But we made a pretty smooth transition to remote work, both in terms of just kind of the mechanics of it and also not changing up our process, not making any last minute drastic changes to the kinds of decisions that we were making.
[Mark] Yeah. And so far so good. We’re going to transition now and talk about that group of admitted students. So, we had some admitted students who found out early back in December. And they had made plans for coming to campus in April. We had to scuttle those plans around the middle of March. And we had to then operate for our newly admitted students who found out on March 26th, with explaining to them that they would not be able to visit campus this spring.
[Hannah] That’s right. So, full disclosure here, my role in the office is director of recruitment. Which in our terms means that I am responsible for all of the communications with admitted students, all admitted students on campus events. And before I held this role, Mark held this role for four years. So, April is the big month for you if you have this job. This is when everything kind of comes together. We usually host a three day on campus program called Bulldog Days for admitted students where 1,200 admitted students and 1,000 of their family members come to campus and have a jam packed three days of programming. Obviously, that did not happen this year.
[Mark] Yeah and we were bummed about that. There’s no way around that. It was disappointing for us to not meet most of our admitted students in person. It was sad to not have these wonderful events like a showcase of student performances and an extracurricular bazaar with hundreds of student groups trying to get new students to join their organizations. So, there was just no replacement for that. But–
[Hannah] But we kind of pivoted to move all of that stuff online. And I will just add, Mark said it was sad to make that decision, I remember so clearly the day. I mean, we had kind of known it was a possibility and then we knew it was a probability. And then the day when we kind of made the final call in mid-March it was just so sad. Because those three days when our admitted students come to campus it’s sort of the climactic part of the year for admissions officers. It’s our most exciting three days when we actually get to meet the students that we’ve been talking about all this time. So, we definitely spent some time mourning the loss of Bulldog days. And I’m sure our students did too. But we decided to take what is usually three days of programming at the end of April and turn it into 30 days of programming throughout all of April.
[Mark] And this was designed to keep high school students who we knew by April a couple of weeks into this they would be bored, a little stir crazy from self-isolating. And we wanted to keep them entertained with something to look forward to every single day. So, Hannah came up with a great calendar of events. She basically took those three days and spread them out over 30. We had master classes taught by real professors just for admitted students, panels with all sorts of resource centers, our Dean Jeremiah Quinlan did an “ask me anything” livestream that was a big hit, and there were a few creative ways that we engaged student groups and performers as well.
[Hannah] Yeah. So, usually we do this big performance showcase where we have student groups come to the Shubert Theater, which is a professional theater in downtown New Haven, and perform in front of the entire admitted class and their families. And since we couldn’t do that this year, we had those groups who were slated to perform record special kind of introduction videos for the class of 2024, introducing their groups, and then send us recordings of their favorite performances from the past couple of years and we shared that with admitted students. Similarly, we do this big in-person extracurricular bazaar. And in place of that, we had student groups record videos, 60-minute videos, kind of introducing their groups. They came up with a lot of really cool, creative things. I think that in this era of TikTok and Instagram challenges, there was a lot of inspiration out there for really cool videos. And my personal favorite, last night we did a virtual talent show. We called it 2024’s Got Talent. And this was really cool, because it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do at Bulldog Days for the past couple of years to give admitted students a chance to kind of show off their talents, but we’ve held off on doing it because if your talent is playing the cello, you don’t bring your cello to campus for Bulldog days. If your talent is tap dancing, you probably don’t have your tap shoes with you.
[Mark] Probably not. I don’t know, some might.
[Hannah] Right. So yeah, so we’ve never been able to do it in person but we thought this was a cool chance to do it virtually.
[Mark] It was awesome. I was just delighted by the entire thing. It was one of the things that was just so clear. No matter what the future holds, we’re doing this every single year. So, we pivoted, we found some new interesting things. At the same time, we look back and it’s not the same. We still want to bring students to campus. We, every year, invest lots and lots of money to bring students, particularly from lower and middle income households, to campus who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. We still really believe in the value of the campus visit, but in a universe where that was not possible this year, this was definitely the next best thing.
[Hannah] Yeah. And what we’ve been calling the 30 Bulldog Days of April is really no substitute for visiting campus in person. But it’s been really cool to see how quickly and easily our Yale community has risen to the occasion. People did not need any convincing to sort of pivot their in-person events to virtual events. All of our professors and panelists who were signed up to be a part of Bulldog days were really eager and excited to do this virtually as well.
[Mark] Yeah, they’ve been fabulous. I’ll also say our admitted students have really impressed me. I mean, I can’t imagine the heartbreak that is associated with your last semester of your senior year just kind of being wiped out on all those special experiences. Compounded with all the uncertainty about what’s happening with college next year. I’ve just been so impressed with how upbeat and excited and wonderful these students have been. It’s been really, really wonderful to connect with them.
[Hannah] Yeah, totally and we’ve had some sort of interesting communication challenges as well, because there is just so much uncertainty about the next several months and the next year. Colleges are talking about how and when they can bring students back to campus. And we don’t have a clear picture of what that’s going to look like yet. We won’t have a clear picture of what it’s going to look like until June at the earliest. And yet we have a deadline of May 1st. So, that has presented a challenge, I think, for our admitted students, for their parents, and for us.
[Mark] Yeah, so we are grateful for the faith that people are putting in us. Obviously we share the frustration at this point. And again, if you’re listening from the future, please write back to us in April and let us know what’s happening. Like we’re all dying to know. There’s wild speculation at the moment. Pretty elaborate conspiracy theories about what Yale will look like in the fall. We don’t know, I don’t know, Hannah doesn’t know. We’re not holding anything away from students.
[Hannah] I wish we could tell you. I wish we could do a big reveal right now about that. We don’t have any more of an idea than you do.
[Mark] It’s a big shoulder shrug, but everyone’s taking it in stride. Which is similar shoulder shrug I think our prospective students are experiencing right now. During these months we are typically greeting thousands of high school juniors and sophomores to campus. Basically the period from March to August will bring tens of thousands of students to us and that is not happening this year.
[Hannah] That’s right. And we would also generally be doing a lot of spring outreach travel. I was planning to go to several countries in Africa in May. Obviously that’s not happening, super disappointing. But we had a lot of other trips planned as well. So, those of course have been canceled.
[Mark] So, what are we doing? Like everything else, like everybody else we’re pivoting. So, we are figuring out how to do as much as we can virtually. We’re taking advantage of our great virtual tour. We just launched virtual information sessions, which are live events that people can register for and connect with an admissions officer and a current student. And so far so good. And we’ve been participating in some virtual college fairs as well.
[Hannah] Yeah. Have you done a virtual information session yet? I haven’t done one yet.
[Mark] Me either.
[Hannah] I’m nervous.
[Mark] No, I’ve seen them though and they’ve been turning out great.
[Hannah] Cool.
[Mark] Again, no replacement for visiting campus but we’re doing our best. And a silver lining in this we hope is that we might be reaching some folks who might not have connected with us otherwise. I’m always interested in thinking about who’s logging into that session or taking that virtual tour who might not have considered Yale or ever been able to visit New Haven. So, I think there are some great opportunities there.
[Hannah] Yeah. We’re no longer limited by geography, anyone can tune in to these events.
[Mark] And as we look ahead, there’s a lot of anxiety about a lot of different things right now. I think the message that we want to present to folks is that: understand the world is different now. And so college admissions is going to be different now as well. We are not going to expect that students’ applications just sort of make it clear that they kind of breezed through this period, however long it is. We know that transcripts are going to look different, your extracurricular activities are going to look different, your summer does not look like the summer that you probably originally planned and we are going to understand that. And to talk about that, we are now going to actually call up our friend and boss, Jeremiah Quinlan the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, who is going to talk a little bit about his perspective on the admissions process going forward.
[Hannah] All right, so we have our boss, Jeremiah Quinlan Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid on the phone with us now.
[Jeremiah] Hi, guys.
[Hannah] Thank you for joining us, Jeremiah. This is not what we had pictured when we were thinking about your first appearance on this podcast. So, we appreciate you calling in.
[Jeremiah] Happy to be here.
[Mark] And we wanted you to talk a little bit about the future, and for students who are thinking about applying to college and how selective colleges, in the next couple of years, your thoughts. What would you tell a high school junior who’s concerned about their application and what it will look like next year?
[Jeremiah] Well, the first thing I would say is there’s a lot going on in the world right now and I would hope that your college application is not at the top of the list of your concerns. We in the Yale Admissions Office recognized that this global pandemic is going to have a lasting effect on schools and communities, academic records, and all the types of experiences in and out of school. And we are going to do what we continue to do best, which is to review students as whole people throughout the process, trying to get a deep understanding of the context in which they are applying, and read every single application we receive front to back, cover to cover. The thoughtful way that we do admissions in this podcast, which I know has been chronicled so well on this podcast, allows for this sort of thoughtful consideration and a lot of flexibility when we’re considering backgrounds and experiences of all of our applicants. And that’s not going to be different moving forward. In fact, that’s only going to be heightened in the upcoming admissions cycle. So, I hope that students understand that the way we approach this process is not going to change and we are going to do everything we can to understand the different challenges that students and families and communities have in terms of this pandemic and adjust our expectations and how we review applications, and what we think about these applications in light of that. Just because your college application that you put together in a few months is not going to be what you thought it was going to be a year ago, does not mean it’s going to be less compelling or less interesting. Know we are still going to be looking to admit incredibly talented, bright, motivated, accomplished, community minded individuals to the class of 2025 next year and there will be lots of different ways for students to showcase that, maybe different ways than we had previously thought, but still lots of ways for students to showcase that in the coming months on their applications. That’s all.
[Mark] And what about all the decisions that schools have had to make about academic records? You know transcripts are going to look different next year. What would you tell a student who’s concerned about what their transcript will look like after they had to make really quick changes to what their courses and instruction looked like this past spring?
[Jeremiah] Sure, I mean that’s a great question. Big picture: I just want to assure all future applicants to Yale that your schools and communities’ response to this outbreak and all the personal circumstances associated with it are not going to negatively impact your chances at admission at Yale. We are aware that schools are taking a diverse set of approaches to curriculum and assessment during this time. I mean, under normal circumstances we are very familiar with lots of different grading scales and lots of different assessment criteria that schools use and that’s only going to be amplified in the coming application cycle. Transcripts are going to look different for at least this semester. And you should know that regardless of the school’s decision, the school you attend, the decision that they made, we’re going to work really hard to understand that specific decision that you need context. And we’re not going to penalize students whose transcripts lack letter grades or students whose transcript type is something more inconsistent this year than previous. We’re going to not try to recalculate or re-rate GPAs. We’ll probably look a lot more closely at the academic performance of students before March, before all this happened. And we will obviously see the grades that the schools are giving this semester, but we’re going to understand this performance is being done under the larger umbrella of global events that might be having serious impacts on your health, your family’s health, and community’s health and we’re not going to try to trend up the expectancy that you’re going to be able to maintain the same academic performance over the past few months that they may might have had the first eight or nine months of the academic year. Also we also understand that this outbreak has caused a sort of cancellation of events, activities, sports seasons, programs, summer opportunities, just like it’s caused disruptions to families’ lives and even if it’s changed everyone’s opportunity to do different things, we understand that is the case. And while we wish you were right now wrapping up some of your longstanding interesting commitments, we are going to understand that those things were not impossible this spring and we understand the students are going to take additional responsibilities at home. We’ll see how many businesses, if it’s applicable. And we’re going to take that specific context into account. And if you tried to change your plans or change commitments, as every single applicant, to do that’s not going to be a negative. We’re going to try to update our advice to applicants as we move into the next admission cycle. But understand that we are still going to try to get a good sense of student’s commitments and their appreciation for how they spend their time when they’re not in the classroom. We understand that that’s more limited now than it used to be and we’re going to take that into account and community considerations moving forward.
[Hannah] Well said. I’m sure that would be reassuring for a lot of people to hear. So, thank you Jeremiah for calling in and joining us. I’m sure we’ll see you around a Zoom meeting soon and we’ll have you back on the podcast when we can do this all in person.
[Jeremiah] My pleasure. I cannot wait to be back on 38 HillHouse Avenue in the undergraduate admissions office in person. But in the meantime, everyone out there, take deep breaths. Good luck with finishing up your academic year. And we look forward to reviewing your applications next fall and next winter.
[Mark] Thanks, Jeremiah.
[Hannah] Well, thank you for tuning in. We hope this gave you a little bit of a look into what we’ve been working on and how we’ve been adjusting in the past several weeks. We also hope that wherever you are, you are safe and healthy and that we’ll be back to normal life relatively soon.
[Mark] Thanks as always to our friend and colleague Jill, who is our sound engineer and admissions officer. Jill walked me through how to operate the equipment today via Zoom, so special thanks to Jill. Thanks to Reed, who lends us his office when we are in the admissions office. Thanks, of course, to former admissions officer Andrew Rick Johnson, who composes our music, check him out at AndrewRickJohnson.com. Drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com to give us an idea for a future episode or to give us feedback on an episode you just heard. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University.
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Episode 4: Essays: What Works

Essays: What Works

Part 1 of 3. The most effective application essays help admissions officers understand who students are and the contributions they would make to a community. There’s no formula or perfect essay topic, but Hannah and Mark discuss what makes an essay work for an applicant. Admissions officer Keith joins to share insights on the choices that can be most effective when writing an essay.

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[Hannah] Welcome back to “Inside the Yale Admissions Office.” This is episode 4. I’m Hannah. I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And we are going to be joined today by our esteemed colleague, Keith.
[Kieth] And I’m Keith.
[Hannah] Keith is also a Yale admissions officer and he’s going to join us today to talk a little bit about essays. Our next three episodes actually are going to be all about the written pieces of the application. Starting with today, we’re going to be talking a little bit about what works in the application essays.
[Mark] Right. There’s a lot to talk about here and so we wanted to break it up. Today is going to be all the positive vibes, today is going to be what we like to see in essays, what gets us excited about essays, all the pieces about what works. The next episode coming after this, we’re going to talk about some of the choices that don’t work. Some of the things that we tend to see over and over again or we say, oh, man that was a missed opportunity. And then finally, we’re going to do another episode that’s all about the pieces of the application that we Yale admissions officers get to write and bring you into our thought process in terms of how we craft those questions.
[Hannah] Yeah. So starting with today, we want to give a little overview of how the essays fit into the application process. This will depend a little bit on what application platform you use. And just a reminder, Yale accepts the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the QuestBridge Application. For most students who apply, though, they will write a longer 650 word essay and then two shorter essays.
[Mark] And these essays are one of the first things that we see in the application. It’s not the first piece; we are going to get some information on where you go to school, we’ll probably see what your courses look like, we will see what activities you are involved in and then we go straight to the essays. I want to start by saying the obvious, I hope, obvious for us, we like essays. We like them a lot. We wouldn’t ask for them if we didn’t like them. I’m actually going to steal a line that I picked up from another admissions officer, a guy named Rick Clark who’s the director of admissions at Georgia Tech and he happens to run his own podcast that I’ll recommend as well, and he had this great line that a session that I was with him at. And he said, you know, I don’t go into Barnes & Noble, and pick up a book, and say I hope this is terrible, and I think that’s sometimes what people might imagine, that we’re hoping that essays are bad. No, we want essays to be good. That’s why we’re starting with what works. Keith, I don’t want to put you on the spot here, but you’ve been doing this for longer than either of us have. And I’m going to estimate that you’ve probably read somewhere in the neighborhood of about a gazillion college essays. Do you still like them after all these years?
[Kieth] Wow, you cut right to the chase on that, Mark. In fact, I’d say something about admissions officers in general. We love reading, we love learning and one of the joys of the whole process is imagining such creative, thoughtful, purposeful students with all their perspectives and experiences and that’s why we love essays because it introduces us to those folks. In fact, one of the things I’ve loved about being at Yale is how my colleagues talk about meeting candidates through the application, not just, here’s what the first essay was about. So by all means, the essays, as you say, are– it’s the first impression. In fact, in one of your other very good podcasts, I remember you were referring to movies and it’s like the opening scenes of a movie or the first page in a book. It sets the table, not only for the rest of the movie or the book, but in the case of these essays, it often sets the table for the person. We love reading essays.
[Hannah] We do. And it might– I think it’s natural for applicants to be wondering, well, what do you want from me? What do you want to hear? When they’re thinking about their essays, I always assure students that there’s no topic that is the topic they need to write about. I know I have no favorite type of essay or topic of essay. I certainly have essays that I remember over the years, or that stand out to me every year, or that I save in a little folder on my computer because I want to revisit them sometime, but they don’t have any topic in common, it’s that they are all very reflective essays where we really get to know the students. So today, we want to talk a little bit about what happens in an essay that makes us feel that way as we’re reading.
[Mark] Right. And I want to acknowledge I know that is frustrating. I know that when you hear there’s no formula and there’s no right way to do this, you’re saying, well, what do you want from me? And I think it’s important to just lay out early on. Keep in mind, these are not graded. They’re not graded the way that your English teacher might grade your essay about a separate piece or that your history teacher might grade your analysis of the French Revolution. It really is something that you should think about as an opportunity and it might even surprise you that the essays are not even primarily a way for us to gauge your writing talent, right? I think some people are frustrated because they say, writing is really not my strong suit, why is the application putting such a premium on writing? I think what I want to start off with is the idea that the essay is an opportunity. It’s not a hurdle to jump over, it’s not a test you need to pass. Think about it as a window and a way that you can communicate with these folks. I always say we would love it if we could meet every one of our applicants, but with 35,000 or so students applying every year, just the laws of space and time are going to prevent that. So the essay is our way around that to try to get to something where we can speak directly to the student, hopefully.
[Kieth] The college essay, certainly the way we look at it here, is not even primarily a writing sample, per se, that you would turn into your English teacher. We certainly urge students to be thoughtful about– and we’ll say a bit more, I’m sure, about voice and style– and hopefully free the students. And here’s the key, and then we’ll lead it into more about the essay. If ultimately, in your essays, you are conveying who you are, then it’s likely to fit with the rest of your application anyway. It’ll also, I think, free you. We will say over and over and we promise not to lie to you, but you can write the essay on the most ordinary topic but if we think we’re meeting a real person, it sets the table.
[Mark] If all of this talk has you nervous because we’re saying so much about the essays, I actually want to reassure folks that, for many candidates, the essay really doesn’t become one of the most important parts of their file. We have a lot of students who are admitted and who we’re very excited about for whom their essays are, for lack of a better word, forgettable. They are not the thing that the committee is spending the most time on. They might not even be in the top three or four, in terms of the list of reasons why we are excited about the student. The essay certainly didn’t take away from the student’s candidacy, but I don’t want to give the impression that when we are selecting among 35,000 students, we’re just looking for those whose work is sort of ready for The New Yorker and that’s your ticket in. I would say, for some students, the essay really becomes the centerpiece of the application and then I think as Keith was saying so well, sets the table. And you say, wow, this piece was so effective that everything else comes into relief. And then there are those students I was just talking about for whom, they’re fine, but it’s really the other parts of the application that are making the case. I would say, though, for most students, the greatest effect that it can have is in tying the pieces together in drawing together the other parts of the application where we feel like, you know what? I’m meeting the same person consistently throughout here. And when this person spoke directly to me, I felt like I was hearing from that same person that I was meeting in those letters of recommendation that the interviewer described that I see reflected in their choices, on their activities list, et cetera. So think of it as a piece of glue that’s going to bind together the other parts of the application and, as Keith said, set the table for us.
[Kieth] I’ve been doing admissions for about 120 years and that is worth listening to again because that’s the whole point. It should be reassuring. We keep saying that we look at the whole person and we read everything. And you know what? It’s true. And it’s the entire suite of essays, and information, and compliments from teachers, and sometimes compliments from an interview who put the whole picture together. The essay is not make or break, GPA is not make or break and carry that confidence– and by the way, it’s for our own good that we approach it that way. There are great people who are not great writers.
[Hannah] So I think what we want to do next is give a little bit of general, overarching advice, regardless of what you choose to write about and how you choose to write it, certainly keep these things in mind. The first thing I would say is something that we said on episode 1 of this very podcast, which is the importance of showing over telling. When you are conveying a story to us or something in your essay, we don’t want it just to be a recounting of the facts, we want vivid language, we want to get a sense of place, and of how you’re feeling, and how you’re reflecting on things. So just keep that idea of showing, not telling in mind and that really can manifest itself in many different ways.
[Mark] Next up– good advice– be reflective. The essay has to be about you. No matter what topic you’re going to choose to write about, as we said before, it’s really a means to an end. It’s designed to give us some insight into who you are. This is often a big challenge for folks in part because you don’t do a lot of reflective writing in school, you’re usually writing about somebody else, so make sure that the essay, at the end of the day, really is, at its core, about the 17 or 18-year-old student who’s applying your goal in the essay is to give the person who’s reading it an idea about who wrote it.
[Hannah] And a big part of that is really letting your voice come through in your application essays. What we mean when we talk about voice is that we want to get to the end of an essay and think, you know, I kind of get a sense of what it would be like to have a real conversation with this person or to be in the same room as this person. If your essay is worked over and edited, and edited, and edited, by a bunch of people, you might start to lose that voice, so while it’s important to share your essay with others, and it’s great to have other people glance over it and take a look at it, make sure that no one’s rewriting it for you because you really don’t want your personal authentic voice to be lost and everyone’s voice in their writing is a little bit different but the idea is that it should sound like you. So if you are someone who’s funny and light, then the voice that comes through in your essay should be funny and light. If you’re more serious and solemn, then you might be writing a more serious and solemn essay. And that’s OK. One of those things is certainly not better than the other but when we get to the end of an essay and we can get a sense of what that means for you, that’s really when your voice has successfully come through the words.
[Mark] And on a related note, I always recommend that folks try to keep it simple. The essay itself is pretty short. 650 words will be the longest one that you write. This is not the place to show off how big your vocabulary is or to try to construct the most complex sentences with lots of semicolons and dependent clauses and all of that. Your voice, hopefully as a 17-year-old, is sophisticated and thoughtful but also natural, and approachable, and something that, again, someone who’s never met you before can pick up, and read, and get a sense of who you are, and how you think, not simply be sort of impressed with how complex a writer you are.
[Hannah] That’s right. Yeah. Often if you get too caught up in the complexity or trying to show off, like Mark said, you’ll totally lose that voice, that authentic voice really quickly.
[Mark] Yeah. So all of that is our general advice. It’s the kind of thing that we often give in our information sessions. We want to use the podcast to go a little bit deeper, though. And Hannah and I both reflected and we tried to identify some specific choices that, over the years, we have found are often very successful for students. I want to be really careful about how we present this because what we’re not going to be talking about are specific topics that are winners. We’re not going to say, OK, you should write about this and that’s going to get you in. And even when we do our next episode, it’s not going to be, well, don’t write about that because you’ll definitely get denied that way. What we’ve really thinking about is, OK, we’ve read tens of thousands of essays. And, over the years, we have found that there are certain choices that people make in their essays that often serve as a roadmap to the kind of successes that we were talking about earlier in the episode. These are choices that people make where we say, OK, they did this really well and as a result, I feel like I know them, I’m excited about what they would add to the community, I can get a sense of how it’s connecting with the other parts of the application. All of that. So that’s my disclaimer about this. But let’s dive into some more specifics. So this is one of my personal favorites, a choice that a student can make. When a student writes about really changing their mind about something, this can be really, really effective. I like when it’s showing that they changed their mind about something and it wasn’t just because they grew up. It wasn’t just because they got more mature and so they had an older person’s perspective on something. And along with that, the most effective ones, they’re really actually pretty generous towards their previous position. So it’s not like, oh, I was ignorant and a fool before when I believed this and now I am enlightened and I see things this way. When someone can really get through, man, things kind of made sense to me this way and then something happened and now I see things differently, that can take me on a journey with the student where I really have gotten a sense of how they think about things and their approach to the kinds of experiences and topics that I expect that they will be experiencing in college.
[Hannah] Yeah. I love it when you can, throughout the essay, root for the outcome, like you know this is going to be about this positive change in this person’s life and following the story of how they got there. That’s always super cool when that happens. Another sort of popular overarching topic that can work really well often is reflecting on a relationship with one or more people. This can be a tricky one because I feel like people– students who choose to write about other people can fall into the trap of forgetting to do that thing where they’re reflecting and bringing it back to why it’s important to them. So that’s a really good thing to keep in mind. I could write a really eloquent essay about my relationship with Mark and how I admire him so and all of this great stuff. And he’d be like, great–
[Mark] Aw, shucks, Hannah. Thanks. I could write a lovely essay about you too.
[Hannah] All right.
[Kieth] And I’ll set you both straight.
[Hannah] We’ll cut this part out later. But you might get to the end of that essay and say, OK, well, now I’ve heard a lot about your friend Mark, but I don’t know much about you. So it’s important if you’re writing about a relationship with someone else or how someone has affected you to always bring it back to yourself and reflect on specifically how that relationship has affected you.
[Mark] Yeah. Relationships are valuable because relationships go in two directions. We’re learning about you and that person and we’re getting a sense of how you’ve interacted with that person. And, again, that can work because we are working at a place that is residential, where people are expected to build relationships with a lot of different people over their four years so seeing that they have the capacity for that kind of growth with someone can be really enlightening. OK. This next one is interesting for me because it is not an essay that I could write. This is the essay that is about a real passion and how a passion animates you and gets you excited. And I couldn’t write that because I really don’t think that I have a passion, with a capital P, about anything. That’s not who I am, that’s never been who I am. It’s not what you need to write about to get into Yale. You don’t need to have a passion with a capital P to get in, you don’t need to be an Olympian, or on Broadway, or have split the atom in your basement in order to stand out. The essay is exciting and it works, not because it’s relaying a high level of accomplishment, but because it really brings me inside a student who is so excited and animated about something. If that’s you, if you have this thing that really animates you and gets you excited, the essay can be a great place to reflect on what it is about that thing that gets you excited and show that excitement to the admissions committee.
[Hannah] Yeah. Keith, I feel like I’ve seen you in committee get excited about these essays. Do you– is there anything you want to add to that?
[Kieth] Well, the only thing I want to add is that I completely agree with everything Mark just said. Hannah, you’re right. I get excited. I’m googling things and reading about them. Yes, Hannah. I do.
[Hannah] OK. This next kind of topic is– some of my personal favorite essays have come out of this but conveying a great sense of place. This can be done in a number of different ways, but I can think of specific essays over the years that stand out in my mind that are really about how a place or where someone has come from has influenced them or affected them. This is one of the things that I tell students to think about if they approach me and they say, I’m really stuck. I have no idea what to write about. I think this is a great first step prompt is to think about a place that’s important to you. And the nice thing about this is everybody comes from somewhere and whether or not you’ve actively reflected on it, where you come from has affected your worldview, how you’ve grown up, what you’ve had access to, all of those kinds of things. So if you’re absolutely, absolutely stuck thinking, I have no idea what to write about, I have nothing to say. First of all, of course you have something to say. This is a great thing to think about is thinking about where you come from or a place that’s been important to you and why.
[Mark] Yeah. And this next one I also really like, in part because it flips the script a bit. So an essay where a student talks about an experience that really humbled them and that really made them feel vulnerable. This flips the script because it’s different from a more typical essay which is about: I experienced failure but then I turned it around and I became wildly successful at this thing that I was originally bad at. That’s fine but the one where the student can really sit in the experience of being wrong about something or hurting someone’s feelings, having real regret about something. You don’t need to paint a truly miserable picture of yourself in that moment, you don’t need to wallow in self-pity or, again, paint yourself as a truly terrible person, but we are looking for people and to err is human. We all make mistakes, we all have experiences where we are not at our best. I think by, in some way– doesn’t have to be the whole essay– but in some part of the essay, showing that vulnerability and your willingness to highlight an experience where things just didn’t go the way that you expected and maybe where you weren’t at your best can really, I think, kind of open up a new dimension of your humanity that can shed a lot of light on who you are for the committee.
[Hannah] Yeah and that can be tricky. It can take guts to write that kind of essay because we know that, in your application, you’re trying to put your best foot forward and that’s what it’s all about. So you may feel some reservations about writing about a time where you’ve changed your mind or had a failure and overcome it. But, yeah. I mean, Mark said it all that when done well, those essays can really shine.
[Kieth] And you shouldn’t underestimate that what you write about, whether it’s profound or not profound, it may be important to you, but because it’s people who are reading the applications and talking about you in the committee room, you may be striking chords that we can all relate to, even if it’s not the same story. At the end of this, my suggestion is if you have mentors, or friends, or teachers, read your essay, rather than saying, is this a great essay? Or is this good, what should I do? First, ask, does this sound like me? Onto Hannah’s and Mark’s good advice, it comes back to that same theme. Does this fit me?
[Mark] As you’ve gathered, there’s a lot that we can say about essays. We’ll have more to say in the next couple of episodes. To wrap things up for you, as you’ve heard us say in different ways throughout this episode, the most effective essays are the ones that really make us feel like we know the student and it also makes us excited about them joining the Yale community.
[Hannah] Definitely. And just to underscore, we’ve talked about this a little bit when we talk about voice and reflection, but there’s no way to say this that doesn’t sound cliched, but you, as the applicant, are your own best resource for writing a good college essay. No one is going to be able to capture your voice or your experiences in a way that is as effective as if you do it yourself and that’s the case even if you don’t feel like you’re a particularly strong writer. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again, these essays should sound like you, whatever that is. Essays that are unsuccessful– and, again, we’ll talk about this a little bit next episode but I just can’t help myself– essays that are unsuccessful are ones that sound like they were not written authentically by a 17-year-old student and don’t mesh with the rest of the application. Just trust in yourself that you’re the best person for the job for writing your college application essay.
[Mark] Yeah. And obviously, we can’t promise that this process of writing the essays is going to be fun. That would be a stretch to say, well, have fun guys. We hope you’ve gotten– you’re really excited about this. I don’t think we’re going to get to that point. But I do think that if you approach this in the right way, you can ultimately press send on something that you feel really proud about, where you can say to colleges, this is who I am, take it or leave it. I feel like I’m giving you what I’ve got. I wish that I could be there in the room with you when you’re reading my essays and talking about me. I can’t be there, but here’s the best that I can put together in 650 words.
[Hannah] Definitely.
[Kieth] Yes.
[Hannah] And–
[Kieth] Yes.
[Hannah] Yeah. Honestly, when you get to fall of your senior year of high school and you’re starting to put together your college applications, if you think about it, most of the work is done. You’ve got three years of high school grades behind you, you’ve put in hours to your extracurricular pursuits, you’ve made positive relationships with teachers who are going to write you glowing letters of recommendation. The essay is your big task right now when it comes to actually putting together that college application. So appreciate the fact that this is something that’s in your control in this process, fully in your control.
[Mark] Next up, we are going to talk about what doesn’t work in application essays and, spoiler, it involves the game of Boggle so just wait for that and then we’re going to go into all the work that goes into crafting the parts of the application that Yale comes up with and give you all some insight into what we’re thinking about when we write those other little pieces of the application. Thank you, Keith, for joining us today on the podcast.
[Kieth] My pleasure. It felt like I was on BBC, World Service, or Ellen DeGeneres. Thanks for having me.
[Mark] We’ll get there. Thanks, as always, to Jill who was both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed who lends us his office when we are in the office. We’re still not back in the office yet but, still, thanks Reed. Thanks, as always, to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Please be sure to check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com. He’s crazy talented and finally, a reminder that the views expressed here in this podcast are ours and they do not necessarily represent those of Yale University. 

Episode 5: Essays: What Doesn't Work

Essays: What Doesn’t Work

Part 2 of 3. Application essays are an opportunity to speak directly to admissions officers and share meaningful insights and reflections. Unsuccessful essays miss that opportunity. Hannah and Mark share some of the ineffective choices that regularly appear in essays and discuss why each choice doesn’t work to the student’s benefit.

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[Mark] Hello, and welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. On our last episode, we talked a lot about application essays. And today we want to talk to you a little bit more about that. Last episode we talked about what really works well in applications so be sure to listen to that first, if you haven’t already. And today we’re going to talk a little bit about what doesn’t work so well.
And just a general reminder from last episode, we want essays to be good. We love reading essays. We spend a lot of our time at our job reading them. So we have spent a little bit more time talking about what works in those essays because I think there’s a little bit more to say there. But we also wanted to give you a little taste of this as well.
[Mark]  Right. And as we said, last episode, there are certain choices that people make in their essays. We’re not going to be talking simply about topics. It’s really individual choices. Sometimes they’re big. Sometimes they’re small. And when those choices work really well, they lead to a really clear idea of who the applicant is, and gives us an idea of what that person will add to our community.
The other side of that same coin is that there are certain choices that just frequently lead to ineffective essays. What we mean is that as readers, we come across this and we kind of say, oh, man, missed opportunity.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] We’re reading it and we’re like, I know that this student is more interesting and dynamic and there’s more to this person than what I’m seeing here. But those 650 words just came and went. And I don’t know a lot more about that person.
[Hannah] Yes. And we’re going to be talking a little bit about specific essay topics that don’t work as well, as well as sort of stylistic choices. But just in general, these are not universal things. And they’re never going to be the reason alone that you would be denied from Yale. We have admitted students every year who have made every single one of the choices that I think we’ll be talking about. So just keep that in mind, that choosing to do one of these things in your essay is not a death sentence. But we do recommend avoiding these things just because we think there are better ways to get your message across.
[Mark] What we’re also hoping to convey is that these are things that there’s pretty strong consensus about. We’ll talk about our little exercise that we went through this winter, Hannah and I, to come up with our shared lists of things that don’t work, but these are not just Hannah’s least favorite things, or Mark’s least favorite things. We think that there is some general consensus that these are just choices that don’t quite work as well as they could in that space.
[Hannah] When we talk about essays not working, we don’t mean that they’re bad pieces of writing. We talked about this in our last episode, that we’re not looking for perfect prose here. We’re looking to get to know you. So when we’re saying that essays don’t work, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad piece. It means that it doesn’t quite do the job of helping us get to know you as well as it could.
[Mark] Right. So another push, if you’ve not listened to the previous episode, go back and have a listen. That will tell you all the things that you should be thinking about in order to be successful in this piece. I think probably the most common shortcoming, or feeling that I have when I’m reading an essay that’s not successful, is the sense of “so what?”
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] It can sometimes be a lovely piece of writing. It can be very well-polished. But I– and then I say, OK, that was nice. But so what?
[Hannah] I actually had an English teacher in high school who would use that as a way to get us to reflect more in our essays. We did a lot of personal reflection, which was awesome. But he would literally write “so what?” at the end of paragraphs.
[LAUGHTER]
I found it really annoying at the time. But now I really appreciate it andI find myself going through that same thought process when I’m reading essays a lot of the time.
[Mark] Yeah. You know, you’re on to something. It’s almost always, OK, this could be the start of something great. But we just ran out of space and we never got around to the “so what” here.
[Hannah] Right. Dig a little deeper and just a reminder that we always want our applicants to put our best foot forward. That’s the whole point of the college application, is you’re presenting your best self and we want that for you, too, as admissions officers.
So something that we’ll often do in the committee room is if we are presenting an application to the admissions committee that we’re really excited about for whatever reason, and they have one of these essays that missed the mark, we’ll often say, you know what? Don’t read that first essay. Just save yourself some time. Let’s skip it in the committee room.
[Mark] Right. Sometimes the case just doesn’t lie there and it’s our job as admissions officers when we are building a case for a student and putting together our work cards and presenting to committee– episodes 1, 2 of our podcast– again, sometimes the essays are a critical piece of the puzzle. And sometimes we say, guys, you’re not going to learn anything new there but you want to dig into the other parts here.
[Hannah]  Right. All right. Let’s get into it.
[Mark] All right so this is exciting. This is something that Hannah and I have been working on for a few months now. We had an idea for this episode back in January when we were right in the thick of application reading and we got together and we sort of agreed, yeah, there are probably topics that we will just come across over the next few months that we will not cringe, but we will come across and we’ll say, oh, man, that missed the mark and let’s try to keep a list.
So each one of us has kept a list. We’ve not shared them yet. Today is going to be the big reveal, almost six months later since we’ve started, of what we put on our list. Basically every time that we were reading an application essay and we said, oh, that just wasn’t– that wasn’t effective, it missed the mark, we wrote down what the thing was that we thought wasn’t effective.
I want to make clear before we get started, we have this little gimmick but we don’t take any pleasure in reading an essay that’s not effective, or reveling in what you might perceive as a mistake that a student made. Again, these are– we’re not going to be talking about mistakes or failures here. We’re really going to be talking about missed opportunities.
I’ll go ahead and say I think that anyone listening, if you were in the position of reading thousands of essays, I imagine you would probably come up with a very similar list. That’s the thought that is undergirding this entire exercise. There were always things that we have seen a lot, the predictable shortcomings there and we are going to share them in the style of a Boggle list.
[Hannah] Mark is really excited about this idea.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] Are you comfortable explaining the idea of a Boggle list?
[Hannah] Yeah. It’s been a while since I’ve played Boggle but Boggle’s the game. You have the letters in the box that you shake up. Can we get an audio cue for that?
[BOGGLE CUBES SHAKING]
[Mark] Yep. I have my Boggle game right here.
[Hannah] There you go. And you make a list of all the words that you can see with the combination of letters. The way the game is scored is the players will compare their lists against each other and the words that I would have that Mark doesn’t have, I would get a point for. Is that right?
[Mark] Exactly right.
[Hannah] OK.
[Mark] All right. So should we dive into it?
[Hannah]  Yeah. You go first.
[Mark] OK. I’ll go first. Here’s one. This is the essay that’s written in the third person, or it usually starts in the third person and there’s usually a twist about two or three paragraphs in where you turn to, and you say, “that little girl was me.”
So with all respect to Senator Harris from California, this essay, I understand why you write this essay. You want to give the storytelling element of something and then you want to shift. You think there’s going to be a big surprise.
And it doesn’t quite work because I always know that it’s you. Right? The twist of like, that was me, I’m like, I’m never like, oh, wow. And I’m usually sort of scanning down and say, OK, when is the twist happening?
I put that first there. It actually connects to a few other things on my list later on. So that’s my first one. Is that on your list?
[Hannah] That’s interesting. I don’t have that specifically but what I do have is drama for the sake of drama, which I think maybe that what you just said falls under this larger umbrella category, which is feeling like you need to dramatize your story, or that you need to have some sort of tragic set of circumstances in order to stand out to the admissions committee. Overdramatizing your essay often gets in the way of what could be just a very simple and good story for us to hear.
[Mark] Right and I will say that I think that connects to one on my list, which is the essay that’s really all storytelling, the one that just sort of gives you a nice beginning, middle, and end. It’s usually a pretty interesting story, like I can tell why you wanted the story to be part of your application but oftentimes, it has been overdramatized and it has used up the space to tell the story, as opposed to using some of that space, at least, to reflect on the story there.
[Hannah] Yes. Yep. I didn’t have that, but totally. I feel like that’s such a big one is to leave time for reflection. Kind of similar, I have an essay that spends too much time in the past.
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] OK.
[Mark] Check, check.
[Hannah] Check.
[Mark] On my list. Yes. Stuck in the past.
[Hannah] Any admissions officer you talk to, I feel like this will be one of the first things they bring up, is that it can be so frustrating because if an essay is written about an experience that you had when you were five years old or when you were in seventh grade, a lot has happened since then. You’ve changed a lot. You’re 17 or 18. You’re applying to college now. So sometimes students will use that as a starting point and show some growth. But sometimes they’ll just get stuck in the past and we are just like, OK, but what about now?
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark]  Here’s one. I call this the cover letter essay. This is the one that takes your activities list, what is sometimes called the activities brag, and writes the essay that’s sort of like a cover letter accompanying a resume. So if you apply for a job, you’re going to submit a resume with your professional activities and you’re going to use something called a cover letter to expound on some pieces of the resume. The cover letter essay does that and misses the opportunity to tell us something new.
[Hannah] Right. OK. So I don’t have that specifically but again, I think I have the umbrella theme, which is not using the space wisely in your application. What I mean– the way I think these two things connect is you have space in your application to tell us about your activities already. You don’t need to spend or waste your essay going– rehashing those so think about the overall real estate that you have in your application. And make sure that if you’re talking about your activities and expressing what they are in one spot, you don’t need to do that again in your essay. Often you could choose an activity that’s important to you to reflect on and that sometimes makes for a great essay. But that’s different from what Mark is talking about, this sort of cover letter-type thing.
[Mark]  Mm-hmm. Yes. All right. I’ve got a few that are in the small content pieces. So this is one. This is probably the most specific one I’ll get to. We just come across this so many times, I thought it was worth mentioning– the death of a grandparent essay.
[Hannah] Ooh. Yeah.
[Mark]  So I know why you write this essay. Death of a grandparent is a very challenging experience. I had a grandparent who died in high school. It’s often unsuccessful, though, because first of all, it is very predictable. Right? If I start reading the essay about this grandparent, I have a pretty good inclination that the essay is going to end with that grandparent dying.
So my piece of advice for this– it is an essay topic that can work. But my advice– it’s going to sound a little morbid–
[Hannah] Oh, no,
[Mark] : –is to follow Alfred Hitchcock on this, right? So another old movie reference. I’ve had a lot of these.
[Hannah] Is this a movie podcast?
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] What are we doing here?
[Mark]  Yes. It is also a movie podcast. The great Hitchcock classic Psycho is so good for so many reasons.
[Hannah] Hmm. OK.
[Mark]  One of the reasons it’s so good is that the main character dies way earlier than you expect, right? It’s less than 30 minutes into the start of the movie, which means the rest of the movie is not the movie that you expected and it’s much more interesting. So if you are going to use something like the death of a grandparent to get to something else, that can be great but make it clear that the event of that death, that should happen early in the essay, to leave you space for reflection and insights that are connected to that event.
So that’s different than just, my grandparent lived this wonderful life. She did all these great things. I had this nice relationship with her and then I was very sad when she passed away. That’s the typical arc of that essay and if you kind of compress all of that into maybe the first third, like the first act of your essay, you now have so much more space to give what could be actually some really interesting insights about you as an applicant now.
[Hannah] Again, I don’t have this specifically. But sort of semi-related is when I feel like I’m reading someone’s biography. That can be really frustrating and often it is a grandparent, living or dead.
When you are writing an essay about your relationship with another person– and again, we touched on last episode– make sure it’s reflecting back to you and that you’re not just sort of writing that person’s biography, because that may be interesting, but it’s not necessarily going to be helpful for us to figure out exactly who you are.
[Mark]  Yes. Absolutely. All right. Another little one from me. This should go without saying, but I’m surprised every single year. Bathroom humor, anything related to anything happening in the bathroom, it shouldn’t be in your essay.
[Hannah] Yeah. I don’t– I don’t get it. What is that desire?
[Mark]  I don’t know. Every year it happens. And every year we say: oh, no. So that’s pretty much like– the other ones sometimes have some wiggle room. That’s a red line here, don’t go there.
[Hannah] I feel like I have this one again in more broad terms, like going for the shock factor. I think that there’s this idea that if you shock your admissions officer, you’ll get our attention. Let me just free you of that expectation. You can’t shock us.
[LAUGHTER]
We’ve seen it all. So that’s not a great way to ground your decision on what to write your essay about.
[Mark]  Mm-hmm. Yeah. We love the fact that we work at a university that draws a really diverse applicant pool. Students have all kinds of different experiences and insights and that’s one of the reasons why, when I come across this line in an essay, I get a little frustrated. And this is the line that says, “Unlike most people…”
[Hannah] Oh. Mm-hmm.
[Mark] That always rubs me the wrong way because it’s suggesting some exceptionalism, right? Again, I know why it’s in there. You’re trying to use the essay to say what you think makes you unique. You’re trying to convey– I want to present myself as an individual. That’s part of the task. But when you define yourself in opposition to other folks, it can make you come across as pretty ungenerous to other folks, and make us really sort of concerned about what you’ll be like as a peer in a really diverse setting. Are you going to keep defining yourself as being just different from other people?
[Hannah] All right. My turn?
[Mark]  Yeah.
[Hannah] OK. This is– I feel like this is another easy prompt that could be a starting place, but that I don’t necessarily think really works well, is writing an essay as a letter to someone.
[Mark]  Oh, yes.
HANNAH: Particularly your future roommate or yourself.
[Mark]  That’s on my list.
[Hannah] Oh, really?
[Mark]  Yes. So that’s a shared Boggle list one.
[Hannah] Yeah. Yeah. The letter to self or the letter to the future roommate– again, I get it as a prompt. And it can be helpful as a little creative writing exercise, I think. But it’s just a little too gimmicky, I think. Yeah. I can’t really wrap my head around exactly what it is that doesn’t make those essays work as well. I don’t know.
[Mark]  Yes. I think people– you tend to get wrapped up in the gimmick. And again, I think it’s sort of comforting because it takes what has been a very nebulous prompt and makes it a little bit narrower and easier to dig in but I often find myself thinking that a huge amount of content in that essay has been devoted to propping up the gimmick of the letter. It has a salutation. And it has these little turns of phrase in the style of a letter. Yeah. It just often doesn’t use the space very well.
[Hannah] This is another one where I just feel like, ah, you missed this opportunity here– a story of failure without redemption and this is tricky because I think there’s actually a Common App essay prompt that says, tell about a failure, or a time you were wrong, or whatever, which is great. That can be a great prompt and a great kind of essay but if you spend the entire essay focused on the failure without getting to the redemption part, or getting to the redemption part too late, we say, well, we want to see how you came out on the other side of this. Clearly it was an important experience to you. So don’t dwell too much on the experience itself. Tell us about where you ended up afterwards.
[Mark] Right and this is clearly a fine line, because we talked about this in the last episode, about how an experience where you really weren’t at your best can actually be a really successful essay topic, because you’re willing to make yourself vulnerable and come across as a flawed human. But as we noted then, you shouldn’t just revel in that awful experience, whether it’s just connected to you or to something larger, right? There’s a lot of essays that deal with real hardship. And that’s something that can be very insightful for a student in reflecting about something that they’ve come through. You always want to make space for that reflection and that insight.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be that everything’s hunky-dory now, right? Like, it’s not the case– well, we had this challenge but, hey, it’s all better now. We understand that a lot of these things are still alive and real and raw but the essay shouldn’t just be an exercise in detailing the challenges or the failures or the frustrations. It should also be a chance to reflect and provide some insight on it. Again, to the very first point we got to– so what? So you’ve been through this. So you failed. So what? Where are you now as a result of all that?
[Hannah] Yep. Definitely.
[Mark]  That’s everything on my list.
[Hannah] All right. I have one more. An essay that feels “over-thesaurused”.
[Mark]  Oh, yeah.
[Hannah] Which is a word that I just made up. And I considered looking up an actual word for what I’m trying to say and then I realized I would defeat the whole purpose of what I’m trying to say. So what I mean is when you’re reading an essay and it’s just not using natural language. It’s using these big words that are kind of shoehorned in and it’s very clear that this person wrote an essay with a thesaurus by their side.
Again, you want to sound smart in your essays. But we would actually rather that you sound authentic than you sound very smart and sophisticated.
[Mark] Right and our applicants, they have big vocabularies. By all means, use full license to use that big vocabulary. But when you use a word like “alacrity,” when “speed” would work just as well, it’s hard for me to imagine that you hang out with your friends and use the word “alacrity” in conversation with them.
[Hannah] Right. Right. Yeah. Go for the conversational tone, I would say, over the overwritten tone.
[Mark]  Yeah. So we were coming back to some pretty consistent themes as we were going through these lists together. We don’t present this as some sort of secret list of things that will get you denied if you write about any of these things and as we said, I think if just about anyone read these essays like we do, they would come up with a very similar list.
These are guideposts for you, last episode and this episode, to think about, OK, am I moving more towards the roadmap that made it sound like these are more successful essays? Or am I veering dangerously towards one of these choices that often isn’t that successful?
[Hannah] Definitely. And you might say, you know what? Those Hannah and Mark people don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m going to write this essay about my deceased grandfather and you know what? Go for it. If you feel like that’s the right choice for you, I think you should follow your gut but certainly listen to what we’re saying. And listen to why we’re saying some of these things don’t quite work as well as you might think that they would.
Just overall, just a reminder since some of this episode has had a little bit of a more negative tone. It’s really a privilege, I think, to have thousands and thousands of students entrust us with their personal stories. I think about that all the time when we’re reading applications. It’s totally not lost on us how lucky we are to be able to read all these stories, many of them very, very personal, many of them things that the student hasn’t revealed to their friends or to their family or to their community.
So that is not lost on us. Whatever form these essays take, we– I regularly take the time to pause during the reading season and think to myself, oh, wow, this person is really sharing something special with us.
[Mark]  Yeah. Absolutely and it’s something that I remember being very uncomfortable about myself when I was in high school. It is weird to pour yourself out onto the page and then click it off into the ether, and don’t know what’s going to be on the other end so I think, as we’ve said before, imagining a real human person on the other end reading the essay can be one of the starting points to try to put yourself authentically into that space.
The essay is a snapshot. It is one piece of the puzzle. We are very aware of the fact that we are getting, hopefully, something directly from the student that is insightful but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Because of that, we have a lot of different pieces of the application. A little preview for next episode. We’re going to talk about all of the small pieces of the application that Yale admissions officers craft that we ask all our applicants to respond to in addition to those essays.
[Hannah]  They range from the size of your average tweet to a longer paragraph and every single one of them is on the application for a specific reason. We spend a lot of time in the summer crafting those questions. So next time, we will talk to you a little bit about those.
[Mark] Yeah. Thanks as always to our friend and colleague, Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed, who lends us his office when we are recording in the office. We’re still not back in the office yet. But thanks anyway, Reed. Thanks as always to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson who composes our music. You can check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, feel free to drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast.com@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University.
[Mark and Hannah] Thanks for listening.
[QUIRKY MUSIC]

Episode 6: Essays: The Little Stuff

Episode 6: Essays: The Little Stuff

Part 3 of 3. Most colleges ask applicants to respond to several shorter questions that are unique to their school. Hannah and Mark discuss what officers look for when reviewing responses to Yale-specific questions. Admissions officer Reed joins to share the admissions office’s process of writing and reviewing those questions at the end of each admissions cycle.

[Hannah] Hello, and welcome to episode 6 of Inside the Yale Admissions Office, and part 3 of our series on application essays. I’m Hannah, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer and I’m so excited that today we are joined by our one and only colleague, Reed.
[Reed] Thank you so much for having me, Mark and Hannah. I feel like I’ve been here the whole time. Having your studio in my office has really expanded my knowledge about this process in some way.
[Hannah] Which we really appreciate, as the best acoustically set up office in our building–
[Mark] And it is so ironic that your debut on this show is not happening in your office. We are still in COVID exile, so we’re doing this remotely, but are so glad that you’re joining us today, Reed, for part 3 of this discussion about essays, which is all about the little stuff, the small questions that Yale asks all of its applicants to respond to in addition to the larger parts of the application.
[Hannah] Yeah. Each of these questions is much shorter than the full essays that we were focusing on in the past two episodes and as you’re writing your answers, to these questions you may have two overarching questions going through your mind. Why are they asking me this, and what are they looking for here?
[Mark] We’re going to try to answer those questions. And as we do, we’re going to describe our process for writing those questions, because we as admissions officers get together every single year and try to decide what exactly we want to ask each of our applicants when they’re putting together their applications. So quick question for you, Reed, as we’re getting started– what sort of impressions do you tend to get when someone uses this part of the application really well?
[Reed] So I will be honest. The little questions are my favorite part of the application, because I think that a lot of students really use them differently and they break away from that larger Common, or Coalition, or QuestBridge app essay, and they talk about some different things and they use those short takes to really explore who they are and share who they are with us.So I think we get an idea of fit, we get an idea of person, from these little questions that can be tougher to find in other parts.
[Hannah] Yeah, totally. Like we talked about in episode 1, there is a specific order that we read things in the application, so let’s just run through that really quickly just as a reminder. The first thing we see is how you spend your time, your list of extracurricular activities– and then is the longer essay that will probably go to every college you’re applying to and that we talked about a little bit in the previous two episodes.
[Mark] All right, next up then are these Yale-specific questions. And as we’re reading, we are literally just clicking through pages of the application and we’ll go from the section that has been sent to all colleges to the next page and now we are in the Yale-specific responses. I think of this as a process of gradually zeroing in on the student as we’re trying to get some specific insights for the two big questions that we’re always trying to answer about every applicant– what will the student bring to Yale, and what will the student take away? These questions are the most direct opportunity we have to get some specific answers to those questions. So as you’re thinking about them, keep those two big parts of the equation in mind.
[Hannah] Yeah, and Reed, I’m curious to know what you think. What do you find that you get out of these shorter questions that you might not be getting from the rest of the application?
[Reed] So I think, specifically, I get an idea of what a student is interested in outside of their main interests. Usually students are spending the time in that larger essay to talk about something that is at the core of them, whether that’s an academic interest, whether that’s something about their family life or personal life. And these smaller pieces really allow students to get outside of that and talk about some of the smaller things, because none of us are just one thing.
So these spaces really allow us to get to know the student and to get to see who they would be when they are on campus. We’re really looking through a window at students’ lives. And this window is so limited, and this is a great opportunity for students, in their own words, to pull back some of the curtains on this window, because we’re hearing from outside sources and we’ve heard about their core interests, but this is the time when they can really share the totality.
[Mark] Yeah and that’s a great segue actually to the next thing we wanted to talk about, which is, why do we have all these questions? I know, as an applicant, you might be annoyed by these, particularly if you’re putting together lots of applications and you’re like, why do I have 10 more questions that they’re asking me? I want to highlight two big reasons why we have these and the first is simply, exactly as you were saying, Reed, more opportunities. We are very conscious of how limited the application is, and we want to provide as many chances as we can for the student to help us meet them.
[Hannah] Yeah and regardless of which of these pieces is more effective for you in any kind of best case scenario, we, as readers, will find consistency and resonances between these smaller pieces, your larger essays, and the other parts of the application.
[Reed] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] The other big reason that we have these questions is because we, meaning admissions officers and representatives of our university– we’re trying to communicate something about what Yale is all about to our applicants. That might not be immediately obvious. I don’t think that crossed my mind when I was applying to colleges, but we use these questions as a way to tell our applicants what makes our school unique and what we value.
[Hannah] Yeah. So as you’re reading these questions, a question for you to ask is, OK, what are they trying to tell us about their school here? And as we get into the specific questions that we’re asking for the upcoming application cycle, we can talk a little bit about that. But just keep in mind that this idea of fit sort of goes both ways. So our process isn’t just about recognizing the most accomplished and deserving students, but finding the students who are going to fit the best into our community, who are going to really take advantage of the experience and bring something to Yale as well.
[Mark] Right. It’s a good sign, as you were putting together your applications, that, if you approach the questions on an application that are specific to a school, and you say, oh, I would be delighted to tell you about that–
[Hannah] Yeah, right.
[Mark] –thanks for asking me, I would love to tell you about this, it’s probably a good sign that you’ve done your side of the fit equation, and that you’ve been able to say, yeah, this is a school that’s speak in my language, and I’m really glad that I have the chance to tell this school these kinds of things about me, because those are the kinds of things about me that seemed really important as I was putting together my college list.
[Hannah] Totally– and because of that, we spend a lot of time crafting these questions, because we’re trying to not only elicit the best writing out of you, but we’re trying to get our message across as well. So Reed, do you want to talk about the process that our Admissions Office staff goes through to put together these questions every year?
[Reed] Oh, absolutely– if I had to choose two words to describe this process, they would be thorough and granular. If you look back at the past three, four years of prompts we have, I think, from an outside perspective, you would probably think that the questions haven’t changed that much. A word here or there has been switched– a clause added in every rare occasion. But we have spent so much time thinking about why that specific word is replacing the word that it’s replacing. I think my first year that I was involved in these conversations, I was stunned by how much time we could spend debating the specific meaning of a word that was going in a prompt. But we have this wealth of experience at this point, where we can see the changes in the types of writing that we get– one prompt versus another– even with only one word having been changed.
The discussions that we’re having around word changes are often framed in terms of what is going to give our students who are applying the best opportunity to present themselves well. I think it could be misconstrued as us trying to make challenging prompts, but in reality, we want to give students the ability to put their best foot forward and I was certainly surprised by that when I engaged in these discussions for the first time.
[Mark] Yeah, that’s a great point. They’re not trick questions.
[Hannah] Right. Right.
[Mark] We’re not a diabolical group getting together and saying, how can we trip them up? How can we confuse them?
[Hannah] Yeah. I’d even take it a step further, where we’re in these conversations, the full staff putting the wording together for these questions, and we’ll say to ourselves, “actually, we shouldn’t word it like this, because we don’t want students to fall into this trap or think that we’re looking for this. We really are looking for the best out of these responses.”
[Mark] Right. And we undertake this exercise deliberately right at the end of every reading cycle. So after each and every one of us has read a few thousand of these answers to every question, we take it fresh and say, OK, how did we feel about these questions? Can we do something differently? And we go through that process that we just described.
[Hannah] Yeah. So we did that a couple of weeks ago. So we have fresh, brand new questions for the upcoming application cycle. If you’re listening to this episode not in the summer of 2020, definitely be sure to check the website, because the questions may have changed.
[Mark] We put these out online early, usually in July or so, even though the application itself will not come online until August and our first application deadline’s not until November, because we think it’s helpful to see these in advance. It’s not the case that you need to do lots of drafting and rewriting of these questions, but you will definitely do better– use the space better if you give yourself some time to think about how you want to respond to them.
[Hannah] Yeah. We give you very limited real estate to work with, so think carefully about your word choice. Some rewriting might be helpful here.
[Mark] Right. They are short enough that you could do them quickly, but I don’t recommend that. So my analogy here is of doing a crossword puzzle. Hannah and I are both crossword puzzle enthusiasts. Hannah is much, much better than I am, but I’m the kind of person who takes a long time with crossword puzzles. If I find that I’m stuck on something, often, if I walk away for a couple of hours, I will be able to come back and see things very differently. I think that can be the case with these kinds of questions. You might have an immediate response, which is good, but give it some time. Think about it, because you might actually find a different way to present yourself using that part of the application.
[Hannah] Yeah. As a speed solver, I can’t say I fully relate to that analogy, but yeah, that’s a great point. Mark and I are two totally different flavors of complete nerd. All right.
[Reed] I am not a crossword person, but the shorter essays and shorter pieces of writing are often much trickier to produce than longer pieces, because each word matters so much more. So whatever your crossword approach, use that approach in harmony with some outside editing for these questions.
[Hannah] Yeah, totally.
[Mark] All right, so now we’re going to walk through the specific questions and give you some insights, in terms of how the questions wound up this way and what effective responses can look like. So because we have Reed here– and as everyone listening already knows, Reed has such a fabulous radio voice. I was self-conscious about inviting him on, because I just knew everyone would be like, Mark, why are you– why is Reed not doing this? He’s so much better at this so I’m going to put my pride aside, and I’m going to ask that Reed use his perfect radio voice to artistically read the actual text of each one of the questions. So first up is something that we call the why Yale, or why Y?
[Reed] What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? 125 words or fewer– and I also briefly want to say that, though I may have a radio voice, I also have a radio face, so it’s a good thing.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] All right, so a deceptively simple question– this kind of question probably appears on just about every college application. This is the, how’d you get here? Why are you applying here? I want to start off with a warning about this question. This is not designed as an exercise to simply profess your love for Yale or for whatever institution you are applying to and the same rules apply here that apply in other parts that we were discussing– particularly, show, don’t tell. I think this is a question that we get a lot of telling. Particularly, people go and they research obscure faculty members or find something that appeared in the student newspaper four years ago, and they’re just–
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] –telling us, I’ve done my homework here, and I want to tell you that I’ve done that already.
[Hannah] Right. We are not looking for facts about Yale here. We already know those. You don’t need to tell us. We are looking specifically for why you want to come here. What specific experiences have you had that led you to deciding that Yale would be a good place for you? You don’t need to talk about prestige or rankings. Those aren’t good reasons to apply to a school. You don’t need to be just listing the facts. We’re looking as always for a little bit of reflection here.
[Mark] Mm-hmm. And I want to draw your attention to the fact that the question is phrased in the past tense. It is, what has led you to apply? I find that really good responses to this point to specific experiences in a student’s past– hopefully their recent past– that led them to decide, yeah, I want to apply here. Weaker responses, in my experience– they tend to launch right into the future tense and they say, I want to go to Yale because I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this, and I want to tell you all about how wildly successful I’m going to be here and that’s all interesting as a sort of thought exercise, but it actually doesn’t tell me a whole lot about how you got to this place right now. Keep that in the past tense. All right, next up is a longer one.
[Reed] Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided. Why do these areas appeal to you? 125 words or fewer–
[Hannah] Yeah. The list that Reed is referring to– there is a list of available majors at Yale. You choose up to three that you may be interested in. This is not a commitment and I often get the question, will I have a better chance if I choose this major or that major? The answer is no and what we’re looking for here is just to see that you’ve thought a little bit about what you might want to study in college.
Note the long wind-up for this question. There’s a lot of contextualizing here, because we really do want to make it clear that you’re applying to a school where you don’t have to stay in one major. As a liberal arts school, you have the opportunity to move around and change your mind a little bit.
[Mark] Mm-hmm. We have great applicants who are sometimes interested in three very different areas, others who have three very similar areas, others who are making clear, no, I am really passionate about one particular area and all three of those approaches can be successful. It’s a chance for you, though, to give us an idea of how you fit and how you’ve connected the dots between the specific academic offerings at Yale and your future planning.
[Hannah] Yeah. And this is a relatively new question on our application that has come out of some conversations with faculty around Yale and among our staff where we really just wanted to get a sense of academic interest without only asking, what are you planning on majoring in?
[Mark] Mm-hmm. It is a question specifically about why and I think sometimes we get responses that are just along the lines, so I really like this and I really like this, and they don’t go the step further, which is actually answering the specific question of, why do these appeal to you?
[Hannah] All right, let’s get to my favorite part, the short takes. These, we ask you to answer in only 35 words or less. Reed, do you want to hit us with the four short takes?
[Reed] Absolutely– what inspires you? Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask? You were teaching a Yale course. What is it called? Most first-year Yale students live in suites of four to six students. What do you hope to add to your suitemates’ experience? What do you hope they will add to yours?
[Mark] This actually came from our experience with a QuestBridge application. So we’ll probably talk about QuestBridge in another episode later on. It’s a fabulous non-profit organization, and they have their own application that includes about 10 of these short questions and officers found over the years that, as we were reading those applications, we really liked those shorter responses, so we kind of stole the idea from them.
[Hannah] I think these should be a little bit fun to answer. They’re simple. Again, like we said before, they’re not trick questions. We really want to know your genuine answers to these questions and one thing that I will point out– Reed was talking a little bit about how we change up these questions every year. I will say that you are teaching a Yale course, what is it called– short take number 3– has remained unchanged for the past, what–
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] –four or five years? Because we like it so much. We love the answers to this question. So once we landed on that one, we said, you know what, that’s such a perfect question and it’s getting exactly what we want.
[Mark] Yeah. Our advice here is the same as it is for other parts. Think about, what is it that the school is trying to tell me about their experience by asking me these questions? These– they rarely win the day for an applicant, and I can’t think of an experience I’ve had where an answer to a short take is really what a committee decision hinged on, but they often add a little bit more texture and when that texture comes in as part of the larger consistent story we’re talking about, we keep learning something new that doesn’t necessarily fit in the other parts of the application. So I would say this might be a space where you say, I didn’t have another place to tell them about this thing that is just a fun project for me or just something that I really enjoy. It wouldn’t fit anywhere else. One of these short takes actually might be a place to share that with us.
[Hannah] Definitely– Reed, what do you find that you get out of these questions the most often?
[Reed] So I actually can think of a time from this past year when the short takes were the thing– it was a student who I was presenting to committee, and he was clearly very brilliant academically, very focused on research and what he was doing and he’d chosen to spend most of his personal statements, both the long ones and the shorter ones, talking about that work. We had all this evidence from the teacher recommendations or the counselor recommendation that he was this wonderful person outside of the classroom, that he was caring and loved to have fun but we didn’t really get that from him at any point until you got to those short takes. They were just so lively and so different from every other piece of writing that he’d produced.
[Hannah] Yeah. I like that, because I do think that these short takes can be an opportunity to be a little bit more spontaneous with your answers. We’re telling you to craft them carefully because you have limited real estate here, but yeah, they can sometimes give us some– a little bit more spontaneity or personality than a full-sized essay can.
[Mark] All right, so next we get to the medium-sized pieces. So we ask for two shorter essays– around 250 words, which is usually one to two paragraphs. That’s how much space you have here. The first one is one that everybody writes, and then you have a choice among three other topics. So Reed, tell us the first one that everyone’s going to write. And this is new wording this year.
[Reed] Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it?
[Hannah] Yeah. So there is a reason this one is required. We want to know more about you as a student. Academics are our top priority here, and we can’t capture who you are as a student with just your GPA or just your test scores. So that’s really what we’re trying to get out here– get at here. We’re also trying to tell you a little bit about our academic environment with the wind-up to this question.
[Mark] Right. And I will draw your attention to a few very carefully chosen words. Again, as we were saying, we spend a lot of time thinking about these in particular. We are saying, topic or idea, because we want to be really broad here. This might be something that came up in a classroom. It might be something that you just saw on a documentary or is a social issue that is a great concern for you. We want this to be broad, just something that your brain gets worked up and excited about. And to the next part that I’ll draw your attention to, that excites you– that word excites is chosen very deliberately as well. It’s different than, I enjoy this or I found it interesting. We are trying to highlight something that really gets your motor running and then the last piece of it– why are you drawn to it? That piece is included for a very specific reason. We want you to ,the recurring theme, reflect and analyze. You have to do both here. Connect the dots for us. Hopefully we will finish this, and as a reader, we will be interested in this topic or idea as well, but we want to know about the topic or idea specifically as it relates to so that we can say, oh, I can see why this applicant is excited about this. That makes sense that this kind of person would really get jazzed up about this particular thing.
[Hannah] Yeah. We are not looking for the Wikipedia entry on a topic here. We still want this essay to be about you.
[Mark] All right, our final Reed monologue today– will you give us the second short essay choices, the three, of which every applicant will choose one?
[Reed] Reflect on your membership in a community. Why is your involvement important to you? How has it shaped you? You may define community however you like. Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international significance. Discuss an issue that is important to you and how your college experience could help you address it. Tell us about your relationship with a role model or mentor who has been influential in your life. How has their guidance been instrumental to your growth?
[Hannah] Yeah. So we give you a choice here. We want you to choose whichever one resonates best with you, whatever you feel like you’ll be able to write the best response to, for you. But do go ahead and read all three carefully, because again, we’re trying to communicate a little bit about our values here at Yale with you with these questions. One of these will probably jump out for you, and your choice of essay, as much as the essay itself, might tell us a little something about what you want to share and what you value.
[Mark] So know depending on your expectations coming in and depending on how much you enjoy writing about yourself or dread it, that all might seem like a ton of work that’s going to be told exhausting, or you might say that is not nearly enough space–
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] –to share everything that I would want to share with members of the Admissions Committee. It is not going to be the case that every piece is going to work for every applicant or– and probably for you. If you’re a prospective student who is listening to this, some of these are probably going to resonate more with you than others. You’re probably more excited about your responses to some questions than others, and that is absolutely fine.
[Hannah] Yes, totally. Don’t forget to zoom out and think about the application as a whole and the story that it’s telling about you. When things go well in the application, in the best case scenario here, as a reader, we will read all of these responses and end up thinking, wow, this person’s really going to fit well here at Yale and sometimes it’s clear to us that the applicant already knows that they’re a great fit for Yale. Sometimes we feel like we know that they’re a great fit, even though the applicant might not quite know it yet but our whole process of crafting these questions is designed to let that sort of thing happen, where we get to the end of the application and we think, wow, this person’s a great fit.
[Mark] Mm-hmm. So writing the responses to these questions– it shouldn’t be a full-time job, but we do advise you to start early. Give your brain some time to mull these over and make some choices about what you’re going to share using these different parts of the application. Thanks, as always, to our friend and colleague Jill, who is both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Hey, Reed, thank you for lending us your office when we’re in the office. But more importantly, thanks for lending us your amazing voice and your invaluable insights to today’s episode.
[Reed] Thank you for having me, and I can’t wait to hopefully record again in my actual office.
[Hannah] Definitely–
[Mark] We look forward to that. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, feel free to drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours, and don’t necessarily represent those

Episode 7: QuestBridge

Episode 7: QuestBridge

The Yale Admissions Office is a proud partner with QuestBridge, a national non-profit organization that connects students from low-income backgrounds with leading colleges and universities. Mark and Hannah interview QuestBridge Founder and CEO Ana McCullough about the organization’s strategy for matching top low-income students with full-need scholarships at top schools. Admissions officer Corrine also joins to share how Yale admissions staff review QuestBridge applications.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark and I’m a Yale Admissions Officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale Admissions Officer.
[Mark] And today we are talking all about Yale’s partnership with QuestBridge. And you might have absolutely no idea what we are talking about, but this is an episode that we’ve really been looking forward to.
[Hannah] Yeah, so just a quick definition– if you haven’t heard of it, QuestBridge is a national nonprofit organization that helps connect students from lower income backgrounds to selective colleges.
[Mark] And Yale has been a very proud partner with QuestBridge for the last 14 years and I want to say right away that even if this is the very first time that you are hearing about this organization, and even if you aren’t a prospective student who would ever consider applying to colleges through QuestBridge, we still think this episode will be interesting and insightful.
[Hannah] Yes, we are not going to go over how one goes about applying to Yale through QuestBridge. We won’t talk about whether or not you should apply to Yale through QuestBridge. We just want to give you some insider info on our process.
[Mark] Right, we’re hoping that we can take you inside our process. This is inside the Yale Admissions Office. We’re going to try to show you why we are such big fans of this partnership, and also talk a little bit about what it’s like to read QuestBridge applications because students who apply to Yale through QuestBridge use a different application than other students.
[Hannah] Our hope is to reveal something about our process of building a diverse class, and to talk a little bit about a part of our work that’s much bigger than just our own student body.
[Mark] And I’m also excited because we have not just one, but two special guests joining us here today. Our colleague Corinne is going to talk about how we, as admissions officers, read QuestBridge applications but first, we are talking with Anna McCullough. She is the co-founder and CEO of QuestBridge, the national nonprofit organization. She has agreed to be our first-ever guest from outside the Yale Admissions Office. We’ve hit it big. We’ve officially booked our first outside guest.
[Hannah] So exciting. But before we chat with our guest, let’s just cover a few basics about the QuestBridge application. Being a QuestBridge partner, it means that Yale participates in something called the “QuestBridge match.” We said we weren’t going to get bogged down in the details, and we won’t, but we do want to give a quick overview so you’re not totally lost. So here’s how a student applies to colleges through QuestBridge.
[Mark] All right, step one– students submit a free application to the QuestBridge organization in September of their senior year. It’s a complete college application. It’s got essays, letters of recommendation, a transcript, and it also includes information about your family’s financial resources.
Step two, QuestBridge reviews all those applications and names a few thousand students as finalists. That happens in October. Then those finalists rank up to 12 colleges from 42 different colleges and universities that are QuestBridge partners.
[Hannah] Yeah, so “ranking” means that you are applying for admission and financial aid and you put however many colleges you are ranking in a specific order. We in the admissions office don’t see your rankings. Other colleges don’t see your rankings. We just know that you are applying to Yale as a QuestBridge finalist.
[Mark] Then November comes along, and all of those colleges review those applications. We do a full admissions review and we tell QuestBridge which students we want to match with and a match is exciting because a match means that a student has been offered admission and has been offered the school’s most generous financial aid award. At Yale, that’s something called a” Zero Parent Share Award”, which means that your parent or guardian is not going to be asked to pay anything for tuition, room and board, personal expenses, anything at all.
[Hannah] Yep and then finally in December, QuestBridge takes all of the information and crunches the numbers. So for example, if you rank three colleges and all three tell QuestBridge that they want to match with you, you’ll match with the college that was highest on your list.
[Mark] I know that all seems a little bit complicated, but I hope that you can see the appeal for students here. If you apply through QuestBridge, you are able to apply to a bunch of top colleges completely for free and you might get an amazingly generous scholarship and have your entire application and admissions process wrapped up by December of your senior year.
[Hannah] Yes, although that doesn’t happen for everyone and actually, most of the QuestBridge finalists that we eventually admit in a given year don’t match with Yale.
[Mark] That’s a really good point.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] If you don’t match, you’ve not been denied. That’s not the same thing.
[Hannah] Right. We’re going to do a whole other full review of your application and give you a final decision in March, along with everyone else and the most important thing about this is that the admissions process and the financial aid process is exactly the same, regardless of how or when you apply. You don’t automatically get a leg up in the admissions process or in your financial aid application just simply by applying through QuestBridge.
[Mark] Right. We know that the match process is really appealing for a lot of prospective students. From our perspective, though, that’s really just one piece of the puzzle. It’s sort of an on-ramp into our admissions process that helps us, hopefully, see a large number of really, really strong students who are from lower income backgrounds.
[Hannah] Yes. And we could go on and on about the mechanics of the process and that’s probably how, if you’re an applicant and applying through QuestBridge, how you’re going to think about it, but we want to talk a little bit about the larger goals that we have as a partner school and the larger goals of the QuestBridge organization itself.
[Mark] Right. At the end of the day, the QuestBridge partnership for us is all about these big picture challenges, these big picture opportunities and to talk about that, we are thrilled to be joined by co-founder and CEO of QuestBridge, Anna McCullough.
[Anna] Hi. Wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me.
[Mark] So we wanted to ask you some big-picture questions. QuestBridge is a large organization. You guys have a big full-time staff, and you all focus on really big issues of access, and equity, and diversity in higher education. So the first question I wanted to ask you is, how would you describe the big national challenge that QuestBridge works to address?
[Anna] Well, there is a great amount of talent throughout America, in every corner, in every region, that historically has not been able to gain access to the nation’s best colleges and universities. They number in the tens of thousands every year and so we realized that these students who are absolutely qualified are not applying because they just don’t have access to information. They often don’t know about the availability of, for example, generous financial aid that schools like Yale will offer to them. They also don’t realize just how much the schools really want those students on those campuses, and how much they can add to the campuses, and how much they can gain from that.
[Hannah] Yeah, so how would you sort of summarize QuestBridge’s vision for addressing that challenge?
[Anna] We work hard to find these students through a very extensive recruiting process that we engage in every year, and have been doing since we first started this organization back in the mid ’90s. Today, just in terms of scale, to give you a sense of that, we have over 8,500 QuestBridge scholar undergraduates attending our 42 college partners, and over 10,000 QuestBridge alumni who have already graduated from our colleges.
[Mark] As I know, it is very difficult to get 42 colleges and universities to agree on anything. We kind of all live in our own universes so I’ve always been impressed that you and QuestBridge has gotten us all together in a shared vision for this. So I’m kind of curious, what has your value proposition been for colleges? When you have gone out to talk to partners, what do you explain to them that they will gain by partnering with QuestBridge?
[Anna] I’m glad you shared your experience there because what I’ve found, and what we found even in the very early days, is that there are so many extremely sincere college admissions counselors, deans, leaders at our schools that really want these students and want to find them. And so one of the things that does– even though everybody has their own philosophy that slightly different approach, we find that the one thing that they commonly agree upon is that they want to diversify their campuses, and they want to make sure that their opportunities are made available and accessible.
So that’s the one thing I think that I see commonly that our colleges agree upon. And we also share with our schools that because of our long time doing this, 25 years, we have built long-term relationships with educators, with high schools, with community-based organizations, and other folks really on the ground who know these students well, and who know how to find them and to help us identify these amazing people. QuestBridge scholars graduate at exactly the same rate as other students that are college partners so they really are top students who are genuinely able to thrive at these universities and colleges.
We’ve also had QuestBridge scholars, for example, become the student body president or leader of the student body in a number of our schools and a lot of them actually go on to serve on the board of trustees or other important roles in the university and many of them also have done a lot of work to improve the university’s ability to support students like them.
One more thing I would add is because we represent 42 schools right now, 42 colleges and universities, it makes our message an encouragement to apply to college through QuestBridge a little bit different than what any one college could do alone and so the student will apply to QuestBridge because they’ve heard of one school in our network or maybe two, but through education during the QuestBridge application process, they open their minds to other possibilities. Often, students will find their ultimate dream school just by the exposure to the network of 42 schools.
[Hannah] That’s a really good segue to talk a little bit about the student side of this process. Mark and I have covered the basics of the match process and talked about the generous scholarships that students can get but what else do students gain by organizing their college application process through QuestBridge, in your eyes?
[Anna] Yeah, sure, and the financial aid is really one of the biggest incredible benefits of applying through QuestBridge and again, thanks to the generosity of our college partners, they can get a full four-year scholarship, we often say worth over $200,000, which covers tuition, room and board, and additional expenses. So that’s a really huge one, of course.
The QuestBridge application also offers more opportunities than some of the other applications out there to really tell your unique story and we designed the application very early in our process of building QuestBridge around specifically this kind of student. So it is really tailored and customized to try to engage and enable our students to share the best of themselves.
Also, very practically speaking, college application fees, as you know, can cost up to $90 per school and so that can be very limiting. So through the QuestBridge application, you can actually apply for free to 42 schools. And finally, we share with our students that if you become a member of the QuestBridge community, first as a finalist in high school, and then later on as an undergraduate and a graduate of college, that you are entering and participating in a very robust and supportive community of peers, and of really exceptional peers who oftentimes become lifelong friends amongst each other.
[Mark] Over the last 25 years, you all have had a lot of successes and you’ve done a really amazing job making these connections between students, and then colleges and universities. What are the most persistent challenges that students face?
[Anna] Yeah, it’s a great question, and actually something that we encountered in the early years of QuestBridge, when we used to have a residential summer program at one of our colleges. We kind of were able to distill from those many years and lessons that we learned from our students and their families what we call the “five roadblocks” or the five questions that sometimes can stop a student from continuing on in the application process. So the first question is actually, do these colleges even want me? And that’s actually an interesting question that a lot of times, it doesn’t even occur to them that they would even be attractive candidates to colleges like our partners and so we try to make sure that they know that, yes, the colleges are very interested in you, and want you to apply, and want you to be successful.
And then the second question is just a straight, am I qualified? We have over 70% of our population every year is in the first generation to college so they’re first gen in their families. They often don’t have anyone in their immediate family, often even in their community or anyone close to them, that’s actually gone through the application process for a top college or a top private college and so they don’t realize just how qualified they actually are. I mean, you would be surprised. Sometimes the students are so amazing, and they don’t even know that they would be so appealing as college applicants to the best colleges in the country.
A third question, one of the central questions, roadblocks, is, can I afford it? And as you know, there’s a lot of information out there online and other sources that say that these schools are just too expensive and they’re not accessible just from a dollar perspective. So we really try to share information about the generous aid that our schools give, and show that these schools truly are affordable.
The fourth question is, how do I navigate the application process? And as I said, the majority of them are first gen so they just aren’t familiar with it. So we do a lot of coaching. We do a lot of teaching, even in the process of asking our applicants to do certain types of research, and we support them in multiple ways in the process of applying to college.
And finally, the fifth question– let’s say that you were able to kind of address all the other four– yes, the colleges want me, OK, maybe I’m qualified, maybe I can afford it, and maybe I have some of the mechanics of the application process. The fifth question is, well, if I get in, are there going to be people like me at these schools or am I going to be alone? I mean, is this a place I want to be? Do I even want to live on a campus like this for four years? So that’s where our community of undergraduates and alumni are so helpful and valuable to be able to share. Yes, I’m either at the school or I graduated from this school. And yes, it was a life-changing opportunity. And yes, you will find people that you can actually be authentic with and genuine with. And even though there will also be a wide range of other types of students who maybe are less familiar to you, that you’re not going to be alone. And not only does the school want you to succeed, but there are other students who you can relate to who also want you to succeed.
So those are the five. But I would say the other thing that’s worth saying here is that even though we’ve been doing this for 25 years, we still encounter, when we talk to students and they say, oh, we got your letter in the mail, or we got the postcard, or we saw something about QuestBridge and the opportunity that it provides to get a full scholarship at a school like Yale or our other partners, they often believe it’s just too good to be true. The word, is it a scam, that surprisingly happens more often than you might think after all these years, but it still happens and so thankfully, it’s not a scam. There are lots and lots of students who have been through the process. And so again, that’s where it helps to have the real people who’ve been through it to prove that it’s actually not a scam at all, and it’s something that’s really very much available.
[Mark] Anna, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, more importantly, for the great work that you and your team at QuestBridge do. We love being a partner with you all and it’s such a great asset for us to have a great partner in you and in the 41 other schools.
[Anna] Thank you so much. It’s really great to be with you and of course, we were very grateful for the partnership with Yale. It’s made such a difference for us as we’ve grown and developed. So we’re really grateful for all that you’re doing and all that you’re doing for these students, as well. So thank you.
[Mark] After hearing from Ana you can tell why we are proud to partner with QuestBridge.
[Hannah] Definitely. Working with QuestBridge highlights one reason that admissions work is really interesting. Not only are we getting to individual students and their unique stories and backgrounds, but we also get to deal with these really big issues and policy challenges.
[Mark] Right. I consider myself a policy wonk. I’m the kind of person who can get really excited about a line graph or a pie chart that shows increasing representation of first generation or low-income students. But what we love about our job is that every data point is a person. Our selection process, as you’ve heard us say before– it’s all about real individual people.
[Hannah] Absolutely. I have seen you get really excited about line graphs and pie charts. I can vouch for that. But the same values, the same reading process, the same committee process, everything we’ve covered in previous episodes applies to QuestBridge applicants, as well. So we decided to invite our colleague Corinne to talk a little bit about how we go about reading the QuestBridge application. Hi, Corinne.
[Corrine] Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
[Mark] We are thrilled to have you, Corinne. Corinne and I really are the duo that directs our QuestBridge partnership for the office. So we get really deep into our QuestBridge work every single year. The two of us probably read more QuestBridge applications than anybody else in the office. So Corinne, we thought you would be the perfect guest to really talk about what our reading process looks like when it comes to reading the few thousand QuestBridge applications that our staff will review every single year.
[Corinne] Absolutely. I love reading QuestBridge applications and honestly, it’s not that much different from reading other applications, when you think about it. Overall, the basic information in any application that Yale accepts, including that QuestBridge application, is the same. Each of our three application platforms is going to ask for a student’s personal information, family and background context, their extracurricular list, transcripts, class details, all that kind of stuff and we also receive letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors in any of our applications. So all that’s pretty standard across the board.
The big difference, and where I get excited, is in the QuestBridge application and their essays in particular, we get a bit more insight into the student’s story. We often learn more about the student’s background, context, family, neighborhood, and sometimes even challenges that they’ve faced growing up. Ultimately, the QuestBridge application shows the admissions committee how being from a low-income background really gets to shape the student’s identity over time.
[Hannah] Are your expectations any different when you open up a QuestBridge application or present one in committee?
[Corinne] That’s a great question. And honestly, generally no. But more specifically, we’re looking for the same things as all other applicants. We want to find students who are the best fit for Yale academically and socially and we are particularly looking for students who can both add to campus and will actively take advantage of the resources we have to offer. It is important to remember, though, that Yale is proudly affirmative for students from lower-income backgrounds. While QuestBridge isn’t the only avenue for these students to apply, when we do come across a QuestBridge application in our reading, we know that we’re looking at the student through the correct lens when we’re thinking about their application.
[Mark] What advice would you give to students who are completing the QuestBridge application?
[Corinne] Honestly, just say, be your authentic self. Write for you about what’s important to you, not what you think we want to see. This is really the same advice I’d give to any student. When it comes to QuestBridge in particular, we do often read about students’ hardships. That’s one thing to think about but the goal of this application, or any application, really should not be to catalog hardships or tug at our heartstrings. For some students, their socioeconomic status has really defined a lot of their life. And for others, it’s not that big a part of their story or what they feel is important to share with us, even if it has been a factor throughout growing up. So there’s no right or wrong answer or approach here. Really just tell your story honestly and completely.
[Mark] Yeah, and I know Corinne, you and I, having read so many QuestBridge applications, we’ve seen lots of different types of students really use this application platform successfully. They all have some things in common. They are all very bright and impressive students academically. They are all students who happen to be from households that have lower income and often lower socioeconomic status that goes along with that. But past that, there’s an amazing amount of diversity within that group and we’re not just looking for one particular type of student or one particular type of story from students who apply through QuestBridge.
[Hannah] So Corinne, as a self-admitted fan of our podcast, you know we like to talk a little bit about the Admissions Officer experience. So tell us a little bit about what you like most about reading and presenting QuestBridge applications.
[Corinne] Oh, I was waiting for a question like this. Thank you, Hannah. My favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to advocate for students in reading, but really in the committee process.  I think that the QuestBridge application lets me do this on a more consistent basis than any of our other application platforms. I also really love the way that our office and Yale as a whole treat our QuestBridge students. We’re so proud of having this group on campus and continuing to support our Quest scholars after they matriculate. And so it’s become a really vibrant community at Yale, with over 100 incoming “Questees,” as they call themselves, in each class. I’ve gone to those meetings. They meet regularly. They eat dinner together, and they host events.
So when I read a QuestBridge application, it’s a cool feeling to picture who that student would be at Yale, and to provide someone with an opportunity to come here on the best financial aid package that we can offer. And I like to think that once in a while, the work we do in Admissions can change or transform someone’s life in a positive way. And I think that with our partnership with QuestBridge, that’s a place where I truly get to see that happen each and every year.
[Mark] Awesome. Well, Corinne, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I hope to have you back for another episode sometime soon. And hey, thanks for listening. Someone’s listening out there. That’s great.
[Corinne] Definitely. Thank you all for having me. And I’m so excited to read many, many more of these QuestBridge applications and other applications this year.
[Mark] Well, we will be doing just that in just a few months, for sure. QuestBridge has really been a fabulous partner with us for 14 years now. As we’re wrapping up, there’s two final points that we want to make about what working with QuestBridge really does for Yale.
I think the first thing is what Corinne just said– it helps us to identify and respond to amazing students that make Yale better. It’s not just about Yale making their lives better. These students make Yale better. We believe that, and we see that in all the experiences that Corinne was just talking about.
[Hannah] That’s right. We want the best students, regardless of their ability to pay. We want the student body to reflect a diverse collection of experiences and our partnership with QuestBridge allows us to do this, and to make our undergraduate education better for everyone involved. Generous financial aid policies as well help a lot, but they aren’t, often, enough to overcome the significant barriers that many students face when applying. So QuestBridge really helps with that, as well.
[Mark] Right. I often describe this as we are really spoiled. We get to work for a university that has very deep pockets. We can provide great financial aid that really meets the need for every student. But we know that just having those policies– that alone doesn’t create the kind of diverse student body that you want. So this kind of partnership really helps us to attract these students and to respond to them, as well.
That brings me to the second point, which is that being a QuestBridge partner, it really helps expand the scope of our work. We spend a lot of time thinking about the Yale undergraduate experience, the Yale admissions process, but we know that we are operating in a much bigger ecosystem, that what we do plays a role in the larger questions about access and equity. And as an Admissions Officer, I’ve always said this– that it can be frustrating that the only kind of lever you have to pull is a yes or a no. You can say yes, a student is admitted, or no, they are denied. But sometimes, you’re frustrated that you can’t do more about the system that you’re operating in, that you’re seeing your applicants coming through, as well.
[Hannah] That’s right. But as a QuestBridge partner along with 41 other colleges, that means we kind of get to speak with one voice and help students consider a range of colleges with similar resources and priorities that they may not have otherwise considered.
[Mark] One of the nice things about QuestBridge is that when I see a student who’s applied through QuestBridge, I don’t know where else they’ve applied to, but I know they’ve at least gotten the message that Yale is not alone in offering this kind of great aid and in responding to these types of students in their applicant pool.
[Hannah] So if this has piqued your interest or you want to learn more, you can always check out questbridge.org and admissions.yale.edu/questbridge.
[Mark] We hope you’ll learn more. And thanks again for listening. Thanks as always to our friend and colleague Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great Admissions Officer. Thanks to former Admissions Officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You can check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for a future episode, you can drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
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Episode 8: Interviews

Episode 8: Interviews

Many applicants have an evaluative interview with a Yale student or alum as part of the application process. Hannah and Mark talk with Dara, the director Yale’s interviewing program, about how interviews work and what applicants can expect. They share do’s and don’ts for the interview and discuss how interview reports are considered in Yale’s holistic review process.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Hello and welcome back to “Inside the Yale Admissions Office.” I’m Hannah and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. Today’s episode is going to be all about interviews and we’re delighted to be joined by our friend and colleague, Dara! Thanks for coming on, Dara.
[Dara] Thank you for having me, everyone. I’m excited.
[Hannah] We are so excited to have you, Dara. Thank you for being here. Dara directs our interviewing program, so we thought she would be the obvious perfect guest to come on and talk a little bit about interviews.
[Mark] And in our office, admissions officers don’t typically conduct interviews, but we do read an awful lot of reports from students and alumni volunteers who conduct the interviews and Dara oversees thousands of people who interview students in those roles.
[Hannah] Let’s do a quick overview of that and how that works.
[Mark] Right. Like a lot of things, the way that we do things here at Yale is probably a little bit different than other schools but the basic advice that we’re going to provide you, the basic idea about why schools conduct interviews I think is going to be pretty similar anywhere that you’re applying.
[Hannah] The first thing, just to get this out of the way, interviews are actually not required for our admissions process. Not everyone gets an interview. There are students who get accepted every year who haven’t had an interview. We just don’t have the resources to offer an interview to every single one of our applicants so we tend to take the resources that we do have and make sure we get interviews for the students for whom they’re really going to help us.
[Mark] Right. And the interview itself is typically a 30 to 45-minute conversation. That conversation is unstructured, meaning that the person conducting it does not go in with a prescribed set of questions that we’ve given them and after that interview is over, what that person produces for us is a pretty unstructured report. They’re going to write up a few paragraphs, probably about what it was like to talk with that student for those 30 or 45-minutes.
[Hannah] Yep and that’s usually the last thing we actually read when we read an application. We’ve talked about the essays, we’ll do an episode soon about teacher recommendations. All of these come together, as you know by now, to form the full application. The interview is usually something that we read towards the end. And often, it comes, actually, after we’ve read the rest of the application because these interviews happen after a student submits their application.
[Mark] And Dara, you’ve probably seen more of these reports than any of us. How would you describe the role of that report in the admissions file for an applicant?
[Dara] Yeah. So the way that I like to think about it is that we see this application and there are a lot of things written about a student and we see a lot of numbers that are connected to the student, mainly on your transcript, but the interview itself is a spontaneous interaction with a member of our community. And it is just a really great way to see how all of these words, and numbers, and things that are associated with you come to life when somebody is talking to you.
[Hannah] I also feel like it’s our only opportunity to have a real spontaneous interaction with a student because we, as admissions officers, don’t get to meet every student who applies in person. So this is the closest thing that we get to that.
[Dara] Right. Exactly.
[Mark] So let’s talk about who does the interviews. Dara, you get to oversee all of these people in their roles. Who are these people? If I’m a high school senior, and I’ve applied, and I’m contacted for an interview, who’s going to be on the other end of the table, or the other end of the phone line, or the online virtual interviewing experience?
[Dara] Right. So we have two separate programs that help us interview students. In usual years, we have an on-campus program where we have college seniors who are part of our on-campus or senior interviewing program. So they’re going to be students who are obviously still in the middle of their Yale experience. Our other, larger program is our alumni interviewing program. And we have groups of volunteers all around the world in local communities who are there to interview our students. Those alumni range in age or a class year, we can have people from as early as 1950 or as recent as the 2019 or upcoming 2020 class of alumni.
So it really varies and the things that they’re doing after Yale really varies, their majors while they were on campus really varies. So we don’t try and necessarily match you up with that but what you are getting is somebody who is really dedicated to the Yale community even after they leave or while they’re on their way out who just wants to talk to some students.
[Hannah] What’s cool about that is you might have an interviewer whose interests align with yours, which is great and can often make for a good conversation. But more often than not, you’ll meet someone who has had a totally different path through college and life and the one you expect for yourself. And those conversations can be super valuable as well.
[Mark] Yeah. I think it’s good to point out why people sign up to do this. We have got thousands of alumni who volunteer for this and I want to make clear they’re not volunteering because they like raking high school students across the coals. They don’t see themselves as the guardians of our college. These students sign up– or, these alumni sign up– really for two reasons, in my experience and I think keeping them in mind can help you approach the interview in the right way.
They sign up because number one, they like Yale. I don’t think they would volunteer for their alma mater if they weren’t a fan of the experience. Secondly, they like talking to interesting high school students. I want to set this table for this early on. The people who are doing these interviews are often the most outspoken advocates for these applicants. They really do want to be on your side as an applicant who’s going to spend 30 or 45 minutes with them.
[Dara] Yeah. One other reason why, and this is often my favorite, is that some of our alumni, when they were going through the process, they had a really great alumni interview and for many of them, it was the tipping point or maybe the reason why they chose to come to Yale. And so some of them want to give back in that way and allow some other students to have that same experience or dispel myths the same way that happened to them years ago. And I always love that.
[Hannah] That’s awesome. Those are all really good points. I feel like if anyone is feeling nervous going into their alumni interview, those are all really, really good things to remember. Dara, do you want to talk a little bit about what common themes these interviewers are looking for, what we train them and ask them to look for when they do these interviews?
[Dara] Yeah, absolutely. There are few things that we’re looking for. One of the things that we talk a lot about is a sense of intellectual curiosity. And that is not what we find on your transcript, we’re not talking about letter grades, we’re not talking about SATs or ACTs. In fact, it’s best to just leave that out of the room in general. What they’re talking about is, what makes you excited? Do you want to talk about an experiment you just conducted and you just literally can’t hold it inside; you have to share it with somebody? That’s the kind of thing that interviewers love to hear. We also talk a lot about, what is it that you do outside of the classroom? So along the same lines, we’re not necessarily asking for you to list your resume or your accomplishments, we actually want to know the motivations behind these things. So why are you passionate about curling, let’s say?
[LAUGHTER]
[Dara] Why? We want to know how you got involved. How does it shape your life? How is it connected to the context that you are coming from? Those are the kind of things that are often hard to get when you’re just reading on paper, but they come to life when you’re sitting and you’re talking to somebody about it, even if you’re just walking them through it and just describing what it is that you do. I think, ultimately, what we tell our interviewers is, what was it like to sit with this student in a room for 30 minutes to 45 minutes? Is this a person that you would want to be a suitemate or that you would want to have a conversation in the dining hall with? And that does not mean, hey, is this person completely like me? And, I think that we’re going to be best friends.
It could be, well, we didn’t have a ton in common, but I could totally see them here. I can see somebody on campus really digging this activity that they do or something that they are interested in studying and they were able to talk to me about it, even though I didn’t understand it. And I think those are the kind of little things that we get better from having this conversation with people, rather than just trying to figure it out by reading it in your application.
[Hannah] Totally.
[Mark] Yeah. So let’s paint a picture for you, in terms of what this interview is actually going to look like. In advance of this, we did a little research of pop culture depictions of the college interview. And I will want to say every single one of them was completely wrong.
[Hannah] Right. Yeah. We did not find a good example in pop culture of how college interviews work. Let’s just go through a couple of examples, starting with one that our audience might be a little young for but we all know well, which is Risky Business.
[Mark] 1983. Young Tom Cruise. I need to state, for the record, a horrible movie, two great scenes that are worth watching. One is the college interview scene. The second and more important is the Tom Cruise dance scene.
[Hannah] Right. Iconic.
[Mark] Google that. It’s on YouTube. It’s fantastic. Skip the rest of the movie. But what you see in the interview scene, completely, totally wrong.
[Hannah] Right. All you need to know about this is it is not a good example of how to get into college or what you can expect from your Yale interview.
[Mark] Right.
[Dara] So true.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] The other references we found, Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls. I think both involve wood-paneled rooms and the dean of admissions individually interviewing the student. Also not how it goes.
[Hannah] I mean, in the episode of Gossip Girl when they come to visit Yale, they’re invited to a special social with the dean of admissions who asks a secret question and whoever gets it right, gets shortlisted. I mean, none of this is real.
[Dara] Oh, Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve just recently been watching Gilmore Girls and it was a little similar to that where the grandfather says to Rory, I’ve gotten you an appointment with the dean of admissions to interview and that is not– please do not go to the dean of admissions or financial aid and try and get a sit down with him for this. That is not how that works.
[Mark] I’ll have the Rory Gilmore special, please.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] Right, All of these are great entertainment but please do not take your college advice from any of these shows or movies and to the Hollywood execs out there listening, we are available to consult. We want you to have a more accurate depiction next time.
[Mark] So what you should picture, actually, is not the wood-paneled room, I want you to picture a Panera Bread or a Starbucks. That is where most of our in-person interviews occur. Although, a lot of our interviews happen virtually as well. And in the coming cycle, all of our interviews will be happening virtually. But when things happen in person, it is in a lovely coffee shop like that. I actually think that maybe Panera stock plummeted when we made the decision to go all virtual this year because we give Panera bread a lot of business with our alumni interviewing in person there.
[Hannah] The report has the interviewer list where the interview took place and Panera is for sure the top of the list, I think, in terms of locations.
[Mark] So when you show up at the Starbucks, or this Panera, or when you log on to Zoom to connect with this interviewer, what you’re going to have is a conversation. And I think if you think about this more in terms of a conversation than a sort of strict Q&A session, you’re going to be better prepared for it.
[Hannah] When I get asked, how should I prepare for my interview? What I tell students is if you can hold a conversation with a stranger for 40 minutes, you are all set. You are prepared. That’s really all you should go in expecting.
[Mark] Yeah. There are no trick questions. We’ll say that off the bat. No one will ask you, if you were a household appliance, what would you be and why? Like, all right, how many ping pong balls would fit inside a jumbo jet?
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] That is not what we’re asking our interviewers to ask. What are some of the typical questions, Dara, that interviewers frequently ask?
[Dara] Well, I would say they are really basic. And I think students are often surprised by the types of questions. And they might be, how do you like to spend your time outside of the classroom? Or who are you in your friend group? Or what do you think about college? We want to keep it as open as possible so that you can really steer the conversation towards the things that are important to you.
[Mark] Yeah. I mean, I think any student should expect– you’re going to be getting questions about yourself. Probably the best way to prep is just to think about what do I want to share with somebody who is genuinely curious about me. There were probably some questions that start with things like, can you think of a time when you blank? And so having in your mind a kind of catalog of experiences that you think were insightful, just interesting, say something about you is probably a good idea. I also think, pretty universally, interviewers will ask, towards the end of the interview, what questions do you have for me? And I would advise you to take advantage of that. Notice that they’re asking questions for me, which is different than questions about Yale. I know interviewers don’t really like when you ask a question that could be found on the website. This is not the time to ask, does Yale have a biology major? That’s not why you’re there.
[Hannah] We do, by the way.
[Dara] Two.
[Hannah] Right. So yeah. I mean, your interviewer can be a really great resource for you if you have questions about their experience at Yale, you want to hear a little bit more about that, go ahead and ask them. That’s what they’re there for.
[Mark] And they would be delighted to tell you. I mean, I think that’s one way to really get this person on your side is to say, I am interested in your experience. Again, it might have been the last year, it might have been 60 years ago but this person, I guarantee, was interviewing in part because they have fond memories of the Yale experience and a lot of them do like talking about it and appreciate a little chance to speak, themselves.
[Hannah] Totally. And we would advise that you stay within your comfort zone when it comes to sharing more personal information that might be a little bit sensitive. Anything you want to share, go for it. But if you don’t feel comfortable really opening up to this person, that’s fine too. Remember that we will review your interview along with the rest of your application, so it doesn’t have to cover everything in that interview report.
[Mark] Yeah, that’s a good point. We intentionally don’t give our interviewers a lot of information in advance. This might be different at different schools but for us, we want it to be really a blank slate. So we typically tell our interviewers where you go to high school, we tell them what you are thinking about majoring in, but we don’t tell them what your activities are, we don’t tell them what your transcript looked like, we don’t share your essays or anything like that because we want this conversation to be as natural as possible. And we want to ensure that the person who’s interviewing you is going to write up a report about the conversation. Their job is to give some insight into what it was like to talk with you, they’re not evaluating you as a person, they’re not even evaluating you as an applicant, they are just giving some insights about the conversation.
[Hannah] Right. And for that reason, please don’t feel the need to bring a resume to your interview or anything like that. You don’t need to show your grades and your test scores to your interviewer. We just want that to be focused on that more natural conversation. Let’s dive into just some general advice about anyone who’s preparing to do these interviews.
[Mark] We’re just going to go down the list here of like do’s and don’ts with your interview. So here’s a don’t. You don’t need to creep on your interviewer before your interview. And I say creep on because I have talked with a lot of interviewers who are genuinely creeped out by the fact that the student who showed up knew more about their professional experiences than they did.
[Hannah] Right. I mean, it’s only natural to want to get a sense of who’s going to interview you and that’s fine if you want to do a quick Google of their name. Don’t feel the need to show up and be able to recite this person’s entire life story to them or anything like that.
[Mark] Yeah. In fact, they’d probably like it if you asked them about it as well.
[Hannah] I’m sure they’d love to talk about it.
[Mark] Connected to that, though, a do is certainly to try to find areas of shared interest. I have read reports from interviewers who said, I am a physician and I came to my interview in scrubs from the ER, and this applicant talked about how she was passionate about medicine but never asked about my work. And that was a missed opportunity. So, by all means, find the obvious points of connection there with your interviewer.
[Hannah] Yeah. Another piece of advice, you do not need to dress up. How you dress doesn’t really matter. You should feel comfortable, you don’t need to wear a suit and tie or anything like that. If you’re coming straight from football practice, maybe hop in the shower first. But other than that, don’t feel the need to get dressed up for these interviews.
[Mark] OK. Another do here, do stay engaged. If you are in person, make sure that your cell phone is off, that you’re not getting texts that are coming in. If this is a virtual interview, maybe close your email and other things that might be buzzing so that the person who’s talking to you really does feel like you have their undivided attention.
[Hannah] Yeah. Close your door so your little sister doesn’t wander in and interrupt the interview and stuff like that. Here’s a don’t. Don’t feel the need to brag. Your job, again, we’ve mentioned this before, is not to impress this person with your accomplishments. Your interviewer isn’t really there to judge that about you. We’ll get all that information when we read your application. Again, this is just meant to be a conversation where you get to reflect a little bit on yourself.
[Mark] But do talk about things that have been a big deal for you, things that have been major commitments, special programs that you’ve been involved with, important leadership positions. The interviewer should hear about those things but they don’t just want to hear about the line item on the resume, they want to hear about your ownership of that activity. This is a great place to share with someone why you care about these things. And that might have been something that you really didn’t have space to share in the application. This is now the time to explain, hey, I know the admissions office is going to see I was on the cross country team for four years and I’m the captain. I’d love to tell you a little bit about what the team means to me and why I love going out and running with them. This person would love to hear that level of insight about your commitment.
[Hannah] I think the same advice that we’ve given in previous episodes about essays really applies here. Just be reflective. That’s really what we’re looking for when we’re reading about you, when we’re hearing about you, when we’re having a conversation with you.
[Mark] And one final do, it is a lovely thing to do to send a nice thank you email to your interviewer afterwards. Again, this person is probably a volunteer if they’re an alumnus or alumna and so just saying, “hey, thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate it.” That goes a long way for these people who are very busy and appreciate that.
[Hannah] All right. So should we talk a little bit about how we use these interview reports when they come to us in the admissions office?
[Mark] Yes. I think let’s divide this between how we do use them and how we don’t use them. Because, again, this is a place where I think people have some preconceived notions. So I think the best analogy that I’ve come up with, and admittedly it’s a bad analogy, comes from my high school physics class. And I have used this on students who are actually in physics classes and it checks out, so even though it’s been a long time.
Here’s my physics analogy. There is a concept in wave physics, something called constructive interference, and the idea of constructive interference is you can have multiple waves in the same field and if they have the same period, what happens to those waves is something called constructive interference. So instead of two or three waves all mixing together, you get one big wave, like these are reinforcing each other.
[Hannah] OK.
[Mark] I know. Sorry. Long-winded here. Stay with me.
[Hannah] I am getting there.
[Mark] So I like to think of the different parts of the application as different waves. And what you want is resonance, you want constructive interference. The best interview reports are the ones that really resonate with other parts of the file so that the person that I’ve met in your essays is the same kind of person I’ve met in your letters of recommendation, and that’s the same person who showed up with this disinterested third party, in the form of our interviewer, who didn’t know any of the other stuff. They are describing the exact same person. So I might learn something new but what I’m really getting is a reinforcement of the other parts of the application. So I say, I had a sense that this kind of person. And then this interview report really magnifies all of that together. So physicists out there, I apologize for what I’ve just done. But that’s how I always think about this.
[Hannah] I was skeptical when you started but it paid off. That totally–
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
[Dara] I actually understood that more than I understood any physics.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] There you go.
[Mark] Physics for admissions officers. We’re going to start a new online class.
[Hannah] There you go. Another thing that the interview really helps us with is to help answer the questions that we’re always thinking about when we’re discussing students in committee, which is, what are they going to get out of Yale and what are they going to bring to Yale? What are they going to contribute? And we get the answers to those questions in all different parts of your application, but the interview can sometimes really help with those.
[Mark] One of the other things that I like to hear from an interviewer is some local insights, some local pieces of context that maybe I, as an admissions officer, didn’t know about the area. And I know that this is one of the reasons why interviewers like to conduct interviews in their home area. Dara, what are some of the things that interviewers like to talk about in the applicants’ context that they might know about because they live close by?
[Dara] Sure. So there are a few things that I can think of. One of the things is just what certain extracurriculars mean in that local community. So I read for California, so I am fully up on the Key Club.
[LAUGHTER]
[Dara] But local interviewers can actually tell us how big of a time commitment this is in that particular area and often give us more information about which schools do X for Key Club versus other schools, so they tend to have a little bit more of a personal knowledge of that, especially when they have their own students, their own children going through the school system then or if they were growing up there.
Sometimes, just what’s happening in the community. I remember five or six years ago, there was a big gas leak in one of my communities in an area that I read and it came through a little bit on the applications. I saw a couple students mention it and a couple of counselors but it was really the interviewers who brought this up and really broke down in the interviews how this actually affected the community. So it’s nice having that almost insider information that they give us a little bit more of what it’s like to actually live in this community.
[Hannah] Another thing is that sometimes– or, often, I guess– a student will submit their application by January 1st, they’ve been working on it for a couple of months but they might not interview until mid-February. So stuff has happened in that month and a half since they submitted their applications. Should we talk a little bit about how we don’t use these interview reports in our process?
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] OK. You start.
[Mark] So we do not use interview reports to see how polished or charming you are. This is not like the cocktail party test. I think some people imagine that this is where I’m going to show off my soft skills and that I would ace that job interview for a big investment banking firm later on. And no, that is not what this is.
[Hannah] It’s also not the case for Yale that it’s a second round, or a second stage, or anything like that. It’s not that if you’re getting an interview, it’s because you’ve moved on to the next round and everything is going to then hinge on the interview report. We don’t really use them like that. We use them as getting extra information and reinforcing the other parts of your application. So don’t expect that your interview is your big opportunity to get in and it’s going to make or break your application. It’s not really the case.
[Mark] Yeah. I know that this can feel frustrating because we’re going to muddy the waters again for you here, but there are plenty of weak applicants who get really stellar interview reports. And those stellar interview reports don’t really bump them in. We’re still looking at the whole picture and we’re saying that’s great they had an awesome conversation, but that’s not suddenly the thing that makes them come in.
Similarly, there are a lot of really strong and compelling applicants who have very ordinary interview reports and that doesn’t hold us back. Like the other pieces we’ve talked about, it’s one piece of the puzzle. It’s wonderful when it adds. Frequently, though, it doesn’t move the needle very much for an applicant. As I was saying in my bad physics example, which I’ll remind you all of again, the best ones reinforce other parts of the application. It’s not about them standing on their own as the make-or-break piece of the application.
[Hannah] Exactly. So when it comes time to do your Yale interview, we hope that you get excited. We hope that– we understand that it might be a nerve-wracking experience but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as an opportunity to break away from the writing, and rewriting, and polishing that you did of your application and just have a natural, fun, interesting conversation with someone.
[Mark] And I want to remind you that our interviewers are not scary people. Dara, you work with more of these folks than any of us. How would you describe these people?
[Dara] Talking to all of these interviewers over the last few years, they are some of the loveliest people who genuinely want to talk to students and to hear about the things you’re doing. And frankly, for a lot of them, everything that you’re doing is amazing. So no one is going into this saying, I’m really just going to put it to this kid and– they just really want to talk to you and they really want to talk to you about Yale, which is a place that they love so much.
I remember hearing an interviewer on campus a few years ago who told me that the thing that he loved most about Yale was that they’re not only passionate about the things they do, they’re passionate about the things the people around them do. I’ve always just loved that line and I found it so true about our interviewers. They just want to hear about the things that you’re doing and they want to give you advice about the college process and hope that you go off into the world and do great things.
So keep that in mind as you are talking to them. They were once in a place, just like you, just trying to make a good impression.
[Hannah] I think that’s a pretty good note to end on.
[Mark] Absolutely. So go out there, crush your interview. You’re going to do great. Thanks, as always, to our friend and colleague, Jill, who is both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have questions for us or suggestions for a future episode, you can reach out to us at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 9: Recommendation Letters

Episode 9: Recommendation Letters

Every application to Yale includes three letters of recommendation – two from classroom teachers and one from a counselor. Admissions Officer Moira joins Hannah and Mark to share advice on selecting recommenders and tips for educators when writing on behalf of applicants. The officers share how effective letters can bolster and enhance an application, and they express their gratitude to the educators who write for their students.

[Mark] Hello and welcome to Inside the Yale admissions office. My name is Mark and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer and today we are joined by our friend and colleague Moira. 
[Moira] Hi, everyone. My name is Moira. I’m another Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And Moira, we’re delighted to have you here to talk about letters of recommendation. The episode today is primarily going to be for those educators who write for applicants but we’ll also give some advice about selecting recommenders and we will, as always, take you inside our reading and evaluation process.
[Hannah] Yep, all right. Let’s hit you with some quick facts about recommendations. Every applicant has three letters of recommendation, two from classroom teachers from core academic subjects and one counselor recommendation.
[Mark] And I want to start off just by saying yes, we really do read these.
[Hannah] We do.
[Mark] We do. In fact, they are my favorite part of the application. This might be because my mom is a teacher. I’m married to a teacher. I love teachers and I really love reading what they have to say about their students.
[Hannah] They can be super helpful. We spend a lot of time reviewing them. They can really tell us a lot about an applicant. And we are very, very grateful to the educators who take time to write these letters and especially to write thorough letters.
[Moira] Recommendation letters are one of those unsung parts of the job of being a teacher or a counselor. So we cannot underscore enough how much we appreciate it.
[Mark] Absolutely. They help us enormously. I know that as a teacher you might think that you are doing your student a favor by writing for them. You certainly are. But we really see it as an amazing professional courtesy that you’re doing to us to help us do our job better.
[Hannah] Definitely. So when we’re reading an application, teacher recommendations are usually towards the end of what we see so we transition from hearing from the student directly in their part of the application to hearing from the teachers and the counselor.
[Mark] And because it’s towards the end of the application reading process, we already know a lot about the applicant. We know about that applicant’s activities, we know about their academic interests and ambitions, we know their grades and we know what courses they’ve taken. We’ve already read a little bit from the students themselves. So Moira, can you tell our listeners a little bit about what we are looking for out of letters of recommendation?
[Moira] Absolutely. So the teacher recommendations can really talk to the contributions in the classroom, can talk to the student’s intellectual curiosity, talk to how the student might kick up the class discussion another notch. Sometimes teachers and counselors can maybe talk a little bit about the growth arcs, the resiliency, other things that may not come up in the application. We love hearing about community citizenship also and sometimes we get a little of that buzz around the school about the student from the recommendations and that’s great because that’s how the recommendations really help us to see, oh hey, this is a wonderful student or oh hey, this is a can’t miss student. They really fill in that buzz for us.
[Hannah] So let’s dive into a little bit of advice for applicants before we address all those educators out there.
[Mark] My go-to piece of advice here, very simple. Pick some teachers who know you and who like you.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] Like that’s it. Do not go into some three dimensional chess thing beyond that. Yale asks for two letters of recommendation from academic core subjects. We don’t have any special requirements about if you’re planning to major in one particular area or anything like that.
[Hannah] No special combination of it should be this and this equals that. No, right. The most important thing is that the teachers who you choose are going to sit down and write a thorough letter for you that can touch on some of the things that we just mentioned.
[Mark] Exactly right. You do want to ensure for Yale that it is a core academic subject. And for us that generally means history and social studies, English, foreign language, mathematics, or science. Certainly something like computer science or something that may not fall in there but it’s pretty close will make a lot of sense.
[Hannah] And then we also have an opportunity for your counselor to write a letter of recommendation. I just want to say that this isn’t required. I know that some students attend schools where they have a counselor who doesn’t know them or has a giant caseload and is unable to write a recommendation for every student. And that’s fine. But if you do have a college counselor in your school, try to get to know them. Try to get to know them and help them get to know you if they don’t know you already. So maybe you share a little bit about your college plans. Maybe you make sure that the counselor knows what you do around school and home and why you do it, why it’s meaningful to you.
[Mark] I often tell counselors that what we look for in their letter of recommendation is more of a bird’s eye view of the student’s role in that community. The teacher can tell us specifically about your engagement with a particular subject, how you worked in a classroom setting of maybe 15 or 20 or so students. We’re hoping that the counselor can sort of say, in our community of maybe 1,000 or 2,000 students here’s the impact the student makes. Here’s what people are saying about this student. Here’s how her presence is felt day to day around the school building.
[Hannah] Totally. Now, this is really important. At Yale, we are not interested in piling on supplementary letters of recommendation. We do not need a third teacher. We only want two. A letter from your coach or choir director or club sponsor doesn’t really tell us much that’s new so we don’t ask for those types of letters. If there’s a person who insists on writing for you, it’s fine to let them but please don’t feel like you have to ask those people.
[Mark] In the category of letters that really don’t add very much, I would also put the letter from some Yale alum who happens to know your parents and has met you once or twice, not very helpful.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] The best letters are from people who really know you well and can speak from their own personal experience getting to know you.
[Moira] More is not necessarily better in this case and you hear our voices. We are actual people who have to read these letters, so make them have an impact.
[Hannah] Totally.
[Mark] All right, so let’s talk about some advice to writers. Again, thank you. Thank you so much for the time and the energy that you put into writing these letters of recommendation. We really do read every single word of what you write so thank you for making these letters count. As I said, this is my favorite part of the application. It’s my favorite part even when the letters are sort of generic and not as personal as the ones we’re going to talk about in this advice. I still enjoy it, I have to say. I mean, it’s a little bit like kind of walking down the greeting card aisle at the store. It might be generic and might be cheesy but reading from people who are saying nice things about other people, it just makes my day. I can be in a grumpy mood and reading a letter of recommendation will always cheer me up.
[Hannah] It’s so wholesome.
[Mark] So thank you. Thank you again. You make me happy by saying nice things about your students. So I want to start with this image. I think this is maybe the best way to orient yourself as a writer. Imagine that your letter of recommendation is something that you are writing to a student’s upcoming teacher, a colleague of yours at your school in your school building. Think about what you could tell your colleague and think what that colleague might already know that really doesn’t need to be in your letter as well. I think the most valuable and perhaps surprising piece of advice I have about writing letters of recommendation is to keep your letter in the first person. We read a lot of letters that are in the third person. Understandably, you’re thinking I’m writing about this student. So I’m going to say the student does x, does y, does z. But what we really want is your impression. We want your first person perspective on interacting with that student.
My wife, as I mentioned, is a teacher. She happens to be a history teacher, so we talk a lot about primary sources in our house and I like to think of letters of recommendation as primary sources. My analogy here is that the application is a little bit like a document based question. Those of you who are in an AP history class, you’re used to writing DBQs and every document in a DBQ is a primary source, which means it’s written from the first person perspective of someone in an historical moment.
That’s what a letter should be. It should be you as an educator writing in the first person about your impressions and your experiences. It’s going to showcase your point of view. And by giving some insight into who’s writing the letter, you’re going to avoid the sort of omniscient narrator style of the letter where it just completely sort of seems like it’s stating the facts and we don’t have a great sense of exactly how that relationship is developed.
[Hannah] Right, right. Sometimes there can be a little too much distance between the writer and the subject so we’re not saying that you need to spend half of the letter sharing your credentials. You don’t need to feel the need to do that but even if it’s your first year teaching, your point of view here is valuable.
[Mark] Yeah, so here’s some quick examples that I pulled from letters from a few years ago. Names are all changed here. This is a third person presentation of some superlatives for a student Steven is brilliant. A driven, energetic young man with a bright future. He combines a fierce desire to succeed with an inborn talent.
[Hannah] Good for Stephen.
[Mark] Yeah.
[Moira] Yeah, that sounds great.
[Hannah] I probably could have written that about Stephen though.
[Mark] Sure. Exactly right.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Exactly right. I don’t have any sense of how, why, or what made those impressions. I’m just getting Stephen blank, blank, blank. So here’s an example of a style of letter writing where I feel like the narrator, the recommender is really reliable. I’m really understanding where he or she’s coming from.
[Hannah] Jenna has always kept me on top of my game. Week one when she took the pre-test before we covered anything in US history at all and she passed, I knew I was going to have to do more to challenge and engage her. She was constantly reading, researching, and staying after class to grapple with complex ideas. To find a student who enjoys learning this much is always a dream for a teacher but it also made me better. I can’t describe how much better she made me as a teacher and how much better I knew my content in preparation for Jenna entering my classroom every day. That’s the kind of letter that makes me think, wow this student could be a really great addition to our seminars and our classes or just conversations over a meal in a dining hall.
[Mark] And I think it’s a great example of how the specifics are so much more powerful than the superlatives. We read among our applicants things like “one of the best” a lot.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] It’s a nice thing to say but that’s not all that helpful as we are trying to get to individual applicants.
[Hannah] Right. I mean, even if you say this is the best student I ever had, we want more than that. We want to know what about the student’s experience made her one of the best. Was it just that she got high scores or can you give us some more specific examples here?
[Moira] I love thinking of examples like, Alex wasn’t the loudest student in the class but when he raised his hand, you could see everyone around the classroom or the Zoom room as it is now kind of dialing in a little bit more, taking notes because we knew every time that Alex would kick up this discussion and that’s the thing. There’s an assumption that, oh well, the student has to be an extrovert. Nope. There are ways that all types of students positively impact the classroom.
Another great example would be someone saying something along the lines like, Sophia is an incredible asset to the class. She’s the one that I wouldn’t even have to ask to help others around her. She would just do it naturally and approachably and she would do it not because she was getting extra points or anything like that, but she just wanted to make sure that others understood the material like she did, others enjoyed the material like she did. Sophia is the one who brought extra articles, made a game, she made it a better classroom environment for everyone. Those are the kinds of letters that help us, the ones that talk about that positive impact in the classroom.
[Hannah] Yeah, as many specifics we can get about the student’s impacts, personality in the classroom is really helpful. What’s less helpful is if a teacher or a counselor is just sort of rehashing what we already know about a student. So for example, we do not need you to list out all of their extracurricular activities. The student has already provided that for us.
[Mark] I can always see this paragraph from a mile away.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Almost literally because it always has the capital letters. It’s nearly always the third or fourth paragraph in the letter and I can tell that it’s just going to be what I already know because I can see capital P, president of the capital F, French club.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] Et cetera, et cetera throughout the sentences. We already know all of these things about the student by the time we get to your letter.
[Hannah] And it might be because it’s filler but I know that it’s not so much about the length. Again, it’s about the content. If we already have the information somewhere we don’t need it again.
[Moira] Yeah. That said, if you have something to add in terms of color about why that student is engaged in an activity, is it a really big deal at the school? Does the student’s excitement or commitment really come through to you? Has the student’s commitment to that activity changed things in the school environment? That sort of thing can certainly be helpful.
[Mark] Right. And if you are the faculty member who is the sponsor of an extracurricular organization or if you’re a counselor and you’re aware of the impact of this activity, by all means tell us about it. So I actually pulled an example out of my favorite instances where a teacher talked about how a commitment was really special and gave us some specifics that weren’t available in the rest of the application. OK, so here goes.
Jessica has taken it upon herself to make the school more interconnected. Last year she was able to bring a diabetic specialist to students when we were learning about diabetes as well as a rheumatologist to our science olympiads to discuss the immune system with them. For her magnum opus, she wants to build a career day. She knows our school has never achieved more than four speakers at one time so to help her out, she led the science Honor Society to pick up the slack. This is way more than what I asked of them. She already has six speakers lined up, including a surgical nurse and a rocket scientist.
[Hannah] That positive impact comes through so clearly.
[Moira] Yeah.
[Hannah] I love that the teacher calls it her magnum opus, like really lending some real impact to that story.
[Mark] Absolutely. I think with the student, all I knew was that she was president of the Science Olympiad. She had not written about this in other parts of her application. That’s something that we see plenty of times. But this is where I got those details and it had made such an impression on the teacher. I was happy to get those added in there.
[Hannah] Another thing that can be helpful for us to get from recommendations is a sense of how this student interacts with their peers. So a common committee question that can sometimes come up is is there any sense of peer engagement in this file or just does the student play well with others?
[Mark] Yeah, it doesn’t need to be in the letter but it certainly can be relevant, especially if it’s an asset for the student. And in some cases, it can feel conspicuously absent if we’re not seeing it in any part of the application. And I’ll say helping other students is great, particularly if this is a very bright student who’s tutoring others but even better from our perspective is someone who really can work with others, who can learn from others, who can champion others in the classroom. So if you have insights into those kinds of dynamics, we would love to hear about them.
[Hannah] Yeah. Remember, we’re looking for hints at what the student might be at Yale, who they might be at Yale, and who they might be to others at Yale. So those kinds of things really jump out at us.
[Mark] Here are a few areas to be especially mindful when you are writing your rec. Recommendations in our experience, can frequently raise some concerns that aren’t present in other parts of the application. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and we really appreciate your honesty and sometimes we will follow up if something is not clear. So there’s a reason that letters of recommendation ask teachers to give their email address. We often times reach out if something seems a little bit murky or just does not square with other parts of the application.
[Hannah] Yep. And we also just want you to be mindful of not sort of throwing up flags when you don’t mean to. So speculating about the details of a challenge that a student is going through if you’re not sure of them or projecting a student’s mental or emotional state. Steer clear of that kind of thing.
[Mark] Yeah. I think sometimes we find ourselves getting really confused when a teacher says, I think something was going on. I’m not quite sure. Or I have a feeling. We want your perspective but try to stick to the things that you really are certain of if you’re writing that on behalf of a student.
And if a student has shared some challenging details of an experience they’ve been through outside of the context of asking you for this letter of recommendation, I would advise you to connect with that student and say, are you comfortable with me sharing this background information that I have, yes or no? It might be very helpful for you to incorporate that context but a student may also say, I really would prefer that you not discuss that in the letter of recommendation.
[Hannah] Right.
[Moira] I really do enjoy reading these letters of recommendation because it’s one piece of this whole puzzle that we’re trying to put together and it’s incredible what comes out of some of the letters of recommendation that you almost think, wow. The student didn’t mention this at all. I’m so glad that the teacher or the counselor let me know about this because this is pretty cool or this is pretty impactful or, wow, does this student even know how incredible this is?
[Mark] And as we talked about before, there’s no point system. We are not looking for some rubric that’s going to say, well, this teacher said this or this teacher said that. It is also not simply a sort of seal of approval where if you just write and say, no concerns that that’s what we’re looking for. These can really give us more insight about the student and back to the bad physics analogy I used in our last episode, we want to see that there’s some constructive interference between what’s happening in the letter of recommendation and the other parts of the file.
So when this goes well, towards the end of the application reading, we pick up one of these letters and we say, ah yes. This is the same person that I met before. I can see that this is how the student has been making an impact in her classroom and in her school community and I’m not at all surprised to see that the people around her are writing these kinds of wonderful things about her.
[Hannah] Absolutely. And as a writer of a letter of recommendation, you are, of course, doing your students a great favor and a great service and in taking the time to do that. But you’re also doing as admissions officers a huge favor.
[Moira] Seriously.
[Hannah] It’s such a wonderful professional courtesy to a colleague in education and we really appreciate the time that goes into these thoughtful letters.
[Moira] Again, it’s one of those unsung parts of being a teacher or being a counselor and know that we read these letters and know that we really value these letters and the time that goes into writing them. So thank you.
[Hannah] Moira, thank you for coming and joining us on the podcast today.
[Moira] Oh, thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun and I’m so glad that we got to talk about recommendations because I really love them too.
[Hannah] Well, we’ll have to have you back soon.
[Mark] Thanks also to our friend and colleague Jill, who is both our sound engineer and great admissions officer. Thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are mine and Mark’s and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 10: Supplementary Materials

Episode 10: Supplementary Materials

Applicants to Yale who have highly-developed artistic talents or experience with advanced STEM research have the option to include supplementary material with their application. Admissions Officer John joins Hannah and Mark to discuss Yale’s evaluation process for these submissions. Although most successful applicants do not submit supplementary materials, the officers share how evaluators rate submissions and who can benefit from including an arts or STEM supplement with the application.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] I’m Mark, I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And today we are joined again by our friend and colleague, John.
[John] Hi there, I’m John and I am also a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] John, thank you so much for joining us today. We are going to be talking all about supplementary materials. And we thought you’d be a really good guest for this because you are, I’m just going to say it, pretty talented yourself.
[John] Well, thank you.
[Hannah] So, we feel like you’re going to be good at sort of talking through what it is we’re looking for when students submit supplementary art, music, dance, film.
[Mark] Those are the different things that students can submit as artistic supplements to Yale. We also allow students to submit STEM research. And we’ll talk about that here as well. Now, these are called supplementary materials for a reason. They are not required. I think one of the easiest questions we get asked is, are our supplementary materials required? Nope. It’s right there in the name. They are supplementary, not required. Just want to make clear, the overwhelming majority of students who are admitted to Yale, they do not submit supplementary materials. Our guidance about this is to think carefully before submitting supplementary materials. The reason for that is that these are not simply an add on to the application. You shouldn’t think about this as a matter of sort of adding points up on a rubric. It’s called supplementary because the review of your submission is supplementary to the process you’ve already heard us talking about.
In order for this to really make a difference for an applicant, the activity that is associated with the submission needs to be a really core component of the applicant’s file. We need to read the other parts of the application and say, oh wow, I can see that dance or music or film or art is a really big part of the student’s life. It would be helpful for me in presenting the student to the committee to get some insight about what that student’s level of skill and background is from someone who really knows what they’re talking about.
And reminder, we are very deliberate about what we ask for in the application. Every single thing that’s in the application is in there for a reason. And even for students who are submitting a really strong supplement, the core part of their review is going to focus on the elements of the application that are the same for everybody.
[Hannah] That’s right. And just throwing more and more information at us is not necessarily a good strategy for you. If you are really passionate about one of these things and there is a category for you to submit a supplement, go on and go for it. But it’s not going to help your average applicant to just send us a bunch of extraneous material.
[Mark] Yes, I know that there are some folks out there who sort of think that the way they’re going to stand out is by saying, I’m not going to worry about this silly old application, I’m going to submit a bunch of different stuff. I’m going to pull an Elle Woods on you.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] And give you something that you didn’t ask for. That is not advisable.
[Hannah] Right, what ‘s it hard? No. That’s definitely not how you stand out in our process. And if you’ve listened to our other episodes about application essays, you know that we are super, super deliberate about the questions that we ask you. So, just keep that in mind.
[Mark] Some applicants do occasionally submit links to things that are outside the application. It might be a video or a personal website. I will just say, we rarely review these things because we find that we don’t usually have a reason to review them. Again, we’re focusing on the essential sort of core elements of the application.
I will make a quick note that there is one application platform that Yale accepts, it’s called the Coalition Application and this does allow students to submit a sort of multimedia artifact from their time in high school. So, if you do have something that kind of doesn’t fall into one of these categories, at Yale we’ve used the Coalition Application as a way for students to submit something to the admissions committee that’s different than a piece of writing.
[Hannah] Yep. And we’ll focus a little bit more on who should submit things and how submissions are reviewed rather than the technicalities of submitting in this episode. You can find all of that on our website.
[Mark] John, could you give a sense of, in your experience, who benefits the most from submitting a piece of supplementary material with their application?
[John] I think supplementary material really makes sense for those students that have exhibited really, really consistent dedication to one kind of craft. Our pool is filled with students that have spent a lot of time for things like music, athletics, art, maybe even film or dance. But there’s a small subset of students for whom this is such a big part of their lives that a review of how significant that talent is really crucial to our understanding of their identity as an applicant but also as a person.
So, especially for those students for whom they’ve been spending a lot of time on weekends kind of practicing or attending festivals, students that have invested significant time and energy into independent study. The supplementary material is going to be a way to demonstrate to the admissions committee what contribution they might make to the Yale community.
[Mark] Yeah. And I know that this is sort of a complex, nuanced point, because we’re trying to say, this has to be a big deal for you but I want to emphasize it’s not the only thing that’s going for an applicant, right? We have to see that the student is academically strong and that they have put forth a compelling application along all the other dimensions that we have talked about. Again, we want to sort of be ready in the admissions committee discussion about the student to advocate for them along all of our dimensions and we are interested in that sort of saying, and one of these extra ones could also be that the student is really sort of impressing one of our outside reviewers.
[Hannah] Yeah. And let’s talk a little bit about those outside reviewers. So, we as admissions officers are not listening to your music submission or going through your art portfolio. We send them out to the people at Yale who would actually be working with you as a Yale student. And Yale really has a very rich and diverse art scene. I mean, I don’t know John, you were very involved in that as a Yale student and you probably submitted a music supplement as a Yale applicant before you were an admissions officer. So, I don’t know. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
[John] Yeah, I did. I mean one of the reasons why I was so interested in Yale as a high school student was this is a community where students that are incredibly dedicated to artistic pursuits and really interested in receiving a deep intellectual education can kind of marry the two. So, I was really excited that I had the chance to submit a flute supplementary material to the admissions office because this is a way for me to demonstrate not only why I was interested in Yale as a place to study four years, but also to hopefully show the admissions committee that I was very dedicated to this crowd.
[Mark] And we know that our faculty who are running these programs have a real interest in ensuring that we have really strong ensembles and strong players across the board. And so we look to them for their expertise. We don’t just want to say, oh, we’ve admitted a bunch of students who said on their resumes that they were really, really involved in these areas. We know that they’re professionals. And so they can give us a sense of really what a student’s contribution to their particular area might be.
I want to make clear, these are not strictly connected to majors. This is probably going to be different at a lot of other schools. But at Yale even though we have fabulous arts programs, we aren’t specifically saying, you have to be telling us that you want to major in this area for your supplement to matter. And the faculty similarly are not saying, well I would want this student if she were going to major in my area. We know that our students can make contributions, in the arts especially, regardless of what their academic path is.
[John] Yeah. Some of you may be at home thinking oh, I’m also really interested in potentially applying to art schools for a BFA in music or something like that. This is actually not that, rather this is a way to show the admissions committee in addition to whatever my academic interests are, here’s also a really deep seated extracurricular interest. So, we have people intending to study political science or accredited mechanical engineering, chemistry, or maybe music submitting supplementary materials.
[Mark] Exactly right. And that’s a great segue to talk about the ratings that our faculty reviewers give. So, we wanted to give you an idea of the feedback that we get. Again, we’re not listening to your music tape, for example, we’re sending it out to a faculty member. And by the way, that faculty member is not reading your essays or looking at your transcript or anything like that. They’re just listening and then giving us some input. And here’s an example of one of the ratings that they might give back to us for an applicant.
[Hannah] Yeah, so for music the top rating that we would see is that this is a performer or a composer who is so accomplished that they may well be considered for admission to the finer US conservatories or music schools, and might be judged to have the potential for a career as a professional musician as evidenced by the exceptional maturity and artistic qualities of their audition samples.
[Mark] So, that gives you an idea of the sort of tippy top and we do have these students in our applicant pool. We are really fortunate that students who are so talented and so dedicated do apply every single year. We give our faculty a five point scale. That’s the top one.
In the middle is one that’s essentially saying, this is a strong player. We think that this person could really fill a core position in one of our many music ensembles. And then down at the bottom is really a rating that says, this really doesn’t merit any special consideration. And if you’re wondering, OK, then what happens next? That’s really it. So, we get that piece of feedback back from our faculty, sometimes they’ll give us some additional sort of comments about what they thought was strong or weak about the submission. But that then is incorporated into the exact same admissions committee process that you’ve heard us already talk about.
[John] And in the admissions committee we receive that piece of information, but even though sometimes there’s kind of a rating attached to it, that is not an automatic yes or an automatic no.
[Hannah] Right.
[John] In the same way that in the room we’re talking about the letters of recommendation, the wonderfully thoughtful pieces of writing you submitted. This additional piece of information, which gives us a sense of what kind of contribution you might make to our extracurricular scene, is then kind of incorporated into everything else.
[Hannah] Yeah. And another thing that’s important is that it’s not like we’re operating on any sort of quotas here. It’s not like we require 10 saxophonists at a time on campus or any like that.
[John] That’s a lot of saxophonists.
[Hannah] Yeah, I mean, so I think that’s sort of a common misconception is that we’ll be looking for certain kinds of talent.
[Mark] And I’ll go ahead and bust one of my favorite myths out there, which is that if you start specializing in the flugelhorn or something like that at age six that’s going to be your way into Yale. And I want to make clear that is not the case.
[Hannah] Yes, correct.
[John] Alexa, what is a flugelhorn?
[Mark] We’ve been talking about music, let’s shift gears quickly. Let’s talk about art. Like music, art is reviewed by our art faculty. And they have told us what it is that they’re looking for. Again, we didn’t come up with this in the admissions office. The music faculty, art faculty have said, when I’m looking at a submission, here are the things that are important to me and are going to help me decide sort of how big of a contribution I think this person could make to my scene on campus.
[Hannah] Yes. So, in particular they’re looking for a mix of technical skill, creativity, and the potential to grow and thrive in Yale’s art program.
[Mark] And that element of fit is something that I want to highlight here. It may be that you are very, very accomplished artist. But maybe the medium that you work in isn’t taught by any Yale faculty. Maybe it’s the kind of thing where you won’t really be able to contribute to the existing community here. And that could change the faculty’s evaluation of it. And that’s an important point here. This entire process is not simply about pinning laurels on students, right? We’re not running a music competition, we’re not running an art competition. We’re looking to our faculty to give us some insights about this particular student’s background and how it might contribute.
[Hannah] So, with visual art, again, we get a set of ratings on a scale of one to five. The top rating is that this student’s work shows tremendous technical skills while also displaying an excellent sense of imagination and creativity. They have a great potential to be an outstanding student and practicing artist or designer. This student would surely be admitted to the top art schools in the country.
[Mark] So, you can see some similarities there to the previous top rating we were talking about with music. Again, in the middle here is a rating where a faculty member might say, this student’s work is really promising. It’s likely that they would do very, very well in art classes at Yale. And then towards the bottom they say, no special consideration for me there.
[Hannah] All right, let’s talk about dance.
[Mark] Yeah, dance submissions are a relatively new option for our applicants. They’re reviewed by the head of our dance program, which is now part of our theater and performance studies major. There’s a wonderful Yale faculty member who has really sort of built Yale’s dance program from the ground up. And so she has helped to develop what her evaluation process will be like. And she’s explained to us that she’s really focused more on technique than on choreographic creation.
[Hannah] Yeah. So, the top rating there is a student with exceptional and promising talent, exceptionally high quality pre professional training, could dance professionally in a top tier company with the potential for admission to top conservatories.
[Mark] And, again, in the middle is someone who’s exhibiting really solid technical proficiency, has the potential to be an engaged participant in various dance studios, and also part of the big student led dance community on campus and will go all the way down to submission sort of merits no special consideration.
[John] This might be a good opportunity to just note that your ability to pursue any of these artistic disciplines as an extracurricular activity is not at all contingent upon submitting one of these materials.
[Hannah] Yes, good point.
[Mark] So, a lot of our dancers on campus and many of them who are very talented didn’t actually submit a dance supplement, right? So, you don’t have to be submitting any of these supplements to engage in that scene.
[Mark] That’s a great point. Right, this is not an audition either. Even if you get the top distinction from one of these faculty members, you will still be going through an audition, maybe for something like the Yale Symphony Orchestra or working your way up to more advanced classes in the art department. It’s not like you suddenly have an in. And in fact, it’s important that our faculty reviewers really do not know much about you before or after they evaluate your submission.
[Hannah] Yeah, it’s a blind review actually. They don’t see your name, they don’t know anything about you, they’re just evaluating the work. And then finally sort of in the arts category we also accept submissions for film.
[Mark] The review here is going to focus really on a student’s technical skills and creativity more than production resources. I have had students who have gotten enthusiastic film review ratings back who are working with very sort of basic equipment but they have a good sense of storytelling, they’re using different skills, and the reviewers are very impressed with their creativity.
So, the top rating here says the student’s work shows tremendous technical skills while also displaying an excellent sense of imagination, intelligence, and creativity. The student would surely excel at top film programs in the country. In the middle, again, a sense of a student showing promise. And then also at the bottom sort of no special consideration. So, you can see the sort of range of feedback that we get.
[Hannah] All right, so any other sort of general advice on submitting these music, dance, film materials that we should go over before we move on and talk about science and engineering supplements?
[John] Yeah. I think sometimes students will be sitting at home wondering, I’m having a tough time deciding whether I should be submitting one of these or not. And as someone that went through the process of submitting supplementary material, I think some of the best guidance we might be able to provide is the idea that pulling together supplementary material is a significant investment of time and in some cases financial resources. And so if the idea of pulling together music recordings, or a series of slides of your artistic work, or a film piece is not already part of your artistic narrative, then your commitment and/or talent in that craft might probably not be at the level where you’d want to submit the material.
[Mark] Right. And I think on a future episode we will talk about how we look at the activities list. And I want to make clear, your commitment and dedication to the arts as a high school student may still be something very noteworthy even if your sort of level with that craft is not ready for sort of discerning review from a college faculty member. Hannah and I were both enthusiastic high school musicians. We were not nearly the level of John.
[John] No.
[Mark] No one wanted to listen to our recordings.
[Hannah] Definitely not.
[Mark] It would not have helped our cases. But for both of us, a sustained commitment to the arts was a big part of our experience. And we sort of proudly included that in both of our applications I’m sure.
[Hannah] Yes, definitely.
[John] If you end up submitting music, art, dance, or film supplementary material our office will also ask you to fill out an arts supplement questionnaire. This is just a series of questions that asks for more information about your submission. And you honestly shouldn’t feel any pressure to write a novel or two in response to these problems.
[Hannah] Yes. So, just a disclaimer, not every submission that we get actually gets to the stage of being reviewed by a faculty member. Remember that your admissions officer just first read on your file. And if I, as your admissions officer think wow, this is a really strong and compelling file and the art or music or dance or film is a really big part of the student’s story, I might send that off for a review because I want to make sure that I can advocate in the committee room with the most and best information possible for you.
[Mark] Yeah, to paraphrase an old line that admissions officers I’ve heard using a lot of different settings, a strong supplementary material submission can heal the sick but not raise the dead. If your application is just not strong on the sort of core dimensions, a review from a faculty member even if they are jumping out of their shoes is not going to change the underlying dynamics of the file. So, if it’s a file that is very strong but maybe it’s missing that one thing that’s going to separate it, something like this could be the separator that really helps to bring it to the table and have a more compelling conversation about it.
[Hannah] That’s right. And I feel like we sort of say this about every part of the application that we talk about on this podcast, no one thing is necessarily going to sort of make or break the case. But put all together they can make a really compelling story.
[Mark] All right, let’s shift gears to something similar but different. Also in the category of supplementary materials STEM research. This is for students who’ve done some significant math, science, or engineering research outside of the regular high school coursework. We want to give them the opportunity to submit some of that information in something that we call the STEM research supplement.
[Hannah] That’s right. So, there are three parts to the STEM research supplement. There’s a form that you fill out that gives us a little context about where you went about this research, how involved you were. A letter of recommendation from a research mentor. And either a poster, abstract, or full paper detailing your work.
[Mark] And you might be wondering, why do we ask for this? Are we just being mean for scientists and engineers, they have to do extra? No, we do it because we know that research can take many different forms. We want to get a better idea of your specific experience. And we want to understand your specific contributions to a project, right? Science research is collaborative. It involves teams of people working together on a project. And so we are interested in understanding what your specific contributions have been. It is not about assessing how good you were at doing western blots. I’ve learned that from reading, that’s a thing.
[Hannah] Very good.
[Mark] From STEM supplements. And it’s also not determining about if your research project fits in sort of perfectly with a similar research project that’s happening at Yale.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] We know that you’ll probably change your mind about what kind of research you’re doing, the specific thing that you’re spending your time with. But we want to learn about what you’ve done so far.
[John] Yeah. I think kind of similar to the art supplements, we asked for this not because this is a way for you to prove your interest in STEM. You can just tell us about that in your writing. If you already have research going on, is a great way to tell us a little bit about it. But this is not your opportunity to say, hey, there’s this STEM research supplement I can submit to Yale, let me go just start a project essentially.
[Mark] Exactly.
[Hannah] Right. We want to give students who are very serious about this an avenue to tell us about it.
[Mark] Exactly.
[Hannah] So, let’s break down those three parts of this STEM research supplement starting with the form that you fill out. This is a really simple form. It does not need to be beautifully, eloquently written. We just are looking for some extra information. On this form we ask you about the context of your research. So, how did you get involved? Did you come up with a hypothesis or did you help out with an existing project? And what sort of help did you receive? You can also let us know if your paper has been submitted or accepted for publication. One is not better than the other, there are no wrong answers here. We are just looking for the background.
[Mark] And I’ll talk about my favorite part of these submissions, which is the letter of recommendation from your mentor. This isn’t required, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s strongly recommended because it’s typically the most helpful piece of the puzzle for us. Your research mentor can tell us a lot about your level of involvement and contribution to the work and can give us a good idea of how you might contribute to similar labs on our campus.
And the person who writes the best letter of recommendation is going to be the person who has worked most closely with you. In some cases this is not the PI of your lab, it’s not the principal investigator who might be overseeing dozens of different projects and lots of different college students and graduate students and high school students all together. It might be that you are working closely with a grad student, say that person will actually write the most helpful letter of recommendation for you.
[Hannah] Yeah. And the content of that letter is much more important to us than the title of the person.
[Mark] Exactly.
[Hannah] And then in terms of the research itself, this can be in the form of a poster, an abstract, or a full paper. Basically whatever you have on hand, whatever is the most sort of polished and finished product that you have. We’ve also seen some maker portfolios from students with serious engineering experience, that’s fine too. So, whatever form your research has taken, we’re happy to look at it.
[Mark] Right. And Hannah is a member of our office’s STEM review team.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] Because we don’t send these off to faculty. Our first review was done by admissions officers. So, Hannah give us a sense of what you and your team are looking for.
[Hannah] Yes. So, I am clearly not an expert in every single science field that is taught at Yale and neither are the other people on my team of reviewers. But what we are experts in and what we’ve been sort of trained to look for is finding markers of students who really have the potential to be great STEM students at Yale. And we’ve been doing this long enough that we know when your experience in high school can translate really well to a Yale lab or Yale experience.
[Mark] And when we get to the committee process, we often have STEM faculty in there. And I have sort of learned over the years that they speak this language.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] Not just the language of your abstract or research paper, but also the language of the letters of recommendation. They’ve written a lot of these, they’ve worked with a lot of different types of students. And so I find their insight and committee to be really helpful to say, yep, I can see what this person is communicating to me about how sort of extraordinary or ordinary this student’s contributions to their lab were.
[John] I know that as an area admissions officer sometimes I’ll reach a STEM supplement. And it’s really nice knowing that there’s a team in our office that specifically is trained to read the things you’re writing about, where I might feel a little bit less familiar with the jargon, like western blot.
[Hannah] Yeah, right. Exactly.
[Mark] I, for the record, have no idea what a western blot is.
[Jon] Neither do I, Mark.
[Mark] I just know it’s a thing.
[John] Alexa, what is western blot?
[Hannah] All right. So, to wrap up we’ll leave you with a few final pieces of advice. We also want to note that we do accept creative writing samples from students who have a very clear commitment to the craft. And these are reviewed by the admissions staff and potentially a faculty member. But just a reminder, your personal statement is the most important writing sample in your file. This is not an invitation to just add a bunch of essays that you’ve written for class or anything like that. We’re really saying if you have creative writing that’s been recognized maybe at the National level or something like that you could submit a piece to us.
[Mark] Right. Again, you should imagine an admissions officer reading the other parts of your application and learning enough to say, oh wow, creative writing is a big part of this guy’s life. I want to read more about that and maybe ask someone who works with creative writers at Yale to review their work.
[Hannah] And then I also just want to touch on extra letters of recommendation. With the exception of that mentor letter from your STEM research that we were talking about, which can be really, really helpful and sometimes the most important part of the STEM research supplement. Other than that, we do not encourage extra letters of recommendations.
[Mark] Right. So, don’t start thinking that you need to go running around to your coach, or your director, or the person who’s been teaching you your music lessons or anything like that for an extra letter of recommendation. That’s not something that we generally find helpful to our review process.
[Hannah] Just remember that as with everything we discussed on this podcast, supplementary materials are reviewed in context. They can really help us identify students with special talents in the visual and performing arts, or particular depth or experience in scientific research but it’s all part of the context of your complete application file.
[Mark] And finally, remember that this entire process is in the service of helping the people in the admissions committee get to know you better. It’s not about winning the race or being deemed the top art submission of the year. It’s about us having a better understanding of who you are, what your story is, so that we’re having a better conversation in the room about you.
[Hannah] Thanks to John for joining us today on the podcast.
[John] Thanks for having me.
[Mark] Thanks to our friend and colleague Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to our former admissions officer and friend Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] And if you have comments or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are mine and Mark’s and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 11: Mythbusters

Episode 11: Mythbusters

The first installment in an occasional miniseries. Admissions Officer Jill joins Mark and Hannah to discuss and debunk some of the most persistent admissions myths. The officers review six common myths, covering topics that range from early action to demonstrated interest to online message boards. For each, they discus why the myth is inaccurate while revealing the small kernel of truth at its core.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Hello, and welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And we are excited to introduce a new occasional mini-series we’ll be hosting on the podcast that we are calling Mythbusters.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Yes. It even comes with a new theme song. Thanks, Andrew.
[Mark] And Hannah and I are delighted that the one and only Jill is going to be joining us for this Mythbusters episode today. Jill, how are you?
[Jill] I’m doing really well. I’m glad to be back. Thanks for having me back.
[Hannah] So here’s the idea behind this episode. There are a lot of myths out there that we hear about college admissions all the time. People come up to us and they say, I heard this. My neighbor’s cousin told me this. Is this true? And we wanted to address some of them today. We also see things like this regularly crop up on sites like Reddit and College Confidential. We’re not regular readers of these things.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] But I did pop on and scroll through some posts recently for the purposes of putting this episode together.
[Mark] Yeah. So we’re going to tackle a handful of these myths today– some of the things that we have heard most frequently over the years. And we’re going to come back, and we’ll do more episodes like this every few months or so. There is no shortage of myths out there about the college admissions process and it’s understandable why there’s a lot of myths out there about college admissions.
I think first and foremost, I want to acknowledge that our process is one that is inherently opaque. And I think a lot of myths just come from the fact that people will connect the dots based on what they can see, which admittedly, is not a lot compared to what we see because we have the full picture of not only the full process but also the entire applicant pool.
[Hannah] And another thing is that selective admissions means that a lot of people inevitably are going to be disappointed at the end of the process. And it’s natural to try to find explanations for that, especially outside influences, and to come up with explanations that are maybe cynical about our process. So we totally get that. If you just take away one thing from this episode, let it be, be careful where you’re getting your information on our admissions process from. Remember, you can always go directly to the source– that’s us– to get the right information, rather than peers, or online forums, or private consultants, who claim to know more than they really do.
[Mark] And if you remember back to our very first episode, we created this whole podcast in order to give folks reliable information. We wanted you guys to get it directly from the source and provide this as a free public service. I will say, one of the craziest things that happens to me as an admissions officer is when I explain something to someone, sort of busting a myth, and they don’t believe me.
[LAUGHTER]
[Jill] Yes.
[Mark] And they will just shake their heads. And they’ll go back. And they’ll fight me on it. And I’m like, do you think I’m lying to your face? Like really. I’m not.
[Jill] It happens more often than you’d think too.
[Mark] I know. So there’s not a big conspiracy out there guys, I promise.
[Hannah] And we will also recognize that there is usually some small kernel of truth behind these myths. But usually, they get pretty distorted through the game of telephone– that is hearing from different people about the process. So we’re going to try to acknowledge where we think these myths come from, and let you know why they’re not necessarily true about our process.
[Mark] Yeah. Like most good gossip and most good rumors, there’s usually something true. But it’s been embellished. It’s gotten on to a life of its own. For the past few years, I’ve had this simple rule of thumb for whenever I hear a juicy rumor or a good piece of gossip and that’s that I simply just stand back and I say, that is a really good rumor.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] It might be true. It might not be true. But just like actually when you hear something really juicy, just letting yourself say, wow, that’s really good. It is a chance to be like, hmm, I wonder why that’s so good. I wonder what’s happening. So as we go through these myths, we’ll try to unpack maybe why a particular myth is appealing. Why it’s persistent and how it’s gotten quite distanced from the original kernel of truth that’s underneath it.
[Jill] I really like that, Mark. I think I’m going to start using that.
[Mark] Good.
[Jill] Just a note on these online forums, like College Confidential or the Applying to College Subreddit, we totally get why these are tempting communities to engage in. Applying to college can be stressful. And you don’t know what you don’t know. So finding an online community and reading about other’s experiences may be comforting. But just remember, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
[Mark] Yeah. All right. So are you guys ready to bust some myths?
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Jill] Absolutely.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] All right. Let’s do it. I’m so excited. Let’s do it. We’re going to try to get through six of them in the episode today. And we’re going to have lots more in future episodes. Here’s myth number one. Is it easier to get into Yale if you apply through our Early Action program as opposed to our regular decision program?
[Hannah] Mm. A lot of people think that’s true. And guess what? It’s not.
[Mark] Busted.
[DING]
[Jill] Myth busted.
[LAUGHTER]
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Quick note. At Yale, we do Early Action as opposed to early decision. So it’s a non-binding program as opposed to some other colleges that do early decision. And if you get admitted through that early program, there’s an expectation that you’ll commit to the college. But at Yale, we do Early Action non-binding.
[Mark] And I have to say, this is probably one of the easiest myths for me to understand. We’ll get to some wacky ones later, where I’m like, ah, where did this come from?
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] This one’s pretty straightforward. And that’s because, if you divide the number of students who are admitted by the number of applicants, and you do that for the early pool and you do it for the regular pool, it’s going to look like the admit rate is higher for students who apply through early and this obviously makes people think that their individual chances of admission will be higher if they apply earlier. We don’t have time to unpack all of the math behind this. Maybe that’ll be another episode later on. We can do just a big geeky math episode.
[Hannah] For sure.
[Mark] But this is a classic statistical fallacy. So it assumes that these two pools of applicants are identical, and that the rate of admission is a probability. So neither one of that is true. If you want to imagine, OK, are these probabilities– these are jelly beans. And they’re being randomly pulled from different jars. You’re not jelly beans. [LAUGHS]
[Hannah] No.
[Mark] Applicants are real people and in our process is one that is not random. And so, you shouldn’t think about the rate of admission as being a probability and you also shouldn’t think about the pools of these applicants being identical for a whole bunch of reasons. They are not identical.
[Jill] If they were actually jelly beans, I think I’d have to choose them all and not be able to choose.
[LAUGHTER]
[Jill] So, glad they’re not jelly beans.
[Mark] Thankfully, they’re not jelly beans. Yes.
[Hannah] Good call. Yeah. I think one of the reasons why these pools are not comparable is that you all, when you’re applying to college, do a good job of selecting which schools are a good fit for you. The reason that people apply to Yale Single Choice Early Action is because Yale is their first choice. They’re really excited to apply. And they feel like they’ve put together a strong application. And you know what? Often that results in just a stronger Early Action applicant pool.
[Mark] Yeah. And I want to explain our incentives here. We have every reason to want to be conservative in our early pool, because we are operating with the understanding that we don’t know what’s behind curtain number two in the form of our regular decision applicant pool. And none of us want to get to March reading our regular decision applicants and say, doh, we’re out of spots. Oh my gosh. We wish that we could admit all these students. But we wasted too many spots on these early students.
That is why every year, we have a pretty sizable number of applicants that we defer from our Early Action pool and ultimately admit in regular decisions. When we were first looking at their applications, we wanted to be pretty cautious. We weren’t sure if at the end of the day, they would stand out. And then, once the rest of the pool fills in, we say, oh yeah, this student does stand out. And we are delighted to admit them.
[Jill] Yeah. And I also think a lot of students think, maybe we have different criteria for one pool and the other. And that’s just not the case. I think it really goes back to what Hannah was saying, that the first group of students in that EA pool is really a self-selecting group of students who really do feel like Yale is the place for them. And we do see that in those apps. But we on our end are not reviewing those applications in any sort of different way than we are reviewing our regular decision applicants.
[Mark] So here’s the takeaway guys. At least when it comes to Yale– and we’re only speaking for Yale here– The stakes around early action and regular decision, they just are not high. Despite what a lot of people think, despite what people who are paid to say things say, I want to tell you, do your thing. When we’re reading applications, we know that strong applicants who are a great fit for Yale, they’re going to stand out regardless of when they apply. So most importantly, when we say, there’s no advantage to applying early, please believe us.
[Hannah] Myth number two.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Myth number two is that we have quotas or a set amount of students that we’re going to admit from certain high schools. There are few different versions of this, like no one’s gotten in from my high school before, so I certainly don’t have a chance.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Or another variation of this is, oh, someone from my school got into Yale, and then they opted to go to Stanford, or Harvard, or somewhere else instead. So Yale just hates my school now, and that’s ruined my chances. Or my frenemy Shelley is applying early, so there’s no way we’ll both get in.
[LAUGHTER] Or the reason I didn’t get in is that so many other students from my school applied. Anyway, there are a lot of different ways that you can paint this picture. But guess what? None of them are true.
[DING]
[Mark] Busted. This is another one that’s pretty easy to see where this one comes from. This is a classic example of the availability bias.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] You are going to try to think of explanations for outcomes based on what’s immediately available to you– and that’s usually what’s around you in your high school. So all these different versions of, well, it must have been because of something in my high school, that’s where your mind is going to go. That’s not how we operate though.
[Hannah] Yeah, let’s just sort of state this clearly. The applicant history at your school is not going to dictate how your application is reviewed or how your decision is rendered. We admit individual students to Yale. We deny individual students from Yale– not schools. So you don’t compete against other applications from your high school any more than you compete against any other applicants in our pool.
[Mark] Yeah. And I hope that you take a moment to think about this, it’s going to make sense. Why would we want to miss out on a great applicant just because they go to a particular school, or just because somebody else from that school is also applying?
[Hannah] Along with this, we see really strong and successful applicants from all kinds of schools. There’s a persistent myth out there that you need to attend a certain type of school to be competitive at a place like Yale. And that’s really not true. The students that we admit every year represent a wide, wide range of high schools in the US and all around the world.
[Jill] I’ve gotten a lot of calls when I’ve been on duty answering calls from prospective students and parents– from parents of elementary school kids, asking where they should send their students to high school? And it really does not matter. You should not be making that decision based on what you think the better high school to get into Yale is. Because I think, hopefully, as you’re getting from everything that Hannah and Mark are saying, there is no specific high school that’s going to be the best school to get into Yale. It’s really about what you do there, and not so much where you are.
[LAUGHS]
[Mark] Yeah. I think a phone call I got a few years ago takes the cake. I had a call from an expecting parent. So the kid hadn’t even been born yet.
[Jill] Oh my.
[Hannah] What?
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] And they were calling to ask where they should buy a house in a city that won’t be named to determine where the kid would go to high school. And slow your roll. Slow down.
[Jill] Yes.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] You’ve got a lot of child rearing to do before a college application.
[Mark] Yeah. I mean, even if you’re talking about a middle schooler, let’s acknowledge– your school plays a really critical role in your development. But we as admissions officers, I will say, generally speaking, the role of high schools tends to be overplayed.
[Hannah] And to those parents out there who are thinking of making that phone call to see where they should send their student to middle school or high school, any admissions officer worth their salt will tell you that it matters much more what the student does at that school than the name of the school, or the reputation of the school, or anything like that. We’re looking for students who have thrived in their high school environment and wherever that is going to be for your child, that’s where they should go.
[Mark] Bingo. The little kernel of truth here, is that we as admissions officers, we do read applications, we do discuss them in the admissions committee in school groups and we think there’s important contextual knowledge about that high school. We get to know what’s offered, where students at that high school come from, what tends to be a big deal at that school. But that doesn’t mean that we’re doing direct comparisons within a school group or expecting that any student from a particular school has done x, y, or z.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Our next myth, myth number three, is kind of related. And that is, the idea that it’s easier to get into Yale if you come from a rural area or an area with fewer applicants. So for example, if a family’s saying, we should just move to Wyoming, and then, it’ll be easier to get into a selective college. Not true.
[DING]
[Mark] Busted.
[LAUGHTER]
[Jill] Myth busted.
[Mark] Busted. Again, we are really lucky. We should acknowledge Yale as a school, running admissions for Yale, we’re very, very fortunate. We have an amazingly diverse and global applicant pool. So we get to see strong applicants from just about everywhere. We also see plenty of variation from year to year.
It might be the case that we get a lot of strong applications from one particular state or one particular country in one year, and then the next year, not so many. But there’s no rule that we have to admit someone from every state every single year, and that’s going to bump up an individual student’s chances, or anything like that.
[Hannah] Right. Just like we don’t have quotas for high schools, we don’t have quotas for states, or geographic regions, or anything like that. I think where part of this myth comes from might be that where you live can certainly be an interesting and important part of your background. But that’s not the case for everyone. And it’s certainly not the only important piece of your background or your story.
[Jill] Yeah. I like to say– for those of you listening– I read for different parts of Florida. And I see a lot of students whose upbringing in Florida has had a significant impact on who they are. And that’s super interesting to me when I’m reading your application. But it’s just as interesting to me as the student who lived in Virginia their whole life and then moved to Florida for their junior or their senior year. And so, context has a significant play in the application process. But again, it’s going to have more of a play for some students, and it’s going to have less of a play for others. And it’s definitely not that we are looking to only take a certain amount of students from any specific place.
[Mark] Yeah. Hannah, I remember you mentioning in a previous episode, that a successful essay can be one that conveys a sense of place.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] And when students have a relationship to a place, that can become an asset for them, no matter what that kind of place is. I remember talking with some counselors in New York City. And they were saying, well, how can a student from New York City stand out? And I’m thinking, I’m from the suburbs of Georgia. If I grew up in New York City, that would seem super interesting to me.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] Are you kidding? That sounds super amazing. Right?
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] So if where you’re from is something that– as you reflect on yourself– is an important part of your identity, and you think it’s something that as you’re applying to college could be something that you’re going to bring with you, you can make it an asset.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Alright, Myth number four. Students who can afford to do fancy summer programs at colleges have a better chance of getting accepted. Again, this is just not true.
[DING]
[Mark] Busted.
[Jill] Busted.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] Thank you, Jill.
[Jill] You’re welcome.
[Mark] Thank you, Jill. Good. Don’t leave me hanging out there.
[Hannah] Yeah. You know what? We want you to spend your summers doing what you care about– not building up a resume or anything like that. There is no system of bonus points for doing a particular summer program, even if it’s a really selective summer program.
[Mark] Yeah. I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who run these summer programs who don’t want us to say this, because it’s a–
[Hannah] Oh, yeah. Sorry, guys.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] It’s a great marketing tactic when you get this stuff in the mail, that oh, you’re going to do this program. It’s going to be on a college campus. And you’re imagining, oh, that’s going to help me stand out. Sorry. That is not– spending a summer signing up for one of these programs is not going to suddenly make you a super strong college applicant for us.
[Jill] Yeah. I think, also, attending a Yale-specific summer program is not going to make it easier to get into Yale. And I think I can probably say that about a lot of our peer institutions too. If you’re doing a specific program with them, that does not necessarily mean that you have a better chance of getting into that institution.
[Mark] Right. And something that’s not always clear in the promotional materials– a lot of these summer programs that are located on college campuses, they’re just renting space there. They actually have no connection to the university themselves. You’re not learning from university professors. You’re literally just renting their dorms in the summer so the university has someone in those beds during those months.
[Hannah] Yeah. And look, if you want to do a summer program at a college, that’s great. Good for you. But do it because you want to do it. And those can often be formative experiences where you meet a lot of cool people you weren’t exposed to before. You have this experience living on a college campus. And that experience in itself might be helpful for you as you think about where you might want to go to college and how you fill out your application. But just the fact that you did the program is not going to be a leg up for us. We will note that there are a number of hyper-selective summer programs, sort of a small handful of them, that can sometimes be a good indication of a student’s strength in their college application. And I think that is maybe a little bit of where this myth comes from.
But it’s never the only indication of strength in a student’s application. And while we might admit some students who have done those summer programs every year, we also reject students who have done those summer programs. And the majority of students that we do admit have not done these hyper-selective programs.
[Jill] Yeah, I think I also– when I’ve read an application, I get just excited about the student who has been doing something that’s maybe super selective during the summer as I do for the student who was scooping ice cream during the summer as a summer job. And those are two things that have no value on, I think, that they’re both great things to do during the summer. And I think it just comes down to what you guys said. Do the things that you want to do during the summer.
[Mark] Exactly. Yeah. It’s a very common question we get is, what should I spend my summer doing? And the answer is really, something that’s going to be engaging and interesting. Hopefully, that means doing something more than just getting a high score on Halo in your basement.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] I’ll go ahead and say, we can differentiate some things from others. But caring for a family member, taking a student job, having an interesting trip doing one of these summer programs– those are all ways that students can grow, and be engaged, and potentially create some interesting experiences that they wind up reflecting on in their college application for us to learn about. We’ve seen it all.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Myth number five is that if I meet my admissions officer in person or connect with them over email, my application is more likely to stand out. And we are here to tell you, it’s just not true.
[DING]
[Mark] Busted.
[Jill] Busted.
[Mark] Oh, so this is my favorite one to bust.
[Jill] Mine too. Mine too.
[Mark] That feels so good.
[Jill] I feel very strongly about this one.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] So this is all part of a larger concept called demonstrated interest.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] There are a lot of very well-meaning counselors out there who will tell you, you’ve got to go get your name on the map with these folks. You’ve got to demonstrate your interest early on. You want your admissions officer to know you before they read your application. So here’s the thing. Yale does not track demonstrated interest. It does not influence our decision-making process. And we try to make clear– tactfully– that contacting us will not affect your chances of admission. And I’ll go ahead and throw on here too, that’s true for visiting campus, coming to an information session, et cetera. Those are all awesome ways to learn about Yale. Let’s say, listening to the podcast, too, great way to learn about our process.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] But it’s not going to make a difference that you registered for one of these things, or download our podcast, we can’t track– don’t worry. We don’t know if you clicked or downloaded or anything like that.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] It’s not going to make a difference in your application review process.
[Jill] Nope.
[Hannah] Right. We get why this is a myth though. Many colleges do track demonstrated interest. But for Yale, we absolutely do not.
[Mark] Right. The other important kernel of truth here is that learning more about a school really can make you a better applicant. Our work is not about just handing out trophies. We are trying to find good fits. Just like you as a prospective college applicant, you are trying to find a good fit as well. So we find when reviewing applications, that those applicants who have done their homework, reflected, and can say, yeah, I really like Yale, and I can tell you why, those students are definitely stronger than those who don’t have any idea what Yale offers. And we kind of can tell in their application what they’re looking for in a college is something totally different than what we are offering.
[Hannah] Yeah. And by the way, I’ll just say, Jill, Mark, and I love meeting prospective students.
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] Whether they’re coming to campus and we happen to be the person giving the information session that day, or if we’re on the road traveling, we love to meet you guys. But we’re not taking notes. And it’s not going to help down the line in your application process.
[Jill] Yeah. We’re super friendly. We’re super approachable. But we also have a lot of work on our hands, especially when we get into reading season. And so, absolutely get in touch with us if you have questions. We love answering questions. But like Mark said, we’re not in the business of making pen pals with anyone.
[Mark] Right. And we think there’s an equity component to this as well.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] We don’t want to advantage students who have the opportunity to travel to campus or who just have the chance to meet us when we’re on the road.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Myth number six. This is a really interesting one. I’m excited to talk about it. This is that people out there in the world, or someone out there on the internet, can let you know what your chances of admission are at a particular college. We know that there is this Reddit Confidential Culture called Chance Me– Chance Me for Yale, Chance Me for this other school. And we just want to talk about this practice a little bit. Because nothing good can come of it.
[LAUGHTER]
[Jill] No. Nothing at all.
[DING]
[Mark] Busted. Busted. Busted. I don’t know if the whole Subreddit’s going to dissolve now, because a huge collection of energy is spent on this sort of exercise.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] But we’re here to tell you, it’s a fool’s errand, guys. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. We get why it’s a tempting thing to do. There’s a ton of uncertainty around this process. It would be so nice to have a better understanding of your chances of admission and someone seemingly authoritative out in the universe being able to tell you what your chances are based on a bunch of things that you type up.
[Hannah] But for so many reasons, it doesn’t work. I think one of the biggest reasons is, the people that you’re asking have no more expertise on the matter than you do. Most of them are your peers. Even if the people responding to these threads are private college counselors or current college students, that doesn’t actually mean that they have any more knowledge about you, your application, than you do.
[Mark] Yeah. And we are admissions officers. And we don’t play this game.
[Hannah] Right?
[Jill] Right.
[Mark] If you were to ask us, tell me my chances of getting in, and you gave me everything that was going to be in your application, we wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. There is so much context that’s important. I also want to throw out there, one of the biggest factors that you are not going to have any control over and that you can’t estimate the chances of, are the tens of thousands of other students who also apply. That is such a huge component of our work. And that’s never going to be incorporated into any of these chancing exercises.
[Hannah] Another thing I see on these sort of Chance Me threads are people rating their own essays or their own teacher recommendations which they haven’t actually read.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] And for the teacher recommendations, you haven’t read them. You don’t know what your teacher is going to say about yourself. You’re also not a great judge of your own writing. You know what you’ve written about. But we’re not always the best judges of the work that we produce. So I’ll just throw that out there.
[Mark] Yeah. And as I was saying, the rest of the applicant pool is such a huge component of this. I think we all get questions from students after decisions are released. And they’ll say, why was I denied? What was weak about my application? What could I have done better? And I know this isn’t a satisfying answer, but it’s the true answer, which is almost always, it’s not because your essays were in 8 out of 10. And it’s not even because you got a b-plus in geometry in ninth grade.
The answer is almost always because we have this crazy big and crazy strong applicant pool. And for most applicants who are denied, you could go back and say, yeah, if there weren’t 35,000 other students who were applying this year, we would be delighted to have this student on our campus. That’s just inherent to the work of selective admissions and that’s the kind of context and nuance that is just not going to make its way into a Subreddit thread.
[Jill] Yeah. We’re super lucky that we have all of these applicants and that we do have such a strong pool. But at the end of the day, Yale is not the size of the entire planet. [LAUGHS] It is a specific size, and we only have so much space. And I think that’s important to recognize that it’s not that you did anything wrong. It’s just that we only have a certain amount of space on our campus.
[Hannah] So just to wrap up here, there is a lot of great information out in the world about applying to college. But there is also a lot of really outdated information and information that’s just plain wrong. So remember to check your sources.
[Jill] Yes. And I think the best source is us– the admissions officers, the admissions website, questions form, calling our office– whatever you can do to get in touch with the source is going to give you the best information.
[Mark] Yeah. I think a nice kind of in between of those are our current students. So current students are great sources of information for what student life is like, what it’s really all about to be a student on a particular college campus. But even though they were admitted through the admissions process, they are not great sources of information about admissions or how to be admitted. They don’t have really any more context than anyone else does. And so, don’t go to them, and don’t try to copy what they did because you think that’s going to make you successful in the process.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Well, we hope that this has been helpful. Remember to check your sources and always be thinking about where information is coming from when you’re hearing it about the admissions process. And we’ll do one of these episodes again. This was fun.
[Mark] Well, thanks as always to Jill. You are a great sound engineer. You’re a great admissions officer. And you are a great guest on the podcast. So thanks for joining today.
[Jill] Thanks, Mark. Thanks, Hannah.
[Mark] Thanks also to Reed who lends us the office when we’re in the office. I am excited to be back in the office finally again today. So Reed, I’m enjoying your office again. Thanks for letting me use it.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] Thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 12: COVID-19 Update

Episode 12: COVID-19 Update

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannah and Mark give an update on the admissions office’s rapid changes to work that would normally include thousands of in-person meetings and travel around the world. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan joins to discuss updates to the selection process, sharing what changed and what stayed the same during the Admissions Committee’s first meetings to select applicants to the Yale Class of 2025.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Hello, and welcome to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] We are here today to give you a little bit of an update on what our office has been doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the past several months. If you are an avid listener of this podcast, you’ll remember that back in late April, we talked a little bit about how we had to make some changes to what we were doing in terms of our programming for admitted students and that sort of thing. And we’ve gotten a lot of emails to YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com asking us for a little update on what else our office has been up to over the past several months. So we wanted to give that to you guys.
[Mark] Right. A lot has happened since then. Obviously, we wish that at the time that we’re recording this, which is sort of mid-December, that we would say, oh, the pandemic is over, and we’re all back to normal. Obviously, we’re not. But things are different than they were in April. For one thing, the baseball season happened. Thankfully. My team, the Braves, did spectacularly well, produced an MVP. We won eight games in the postseason. We’re one win away from the World Series. Hanna’s team, I think, won about eight games total in the season.
[Hannah] Yeah, we don’t need to talk about this.
[LAUGHS][Mark] So I’m hoping that if you’re listening to this later on and things have gotten much, much, much better, that perhaps the whole pandemic has started to kind of blur together. So let’s establish where we are right now with things in December 2020.
[Hannah] We know a lot of schools– both colleges as well as high schools– are wrapping up a crazy fall semester. Maybe you were remote, maybe you were in person. But surely, there was some extent of virtual learning going on this past fall. And we’ve just wrapped up a full round of admissions work with both QuestBridge and Early Action. We sent out our decisions just a couple of days ago.
[Mark] Yeah. And like we did last time, we want to cover a few different areas as they relate to the pandemic. Our job as admissions officers is super interesting, because we get to do really different kinds of work at different times of the year. So we’re going to walk you through some of the different areas that we have had to adapt to throughout this work. So what we’re going to cover today is how we’ve adapted in terms of our outreach to prospective students. We’re going to talk about how we replicated the experience of traveling that we would normally be doing in the fall. And then, we’ll also talk about how we’ve made differences to our reading process and our committee selection process.
[Hannah] Yep. And we’re going to have a special guest come and talk to us a little bit about that later. So stay tuned for that. But let’s start with outreach. And normally, during the summer, we would see thousands and thousands of visitors to our campus– prospective students coming to take tours, and hear information sessions from admissions officers. We usually fill this big lecture hall filled with people daily throughout the summer. And obviously, this summer, we were unable to welcome visitors to campus like that.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Right. And this has been tough. Because there is truly no substitute for a campus visit. So if you are listening to this later on, and campus visits are a possibility, I’m going to go ahead and encourage you, if you can, to visit a college campus. It’s really a great way to connect with the current students who are there, to see a place where you might be spending four years of your life and so, we were really sad to miss that. But we came up with some substitutes that have been pretty successful.
[Hannah] Yes. So we have done some virtual information sessions and student forums– all of the stuff that you would be able to experience on campus if you were to visit, these pivoted to the virtual world. And what’s great about the virtual world is that anyone can partake. So we actually wound up connecting with about 40% more folks who tuned in to listen to those sessions than we would normally have visited our campus over the summer months.
[Mark] Yeah. And as we hoped, we learned a lot about this format very, very quickly. I think, just like everybody, we had to learn on the fly. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised, I think, that participants have been engaged. People seem to have gotten a lot out of the experience. Hannah, I don’t know if you’ve had a similar experience when you’ve been leading a virtual info session. But I like it more than I thought I would.
[Hannah] Yeah. It’s really no substitute for seeing people in person and watching a crowd of students get excited about something you’re saying about Yale. But it’s been great that we’ve been able to reach so many people virtually. So that is something that I imagine we’re not going to totally give up once the world goes back to normal. We’ll continue to offer these virtual sessions so we can continue to reach a lot of people around the world who might not have had the chance to visit our campus.
[Mark] Exactly. I mean, I think that’s the big lesson. There’s no turning back at this point. We are excited to offer tours and travel again. But the successes, I think, with these have been so immediately apparent. And honestly, they’re so relatively easy for us to produce that I think they’ll be something that we’ll keep doing. So if you’re a fan of these kinds of things, if you’ve experienced them so far, they’re not going away any time soon, I don’t think.
[Hannah] Yeah. And another cool thing we were able to put together is some great events for school counselors.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] And that’s not something that normally we would necessarily have the chance to do. And we love connecting with your college counselors at various high schools. We really learn a lot from talking to them. It’s always good to connect and hear about how things are going from a different perspective. So those are some events that, again, we were able to put together uniquely in this new virtual world, and I think we’ll continue to do.
[Mark] I think we all found virtual space to be a great way to connect.
[Hannah] Definitely. So normally, throughout the fall what we would be doing is spending a few weeks out on the road. All of the admissions officers in our office would be visiting various high schools in their areas, doing college fairs, hosting information sessions in different parts of the country or around the world, often traveling with colleagues from other colleges. And Mark and I both definitely missed that aspect of our job this year.
[Mark] So much.
[Hannah] We weren’t traveling. And it’s a ton of fun. And we will eventually do an episode about our experiences on the road, just to give you a little picture of what that’s about. But this year, obviously, we were forced to stay home instead.
[Mark] Right. So instead of doing my annual barnstorming road trip across the Southeast, where I eat a really unhealthy amount of barbecue. Or Hannah normally you’d be jet setting to all sorts of fascinating countries and taking amazing pictures to bring back to everyone.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] We were in front of Zoom just like everybody else.
[LAUGHS]
[Mark] But still trying to meet people where they are. So one of the things that we did is, we coordinated a whole bunch of virtual high school visits. We did more than 500 of these just in the US. I know the international team, Hannah, did a lot of these as well– where we could connect with you and your classmates and coordinate with the school to find a time– maybe of 30 minutes or so– just to connect and have the sort of conversation that we might have if we were in the school building and there were some positives and some negatives with this. I mean, I think it’s definitely a mixed bag altogether.
[Hannah] Yeah. These sort of smaller, more focused sessions give us an opportunity to really address your specific questions. And it’s a little bit more personal than usually one of the larger information sessions that we do. And I feel like that, we were able to replicate over Zoom. But it’s just not the same as going to your high school, and being in that setting, and seeing what things look like, and seeing you in your sort of natural habitat. So we definitely missed that aspect.
[Mark] One of the benefits though, is that doing everything by Zoom, I found that I could be doing a session at 9:00 AM in Biloxi, Mississippi, and then have a 10 AM that was in Columbia, South Carolina, bending the space time continuum in a way that just wouldn’t be possible if I were driving on the road. So it did allow me to connect with some folks that normally would be really hard for me to actually drive my little dinky rental car from point A to point B to point C in the course of a couple of week road trip.
[Hannah] Definitely. Another thing that we like to do when we’re doing our outreach travel is team up with other schools and do sessions that talk about Yale, but also talk about some of our other peer schools and we were able to do that virtually as well. I know Mark coordinated a lot of that and we, again, connected with about twice as many people as we normally would if we were just doing this physically on the road.
[Mark] Yeah. This was fun. And we decided to do primarily a geographic kind of strategy with this as well. So normally, we would get a bunch of admissions officers together from different schools. And we would all pile in a minivan. And we would drive around say, Florida, or Texas, or Ohio. And we’d visit a bunch of cities. It’s kind of like a nerdy version of a rock and roll concert roadshow sort of thing.
[LAUGHS]
[Mark] We like to think about ourselves that way.
[Hannah] That’s a bit of a stretch, but yes.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] I like to imagine it that way when we’re packing up the band and going from city to city. But we did that virtually this year. And we still targeted various regions. So we said, all right. Let’s talk to students in Texas. Texas students, here are a few different evenings that you could come and participate in a live session with us. And it was really great to see that we had really high numbers– really great engagement. In conversations with my colleagues at other schools, we all came to the same place, which is that, yeah, we want to get back on the road again. But there’s no going back. We’re going to have to keep offering these virtual sessions. So I hope, no matter where you are in the world, I think that as a result of this whole experience, the silver lining will be that you’ll find an opportunity to connect virtually in these kinds of events that we weren’t putting in the virtual space previously.
[Hannah] So let’s talk a little bit about our selection process. Because that is what we have sort of just finished up while we’re doing this recording right now. And our selection process includes the reading of applications but also the admissions committee, which we’ve talked about on previous episodes before and in many ways, this is the area of our jobs that felt the most normal this year as opposed to not traveling or not welcoming people to campus. The selection process, for the most part, stayed pretty similar. Usually, when we’re reading applications, many of us will work from home. That’s already kind of a solitary activity. So that felt fairly normal to us.
[Mark] Yeah. There was something reassuring about finally reaching reading season this year. Because we didn’t have to master any new Zoom tricks to be reading applications the same way.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] My day was much more similar to what my day would have been like in 2019 when reading applications. Although the actual work and the process was very similar, we certainly saw some differences in terms of what was in the applications. Right? As we expected, and as we were talking about back in April, schools indeed had all kinds of different approaches and policies after COVID.
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[Mark] Some of these schools had really kind of radical departures. And what instruction looked like and what daily activities were just really changed starting in March and have not gone back to normal. Other places, it’s been relatively small tweaks and we’ve started to see everything across that spectrum.
[Hannah] Yeah. And often, a counselor will give us that context in their letter or on the forms that they fill out to let us know how the school has adjusted, what online learning has been like, that sort of thing. So we definitely take a look at that context and it becomes a part of our application review this year so we just understand what you’ve been going through and how your academic experiences may have changed over the past several months. We also saw a lot of canceled activities and summer programs. A lot of summer plans that didn’t pan out. But at the same time, some new and innovative ways where student activities or organizations have kept active and found ways to innovate.
[Mark] Right. You can see in some applications, there’s just this continued linear path in terms of the student’s activities and not much of a sense of disruption. And other applications, there’s this clean break. What a student was doing through junior year looked like one thing, and then afterwards, it’s something else. I just want to say, proactively, we have not had any preference for one particular trajectory over another.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] It’s been interesting, though, to see what some students have done that maybe they wouldn’t have done otherwise. Like I’ve seen students who have gotten a part time job and learned something interesting from that, or they’ve planted a garden, or even started a podcast.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] So it’s been cool to see some differences there.
[Hannah] There have also been some volunteer opportunities that have come up because of the pandemic. There are students who are doing virtual research on vaccine development, all that sort of thing. So we’re definitely seeing some interesting new activities that have emerged. Unfortunately, we’re also reading a lot about some real personal hardships, which is tough.
[Mark] Indeed. And it is tough. Fortunately, it’s not a big departure for us to read about these sorts of challenges, to incorporate this kind of context into our review. So fortunately, I’m glad that we’ve not needed to really append our process or radically change the way that we think about things. We are just continuing to use our whole person review process to understand where a student is coming from. And oftentimes, these are challenges that are relatively new. But in many cases, these are long-standing things that a student and their family has dealt with. And usually, the pandemic has just added an extra dimension of it onto it. And we are very aware of that when we’re reviewing the application.
[Hannah] So let’s talk a little bit about that application review, and really the selection process, and how it’s changed, and how it’s stayed the same this year. And to talk about this with us, we’re inviting back a very special guest, Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, to ask him some questions about how the pandemic has affected our work in the long-term and the short-term. Hi, Jeremiah. Thanks for joining us again.
[Jeremiah] Hi, Hannah. Hi, Mark. So great to be back with both of you.
[Mark] Thanks for joining us, Jeremiah. We wanted to ask you a few questions about what the first round of selection has been like in the new pandemic reality. We know that a big question on many applicants’ minds has been our standardized testing policy. We had a big change this year. We made the SAT or the ACT optional. And we did that because it was clear that people were just not going to have the same opportunities to take the test. So having read our first round of applications this year, Jeremiah, how do you feel that this change played out in the review process?
[Jeremiah] That is a great question and it is obviously one that I get asked a lot when I am talking to students and parents about the current admissions cycle. The change that we had to make earlier this year was a big change for us. It was a decision that had to be made relatively quickly.
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[Jeremiah] It is unfortunate that the public health situation in this country and around the world has precluded many students from being able to register and take the SAT or the ACT and we have required standardized testing in our admissions process for, essentially, as long as those tests have been around. So this was a conversation I had to have with lots of different people on campus before we made the change. But we were optimistic that we could make the change, acknowledging the limited opportunities that students had to take these exams, but recognizing that scores are never determinative on their own in our whole person review process.
So some applicants have had testing. Many applicants have not had testing and while we have missed the testing on occasion, there’s lots of other material in the applications of those who are applying without it to work through, and consider, and answer the question, can the student do the work at Yale. There were lots of data points in our consideration process over the past few weeks that allowed us to answer with certainty the question about a student’s academic preparation for Yale.
[Hannah] And I think the follow-up question that we’re starting to get more and more at this point is, when can people expect a decision on whether we’ll keep this test optional policy or not for applicants to the class of 2026. And maybe we don’t quite know the answer to that. But you could talk a little bit about how we plan to go about making that decision on that policy.
[Jeremiah] Well, I think we’re going to make the decision by monitoring the situation and what it looks like from the ability from the SAT and ACT to administer those exams around the world and in the US. I get asked this question a lot. I understand why I’m being asked this question a lot and we’re going to use the same criteria that we need to make this decision as we did last year. I do think we’re going to try and make this decision in the first quarter of 2021– so February or March is our expected timeline. Because we recognize we want to get this information into the hands of high school juniors as they plan for the rest of their high school career and leading up to, hopefully, applying to Yale.
So I think we’re monitoring the situation closely. And we’re going to talk about these amongst the staff. I’m going to talk about it with our faculty committee that helps advise me on making admissions decisions. And I do think we’ll make a decision sometime before March of the new year.
[Mark] All right. So let’s change topics a little bit. Another big shift that we’ve gone through is that we’ve moved our entire committee process to Zoom.
[Jeremiah] Yes.
[Mark] So instead of sitting around a big table, and munching on snacks, and looking at the big screen together, we’re all the little talking heads on the Zoom screen. And Jeremiah, you’ve chaired a lot of these committees over the past couple of weeks. Tell our listeners a little bit about what that change has been like. What’s different, what’s the same?
[Jeremiah] Well, what’s the same is that we are still spending a significant amount of time being careful and thoughtful in our consideration of the top applicants to Yale college. We’re still pulling up documents. We’re still reading the essays, and the interview reports, and the teacher recommendations together. We’re still hearing the admissions officer who is responsible for that specific admissions territory give us the short synopsis of the case. We’re still voting. We’re still recording those votes. We’re obviously doing it on a PDF instead of with pencil or paper.
But this has really been the transfer of a process to a virtual world that has not changed the mechanics in any substantial way. And I think that’s been really reassuring. I do miss looking around the committee table and seeing my colleague’s faces and there’s certainly an energy to the committee room and a thoughtfulness to looking at those documents together around a table that you can’t replicate over Zoom. My waistline is very happy with me, because we did not have a buffet table of snacks that I could eat nonstop for two straight weeks and use as a lunch replacement. It has been a change.
The discussions have been really good. I have been really happy with the level of conversation that we’ve had. I’ve been really happy with the involvement of faculty and deans who are included in our admissions process. So I feel like this has been a necessary transition. This is not the way I think we will move with committees in the future after we are through this unique year. It will help us if there are large snowstorms in the Northeast that we know we can transition to a virtual admissions committee.
There are no more– just like there’s going to be no more snow days for Connecticut public schools, there’s not going to be too many more snow days for the Yale admissions committee, unfortunately, because we’ve learned how to do this. But I don’t think this is going to be the long-term change. But I feel really confident that this is the way we can run committee carefully and thoughtfully in regular decision as well in February.
[Hannah] I feel like over the past few months, we’ve had these moments where we say, ah, I can’t wait to get back to doing things the old way once this pandemic is under control. So in-person committees being one of those things. But there have also been times when we’ve been forced to innovate, and we realize, oh wow, this is actually something that we should keep doing even once the pandemic is over and life is sort of back to normal. So what are the two most salient examples of those things to you? What do you think we should hold on to, and what can’t you wait to get back to normal in our process?
[Jeremiah] Yeah. I mean, I think this has been such a unique opportunity for us to be forced to innovate in a way that we should have been doing for years, but we just were not motivated to make those changes. And that makes sense and some of the innovations that I am really excited about moving forward is the idea that we are doing virtual outreach to reach more students in places that we cannot travel to, or that our travel– what you would think of as traditional admissions officer travel never lined up with student schedules before. Before this pandemic, the way that you got access to a Yale admissions officer was either coming to New Haven or being able to attend a session in Wichita, Kansas the one night that a Yale admissions officer was in Wichita, Kansas.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Jeremiah] And that’s not the case anymore. This year, we have been forced to have these virtual information sessions. And I don’t know if we’ll be doing these virtual outreach sessions five times a week or doing hundreds of them every fall. But I do think we are going to move forward with a strategy that is truly hybrid in nature, where we are doing some in-person outreach travel to meet students, parents, and counselors for sure, but also continuing to have some of these virtual events to lower the barriers to information for students from around the country and around the world in ways that we should have been thinking about for years.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Jeremiah] And then, the other thing is, in the same vein, just having more opportunities for admitted students to learn about Yale who don’t have the opportunities to travel to campus.
[Mark] Yeah.
[Jeremiah] Typically, we have been focusing a lot of our efforts on in-person on-campus events in the month of April once we’ve admitted our full complement of students. And I think, the idea that we have been able to create such a rich set of virtual events for admitted students that will allow them to get the information that they need without necessarily having to come to campus.
[Hannah] And what are you excited to get back to once we get back to normal?
[Jeremiah] Oh, I just miss seeing all of my colleagues. I miss seeing you guys. I love listening to this podcast and hearing you two talk about the work that we do so thoughtfully, but with so much energy, and your laughter, and the banter. You just can’t recreate that over Zoom. And so, I really do miss that. I miss seeing colleagues in the committee room. I miss seeing colleagues in meetings. I miss seeing colleagues in the office.
This is very inside baseball. But the admissions office has this crackling energy during committee season, especially in Early Action and during December, that I just really missed this past year. And then, I also just missed seeing my colleagues around the profession. I miss seeing all of my friends in the college counseling business. I miss talking to students and parents in person about Yale. I miss giving a Yale information session and having students just feel so excited about the opportunities at Yale or other colleges that they– they’re just– you can see the excitement bubbling out of them as they’re asking you their questions about college. You can’t replace those things.
I think I’m really excited to get back to the day where we are continuing, as I said before, continuing to lower barriers for students virtually and allow them to access to information, but also continuing to still meet them where they are, and get them excited about the opportunities that Yale has, and frankly the opportunities that the incredible array of colleges and universities in this country provide students is.
[Mark] All right. Well, Jeremiah, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today and for sharing your thoughts on where we are right now in the pandemic with all of our listeners.
[Jeremiah] Well, thanks for having me, guys. And I really enjoy this podcast. And keep up the great work.
[Mark] Thanks. All right. Well, so that’s where we’re at. Well, we certainly hope that all the current reasons that we have in December 2020 to be optimistic about this pan out, and it means that we won’t have to do a third episode about COVID. But I’m glad that we could give you some updates in terms of where we are right now.
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[Mark] Thanks as always to our friend and colleague, Jill. She’s both a fabulous sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed, who lends us his office. In the office– I’m here today. So thanks again, Reed. And of course, thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
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Episode 13: What Stands Out

Episode 13: What Stands Out

Most applicants to Yale are strong along many dimensions, but only a small group truly stand out. Hannah and Mark discuss how admissions officers try to gauge what an applicant would add to and take from the Yale experience. Admissions officer Keith adds insights about what makes applicants stand out in Yale’s large and diverse pool of prospective students.

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[Mark] Hello, and welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And today we are joined by our friend and colleague Keith, who is also a Yale admissions officer. Hi, Keith.
[Kieth] Hi, everyone.
[Mark] You all probably remember Keith from our smash hit episode all about what works in essays. Keith is coming back today to help us answer one of the questions that is truly the– maybe the most frequently asked question that we get as officers. What makes an applicant stand out in our process?
[Hannah] Yes. I feel like every time I give an hour-long information session, this question always comes at the end. And it’s a really, really good question to ask. And one reason for that is that, as we’ve talked about before on this podcast, selective holistic admissions is not a process of amassing points on a rubric or anything like that. The selection process is inherently tied to the size and the composition of the applicant pool, and we go beyond just assigning the scores to different parts of the application.
[Mark] All right, as we’re reading, one of the most common reasons that we find that a student is denied is simply because there are tens of thousands of other very strong students who are applying in any given year. It’s not the case that there’s something that was wrong, or weak, or deficient about the application that we’re looking at. So this question of what stands out is a better question than maybe a question like, well, how do I get into Yale? Because the question, what stands out, recognizes that, in order to be admitted to a place like Yale, an applicant is going to need to stand out among this large pool of very strong applicants.
[Hannah] Yeah. And part of our job is reading a ton of files that are very, very strong across multiple dimensions. But when we stand back and we look at the complete applicant pool, we think, well know, if we admitted this strong student, we’d also have to admit many thousands of other strong students who fit similar profiles.
[Mark] And as a quick aside, denying admission to these strong students because they don’t stand out is not a fun part of our job.
[Hannah] No.
[Mark] I consider it kind of an occupational hazard that comes with the territory. And I think every admissions officer wishes that the class size was twice as big as what it is. And I know that, when I’m reading applications, one of the most frequent things that I will write at the end of one of these applications that’s very strong, and the reason why I know that the student is not going to be admitted is simply because they’re not standing out–
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] –is something like, our loss.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Like, man, it’s a shame actually that we don’t have room for this student–
[Hannah] Yeah. I think we have that experience regularly. Right, Keith?
[Kieth] Oh, absolutely. And I want to echo this very important notion that Hannah and Mark introduced, and that standing out– when we talk about that, we’re talking about our duty to assemble the most compelling assortment of students in any given year from a range of wonderful choices. It’s not the first person who stands out, and then the next person until we get to the capacity.
I think of creating a large abstract mural every new season, with a wide variety of colors and textures. We can go wild with this. But we’re intentionally looking to create something that’s beautiful and comprehensive in a way. The truth is we could theoretically set aside our first attempt at the mural in the middle of the selection process and create a whole new masterpiece among the remaining applicants who weren’t included in the first piece. And that’s not just a line. It’s genuinely true. Remember that you will stand out, and whether in that moment in time, you’re selected to be part of a particular college’s mural, chances are you’ll be included in other great works of admissions art. More on this topic is coming up.
[Mark] Yeah. That’s a perfect segue way, Keith–
[Hannah] Well said–
[Mark] –because what we want to talk about next is the related question to what stands out, what are you looking for? And in fact, we have a whole page on our website that is titled what Yale looks for for more on this topic. Quick cliff notes version of it– there’s really two parts to what we’re looking for. We are looking for students who are going to add the most to the Yale experience and get the most out of the experience while they’re here.
[Hannah] Yes, exactly. And you can really understand our entire admissions process as sort of an exercise in trying to optimize for those two goals. And we know that this sounds a little bit cliche and a little wishy-washy, but it’s worth breaking down what this really means. So we aren’t necessarily trying to determine who is the smartest, who has the tiptop GPA, who has overcome the most hardship, who’s the most deserving in our process. That’s not really our job. And we’re also not trying to predict who is going to become the most successful entrepreneur or politician, or who’s going to be gracing the pages of our alumni magazines after graduation. And we aren’t even trying to predict who is going to have the best performance in Yale classes.
[Mark] Yes. We want to select students who are going to thrive at Yale, but we are not trying to optimize for the collective GPA of graduating Yale seniors. That’s not something we track or do backwards analysis on. And in my experience, a lot of applicants seem to approach the admissions process thinking that we’re selecting for something that we aren’t.
[Kieth] There’s a myth that more is better.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Kieth] More classes, more advanced classes, more activities, more recommendations, more awards and certificates–
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Kieth] I read an application yesterday where 54 PDFs of–
[Hannah] Oh, no.
–awards–
[Hannah] One of those–
[Kieth] –going back to third grade were included.
Oh, dear.
[Kieth] Listen, we are patient and we understand the pressure, but we want you to know that more isn’t always better. And Hannah talked about it too– best isn’t automatically better. A grade point average that is 0.000004 higher than your closest academic rival doesn’t mean that, in our eyes, you’re a stronger scholar. And the same with– unique isn’t always better, especially in terms of activities, accomplishments, even ways of thinking or expressing yourself.
Unique can be interesting and for some students, where that uniqueness is natural, it might make us think about how this student can add a different kind of flavor or experience point of view to the undergraduate experience, but it’s almost never a good idea to strain to be unique.
[Mark] Mm-hmm. Yeah. So in many ways, our work at hand is, I think, narrower and less ambitious than what people imagine.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] Our job is not to render judgment on your eternal soul, dividing the sheep from the goats. We’re not even trying to name winners and losers in some big race. We are trying to create a shared experience for four years among a relatively small group of undergraduate students and I think, if you refocus what the task at hand for admissions officers is, it can help you think about what kind of things would stand out for that sort of endeavor, as opposed to something that might seem a little bit more lofty or ambitious.
[Kieth] I’ll just say that students who focus on introducing themselves just as they are tend to stand out a bit more than many who go to great lengths to try and showcase what they or others think college admissions officers want to see.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Kieth] And we know this is all stressful. And we would feel the stress 100 times greater if we thought that our not being able to admit all applicants to Yale meant that they would not be able to go to any other great college–
[Mark] Absolutely–
[Hannah] Right.
[Kieth] –or college at all.
[Hannah] So probably every selective college with a strong residential community might try to optimize for the same things that we’re talking about, but at its core, these are going to mean different things at different colleges. So a student that we feel would add a lot and take a lot from Yale might not add as much or take away as much from another college. And our work is very specific to the particular contours and features of the place that we work.
[Mark] Right. Hannah and I have both worked exclusively at Yale, so we consider ourselves experts on the Yale undergraduate experience.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] And our admissions work has been closely tied to that. Keith, you’ve worked at a few different places, so can you give us a sense of how those unique features of particular colleges can play out in the committee process?
[Kieth] What I’ve noticed at– being at wonderful places with– as Hannah suggested, that some of the same features are prized, but in different ways than many students, and parents, and other observers may think. One thing for sure is that most admissions offices and– on behalf of the college and faculty, can’t imagine not having an undergraduate population that’s diverse in every way you can think about– that we prized some qualities of students, not just their achievements– their curiosity, their willingness to engage– which doesn’t mean that you have to be an extrovert.
But I have noticed that different schools may have different personalities or stress different characteristics, which– students may be drawn to that, and quite rightly. There are specific programs sometimes that students even mention in their applications; it suggests that they understand the environment and personality of a place and they know not only is the major offered, but the activities, the research, and so on.
And this may apply to extracurricular activities, the– even the environment, the proximity to green trees, water, and so on. I think we would all prefer that students try their best to understand how they may thrive in these places. We try very hard not to anticipate what is best for students, but we do take into account, when they introduce themselves to us, whether or not for– I’ll use Yale as an example here– someone is so eager to take it accounting, and marketing, and so on, and study business at the undergraduate level, and then are shocked to find out that’s not the nature of the place.
[Mark] We’re going to unpack this idea of fit in depth in just a minute. Before we do, I want to take just a second to acknowledge that this conversation is probably kicking up a lot of big questions in your mind about, what does merit mean? And what’s the role of elite institutions in society? And how does this play into social mobility, and access to social capital, and all these things? And I want to just say that that is not lost on us. I actually really hope that we can dig into that more deeply in a future episode.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] We’re going to try to keep this conversation a little bit more narrowly focused, but if you’re pulling your hair out, saying, why are they not thinking about this or that in these conversations, know that that is something that we think about a lot.
[Kieth] Yes.
[Mark] But let’s get back to this question of, when we are reading application after application, what stands out?
[Hannah] Yeah. So I think a lot of the stuff that Keith was talking about can be summed up very neatly in this idea of fit. And that’s something that you will hear admissions officers talk about all the time. So let’s unpack that a little bit, and let’s just start with the obvious. So what does it mean to be a good academic fit for Yale? There are a couple of ways to demonstrate to this to us, but like Keith was saying, not having this narrow, pre-professional focus, and instead having an understanding of multidisciplinary study and this idea of a liberal arts education that doesn’t box you into one area during college– that’s a good start, in terms of understanding why you might want to study at Yale in particular. By the way Mark, and I understand that we’re sort of mired in these terms in our day-to-day life. And it’s not the case that every successful applicant would be able to articulate that their approach aligns with the liberal arts philosophy–
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] –or anything like that. It’s more often that we sniff that sort of thing out from cues in essays and teacher recommendations, the way the student writes about their own interests, the way the teachers write about their approach in the classroom. So all of this is to say, you don’t have to necessarily be able to name these things in order to demonstrate to us that you fall into these categories.
[Mark] So academic fit is obviously a critical component of this, but there’s other elements of fit as well. One of them is what I just like to call playing well with others.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] A student who’s a good fit for Yale is someone who is interested in engaging with and learning from others. That’s a huge part of our undergraduate experience– not the case at every college, university– definitely the case at Yale. That student also needs to be interested in sharing their own experiences.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm. 
[Mark] And so a student’s willingness to dig in and reveal themselves in an application can help us get a sense of, OK, this student is open to sharing where they’re coming from as well. And then finally, the sense that they’re collaborative, as opposed to competitive– you need to have the baseline sense that the people around me are great resources and they’re people I want to collaborate with, as opposed to just people I can jump over and surpass in the course of my undergraduate career.
[Hannah] Another way this can sometimes play out is an ambition and excitement for research or other learning experiences outside of the classroom. Yale is a place that is very, very rich in sort of resources. And it’s a place that really rewards initiative, and kind of requires initiative for you to get the most out of living and learning here. There are a lot of opportunities at Yale that rely on a continuous stream of innovative, student-generated ideas. So if you want to come to a place that your innovation can have room to grow and to thrive, this is a pretty good place for that.
[Mark] Yeah. Sometimes– and I’ll say this is rare– but sometimes a fit aligns around something very specific to Yale. And this might be that a student is passionate about a particular type of research a Yale professor does or wants to work with a particular collection that we have. And I want to make clear, that’s not the same as just googling something for Yale, saying, oh, I think I want to major in computer science. Let me google Yale computer science. And then you write in your application, I want to study with Professor Such-and-Such. She’s fabulous.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] It’s much more common actually that we get a sense of good fit not for something super specific, but actually because the student is saying, I don’t really have my academic path planned out. Yale happens to be really great for that kind of student as well. So even though sometimes there is a sort of alignment of the stars, and we say, oh my gosh, yes, this specific thing that we have this student is perfect for, more often it’s a more general sense of this student’s approach to undergraduate learning seems like it’s going to be a good fit for all the different places that they could go over the course of their four years.
[Hannah] Another thing that we get excited about when we’re reading and in the committee room is when an applicant demonstrates that they are a high-impact member of their community. One of my favorite lines to read in a letter of recommendation is, wow, the student will really be missed after they graduate, or this student’s impact on the school or on the community will be felt for years and years and years after they leave.
[Mark] I don’t want to dwell on pop psychology here, but you don’t have to be a super extroverted person to be a high-impact–
[Hannah] Right.
–community member.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] We see leadership and impact that comes in all kinds of different forms.
[Hannah] And I think that’s a good segue to talk a little bit about where in the application some of these things tend to come up, just to give you a little bit more specifics about where we find these things that we’re talking about.
[Mark] Right. If you’ve been frustrated that we’ve been having all this lofty talk– let’s drill down–
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] –because there are actual real moving pieces of the application, and different students can stand out in our process in different parts of them. So let’s start with essays. Side note– listen to the three episodes that we did about essays for lots more on this. But broadly speaking, a student can stand out in an essay when they do something like reveal themselves as a real thinking and feeling person.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] I know it sounds a little bit silly, but that really stands out when, over the course of 650 words, I say, oh, a real person wrote that–
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] –a real interesting–
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] –person wrote that. That stands out. Similarly, an essay that can showcase a real genuine academic passion and curiosity really stands out. This is different than just saying, hey, I’m interested in this, I liked this class, or hey, look how accomplished I am in this area and all that I’ve done. And it’s not what I was saying earlier– like, here’s how I will study this at Yale, and be wildly successful, and go on to this profession and all that. I’m talking about showcasing, revealing, demonstrating that something really gets you excited, and that this curiosity and this passion is a really intricate part of who you are, and you’re going to bring that with you to Yale.
[Hannah] I think I mentioned this in one of our other episodes about essays, but if we can get to the end of an essay and think, not only do I feel like I’ve sort of met this person or I get a sense of what it would be like to have a conversation with them or be in the same room with them, but also I get a sense of why the student is really excited to come to Yale and make use of the resources here– so that is always a winner for us.
[Mark] Yeah. OK, next area, extracurricular activities– we are planning to do another podcast episode about this at some point in the future, so stay tuned for more about this. But things that can stand out from a student’s extracurricular activities– number one, certainly, if you have an exceptional level of accomplishment in a particular area, that stands out.
But I want to make it clear, we are interested in the person who’s behind that accomplishment. That accomplishment– it’s not just going to speak for itself, even if it’s super impressive. So we’re not just going to say, oh, well, this student is an Olympian– they’re in– or this student had some amazing science experiment and they launched a rocket from their backyard– they’re in. We say, that’s impressive. Who’s the person who did that? I want to learn more about them.
[Hannah] Right. And then your extracurricular activities are another spot where impact on your communities can really stand out. And I want to make sure that we say that formal leadership– a formal leadership position doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve had a strong impact on your community. And we’re more interested in exactly what you have done and how you’ve engaged with this extracurricular, or this group, or this community that you’re a part of then how many years you’ve held X leadership position.
[Mark] All right, next up, teacher recommendations– listen to our episode about this, but broadly speaking, letters of recommendation that stand out tend to break the formula that the student’s teacher might have for most of their recommendations, and takes the time to stop and say, I really want to advocate for this student, because they were truly special in my class.
[Kieth] And one of the things that I always note, Mark, is when teachers can express why they’re happy to have a particular student in their classroom, and sometimes that what they notice is– might be surprising. I might read from the same teacher who appreciates having Gwendolyn in the classroom, because though she doesn’t speak all of the time, she is so thoughtful and considers what’s going on. When she speaks, everyone listens and it may change the course of the conversation. The same teacher might say, I’m really happy to have Juan in my classroom, because he’s always buzzing with ideas, and isn’t afraid to suggest things that are original or an alternative point of view. And that generates lively discussion in the classroom, which is gratifying not only to the teacher, but the rest of the classroom. So those are the kinds of things we love to see.
[Mark] So there are some other things that stand out as well that don’t necessarily fit into one of those categories. For one, a student who’s achieved a lot despite lacking some resources, whether at home or at their school– and I want to make clear, this is particularly exciting for us, because to achieve a lot in an under-resourced environment demonstrates impressive resourcefulness and initiative that can just explode at a place like Yale. So when we see that a student has pushed beyond the boundaries of what you might expect from where they are coming from, it bodes really well for their ability to really take advantage of what they would find at a place like Yale.
[Hannah] We also seek students from backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented at Yale. And I’ll just say this encompasses a lot of different kinds of backgrounds and identities, and it’s never as simple as simply checking a box, and then all of a sudden, you stand out in our process.
[Mark] Mm-hmm. Yeah. A diverse student body– as you’ve heard us say, it’s essential to our educational mission. This animates what we do. This is not empty talk. This is a critical component of our work in admissions. It’s a critical component of the work that everyone does on our campus. This encompasses socioeconomic diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, geographic diversity, ideological diversity, diversity of interest, opinion, belief, talent, ambition, et cetera. We want to amass a group of students who are going to be interesting and different from each other. It would be super boring if our students were all really similar, so many applicants stand out in our pool in part because they would add something to the rich diversity of our undergraduate student body, in addition to being strong along a lot of other dimensions and usually standing out in some other ways that we talked about as well.
[Hannah] Yeah, absolutely. I will say, though, that standing out isn’t necessarily the same as novelty. So hopefully your takeaway from this episode isn’t that you need to do something super wacky or unusual that no one has ever done or thought of before to stand out.
[Mark] Yeah. We see students take that approach to their applications–
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] –and sometimes it’s interesting, but doesn’t always wind up being successful for the applicant.
[Hannah] Yeah, exactly. It’s almost always interesting, really.
[Mark] Yes. What you should take away is that, if you are an applicant in a pool like Yale’s, there are going to be lots and lots of students who are very smart, who are doing very well in their courses, and active in their activities, and who are on a path towards having a very successful college career. That is just the typical applicant in our pool. The students that we admit– they all stand out from that crowd for a reason. Some of those reasons are pretty specific to Yale. Others are probably true at every selective college.
[Hannah] So when you are working on your application, we want you to think about what you’d add to a college and what you would take away from it, because that is ultimately what we’re thinking about and how we’re framing our thoughts when we read your application. And even if you feel like, hey, I’m just an ordinary student, if you’ve identified a college like Yale or another school as a good fit, you can certainly make yourself stand out for that college by showcasing the things about you that resonated with your experience learning about that college– whatever led you to think, hey, this school is a good fit for me.
[Mark] So we’ve covered a lot here. This is one of our more substantive conversations. Keith, thank you so much for joining us and adding all of your wisdom today. We really appreciated it. Yes.
[Kieth] My pleasure–
[Hannah] Thank you, Keith. We’ll have to have you back on soon.
[Mark] Thanks, as always, to our friend and colleague Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed, who lends us his office here in the Admissions Office. Hannah and I are both back here in the Admissions Office for the first time in a long time, so–
[Hannah] Very exciting–
[Mark] –thank you, Reed. Thanks to our former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our great music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments for us or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours, and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 14: Likely Letters

Episode 14: Likely Letters

Admissions officer Ashleigh joins Hannah and Mark to talk about likely letters – a recruiting tool the admissions office uses with a small group of applicants each year. In this mini-episode, the office’s director of recruitment explains why some regular decision applicants receive a likely letter and addresses some common misconceptions.

[MUSIC PLAYING] 
[Hannah] Hello. And welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah. And I’m a Yale admissions officer. 
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And we are delighted to be joined today by our friend and colleague, Ashleigh. 
[Ashleigh] Hello. 
[Hannah] Hey, Ashleigh. Thanks for joining us today. Ashleigh is our office’s director of recruitment, which means that she is in charge of overseeing all communications and programming for admitted students. Fun fact: I used to have this job, and before it was me it was Mark. 
[Mark] Yep. Yeah, we have a lot of expertise on the podcast here today. And we are going to do our episode all about something called likely letters. You may have heard about this before. This might be totally foreign. So let’s give you a quick definition. Every year, the admissions office sends a very small sliver of our applicant pool something called a likely letter. It’s a very, very small part of our work, but we have seen a lot of questions about these things, a lot of misperceptions about them out in the internet world. So we thought we should tell you a little bit about what they’re all about and set the record straight for you. 
[Hannah] Yes. This is for you applying to college subreddit. We want to let you know what’s going on here. So there seems to be a lot of misinformation and confusion. So we’re just going to give you the straight story on what a likely letter is, who might receive one, why we send them, when we send them. All of that stuff. 
[Mark] Yeah. And is there anything that the general public, even active college applicants, need to know about likely letters? 
[Hannah] No, no. There’s nothing you need to know. [LAUGHTER] There’s nothing you need to do. No action items here. But just in the name of transparency, we’re going to set the record straight. 
[Mark] Exactly. So Ashleigh, since you are working directly in this space, can you tell our listeners what is a likely letter and what kind of likely letter are we going to be talking about today? 
[Ashleigh] Absolutely. So I’m actually going to start talking about athletic likely letters, but you all should know that this episode is actually not going to focus on athletically likely letters. So when a recruited student athlete submits their application to Yale, an admissions committee reviews it and may issue a likely letter. And this letter says that we have confidence in your potential to contribute athletically and otherwise, and as long as you maintain your academic performance, personal integrity, you can expect that official acceptance letter. Most recruited athletes apply early action, so most athletic likely letters are issued in the fall. 
[Mark] Right. And if you can imagine how athletic recruiting works at most universities, you imagine the big signing ceremony. Sometimes someone as young as junior year or even earlier is signing themselves away. Yale and the Ivy League, we don’t do that. And to be clear, the admissions process is exactly the same for our recruited student athletes as it is for everybody else. The League, and the Ivy League is an Athletic Conference, has agreed that one way that we can recruit students is by issuing a likely letter, which is not an official offer of admission but it is a tool essentially to help our athletic teams recruit those students. 
[Hannah] Right. But those are not the kinds of likely letters we want to talk about with you today. We also send additional likely letters in our regular decision round and along the same lines as those athletic letters, these likely letters that we’re talking about say we’ve reviewed your application, we’re excited to be able to admit you. As long as you keep up your strong performance, we’ll be sending you an official acceptance letter at the end of March. 
[Ashleigh] At Yale, we include some other stuff about why your applications stood out, such as your general academic abilities, your leadership in your school or in your community, your exceptional strength in STEM, or your fit for the directed studies program. 
[Hannah] Right, which we should say is a special program for first years at Yale.
[Mark] Yeah. And it is a letter, so this is something that students receive in the mail. But actually, students don’t find out about this just by going to their mailbox. We as admissions officers get to have the very special pleasure of calling these students up and giving them the news over the phone. This always happens in the dead of winter when we are just in the slog of reading thousands of regular decision applications. And it is such a wonderful and joyous thing as an admissions officer to take a break from that, call up a 17-year-old student and say, “You’re coming to Hollywood! You’re getting a likely letter.” It’s so fun. 
[Hannah] Yeah. It’s awesome. And as you can imagine, we don’t get to call every single one of the students that we admit. The volume is just too insane. But for this group of students we actually get to break the news over the phone, and those calls are just always so fun. 
[Mark] So you’re probably wondering, why do we send these letters to a small group of regular decision applicants? You may be thinking that this is some super elite group of students, that it’s like being admitted to Yale with laurels, like with extra points on top of it. That’s not how you should think about this at all. 
[Hannah] Right, right. One reason we send likely letters is that we read your application and we’re really excited to admit you, but that’s not the real reason that these letters exist. We decide to send likely letters to students based on the strength of their application, but also based on our understanding of how low the chances are of this student eventually committing to Yale. 
[Ashleigh] So we only issue likely letters to regular decision applicants. So if a student is applying early action, we feel pretty good about the fact that Yale is probably their first choice. If an applicant is applying regular decision, they may have applied somewhere else early or there’s a good chance that they’re just going to have so many compelling college options to choose from in April. 
[Mark] And in the name of transparency, we’ll say there’s no set number of these that we give out in any given year, but it tends to be around 200 or so of the 2,300 or so total offers of admission that we will send out in a given year and they are almost all going to go to applicants with backgrounds or profiles that we think that our peer institutions– and by the way, that’s sort of higher ed speak for competitors, the other schools that tend to admit great students like we do– we think that these students are likely to be admitted by those other schools and that they’re going to be keen on responding to their applications as well. 
[Hannah] Right. And what that means to us is that they might therefore yield at Yale at a lower rate. 
[Mark] We are not saying that these students are stronger than any others. This is a bit of strategy on our part. This is the admissions office trying to think two steps ahead. And if we send a student a likely letter we’re basically predicting three things. We are predicting Yale is going to admit the student. And by the way, we run through the exact same committee process that you’ve heard us talk about before to issue likely letters. So although we are waiting for the decision date to release an official admissions decision, the exact same process has been followed to get us to a likely letter. So that’s thing one, we’re going to admit the student. 
Thing two. We’re also predicting lots of other top colleges are also going to admit this student, and we’re using our spidey sense to gauge that. We’re also predicting number three, that since we want this student to come to Yale they might benefit from some extra time doing some comparison shopping. We think let’s give them the news a little bit early, so there’s not a mad rush for this student’s attention in April. 
[Hannah] And by the way, there is this concept in some admissions offices of yield protecting, where schools would avoid admitting students that they think are unlikely to yield. And at Yale, we do not believe in that. We do not practice that. If we think a student is strong and would thrive at Yale, and we’re excited to bring them to Yale, we vote to admit them. But the likely letter is a way to give us a better shot at convincing them that they are a great fit for Yale and that they are going to thrive at Yale, too. 
[Ashleigh] And we hold a few special committees to review these students in late January typically. And likely letters usually go out throughout the month of February. Very often there are students who we strongly consider sending likely letters to, but just decide we need more time to consider their application in our regular committee process. Sometimes that’s just because we want to wait for more information, such as an interview, updated grades, et cetera, and sometimes we just need more time to evaluate their application. 
[Hannah] So we put a likely letter in the mail and then what happens next? 
[Ashleigh] What the likely letter really allows us to do is again spend more time introducing this student to what Yale has to offer and why the admissions committee thought they were such a great fit. So instead of waiting until April for the admitted student programming that we host, we just get more time. Usually this center’s around conversations with current students. We have a great group of current Yalies with similar interests that are eager to reach out to you and help you get excited about Yale. 
[Hannah] Yeah. And also, by the way, for the subset of students who receive a STEM likely letter, we have a special on-campus event, this year of course it’s virtual, that serves as an introduction to studying science, engineering, or math at Yale. 
[Mark] All right. So Ashleigh, help us combat some common misconceptions about likely letters. So this is one that we see sometimes. If, say my friend and I both got into Yale or X school, but she got a likely letter and I didn’t, does that mean that her application was stronger or that she’s a better person or that her admissions officer likes her more than me? 
[Ashleigh] Nope. If you got admitted to Yale, regardless of your application round or when you found out, your application is extremely strong. What determines if you get a likely letter is more about us than it is about you. If we feel like we’re going to need more time to convince you just how awesome Yale, is that’s when we’ll send a likely letter. 
[Hannah] Yeah. And by the way, trust us, your admissions officer is super excited to welcome you to Yale, likely letter or not. 
[Hannah] Yes. 
[Ashleigh] Totally. 
[Mark] And I’ll say, sometimes we get those predictions wrong. I mean Sometimes we imagine, oh, maybe this student is not that keen on the Yale, they’re going to need extra time. That’s actually the best thing when it happens. And we call up a student and we say we want to give you extra time. And they say, “I want to commit right now. Yes, Yale’s my number one choice.” 
[Hannah] Right. 
[Mark] We Say, “Well, awesome.” Wonderful. Thanks for that. I guess we guessed wrong on that part, but delighted that you got the news a little early. 
[Hannah] Yeah. Exactly. It’s a win-win. Another misconception that we sometimes see is how if I didn’t get a likely letter that means I’m not getting accepted, right? 
[Ashleigh] Also not true. So of the 2000-plus students admitted to Yale each year, less than 10% received likely letters. 
[Mark] Remember, there is no action item associated with this. I had no idea what a likely letter was until I started working as a Yale admissions officer. Same here. I had never heard of it. It had not affected my understanding of the undergraduate student life or the admissions process when I was a Yale student. So it certainly shouldn’t be entering your mind as an applicant. But now a little bit more about it. 
[Hannah] Yeah. Absolutely. Likely letters can be an exciting surprise for applicants in February, but most applicants don’t get them. If you do get one, by the way, the current director of recruitment at Yale and former directors of recruitment at Yale want you to take advantage of the opportunity to spend more time getting to know the school. Find out why it could be a good fit for you, and make use of the resources that we provide you. 
[Mark] And finally, remember that students who get a likely letter don’t have any special advantages over students who are accepted just at the end of March. Once you’ve been accepted, you’re a Yalie, no matter when you heard about your acceptance. 
Ashleigh, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate having you on the podcast. 
[Ashleigh] No, thank you so much for having me. It’s really exciting to talk about some of the work that I do. 
[Hannah] We’ll have you back sometime soon. 
[Mark] Thanks to our friend and colleague Jill who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com. 
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at Yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening. 
[MUSIC PLAYING] 
 

Episode 15: Dealing with Decisions

Episode 15: Dealing with Decisions

With decision day approaching, Hannah and Mark share advice for understanding and processing each type of decision: denied, admitted, and placed on the wait list. They discuss what each decision means (and doesn’t mean) about an individual, the applicant pool, and what comes next. They share the wisdom of former Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel: “Almost nothing depends on exactly which college admits you. Everything depends on what you decide to do once you get to college.”

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Hello, and welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale Admissions Officer.
[Hannah] My name is Hannah, and I’m also a Yale Admissions Officer.
[Mark] And this is coming out right around decision day. So we wanted to do an episode all about how we think you should think about and process the news that’s coming out soon.
[Hannah] So, what we’re going to talk about today is based on our experience of working with students and parents. Just a quick disclaimer. We are not psychiatrists. We will not be doling out any sort of mental health advice here, but we do want to talk a little bit about how we suggest that you think about the decision that you receive from Yale or from another college, whether it’s deny, admit, or wait list and we’ll talk about what each of these three outcomes really means, and how you might think about processing them.
[Mark] Yeah. And our hope here is that we can provide you with some valuable insights that will help you deal with admissions decisions that you would get from any selective college, not just from Yale. And we are coming at this from our experience frequently encountering some folks who do not process their decision in a particularly healthy way. One of the things that surprised me most when I started working in Admissions is that we often get some, let’s say, feedback from folks after they are disappointed by their decision.
[Hannah] “Feedback” is a nice word.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] It actually doesn’t come as frequently right in the moment afterwards. Like, you’d kind of think immediately, there would sort of be this white-hot rage, and the day after decisions went out, our phones would be ringing off the hook. That actually doesn’t happen all that much. Instead, what we find is that it’s often a few weeks later when we encounter folks who have just clearly been stewing over this and their brain has just gone to some pretty unhealthy places in the interim.
[Hannah] Right. They’re a little bit removed from reality by the time we start to hear from them. But we also encounter students who might draw the wrong conclusions about being admitted.
[Mark] Yeah. Sometimes, the students, sometimes their parents, sometimes their schools. They have a little bit too much hubris about what happened. They are patting themselves on the back a little bit too much. We also encounter students who experience some real imposter syndrome. And they think that the Admissions Office made a mistake. And they think, well, there’s no way that I could succeed at a place like Yale. And they wind up going through the month of April and into May, making their college decision based on some incorrect assumptions about where they would be able to succeed.
[Hannah] And then, we also, of course, see students who take the wrong approach to being put on our wait list. They might drag out the process unnecessarily, keep themselves from enjoying the end of their senior year, and miss out on some other great college options.
[Mark] So in this episode, we are going to give you some advice for dealing with each one of those decisions. If you are admitted to a college, fabulous. If you’re denied, how do you manage that disappointment, and then finally, if you’re on the waitlist. Before we dive into each of those, though, let’s give some general advice for just thinking about what an admissions decision from a college really means.
[Hannah] Yeah, absolutely. I think the number one thing, remember that decisions are not a reflection of your worth, your potential success in college and beyond, your effort in the process, your brains, or anything like that.
[Mark] These are not validations or condemnations of parenting choices or high schools or extracurricular activities or anything like that. It is really tempting to think about college admissions this way. It’s especially true if you get good news, right? But that’s a misinterpretation of our work. I will mention one of the things that has made me cringe the most is when I see high schools, particularly independent high schools, sort of advertise with their students’ acceptances.
[Hannah] (SIGHS) Oh yeah.
[Mark] Many years ago, there was a small school in a city I won’t name that literally had a giant billboard featuring a young woman wearing her Yale T-shirt and it was up for years. And I would drive to the city doing outreach visits, and I just couldn’t avoid it. And the young woman was fabulous. She’s fantastic. But the idea that this school was sort of taking credit for everything about her, and then advertising based on it– just completely wrong use of the college admissions process.
[Hannah] Remember that our work is narrower and less ambitious than many may imagine. Our goal is to try to select great young people for a very specific four-year experience, which is very different from saying who is the best or who is the most worthy in our process.
[Mark] Yeah. OK. Let’s go ahead and talk about each one of these decisions. We decided that we’re going to talk about these in order of frequency and no matter what your decision is, remember, you are in good company. There are tens of thousands of people who’ve gone through this process, who have been denied, who’ve been admitted, who’ve been put on the waitlist before. So, even though it’s probably going to feel very personal, remember that lots and lots of people experience this. All right. Let’s start with the bad news first. Let’s talk about how to handle, how to deal with being denied from a college.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Right up front, let’s just acknowledge that this is not going to feel good.
[Mark] No.
[Hannah] It sucks. You wanted something and you didn’t get it. You probably feel like you made a big investment in your application and it wasn’t recognized and we also know that the way we ask you to reflect in your essays and everything means that you put a lot of your personality into your application. And that makes it hard to not take it personally when you’re not accepted.
[Mark] I find that to be one of the most challenging things, and kind of the biggest paradox about this, is that we’ve told you, be personal in your application. Be personal, be personal. And then, if you’re denied, we say, don’t take it personally. And that’s tough. We get that. You may feel really frustrated, right? And this classic frustration. You worked hard for something. You didn’t get the outcome you wanted. You can also feel kind of mournful. You’ve probably spent a lot of time imagining yourself at a particular school, and now that thing is gone. You may also feel like admissions officers are a bunch of dummies, and we don’t know what we’re doing. That is all fine. All those feelings that you’re going to have at the moment, there is nothing wrong with any of them whatsoever.
But your goal is to deal with the decision. You are trying to move on from it, and you want to get those initial feelings out of the way and get to a different place and the absolute best way that I have heard anyone talk about this actually comes from our previous Admissions Dean, a guy named Jeff Brenzel. I’m hoping that we can have him on the podcast soon. Jeff is such a thoughtful guy, and actually wrote a wonderful piece about how to think about admissions decisions that we’ve kept on our website. It’s called “What To Do After Colleges Accept You.” his advice on this is just so perfect.
He says the only way to deal with a denial decision is to say, your loss, baby. And that’s my best Jeff impression. That’s pretty good. “Your loss, baby.” [LAUGHS] That’s your goal. You want to get to this place where you’re saying, gee, Yale, you are missing out on an awesome person. Another college is going to be super lucky to have me, so your loss, baby.
[Hannah] Yeah. And you’d be totally correct if you reach that conclusion. And remember, Mark and I have talked about this before. But we feel like we’re missing out all the time. We can validate that. We are often really frustrated to have to deny students. The next piece of advice that we have is just to remember that you have absolutely no idea how close you came to being admitted. It’s not like we send a different letter for students who were pulled out as part of a final review of the class, or those who were completely uncompetitive.
[Mark] Yeah. You will never know what happened in the admissions committee room. It’s, I think, that fact that makes people’s brains kind of go into overdrive, because they try to imagine what happened, what mistake did I make? That is not what typically happens. That is not usually why a student is denied.
[hannah] Right. We’re never sitting in the committee room and saying, if only the student didn’t do this, they’d be getting–
[Mark] Exactly.
[Hannah] That doesn’t happen.
[Mark] Yeah.
[Hannah] So, our next piece of advice is go ahead and blame tens of thousands of other people, but don’t blame yourself.
[Mark] Yes. I have to imagine if you’re the type of person who listens to a podcast about admissions, you are probably as over-analytical as Hannah and I are. Right? And so you’re going to want to come up with an explanation for what just happened. But the only information that’s readily available to you is what you put in your application. So this is why you’re going to tend to say, well, what did I do wrong? What was it about this that didn’t work out? What could I have done better?
So, this is a classic fallacy that gets talked about in social science research a lot, of searching for your keys under the streetlight. So, quick aside here. This is a common critique of a particular type of research, where someone says, well, you were looking for the explanation of something, and you just looked for where it was easy as opposed to where the data might lead you.
And the analogy here is of a professor who has walked home from his lab at the end of the day and dropped his keys somewhere. Gets home, realizes he doesn’t have his keys, goes back to look for them. It’s dark out, and where is he looking for them? Well, under the streetlight. Not because that’s where he thinks he dropped them, but that’s where the light is.
So, you’re going to tend to look for things where it’s easy to look for them, and that’s going to be in your application. If you saw what we saw, though, which is an applicant pool full of tens of thousands of students, you would realize that the explanation is in a much different and much larger place than just what was in your application.
[Hannah] Exactly. And we have been through this process so many times and read so many applications that we can say with pretty good certainty that most applicants who are denied would be great at Yale, did nothing wrong in their application. It’s not that they made any wrong choices in their high school experience. It just comes with the territory of a very selective admissions process.
[Mark] So, go ahead and blame tens of thousands of other people around the world, but be careful. Don’t blame any specific person. This is another manifestation of that keys-spotlight fallacy, is finding someone who was admitted and saying, aha! You got my spot! We see this in high schools a lot and no good can come from it.
[Hannah] Yeah. And besides the fact that we don’t have quotas or try to admit a certain number of people from certain places or certain high schools, there’s probably a lot about your peers that you don’t know. They may have been admitted for reasons that you don’t know about and it may or may not be the case that you’d agree with these reasons, but we can guarantee that they didn’t affect your candidacy.
[Mark] OK. So, final piece of advice, here. Put that overactive brain of yours to work thinking about all the awesome things that you’re going to do in college, wherever you’ve been admitted. Do not let bad news from one school overshadow the great news that you’ve gotten from one or more colleges.
[Hannah] Right. Absolutely. Think about it. You only get to go to one college, so you only need one acceptance letter. And hopefully, it’s one that you’re really excited about. Focusing on that rather than dwelling on the places that you don’t get in.
[Mark] Exactly. You’re going to do great things in college, and do them for you. And just forget about the schools that turned you down. Remember, your loss, baby.
[Hannah] And just a few practical notes, before we move on to talking about other decisions. The first one, this is really important. There’s no appeals process. We do not go back and revisit applications after they’ve been denied. It just wouldn’t be fair.
[Mark] Right. Also, students have the option to apply again, but reapplying almost never changes the outcome.
[Hannah] And finally, I feel like we should say, you’re not going to hurt our feelings if you decide to unsubscribe from our podcast. That’s totally cool.
[Mark] We get it.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] It’s all right.
[HANNAH LAUGHS]
[Mark] OK. Let’s talk about something happier– how to handle an admit. You just got some good news from a college. It feels great! Enjoy it! Jump up and down. Hug your mom. Call your grandma. My first piece of advice here is get lots and lots of people to share in the joy of this moment. Share it with as many people as quickly as possible. They are going to love being part of that experience with you.
[Hannah] Totally. And this leads into, this is a great time to start recognizing all the people who helped you reach this place. Those teachers who write you recommendation letters, everyone who’s supported you. No one gets into Yale on their own. So be proud of what you’ve done, and also start thinking of the other people who helped you get there.
[Mark] Yes. Start saying thank you right away. There have been people on your team throughout high school that got you to where you are. You want them on your team when you’re in college, as well. Let’s talk a little bit about what a decision means and what a decision doesn’t mean in this case. So, this is going to be similar to what we’ve talked about in previous episodes. But the most important thing, I think, to keep in mind about what a decision means is that indeed, you stood out in our pool. There were lots of smart and accomplished students in our applicant pool, and among them, some things about you caught the attention of our admissions committee. Those some things that got us specifically excited were about four years at Yale, and what you would take away from those four years, and what you would add to those four years. This is a real vote of confidence for the Yale experience, specifically.
So, thinking about students who sometimes encounter this imposter syndrome, I want to say up front, this is a real vote of confidence. We are professionals. We think that we’re pretty good at this. We think we’re pretty good at finding students from all kinds of different backgrounds and connecting the dots and saying, yes, this student, for a whole bunch of different reasons, could absolutely thrive for four years in our environment, and graduate having gotten a whole lot out of the experience. So, we believe in you for Yale, specifically, if you’re offered admission.
[Hannah] What your decision does not mean. It doesn’t mean that you are smarter or that you worked harder than the tens of thousands of other people who were denied. We can pretty much guarantee you that someone smarter than you and someone who worked harder than you got denied. Just trust us on that one. We’ve seen it all. It also doesn’t mean that you deserved this any more than someone else, however you’d sort of define that.
[Mark] It also doesn’t mean that your life is now going to be a magical cakewalk, and that opportunities and successes will just magically appear at your doorstep for the rest of your life.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] Still learning that lesson.
[Mark] In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that your time in college is going to be more challenging than what you’ve already experienced. You have our confidence that you’re going to do well, but you should think about really preparing yourself for that experience. You’ve got a lot more to do ahead of you. Your story is not done, by any stretch of the imagination.
[Hannah] So, we want you to take this news with a mix of humility and confidence, and don’t look back. Get excited!
[Mark] Yes. I think that’s a final piece of advice, really, for all decisions, is that, remember that this college admissions process, it’s a means to an end. It is not an end in and of itself. This is a process to get you to college. So, even if you find yourself at the college you always dreamed about, that’s time to go live out that dream. Leave the admissions process behind you. Hannah and I, we go back in the cycle, we do this over and over again. You only have to do it once. So move on and don’t look back.
[Hannah] All right. Let’s talk about that tricky middle ground of handling a waitlist decision. And I’ll also say that if you apply early action, some of the same advice can be applied if you’re handling a defer decision.
[Mark] Yeah, good point.
[Hannah] It might not feel great, confusing.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] Lots of things.
[Hannah] Lots of things. You’ll probably go back and forth between relief that it’s not a rejection, frustration that you don’t have closure, and a whole lot of confusion and bewilderment about what comes next.
[Mark] Yes. This can be very confusing. So, here’s the big piece of advice. Despite the fact that you’ve not received closure yet from any particular school that puts you on the waitlist, act like there is.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] Act like it’s not going to happen, not because you don’t have a chance of getting off the waitlist. You certainly do. But because you do not want to miss the opportunity to get yourself really excited about your other options. So, tuck that waitlist decision away. Try not to think about it. And spend your time focusing on the good news that you already have in hand.
[Hannah] Yeah. And another reason that advice makes sense is there’s not a whole lot you can or should be doing. There’s a reason we call it the waitlist. You’re just going to have to wait. And that can seem frustrating. As fellow control freaks, we get it. But it’s true. You were put on the waitlist not because there is some deficit to your application, but because your application was really strong and we would love to be able to admit you.
[Mark] Right. Part of this is also just practical. In the month of April, we as admissions officers are spending all of our time thinking about our admitted students and yielding them, as we say, trying to get them to choose Yale. The wait list is just really far down on our list of priorities at this time. So, you are not going to help your case by calling us, visiting campus, sending a million updates, or getting the whole town to write on your behalf and it helps to understand why we have a wait list. We have a wait list because we don’t know what yield is going to look like in any particular year.
We’re going to talk a lot about yield in a future episode, the programming that we do, and how we try to get students to think about Yale, among their other great decisions, and all the interesting work that admissions officers do in that space. But there are just some unknowns that are associated with this. We really don’t know how yield is going to affect the shape of the class. We want our class to be diverse along lots of different dimensions. And sometimes, our yield surprises us, and the class that we yield– the students who have said, yes, we’re coming in the fall– looks a little bit different than the class that we admitted.
[Hannah] We like having a waitlist. We want to go to the waitlist. But occasionally, there’s just not any room.
[Mark] Yeah. We have absolutely no idea how many students we’re going to go to, and we don’t know until after May 1, which is when students who have been admitted reply. So that’s why our wait list is not ranked. It’s why we have no idea if we’re going to be going for zero students or 100 students off the waitlist and that’s why there’s just not much that you can do in the interim.
[Hannah] And by the way, we do try to work quickly once May 1 comes around. We don’t want to leave you hanging indefinitely. Remember, if you’re waiting, just try to put it out of your mind.
[Mark] Put it out of your mind. Go get the sweatshirt for your new college. Go get excited about where you’re going to be living there. That’s what you should be spending your energy doing. If you get a call from a Yale admissions officer, that would be great. But you shouldn’t be spending your time worrying and thinking about, is that going to happen.
[Hannah] Well, that’s a lot to think about. Remember to separate out how you feel in the moment when you get one of these decisions with how you’re going to deal with it and move on from your decision. And everyone will move on from their decision, even those who have been admitted.
[Mark] And after you get your decisions, hey, you’re back in the driver’s seat. You get to decide which college will be lucky enough to get you for four years. You are the decider now. And you’re probably going to break some hearts at admissions offices along the way.
[Hannah] You absolutely will!
[Mark] It happens to all of us. Let me wrap up with one final piece of advice from former Dean of Admissions, Jeff Brenzel, who said this just perfectly. So, here’s a full quote from him. “After years of experience, here’s what I know virtually to the point of certainty. Almost nothing depends on exactly which strong college admits you. Everything depends on what you decide to do once you get to a strong college, and how well prepared you are to take advantage of the infinite opportunities you will find there.” That is absolutely what we believe and how we operate. So, take that good advice. I have not worked on an old movie quote in a while, either.
[Hannah] Let’s do it.
[Mark] So, here’s a quote from one of the best movies of all time. It is almost 80 years old, and it’s still spectacular– Casablanca.
[Hannah] Of course.
[Mark] I’m going to do my best Humphrey Bogart impression, here.
[OLD MOVIE MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] This is quite the buildup.
[Mark] All right.
[Hannah] I’m excited.
(RASPY) “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Here’s looking at you, kid.”
All right. All right.
[LAUGHTER]
Thanks to our friend and colleague Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.
If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are mine and Mark’s, and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 16: Transfer and Nontraditional Students

Episode 16: Transfer and Nontraditional Students

The transfer and nontraditional students programs make up a small but important part of the admissions office’s work to create a diverse undergraduate community. Hannah and Mark cover the basics of applying through either program and share the office’s approach to reviewing these applications. Director of transfer admissions Marisa shares advice for transfer applicants – especially those enrolled in community colleges – and director of Eli Whitney admissions Patricia shares insights for nontraditional students – especially US military veterans.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Hello, and welcome to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah. I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And this is the very first episode that we are recording by request.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] We have gotten a lot of emails to our account requesting an episode about transfer admissions. So we’re going to do it.
[Hannah] Yeah. We actually read the emails. And we’re happy to deliver on this request. So I think that we should probably begin with a startling revelation here, which is that this whole podcast has already been about transfer admissions.
[Mark] Whoa. Major plot twist.
[Hannah] Seriously.
[Mark] Whoa. This is like Bruce Willis in Sixth Sense, Kevin Spacey, Usual Suspects. I wasn’t sure which one was the right analogy for this. But pow.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Mind blown– you’ve been listening to a podcast about transfer admissions this whole time.
[Hannah] That’s right. Everything that we’ve covered– reading, committee, essays, recommendations– it all applies to transfer students just as much as it applies to first-year applicants.
[Mark] Right. So if this is the first episode that you’re listening to, we’re going to recommend that you go back and listen to some others, because it’s going to give you a lot of advice– even if you’re planning to apply through our transfer or nontraditional student’s program.
[Hannah] Yeah. The process is virtually the same. The priorities are the same. There are a few relevant differences. And we’ll try to focus on those for this episode.
[Mark] We also want to talk about a special admissions program we run for nontraditional students. That’s the Eli Whitney Students Program and in our terms, nontraditional means someone who’s educational path has been interrupted for five or more years. There are some students who are eligible to apply through transfer, or Eli Whitney, or through first-year. You can check our website for all the details about that.
[Hannah] Yeah. And we’ll talk about how we review these applications– what we’re looking for in these different processes. And I’m really excited, because we’re going to be joined by two more colleagues today making their podcast debuts.
[Mark] Woo-hoo.
[Hannah] Yeah. Marisa is going to talk about the transfer program. And then, Patricia will talk about the Eli Whitney Program.
[Mark] So let’s start with talking about why we have these programs and how they work.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Obviously, when most people think about undergraduate admissions, they tend to think about first-year admission for students who are coming right out of high school. And indeed, that’s 95% of the applications that we receive, and probably about 95% of the work that we do.
[Hannah] Yeah. But we also have these two other admissions programs designed to meet the needs of different types of students who can really add a lot to Yale and take a lot away– just like incoming first-year students.
[Mark] Yeah. It’s worth noting that at Yale, all of our undergraduates are in the same academic program. They participate in the same activities. At some other universities, they might have a separate extension program or something like a continuing studies program. For nontraditional students in particular, they might have a separate admissions office. But at Yale, it all comes through our office. And it all heads to the same place– that’s just Yale College, where all of our undergraduates are.
[Hannah] Yeah. And I think that’s a really important thing to understand. Because it means that we’re looking for applicants to these programs who are going to enrich the same community that we have been talking about throughout this podcast.
[Mark] Exactly. So remember, this has already been a podcast about transfer and even nontraditional student admissions.
[Hannah] Yeah, definitely. So we could certainly fill the undergraduate student body with traditional aged students coming right out of high school if we wanted. But we think we’d be missing out on something if we did that.
[Mark] Definitely. Remember, we mean it when we say that we care a lot about diversity and all of its possible forms. We think that transfer and nontraditional students add a lot to the diversity of the undergraduate student body, particularly in terms of the diversity of lived experience that they bring with them.
[Hannah] And students coming straight out of high school aren’t the only ones who can really thrive in the Yale College academic environment.
[Mark] We think there’s more out there and more that these folks can add to the Yale experience. So that’s what we’re looking for.
[Hannah] Yeah. And we should be really clear here– these programs are very, very small.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Generally, each year, there are between 30 and 40 new incoming transfer and Eli Whitney Student Program students combined– compared to 1,500 new first-year students.
[Mark] Right. And we should go ahead and make clear, you really can’t do any apples to apples comparison when it comes to selectivity. If you look at the number of applicants and the number of admitted students, that actually is not going to tell you a whole lot. The pools of students who choose to apply through these programs– first-year, transfer, nontraditional– they’re so different. That admit rate is not going to tell you a whole lot. So we also don’t go in with a specific quota in any given year. We look at the number of students who apply, and we take the number of students that stand out as really compelling, provided that there’s space available in the college for them.
[Hannah] Yeah. All that said, we should be clear– these programs are both very, very selective. Like the first-year program, we have many, many more highly qualified and academically prepared students than we have room to admit.
[Mark] Right. In a minute, we’re going to talk with our colleagues about what makes an applicant stand out in these pools. But first, let’s cover some basic advice for these programs. So first, because these programs are so highly selective, we advise you don’t make some huge life decisions based on the idea that it’s going to help your chances of admission.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] The numbers here, they’re just too low. It doesn’t make sense for you to upturn your life.
[Hannah] For example, we have students ask us, oh, if I pick x college in the spring of my senior year of high school, will it make me a better transfer applicant to Yale later on. And we say, whoa, whoa. Don’t make this decision based on that remote possibility.
[Mark] Hold up.
[Hannah] Choose the right school for you.
[Mark] Right. Similarly, sometimes students will get very wrapped up in the idea that they could withdraw from their current college or un-enroll from certain courses in order to retain eligibility for either first-year admission or transfer admission. That does not make any sense whatsoever.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] Do what makes sense for you in the moment. And know that Yale will have a program that can meet you where you are if you are interested.
[Hannah] I think the best advice we have is, don’t disengage from your current college.
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] And don’t start your time at college assuming that you’re going to transfer.
[Mark] Right.
[Hannah] You’ll end up missing out on a lot of opportunities. And you’re making yourself a less compelling candidate if you’ve already got one foot out the door.
[Mark] Right. We’ll start by saying, the most compelling transfer applicants are those who have really engaged in their current college environment. They’re doing well. But they’re also making a compelling case for why they might do even better at a place like Yale. Simply saying, things are not working out well here, I’m not engaged. I don’t like it. That doesn’t make you a compelling applicant in our transfer program.
[Hannah] And by the way, if you applied as a first-year applicant, and you were denied, it’s probably not the case that applying again as a transfer applicant is going to change the outcome. The pools are just as strong. Your application probably is not going to be significantly different.
[Mark] Right. Let’s talk about each program more in depth.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Let’s get some advice from each program’s director as well. So let’s start with transfer.
[Hannah] So the transfer admissions program is for students who are currently or recently enrolled in a full-time undergraduate program. So this generally means someone who went right from high school to college and wants to transfer to Yale after either one or two years.
[Mark] Incoming transfer students start at Yale as either Yale sophomores or as a Yale junior. And we should say, strong transfer students come from all kinds of different colleges. We talked about this being one of the pieces of diversity of experience. So we see students coming through the transfer program from schools that are a lot like Yale. They’re at schools that are highly residential. They have a liberal arts program. You can see a lot of connections between what that student’s doing in their college and what they would have been doing at Yale in their first or second year.
[Hannah] Yeah. But also, some are coming from really different kinds of college environments. They’re at big state universities with a lot of different undergraduate schools. Or they’re coming from community colleges with commuter students and a mix of full-time and part-time students.
[Mark] Yeah. So there’s a lot of interesting diversity there. But we should make an important caveat– strong transfer students do all have relatively similar academic programs. And those academic programs tend to look pretty similar to what a Yale undergraduate student would be doing their first or their first and their second year in their classes.
[Hannah] Determining which courses will transfer for credit at Yale is an art, not a science.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] And the credit review process is a part of the admissions committee discussion. Basically, department and course titles don’t need to line up exactly. But if you’ve been taking mostly, say, business and marketing courses, or you’ve been in an undergraduate nursing program, there’s just not a Yale analog to those.
[Mark] Right. We’re not going to be able to line things like that up and let’s mention, we don’t admit a transfer student if they’re not going to meet the credit benchmark to begin as a sophomore as a junior. So that means, you won’t apply to Yale as a transfer student, be admitted, but then get a letter saying, sorry, you’ve got to start over as a first-year.
[Hannah] And you also can’t voluntarily rescind credit to make yourself eligible if you have too many credits.
[Mark] Right. We’re going to do a review of the transcript along with everything else. And part of that review involves determining, OK, are you eligible to actually continue at Yale as a sophomore as or as a junior based on what you’ve done. That determination can’t happen until we’re actually in the committee room with someone from our Yale College Dean’s Office. So don’t call us up in advance. It’s going to be hard for us to make that call for you. Just apply. We’ll figure it out on the inside.
[Hannah] Yeah. So now that you know the basics, let’s introduce our colleague, Marisa, who directs our transfer program.
[Mark] Hi, Marisa. Welcome to the podcast.
[Marisa] Hey, Mark. Hi, Hannah. It’s great to be here. Thanks.
[Hannah] So we have three of the most frequently asked questions for you that we’d like to cover about transfer applications, starting with– and this is a big one– what makes a transfer applicant stand out academically?
[Marisa] We want to emphasize that it’s the quality of the student’s effort during this entire experience that stands out to us in the application review.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Marisa] High grades, performing well in liberal arts types courses helps the students stand out academically in Yale’s transfer pool. Most importantly, have a focus. Develop your passion. Dive into and take advantage of the best academic programs. Seek out well-known professors to help guide you and get involved in meaningful extracurricular activities. And the chance for applications that stand out the most to us are really those students who lean in, and where we can strongly see the student’s own agency. It might be an answer that surprises you. But this really means the students who are intentional in the way that they’ve engaged in improving their likelihood of success.
[Hannah] All right. And then, how can a transfer applicant use their responses to the application questions to help them stand out in the process?
[Marisa] Hannah, of course, there are universal principles that apply to any college admissions application. As you both said at the beginning of this episode, this entire series has covered many of the factors so far, from how to craft compelling essays, to the importance of requesting letters of recommendation that will make a difference, to really how to even conduct a persuasive interview. So for students attending colleges and wanting to apply to Yale or any other selective university, an important tool to guide this process is simple– just remember and be proud that you have chosen to pursue higher education and let that shine through. We want students to know how personal the transfer application process is, and that you can stand out by being authentic and honest in your essays, similar to the first-year application about your goals, your passions, and your dreams for the future.
And ultimately, I would just have to add that this is not a transactional process. Instead, it is a hands-on process. And we care about who you are. And ultimately, we do want to improve the likelihood of your success.
[Mark] So Marisa, what is your advice to students who attend community college and are applying to transfer?
[Marisa] This is one of my favorite questions, because Yale is committed to building a stronger and more inclusive university. So essentially, to echo all that you have expressed throughout these podcasts, my advice is thinking about transferring to Yale is really at the highest level twofold. First, we want students to know that Yale values the diversity of experiences and backgrounds that they would bring to our campus. While the numbers are still relatively small for those transferring to Yale, we know that there are some outstanding institutions across the country with curriculums, with liberal arts courses, where you can dig in and become actively engaged in this hub of practical knowledge and pursue your academic interests. Our advice is to really be aware that Yale is committed to greater efforts for providing a transfer runway for top performing students from all different types of colleges. It doesn’t matter to the admissions committee if you’re at a peer college, a peer institution, or if perhaps you didn’t even initially graduate high school but you have built equivalency and are back on track. Put these doubts aside and have conviction in your application and your responses that you are a deserving and a competitive candidate.
[Mark] Fabulous. Well, Marisa, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
[Marisa] Thank you very much. It was great to be with you today.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Next up is the Eli Whitney Students Program. This is for students who’ve had a significant break from their formal education. This break could be just a few years or it could be for decades. Let’s be clear– some Eli Whitney students, they start their studies at Yale at say, age 24 or 25. Others are in their 60s or 70s.
[Hannah] We’ll avoid name dropping, but we love bragging about our Eli Whitney students.
[Mark] It’s so cool.
[Hannah] Yeah. Some really, really impressive and accomplished people have gone back to school through the program. And their lived experiences add a ton to the undergraduate experience.
[Mark] And side note, if you’re trying to jog your memory about Eli Whitney, and you’re wondering why the program is named after this person, you maybe learned his name in, I don’t know, seventh grade history or something.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] If you’re trying to, like where do I know that name? Before you have to google it, the inventor of the cotton gin. That is his claim to fame why you probably remembered this. He attended Yale way back in the late 1700s and started at age 24. His family hadn’t supported him. So he worked to earn tuition money, had a really interesting career as an entrepreneur and inventor afterwards– actually, just right down the street from Yale close to where I live and he was one of our most famous early nontraditional students. So that’s why the program’s named after the one and only Eli Whitney.
[Hannah] There you go. A little history lesson. So even though Eli Whitney students enroll in all the same classes, they are the only students who have the option to enroll part-time at Yale. And they have up to seven years to complete their degree.
[Mark] Yeah. They also live off campus, but they’re included in the Yale residential colleges, and they get free lunches in the dining hall during the week. We offer really generous need-based financial aid for Eli Whitney students too. This helps us attract the best and most interesting students from all kinds of different backgrounds.
[Hannah] Yeah. And I don’t think we can overstate how valuable it is to have these students in the Yale seminars, in the dining halls, in extracurricular activities– their backgrounds are just so different. But at the same time, they are Yalies through and through. And the community really embraces them.
[Mark] So let’s hear from our colleague, Patricia. She directs the Eli Whitney Students Program. Patricia, welcome to the podcast.
[Patricia] I’m thrilled to be here. I’m always happy to talk about Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Program. Don’t tell first-year applicants this, but I think the college education is wasted on the young.
[LAUGHTER]
[Patricia] While I say this partly in jest, I do think that adult students often treasure their college experience more.
[Hannah] Yeah, absolutely. Well, we have a few questions for you. Can you talk a little bit about– nontraditional students have a lot of options for higher education. What’s special about the Eli Whitney Students Program?
[Patricia] Well, Yale recognizes that non-traditional students may have different needs from traditional age undergraduates. So we developed a program that’s tailored specifically to students who have taken a significant break from their education. The Eli Whitney Students Program offers the traditional in-person Yale liberal arts program for returning students. Most colleges do not offer similar programs.
Eli Whitney students come from all walks of life, ranging from students whose education were disrupted because they were raising children, or taking care of other family members, to military veterans, artists, athletes, and community activists. Eli Whitney students receive the same bachelor’s degrees just like other Yale undergraduates. They take the same classes. They major in the same departments and participate in extracurricular activities.
Eli Whitney students do not live in dorm rooms with Yale College students. They live off campus. Or they can apply for graduate housing. The Eli Whitney Students Program also provides students with a built-in cohort of adult peers who have life and professional experiences that are very different from students who enter Yale directly from high school. So this is a small but tight-knit and supportive community.
[Mark] Yeah. And as you said, these students– their experience is different. And we try to recognize that. One of the ways we do that is through the application. So can you talk about how the application for the Eli Whitney Students Program is designed to be different than the first-year or the transfer application, and also how our review process is a little bit different as well.
[Patricia] I’m glad that you’re asking this question. Because one of our current students actually told me that he applied to the Eli Whitney Students Program rather than to the transfer program, because he felt that the Eli Whitney application did a better job soliciting information he wanted to share with the admissions office.
[Hannah] Hmm.
[Patricia] So unlike the Common Application of the Coalition Application, which are geared primarily to high school seniors, our Eli Whitney application is designed specifically for people who have been out of high school for a while. We don’t ask questions about parents, nor do we ask the applicants to list their extracurricular activities, or how many hours per week they spent on them. We do ask for a resume. And our essay questions are ones that appeal to people in their mid-20s as well as to people in their 50s.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Patricia] We do encourage Eli Whitney applicants to submit letters of recommendation from instructors.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Patricia] But we will also accept recommendations from people whom the applicants know from outside the classroom, such as employers. I think the Eli Whitney application does a good job capturing information from adult students. We focus much less on a student’s high school record or what they’ve done in high school but more on their recent academic credentials, and their life, and professional experiences.
[Mark] And we should probably mention, there are very successful Eli Whitney students who did not have really strong high school transcripts.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And they are still wildly successful at Yale, and they’re really compelling applicants.
[Hannah] Yeah, absolutely. So for any nontraditional student who’s looking to fill out this application, how can they showcase that they’re a good fit for Yale?
[Patricia] I can think of two ways. First, while the admissions committee takes many factors into consideration when evaluating applications, I think it is important for nontraditional students to present strong recent academic credentials. While some Eli Whitney students had consistently strong academic records throughout their educational careers, like Mark said, many successful Eli Whitney applicants did not have stellar high school records and may even have had weak earlier college records. However, the admissions committee does expect to see that our strongest applicants have done well in recent college courses.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Patricia] Where you go to college is less important than the courses you take and how well you do in those courses. Many Eli Whitney students took classes at their local community colleges before submitting a Yale application. I would encourage students thinking about applying to the Eli Whitney Students Program to take classes that are similar to those offered at Yale– meaning liberal arts and science courses. Students should consider taking courses in math– preferably through at least pre-calculus– as well as classes that focus on writing skills.
And secondly, I think Eli Whitney applicants should reflect upon how they would engage the Yale community– both inside and outside of the classroom. And I mean engagement broadly. I encourage applicants to give some thought to how they would contribute different perspectives to discussions in a seminar class or over lunch in the dining Hall. If they are a veteran or a current active duty service member, how will they share their experiences with other students?
[Mark] And you mentioned veterans and active duty military members. I want to say to anyone who’s listening who’s served in the military, thank you for your service.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] We want these students to be part of the Yale undergraduate experience. And Patricia, what should this group of folks– veterans and active duty service members– what should they know about the Eli Whitney Students Program?
[Patricia] Oh, absolutely. I want our military connected students to know that we– as well as all other students– to know that a Yale education is affordable.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Patricia] Veterans should know that Yale is a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is a provision of the 9/11 GI Bill. Yale, unlike some other colleges, we do not cap the number of Yellow Ribbon Veterans who can be enrolled at Yale College. Veterans can choose to replace their military education benefits with Yale’s generous need-based financial aid. Some of our veterans will save their military education benefits for graduate or professional schools. Veterans and nontraditional students should also know that they’re not restricted to applying only to the Eli Whitney Students Program. Depending on the number of transferable credits, they’re eligible to apply to the first-year program or to the transfer program. We have had veterans admitted to Yale through all three of these programs.
That said, veterans usually find that the Eli Whitney Students Program is a better fit for them. Because it is a program tailored to adult students– to people who have had professional experiences. We have student veterans who have served in the military for just two years as well as people who have had over 20 years of military experience. The veteran community here at Yale is small but supportive and tight-knit.
[Hannah] That’s great, Patricia. Thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your insights. This is really helpful.
[Patricia] Oh, this was fun. Thank you, Hannah and Mark, for inviting me.
[Hannah] We’ll have to have you back soon. So there you have it. These programs are small, but they’re really important.
[Mark] The same values and priorities guide us as we consider these applicants. But they are especially interesting and different in just the best ways.
[Hannah] Yeah. These programs are just a great way for Yale to provide access to students with an even wider array of backgrounds and experiences and the students who matriculate through these programs make Yale a richer and more interesting place to study.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] All right. Thanks to our friend and colleague, Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. And thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University.
[MUSIC PLAYING] 

Episode 17: The Choices Game

Episode 17: The Choices Game

In the process of putting together their applications, students make countless choices. To help applicants understand which choices are more or less likely to help their candidacies, Hannah and Mark invite their colleague John to join in a game of up-voting and down-voting common application choices. While none of these choices will make or break an application, the officers explain why certain choices are more or less beneficial during the review process.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Hello. And welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And today’s episode is going to be all about choices that we regularly see students make in their applications.
[Hannah] Yes. We are going to talk about all kinds of choices. And your goal, obviously, is to make good choices in the application process.
[Mark] These pieces aren’t going to fit sort of neatly into one part of the application. We’ll talk a little bit about essays and recommendation choices, and all the things that you just might feel like as an applicant are choices that you are trying to decide, should I do this, or shouldn’t I do this.
[Hannah] Like we talked about in our essay series, these things are not necessarily going to be make or break. We are 100% positive that every poor choice that we discuss has been made by a student who’s eventually been admitted.
[Mark] Yes. I’ve absolutely advocated for students in the committee room when they’ve made every single one of the choices that we’ll sort of identify as maybe a less wise choice.
[Hannah] Yes. Right. In spite of this choice, we advocate for these students. Please don’t try to incorporate everything we talk about as a good choice today into your application. That also is not going to come off well. This isn’t about being prescriptive.
[Mark] Right. Our goal here is to do our best to show, not tell. And we’re also going to try to explain why some choices tend to resonate with admissions officers and others don’t.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] We know that students can wrap themselves up with some anxiety wondering like, should I do this, shouldn’t I do this.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] What are they going to think? And so, we’re going to try to identify some of those key topics and give you a sense of how we tend to respond to them.
[Hannah] Let’s get into it.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] OK. So we are going to set this up as a little bit of a game.
[Hannah] Ooh.
[Mark] We are going to do this kind of like that boggle list exercise that we did back when we were talking about essays, and a little bit like our Mythbusters mini-series that we’ve started as well. So here’s the idea. I have made a list of choices.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And I’m going to pitch them to Hannah and to our special guest, John.
[John] Hello.
[Mark] Hi, John.
[John] Good to be back.
[Hannah] Surprise, John’s been here the whole time.
[Hannah] Welcome back.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] I’m so excited. I have not seen this list.
[John] Neither have I, yeah.
[Hannah] So yeah, we’re excited to hear what Mark has come up with.
[Mark] So for each choice on this list, John and Hannah are going to talk about whether this is a wise choice or an unwise choice. We played around with a couple of different framings for this.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] So rejected ideas for this episode in terms of theme.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] One idea was sort of like Project Runway and Heidi Klum. You’re in, you’re out.
[John] Auf Wiedersehen.
[Mark] Yes. And that’s lovely.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] You nailed it. That was so good.
[John] I watched a lot of that show. Let me tell you.
[Mark] I have too. I’m a big fan.
[John] It’s a good show.
[Mark] But we thought that was too mean.
[John] Sure.
[Mark] It’s not a matter of being in or out.
[Hannah] Yeah. Similarly, we talked about swipe left, swipe right. We thought that could resonate with some people. But again, it’s a little too dismissive. That’s not the tone we’re going for.
[Mark] Yeah. I will say, as I was thinking about this episode, the framework that I had in mind was one of my favorite memes, which is of Drake from one of my all time favorite music videos, the Hotline Bling video.
[Hannah] Oh yeah.
[Mark] You can picture this. He’s in the puffy coat. And one side of the meme, he’s like, no.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And the other meme, he’s like, mm.
[Hannah] Yes. Yes. Yes. The Drake meme. Yes. Yes.
[Mark] I’ve kind of been thinking about it in that way. But John actually had a good idea for this.
[John] Yeah. I spend a lot of time on Reddit, as some of you may also. And we like the idea of upvoting and downvoting.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Because if enough people upvote, it doesn’t really matter if you downvote. Because the ground swelling is for an upvote.
[Hannah] True.
[John] And so, it’s not a definitive yes or no. It’s kind of, do you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
[Hannah] All right. Let’s do that.
[John] Let’s do it.
[Mark] All right. And let’s say, before we get started, we’re going to use a little gimmick here. But remember, admissions officers– we love reading applications.
[Hannah] Oh yes.
[Mark] It’s a privilege to read absolutely everything that you put into an application. As I mentioned, all of us have advocated for– voted for candidates who’ve made every single choice that’s on this list.
[Hannah] Yeah. We just want to provide some clarity. You could wrap yourself up in wondering, should I do this, will they like that. And we just want to give you some answers.
[Mark] So here’s my list of choices.
[Hannah] I’m so excited.
[John] I’m so excited.
[Mark] Here’s the big reveal.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] All right. Number one on my list, a choice that an applicant might make, would be to use the additional information section to include a long resume listing every Science Olympiad or debate team competition they have participated in and their various awards or recognitions from them.
[Hannah] If you have been a listener of this podcast, hopefully this won’t come as a surprise. But I’m going to have to downvote this choice.
[John] I’m going to have to downvote with a little–
[BUZZER]
[John]–asterisk that we can explore later.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] But Hannah, why downvote?
[Hannah] So we give you space on the application to tell us the things that we want to hear of you. [LAUGHS] So we give you a place to list your extracurricular activities, to list your honors and awards. That space is limited and it’s limited for a good reason. More is not always better in these cases. We just want to see what has been the most important to you. And listing a resume in the additional information is often redundant and it often doesn’t give us more information that’s actually helpful to us.
[John] I agree. I think when you fill out pieces of an application, there’s meant to be a reflective process involved as well.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Not just a brain dump. And aside from not wanting to read lots of extraneous information, we’re really keenly interested in what you’ve reflected on as important.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] And how you convey that.
[Mark] Right.
[Mark] Totally.
[John] Yeah. Now my one little asterisk is, if there’s kind of an acronym, or some detail that you couldn’t fit into the description box, that for some reason we would not understand, that additional information space can be helpful to provide some clarity.
[Mark] Next on my list.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Here’s a choice. Getting an extra letter of recommendation from a research advisor who’s worked with you in a STEM research setting.
[Hannah] Ooh. Thumbs up.
[John] Yeah, I’m going to upvote that.
[DING]
[Hannah] Definitely. Yeah, for sure. Those letters can be helpful. This may be confusing, because I know that we say that we do not recommend extra letters of recommendation. But we do give this caveat that something from a research mentor can be the exception to that rule and can actually be really helpful in providing context to any outside research that you’ve done.
[John] Right. And the kind of descriptors that a research mentor might have of you, those provide new information.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Other pieces of the application don’t. So as is the guidance with any kind of piece of information that you’re submitting optionally, make sure that it’s something novel.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] So similarly, another choice, including an extra letter of recommendation from a third or fourth academic teacher.
[Hannah] Downvote–
[John] Ooh, downvote.
[Hannah] –for me. Yeah.
[BUZZER]
[Hannah] Again, we have thought really hard about the required materials in your application. And we require two letters of recommendation from an academic teacher. If we wanted more, we would ask you for more.
[John] Right. And while a research advisor or mentor is providing a perspective that isn’t already represented in your application, a third or even a fourth teacher is kind of just redundant.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Because we already have recommendations from two teachers.
[Hannah] Yeah. Keep it to two. Keep it simple. More is not always better.
[John] Yep.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Confidently incorporating cultural references or allusions to literature in their writing.
[Hannah] Yes. Upvote for me.
[John] I’d say upvote.
[DING]
[John] It’s a little bit of a creative risk, but I think it’s one that often pays off. Because if you’re choosing to make that reference, it’s something that you’re especially interested in. I would maybe just add the tiniest little caveat, in that, make sure it’s not a cultural reference that is so obscure that it would be difficult to uncover what that is.
[Hannah] Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, so sometimes I will find myself– if I’m reading an essay that has some obscure reference that I’ve never heard of, sometimes I’ll Google it. I’ll be like, what is this kid talking about? And that’s totally fine. What I actually don’t love is when students make a reference, and then add a little parenthetical or a little asterisk where they explain it.
[Mark] Right.
[John] Oh yeah.
[Hannah] And I’m like, I don’t need that. You don’t need to hold my hand through this. I can figure it out myself.
[John] Right.
[Mark] Right. I mean, we incorporate a lot of cultural references on our podcast.
[Hannah] Sure.
[Mark] I think it can be a great way to make a connection with the person who’s reading your application.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] And I find that there’s all kinds of references that can work. I like references to Taylor Swift and Beyoncé.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] But also Confucius and the Buddha. So if it’s something that speaks to you, and you feel like you know as I’m talking about this, this sort of larger work of literature, this larger cultural reference, is something that makes sense to me, it’d actually be a great way, I think, to loop in your application reader and be like, if you want to understand this, here’s a way that you can think about it with this reference.
[John] Right. And it’s such a great way to show not tell.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] If let’s say you love reading literature, you can make a reference. And that can be a way through which you convey to us that you love reading.
[Hannah] Yeah. And by the way, I had such a fun experience in a committee this year, where an applicant had written an essay about a novel– I won’t name it. But it happens to be one of my favorites. And other people in the committee room hadn’t read it. And they’ve now picked it up, and it’s on the reading list.
[Mark] Oh cool.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Similarly, a student who chooses to incorporate humor into their writing.
[Hannah] Upvote?
[John] Upvote.
[Hannah] As long as you’re funny.
[John] Yeah. I’d say upvote, but then sometimes downvote.
[Hannah] Yeah. I mean, again, this is one of those things where it’s like, if you’re a funny person, and this comes naturally to you, go for it.
[John] And I think there’s different kinds of humor that you can incorporate into your application. Knowing that you have really no sense of exactly who’s reading your application or who in your committee might be reviewing it.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Don’t go for that edgy dark humor. That could be offensive, I would say.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Sometimes we see that. And that’s for me, an ultimate downvote. Because sometimes those jokes need a lot more context to land and you just don’t necessarily have that space in an application.
[Hannah] True.
[Mark] That’s a good point.
[Hannah] True. Yeah.
[John] I love a good pun though.
[Hannah] Oh yeah. We see a lot of puns.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Here’s a choice sometimes students make. And I imagine, sometimes they agonize over it. Writing to update when you realize you’ve made a minor typo in some part of your application.
[Hannah] Oh, downvote.
[BUZZER]
[Hannah] Save us all some– save yourself some time. I mean, we are not keeping score of the typos in your application. I hope you’ve proofread your application and taken another look at it. But typos happen. And you do not need to send us an updated essay if you suddenly discover one.
[Mark] Similarly, here’s a choice students make.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Updating your application a few months later with a new award, or recognition, or big news about a project that you’ve been involved with that’s occurred since you submitted your application.
[John] Yeah. I would say upvote.
[DING]
[John] If it’s along the lines of something that you would have reflected on and chosen to originally include in your application on your list of extracurriculars, or honors, or awards. But if the new development is something that you wouldn’t have even initially included in your application, then downvote, because it just feels like a lot of wasted effort.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Here’s another choice. Using space in your application to humble brag.
[Hannah] Oh.
[John] Ooh. This is tough. I’m going to say downvote. But I’m going to say, I think sometimes students don’t know that they’re humble bragging, and it comes across as kind of bragging. So I think it’s good to put your best foot forward. And I think it’s good to share your successes with us. And we’re excited to receive them in the application and admissions process. But if you’re intentionally doing it in a way that is kind of braggy or showy, that ends up being a downvote for me. Because it feels less reflective and more just declarative.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Interesting. Yeah, I mean, I tend to want to give students as much leeway as possible when it comes to this kind of thing. Because we ask you to put your best foot forward in the application.
[Mark] Yeah.
[Hannah] So then, we can’t turn around and ding you for being proud of your achievements and bragging about them. That’s kind of what you have to do. So yeah, I guess it just depends on how it comes across. If it comes across as totally inauthentic, then yeah, it would be a downvote. But we also want to give you space to be proud of what you’ve done.
[Mark] Yeah. I think your point, John, about it being reflective is kind of the real difference maker. If the only reflection that you’re giving while you’re bragging about something is trying to make it humble bragging, which is like, oh my gosh, I was so surprised. And I never would have thought–
[John] It’s like a Taylor Swift acceptance.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] Who me?
[Mark] That doesn’t qualify as reflection.
[Mark] Right.
[Mark] That’s just like trying to color the declaration of the bragging.
[Hannah] Sure.
[Mark] Right?
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] So actually reflecting and giving us some insight into who that person is that achieved that thing and then went on from it, that’s different than just trying to shade it in a way that seems humble while your point is really just to say, I did this thing, and it’s very impressive.
[Hannah] Yeah. And I guess the point that I was trying to make is, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to add false humility.
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] Because we want you to, again, put your best foot forward in the application.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Let’s talk about a few more writing choices. Writing one or more of your responses as a poem.
[John] Oh, I knew this was coming.
[Hannah] Ooh.
[John] Oh.
[Hannah] Downvote.
[BUZZER]
[Hannah] I’m sorry.
[John] I want to hear your downvote.
[LAUGHS]
[John] And I’m going to reflect back on something we started the podcast with. Yeah.
[Hannah] OK. So I get why students do this and sometimes students are accomplished poets and really good creative writers, and they want to show that off. However, I feel like whenever I see this, it feels like a missed opportunity. It feels like you are putting so much energy into the structure of the response that you’re missing out on the opportunity for the genuine reflection that we look for in these pieces.
[John] Mm-hmm. I would very much agree with that. The one caveat that I would offer is we started this podcast acknowledging that we’re 100% positive that every, quote, poor choice that we’re talking about has been made and even advocated for in committee.
[Hannah] Yeah. This is a great example of that. Yeah.
[John] Right. And this is a great example in that, I find that more often than not, the poem format does feel like a missed opportunity.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[John] But every once in a while, for that student, it can work. I’ve rarely seen it work well in a longer essay. But for some of the shorter pieces, there have definitely been some–
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
[Hannah] I feel like we get a lot of why Yale poems.
[John] Right.
[Hannah] Yeah, odes to Yale. Which, if that’s how you want to show off your creativity, I’m all for taking that kind of risk. But I will just say, I do sometimes say, oh, I wish you had just written this as prose, so that I can really understand what you’re getting at here.
[John] And I think a big takeaway is, choosing to write in poem format should not be your ticket to standing out. Right? I think sometimes students will choose to write a poem because they think, oh, this is what’s going to grab Hannah or Mark’s attention.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] When really, you should just write naturally.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] Write for you.
[Mark] We’ve talked about how novelty alone is not the thing that makes a student stand out. And this is actually a choice that’s maybe not as novel as you might think.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] Yeah. That’s true. We see it a lot.
[Mark] You said, I knew this was coming, because we’ve seen it enough.
[Hannah] I know. We’ve seen it .
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
[Hannah] Yeah, and plenty of those students are now Yale students. So again, this isn’t a make or break thing. But just saying, it makes it a little harder for us.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Similar writing choice– really intentionally upping the drama in your essay responses.
[Hannah] Yeah, I’m going to downvote that one, just because–
[BUZZER]
[Hannah] –I don’t think it’s necessary and I think it can actually get in the way of your honest reflection on something that’s happened to you or something that you’ve been through, if you’re just trying to drum up the drama. And you really don’t need to. We don’t need to be on the edge of our seats while we’re reading your essay.
[John] Yeah. And we all recognize that students have gone through some really difficult moments and some hardships but the phrase that sticks out for me in recent committee discussions is unnecessarily fraught.
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[John] And sometimes we’ll share that. Because it’s not that we’re digging the student. But we’re trying to wade through all of this added drama to really understand what the student is saying. But sometimes, there is so much additional drama that it’s tough to really understand what we’re reading about.
[Hannah] Right.
[John] So you don’t ever want the desire for literary drama in your writing to cloud the fact that you actually do have a very important story to share.
[Mark] Yeah.
[Hannah] Yes. Definitely.
[Mark] That’s a good point. And I find the best essays incorporate heart and head together in a nice balance. If it’s just all heart and all emotion and we never get to the thoughtful reflection on it, well, you may have given us a very dramatic interesting story that might make for a compelling memoir at some point. But you maybe haven’t used the space as effectively as you could have.
[Hannah] Right. And your the most dramatic, quote-unquote, thing that’s ever happened to you is not necessarily the best topic for your college application essay also.
[Mark] Yes. Sometimes the drama is simply in the telling of the story.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And it becomes a super interesting story, like whoa, this thing happened to you.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] But sometimes, all 650 words are just telling that dramatic story.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And then it’s over.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] And it was like, oh, cool story, but I don’t know anything about the person involved in that story.
[Hannah] Right.
[John] Right.
[Mark] Yeah.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Another writing choice: geeking out– I like to say this– geeking out with lots of details about something.
[Hannah] Oh.
[John] Ooh.
[Hannah] I’m going to upvote this. If you’re a regular listener of this podcast, you know we like to geek out. But yeah, I think that this can really display a deep interest– intellectual interest or passion– for the subject.
[John] Kind of related to the adding additional drama piece, I often find that the excitement with which students write about things they want to geek out on is palpable.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] And even if I’m not also interested in Battlestar Galactica or Python, I can still get a sense of that excitement. But you also want it to be a reflective piece of writing.
[Hannah] Sure.
[John] So it’s not just a brain dump of your geekiness. You still want to couch all of that wonderful geeky material with a sense of structure.
[Hannah] Yeah. Bring it back to you, always. Yeah.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Here’s another choice that we see somewhat regularly– including a link to a personal website or a video with your application.
[Hannah] Hmm.
[Hannah] I’m going to downvote that.
[BUZZER]
[John] Oh, I was going to upvote that.
[DING]
[Mark] Oh, OK.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] Discuss.
[Hannah] OK.
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] So here’s how I feel about this. Often, this is a link to a personal website that you’ve put together, and maybe you’ve put some time into it, and that’s fine. But I’ll go back to what I’ve said before, which is, we give you the space on the application to tell us what we want to hear on the application. And often, what I see on your personal website is going to be redundant, because you’re already going to have told us about it in your extracurricular list or in an essay. And also, I’ll just say that there is no guarantee that your admissions officer will click that link. You should know that. So anything that’s super important, please just put it in your application. Sometimes we click those links, sometimes we want to dig a little deeper. But it’s not a guarantee that we will.
[John] Yeah. I’m glad you explained that. Because I think, my upvote came from the place that I think sometimes students do have these unique qualities, or involvements, or skills, that it’s like, you kind of have to see it to believe it. And so, a cool YouTube video or something represented on a website can be great. I think what we want to avoid is the idea that compiling all of your accomplishments and awards into a website specifically so that you can upload that URL into an application.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] That’s really not what we’re talking about here.
[Hannah] You do not need to do that. We’re not going to be impressed if your website looks super polished or anything like that. I mean, there are– yeah. I just don’t usually find that this adds for me.
[Mark] Yeah. I find in the rare instances where it is helpful, it’s always a kind of digital artifact of something that’s been produced for something else.
[John] Yeah.
[Mark] Right?
[Hannah] Sure.
[Mark] So already you’re sort of arriving in your senior year, you already have something that’s been produced for some reason, and you say, oh, I’ll kick this in. That is different than as you were saying, spending your energy, and time, and resources, putting together something that’s completely separate from the application.
[John] Yes.
[Mark] And sort of it’s kind of like wishing for more wishes.
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] With the genie.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] You’re like, you know what? I’m going to get to add more than just what’s in the application. This can’t contain me.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] I’m going to spend all this other energy on this digital space. And then, they’re going to go there and spend all the time getting these extra pieces as well.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] That’s not how it works.
[Hannah] Right. Less is more.
[Mark] Let’s talk about some other parts of the application.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] Using something like the additional information section to explain why you couldn’t enroll in all of the courses that you wanted to take in particular your junior or your senior year.
[Hannah] Yeah, I’d upvote that. I think that’s a reasonable use of the additional information section, unlike the resumes that we were talking about before.
[John] Right. And with that, I’ll give it a small upvote–
[DING]
[John] –in that I think it is a good use of that section. But we also do see, I think, a lot of students take it a little too far. So let’s say, you’re a die-hard engineer, and a legitimate scheduling conflict meant that you couldn’t take your calculus class for some reason. That would be a cool thing to share with us, just because that’s a question we may have. Explaining why you couldn’t take geometry in this particular period your first year, when you could take it in a different period, is not necessarily going to be consequential in any way.
[Mark] Similarly, using that additional information section to explain the context around a major life event or challenge that you faced.
[Hannah] Yeah. I think this is a strong upvote for me.
[John] Strong upvote, yup.
[DING]
[Hannah] Because that can be very important to students. And what we don’t necessarily want is for you to feel like you need to waste valuable space in your essays writing about this stuff if it’s not something that you would have chosen to write about in your essays. So in that case, using the additional information to get that stuff out there can be a good choice.
[John] Right. And not every student is going to need to use that space to add further clarification to certain contextual pieces of their lives.
[Hannah] Sure.
[John] But it is a great space to use it if you need it.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Yeah. And I’ll mention, that space can actually be a nice break from the essay style. It can be helpful just to say, you might be wondering about x, y, or z. Here’s the deal.
[Hannah] Yes. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. You do not need to make that section an additional essay, for sure.
[John] A great example of that is– Hannah and I read a lot of international applications. And sometimes students move around a lot.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[John] And so, it can be kind of difficult to connect the dots of where they’ve gone to school and where they’ve lived. And so, some students will use that space to just very cut and dry say, hey, here’s a timeline of where I’ve lived and where I’ve gone to school.
[Hannah] Yeah. That’s helpful.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Mark] I think what I liked is that some of these things were pretty clear cut. Others were murkier. And I’m hoping that people hearing this can take a step back, take a deep breath, and don’t wrap yourself up in a pretzel agonizing about these choices.
[Hannah] Sure. Yeah.
[Mark] My advice here, the very wise Yogi Berra, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Bingo.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Bingo.
[Hannah] For sure. Again, the stakes for these choices are not as high as you might think. But navigating them with this information in hand in the most wise way possible can help you put your best foot forward in the application.
[Mark] Yeah. We also know that some choices are more about making you feel good and comfortable as an applicant more than actually moving the needle for us. And that’s fine. And so, once you’ve made your choice, move on with your life. Your hope is that you’ve got that application together, you click submit, and you go on enjoying your senior year of high school. We hope you can embrace the fact that most of our selection process at this point is out of your control. We’re going to read your application and do our thing. And you’re going to go on enjoying your life as a high school senior.
[Hannah] Exactly. John, thank you so much for joining us today.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
[John] Of course. Always a pleasure.
[Hannah] It’s great to have you. Yeah, we’ll have to have you back soon.
[John] Please do.
[Mark] Thanks to our friend and colleague, Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at, AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 18: Mythbusters 2

Episode 18: Mythbusters 2

The second installment in an occasional miniseries. Hannah, Mark, and Jill review and debunk six more persistent myths about the admissions process. For each myth, they identify a small kernel of truth while explaining why the myth is inaccurate. Topics include international admissions, course scheduling, and essay choices.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Hello, and welcome to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And the sound of that theme song means it’s time for another episode of–
(TOGETHER) Mythbusters.
[Hannah] And that also means that the one and only Jill is coming back on the podcast with us. Hello, Jill.
[Jill] Hi, Hannah. Hi, Mark.
[Mark] We are happy to have you back, Jill, to bust a few myths.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Jill] I’m excited to be back.
[Mark] All right, so if you are new to the series, here’s the idea. There are a lot of myths out there that we hear all the time. People will come up to us and they’ll say things like, oh, hey, I heard this, or is it really true that this, or this, or this? And we of course also see these kind of things crop up on the internet from time to time.
[Hannah] Right, and they’re usually not true.
[LAUGHS]
[Hannah] And there is no shortage of these myths out there, so we have a lot of work to do. We’re going to do several more of these episodes. We really enjoy giving out good information straight from the source. We know that a lot of features of our process like holistic review, the low admit rate, closed-door admissions meetings lend themselves to a lot of speculation, especially among people with vivid imaginations.
[Mark] Right, we totally understand why Almost all these myths are out there and often, where they came from. And there’s usually a kernel of truth in each myth.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] It’s been twisted or exaggerated, though, into something that becomes pretty unrecognizable. So as we go through, we’re going to explain what’s true and what is pure myth and each one of these.
[Hannah] Some of the myths that we’ll talk about today have actually come from listeners. So if you hear something that sounds a little bit sketchy, feel free to shoot us an email, and we’ll add it to the next episode.
[Mark] All right, you guys ready?
[Jill] So ready.
[Mark] Let’s bust some myths.
[Hannah] Let’s do this!
[Mark] All right, just like last time, we have six on our list that we’re going to–
[Jill] Whoo!
[Mark] –tackle In this episode. So Hannah is going to explain the myth to us, and Jill and I are going to take a stab at busting it.
[Hannah] Yes. All right, here we go, number one, and this is a big one. Our goal is to get as many applications as possible so that our admit rate goes down.
[Mark] Mm.
(TOGETHER) Busted!
[LAUGHTER]
[Mark] That is not how we measure our success, not even close. It’s not even how we measure the success of our outreach programs. It is not as simple as just saying, let’s get as many people as possible to apply to Yale, and we’ll deny as many as we can.
[Jill] Yeah, but the theory behind this makes sense. Organizations that do college rankings, they often include admit rates in their calculations, and plenty of universities are really focused on their ratings. So some might imagine that it’s all about making money from application fees, but nope. That’s not our goal. And the Admissions Office doesn’t see that money, so–
[Hannah] Yeah,
[Jill] –we’re not really caring about that.
[Mark] I don’t know where it goes, but not to us.
[Jill] It certainly doesn’t go into our pockets–
[Mark] Nope.
[Jill] –and that’s for sure.
No, no, no. So we’re way more interested in the composition of the pool, the strength of the pool, the diversity of the applicants that we’re getting, and it’s a lot more complicated than just the number of applications we’re getting.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Yeah, and we also seek students from all backgrounds. We want to get talented students who would do great at Yale to apply, so that’s why we’re doing all of our outreach. The goal isn’t just to drum up applications. It’s to make sure that we’re spreading the word about Yale to people who need to hear it.
[Mark] Yeah, and more importantly, whether you believe us on this point or not, what we want to emphasize is that you should not confuse selectivity with quality or fit. I’m going to go ahead and say unequivocally, I think college rankings are totally worthless and that an admissions rate at a school is going to tell you almost nothing about how good a college is or specifically, how good a college is for you.
[Hannah] It’s also not necessarily the case that as applications go up, it’s harder to get in, either because you have to be better than more students or because the bar is raised significantly.
[Mark] Right. Now, obviously, applications to schools like Yale have gone up, and we would be naive to say that hasn’t had any effect on our process. But this is my 15th year in Admissions coming up, and the number of applications that we’ve received each year has more than doubled in those 15 years.
[Jill] Whew!
[Mark] But I can tell you, it is not, therefore, twice as hard to get in as it was before. Again, it’s easy to run to these numbers and think that they’re telling you a lot, but there’s really not much information at the end of the day, other than exactly what you see. How many applications are there? A lot.
[Jill] Yeah, so many.
[Mark] What’s the admit rate?
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] It’s pretty low.
[Jill] Pretty low, yeah.
[Mark] The specifics there of how many is a lot and how low is low, they’re not going to tell you anything, so do not focus on that at all.
[Hannah] Yeah, absolutely. All right, so myth number two. Admissions officers have a vision of an ideal applicant, and we measure everyone against that vision.
(TOGETHER) Busted!
[Mark] Like, ew. No.
[Jill] [LAUGHS] No. That would be really boring. I don’t even know what I would say if someone asked me, what’s your ideal student?
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Jill] No, that’s tough.
[Hannah] Yeah, well, I feel like people ask that question often. And yeah, it’s never a satisfying answer that we can give, you know?
[Mark] Right. What I want to encourage you to do is actually turn that idea on its head. We aren’t in the business of trying to find students who fit some preexisting mold of a perfect student.
[Jill] Right.
[Mark] Our job is really interesting and fun because we approach it with an open mind. All of us get really excited about students whose experiences, interests, and backgrounds really haven’t been well represented at Yale because we think those students could add something really new and interesting to the undergraduate experience.
[Jill] Yeah, exactly. And obviously, a student still needs to be a good fit academically and otherwise, but we take a pretty expansive view of what that actually means. There’s no limits to this. And we want to say again that novelty alone isn’t what’s going to make a student stand out.
[Hannah] This idea that there’s an ideal student can make applicants try to squeeze themselves into a box or claim that they like things that just sound like what you’d imagine a school like Yale would like, and it never ends up coming across authentically or really working well.
[Mark] Yeah, we’ve said it before. We know it sounds trite, but be yourself.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] We promise that who you are is going to be much more interesting than anything you might try to project or, again, imagine that a place like Yale would want to see.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Jill] Yeah.
[Hannah] Well said. OK, myth number three. You need to fill in every line of the activities list and use every single available space on the application to stand out.
(TOGETHER) Busted!
[Jill] [LAUGHS] We don’t expect this or give out some bonuses for students who use every single line or every single space in the application.
[Hannah] Totally.
[Mark] Yes, and let’s maybe take this in two different stages, right? So before you start your application, you certainly shouldn’t pursue just more, and more, and more activities because you have that spot on the application in your mind. And stay tuned. In our next episode, we’re going to talk all about extracurricular activities.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm. Yep. And so when you’re writing your app, definitely make the best use of the space that you can, but you don’t have to stretch to fill things in.
[Mark] Yeah, so the kernel of truth here is that you should absolutely use the application space to your advantage. We do see some applicants who just rush through the application, and they miss plenty of opportunities along the way. You should also approach the application with this attitude that, man, it is going to be a challenge to condense everything that you’d want to share about yourself into the space and the application. So definitely recognize that there are limits to this, and you want to think about each piece of the application strategically to help tell your story.
[Jill] Mm-hmm. Yeah. My favorite expression, though, is more is not better. But you want to dilute the strength of the really important things with a bunch of clutter in your application. So we want to hear from you and what’s important to you, but more is not going to be a better thing here.
[Hannah] Right. Exactly. The additional information section, I think, is a good example of students not really knowing how to use this. Only use it if you feel like there’s something really important that’s needed to understand the big picture of your application, if there are contextual pieces that are going to help us. It’s not a dumping ground for miscellaneous facts. It is not an opportunity to add in an extra essay.
[Jill] No!
[Hannah] Please don’t do that. Only use that space if you need it. That’s why it’s additional.
[Jill] Yep.
[Mark] Yep.
[Hannah] All right, myth number four. If you’ve experienced hardship or trauma, you need to give graphic details to make your admissions officer cry and milk the experience for your benefit.
[Jill] Oh, busted!
[Mark] Busted!
[Jill] Yeah.
[Mark] Yeah. So I’m really glad that we’re taking this one on. I have seen this be something that well-meaning people present as just a fact, and it’s simply not true. So I think the origin of this myth is probably the fact that the media tends to run really popular stories about some amazing admitted students who’ve overcome big obstacles.
[Jill] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] But the kinds of things that make for a great news story aren’t really the same things that make for a great college applicant. So I think people in communities see these stories, and then they go on and advise students, well, what you really need to do is play up the hardships and even the truly traumatic experiences that you’ve had. And I think the thought here is on the one hand, you want to have a great sounding story and that you specifically need to have overcome great hardships to get in. But understandably, a lot of students hear that and they’re like, I really would prefer not to do that. That’s really not what I want to unpack in my application.
[Jill] No.
[Mark] And why am I having to sort of milk this experience in an uncomfortable way for the benefit of an admissions officer I’ve never met?
[Jill] Totally.
[Mark] I would hope that kind of thing would make you uncomfortable. But we want to affirm that is something that shouldn’t quite sit right with you.
[Hannah] Yeah, and take that discomfort as a sign that no, you do not need to do that in order to present yourself in the application.
[Jill] Yeah, so let’s be clear. That is not what a student needs to do to get into Yale or any kind of elite university, you know?
[Hannah] Yeah. And probably the little kernel of truth behind this myth is a little bit more general. Successful applicants are able to reflect and provide insights about their experiences, which is great, and we are interested in creating a student body with a wide range of experiences.
[Mark] And obviously, learning about the context you’re coming from helps us do our jobs as admissions officers. And sometimes the context that you’re coming from involves some really genuine hardships, but we certainly don’t expect that that’s the case for everyone, thankfully. And we want to just say specifically, overcoming something doesn’t automatically earn you some sort of extra point in our process.
[Hannah] A pitfall that I feel like I see a lot in essays is in addition to this being an uncomfortable experience for the applicant who’s going down this path, we tend to find a lot of essays that are unnecessarily fraught. So the applicant winds up raising more concerns about their ability to thrive in college than demonstrating something that they would bring to college.
[Mark] Yeah. So as an applicant, you should choose the experiences that you think are most promising, and meaningful, and revelatory in terms of the kinds of reflections and insights that you want to share. You should not think about milking a traumatic experience to help your chances.
[Jill] Yeah, definitely. I’d love to add here, too, that if that’s what you want to write about, please, do it.
[Mark] Certainly.
[Hannah] Right. Yeah.
[Jill] We are not expecting at all that is something that’s going to be in your application because we understand that these are traumatic experiences that you might not want to write about, and that’s completely justified.
[Hannah] Yeah, definitely. You’ve heard us here before, if you’re a listener. We have two main priorities when we’re reading applications. What is a student going to add and what will they take away? And that is very different from what have they overcome to get here, or who is the most deserving, or who’s been through the most?
[Mark] Absolutely. Yeah, I’m glad we put that one to rest.
[Hannah] Yeah. OK, myth number five. Oh, this is a good one. OK, you need to take every available AP, IB, dual enrollment, A-level course in your school to be competitive.
(TOGETHER) Busted!
[Jill] Oh, people drive themselves absolutely bonkers with this one, so we are really happy that we’re going to talk about this.
[Mark] OK, so let’s start with the obvious kernel of truth here. The rigor of your high school curriculum, it is absolutely one of the most important parts of the application review process. I was a philosophy major, so this is sort of philosophy term.
[Hannah] Uh-oh.
[Mark] This is something necessary, a necessary but not sufficient criteria. Right? So OK, having a rigorous curriculum, that is necessary. If you don’t have that, things are not going to work out very well for you, but it’s not sufficient. That is not going to be the thing alone that’s pushing you in, even if the rigor of your high school curriculum is eye-popping in context.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm.
[Jill] Yeah.
[Hannah] Pursuing, quote, “the most rigorous curriculum in your high school” isn’t necessarily the same as taking absolutely every single advanced class. It doesn’t mean that you have to load up on seven APs. And if, then, if your classmate has eight or nine, then suddenly, you’re at a disadvantage.
[Jill] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] Yeah, we see this arms race happening within schools where people just try to one up each other in a class or year over year.
[Hannah] Right.
[Jill] Yeah, I think it’s also important to note that high school context very dramatically– I mean, that’s probably pretty intuitive. But the fact that one high school could offer you all of these different APs, but then some high schools only let you take those APs if you’re also taking these other classes beforehand, or you can’t actually do something you like, like, music alongside this other AP course because they happen at the same time. And so we don’t expect that you’re taking every single AP, IB, or high level course in your school. It’s just not reasonable.
[Mark] Mm-hmm.
[Hannah] Yeah, and that’s why we’re always talking about context and trying to understand where you’re coming from, because we want to understand those sort of limitations and what has led you to take the classes that you have taken.
[Mark] Right. So context plays into different high schools. It also plays into different experiences within the same high school. We get panicked calls and emails every year from juniors and seniors when they get their schedules and something just doesn’t fit.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Jill] Mm-hmm.
[Mark] That’s life. We all have the same limitations of space and time. We get it. And along with the fact that things might just not fit for whatever reason, there are probably lots of interesting courses that you want to take that maybe don’t necessarily have an AP designation next to them. That’s OK.
[Jill] Yes.
[Hannah] That’s great. Yeah, totally So certainly, be sure you’re taking rigorous courses in your core academic subjects, but you don’t need to obsess over the exact total number of AP courses. And certainly, you don’t need to stress out about your GPA weight and oh, if I take this elective, is that going to bring my GPA down?
[Jill] Yeah, I think we want to select bright, accomplished students who have been resourceful and academically hungry, but not the student who confused learning with grinding out every single AP class and who played the GPA game to get the number one rank.
[Mark] Yeah, absolutely. I think we can all say that we have seen students who are number one and who have taken as many advanced classes in their school as possible who are really, really compelling. Again, they had that necessary but not sufficient element. We’ve also seen students who are in that same sort of position academically who are not compelling either academically or non-academically, right?
[Jill] Mm.
[Mark] They’re very accomplished, but the kinds of academic things that would get us excited about them, they’re just not there in the file, despite the fact that they have really taken the rigor to the max.
[Hannah] Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. All right, so myth number six– this is our last myth for today. Admissions officers won’t understand the educational system in a foreign country. So if I am an applicant from outside of the US, I need to take as many standardized tests as possible and send lots of additional information.
(TOGETHER) Busted!
[Mark] All right, Hannah, we’re going to let you take the lead on this one because you are our resident international admissions officer. But I will just start by saying that I know for a fact that, Hannah, you and your colleagues who read international territories, you get to know the countries you read really well.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Jill] Yes.
[Mark] And you don’t need applicants to add a bunch of extra documents to explain how things work there.
[Hannah] Right. Exactly. That is the whole reason we have international admissions officers who read by territory. Part of our job is to become comfortable and familiar with the curriculum in that particular country. So you don’t need to prove that you are ready for college in America by taking a lot of standardized tests.
And I think this relates to the previous question as well. One thing that comes up a lot when I’m speaking with international students who don’t attend AP schools or IB schools is– they ask me, should I self-study and take those tests anyway?
[Mark] No.
[Jill] Oh, no.
[hannah] No!
[LAUGHTER]
[Hannah] Please, don’t do that! You will not be at a disadvantage for not having taken those tests. And also, good scores on those tests aren’t going to make up for poor grades in your school curriculum, yeah so you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to go out of your way to seek out standardized tests that aren’t already a part of your school curriculum.
[Mark] Yeah, I mean, I think this is similar to what we revealed in our episode about transfer in Eli Whitney admissions, which is that you’ve been already listening to a podcast about international admissions this whole time.
[Hannah] Right.
[Jill] Yes.
[Mark] So don’t imagine that there’s some sort of wildly different process or a set of priorities for international applicants. So everything you’ve heard us say before applies to you if you are coming from outside the US as well.
[Hannah] Yeah, I’m glad we’re saying this because we do get a lot of emails from students from abroad who say, oh, please do an episode on international admissions. And I say, well, every episode’s about international admissions. All the same rules apply, and there’s nothing extra you need to be worrying about.
[Jill] Yeah.
[Mark] Well, that was fun. We busted six more myths.
[Jill] Whoo!
[Mark] And we hope this was helpful. We’re going to put in another reminder for you. Try to get your information from the best and most reliable source, which we’re going to say is us.
[Jill] Yeah.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Just diving into the depths of the internet myth factory is not where you want to get your information from.
[Jill] No, don’t do that.
[Hannah] Yeah. And remember to be skeptical when you hear something about the college admissions process that seems overly simple, or overly provocative, or that just makes you think, Oh, really? That’s how it works?
[Mark] Yeah.
[Jill] And again, if you want Hannah and Mark to bust another myth or two, just shoot them an email because we’ll happily take those on.
[Hannah] Yes, we actually read the emails, and we are always looking for new episode ideas.
[Mark] And we want to hear what’s out there. What are the most creative and interesting new myths out there.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] We love this stuff, so let us know what kind of ridiculous things you’re hearing out there. We want to know about it. Well, Jill, thank you for joining us again to bust some myths.
[Jill] Oh, my god. Of course. This is always my favorite, favorite episode.
[Hannah] Yes! Thank you, Jill.
[Mark] All right, and Reed, thank you for letting us your office when we’re in the office. We’re going to be back in the office again soon. We’re not there today, but we appreciate it, Reed. And of course, thanks to you Former Admissions Officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
[MUSIC PLAYING] 

Episode 19: The Activities Section

Episode 19: The Activities Section

As part of the whole-person review process, the Yale Admissions Committee consider each applicant’s engagement with “extracurricular activities” – pursuits and commitments outside of typical academic work. Admissions officer Reed joins Hannah and Mark to discuss how application readers evaluate extracurricular activities and how applicants can stand out in this part of the application. The trio expand on some simple advice for selecting and engaging with activities: Be active. At the right level for you. Doing what you like.

[Mark] Hello, and welcome to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] And I’m Hannah, I’m also a Yale admissions officer, and today, we are joined by Reed.
[Reed] Thank you so much for having me, even though we’re still not in my office.
[LAUGHTER]
And yet, you’re here.
[Reed] And yet I’m here.
[Mark] It’s finally going to happen. One of these days, the stars are going to align. We’re going to actually have Reed on the podcast in Reed’s office.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] But not today.
[Reed] I’m easy to find.
[Mark] Today, we are talking about extracurricular activities, which means all the stuff that a student does outside of their courses in school. And that is a mouthful. Extracurricular activity.
[Hannah] Yeah, we can’t say that.
[Mark] We’re going to just try to keep ourselves just saying activities.
[Hannah] Know that when we say activities, we’re talking about athletics, performing arts, jobs you might hold outside of school, volunteer work– it all counts.
[Mark] This episode has been on our list for a while. We’ve held off, though, because of the pandemic. So we are recording this. It’s summer of 2021, and things are looking pretty good for high schools this fall, but we should say there’s still plenty of uncertainty. We should also start by recognizing that, even if you’re listening to this years from now, we would bet that your activities outside of school have been affected, maybe pretty dramatically, by the pandemic.
[Hannah] Yeah, and if your activities outside of high school have been affected by the pandemic, as they probably have, it probably felt like a really big deal. Especially if you’ve not been able to do something that you really enjoy.
[Mark] Yeah, so we know this has been especially tough for students in this dimension. It’s not, however, something that you should lose sleep over when it comes to your college admissions process. And before we get into any specifics in the episode today, let’s try to calm some anxieties about the role that your activities play in the selection process.
[Hannah] It’s often presented as this, like, crazy competition or arms race, to just do, more do the most. Overextend yourself, join a million clubs, be the best at everything, win trophies. Because that is going to be how you get into college. But that’s not actually really true.
[Mark] Right. When this anxiety takes hold, people start stressing about these things before high school even starts. We have heard about parents who will turn their families’ lives upside down, and they might even throw money at people who claim to tell them what a student should do. So we want to try to keep things very simple and clear. You don’t need to do anything like that. Making yourself miserable, overextending yourself, spending your time doing things that you, as an applicant, don’t care about– it’s not going to help you get into college. In fact, as we’ll explain in this episode, approaching things with that kind of attitude will probably hurt your chances more than help your chances.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] So I have a little mantra that I came up with that I think we’ll come back to throughout the episode. I’m sort of stealing this style of advice from a food writer named Michael Pollan, and I would bet I’ve actually– I haven’t read any of his books–
[Hannah] Yeah, me either.
[Mark] I can’t say I know much about him, but I do know that he’s got this great piece of advice, which is just so simple and clear that it’s easy to remember. So, when he writes about food and sort of how you should approach food, this is his advice. He says, “you should eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” That’s pithy, that’s easy to remember, so I sort of adapted that for this episode. Here’s my advice for how you should think about your activities in high school.
You should be active at the right level for you, doing what you like. That’s the simple advice.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] We’re going to go into depth about a lot of this, but keep coming back to those things. Be active, do things, be active, yes. How many things, how much? Well, at the right level for you that makes sense. What should you be doing? The things that you like.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] Be active at the right level for you, doing what you like.
[Hannah] Right.
[Reed] Whether or not the plants are the things you like in your diet.
[LAUGHTER]
[Reed] –you think that, it is great advice for what you’re doing outside of the classroom.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Reed] I know plants might not be number one for me personally.
[Hannah] Right. Right. You’re welcome, Michael Pollan, for the free advertising. OK, let’s talk a little bit about how we actually review these activities lists on the application. No matter what application platform you use, there will be space to share your activities. The amount of text you can write is pretty limited, and let’s just say that is a feature of how this is designed, not a bug. So just keep that in mind.
[Mark] Yeah, this is going to force you to be intentional about what you include here. And we also want to encourage you to think about what you want to highlight. What do you want to put at the top of that list? This space in the application sort of in the lingo is called the brag. That’s appropriate, because you can’t avoid bragging about yourself.
[Hannah] Sure, yeah.
[Mark] But I do want you to think about this space as being pretty utilitarian. You want to make clear exactly what it is that you’ve done. And this is sort of unlike the essays. There’s just not a lot of space here for shading things, qualifying things. I think you should think of this quote. Apparently, it’s apocryphal, I was looking it up. It’s from Dragnet in the 50s, and the line there is “just the facts, ma’am.”
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] So you want to approach this part of the application like, just the facts.
[Hannah] This is actually one of the first things that we see when we read an application, and it’s really helpful to lay a foundation for the read, to understand where a student’s presence is felt. And it’s one of the first things we share when we read a work card to the committee. You’ve heard about our committee process in prior episodes, and our read and presentation of these things is pretty cut and dry. We say what you do, sort of maybe the level of commitment, and what kind of impact you’ve had.
[Mark] And we use a rating system. It is sort of a shorthand, though. I want to make clear, this is designed to help us communicate with other members of the admissions committee. It is not being fed into some sort of rubric somewhere.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And we do not have a formula that’s going to award a certain number of points for being a varsity athlete or being the lead in the school musical, or something like that. It is a nine point scale, but the overwhelming majority of applicants, including admitted students, cluster right in the middle. We’re using it to communicate quickly to the members of the committee when they’re looking at our printed slate. So we talked about this in an earlier episode about committee. We can look down a sheet of paper at a series of applicants and get a sense of where the strengths lie in a particular application. It’s like I said, a little bit like reading the matrix, and this can be one of those things, where if we’re about to talk about an applicant and I see a really high value on this extracurricular rating, I know, oh, the student has really distinguished themselves there. But that is not the case for a lot of applicants, including a lot of our admitted students.
[Hannah] Right, right. So just so you know, if you completely left this section blank, you might get a one on that scale. A student who is active in a typical collection of activities without a whole lot of distinction might get a five, and someone who is extremely unusual in their commitment or distinction would get a nine, but that might be an Olympic athlete or a Tony Award winner or something like that.
[Mark] I have never seen a nine.
[Reed] Yes.
[Mark] I don’t know if you have, I have never seen a nine. I have never given a nine, I’ve never been in committee with a nine. I know they exist, but–
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] It’s very, very rare.
[Hannah] Right. Maybe one or two a year.
[Mark] Yeah, I would say probably 99% of our admitted students are rated somewhere between a four and a seven on the scale. And you heard that correctly, right. We admit students who haven’t really distinguished themselves with their activities outside of the classroom. It might be for some students a really important part of their application, or it might not be very important at all. There might be other parts of the application that are really making the case for the student. Remember, it’s not part of a formula.
[Reed] While this place is indeed a place to brag a little bit about yourself, I think it’s important to remember that this is only in service of a bigger goal, which is to help us understand who you are. The context that you’re coming from, and help us see how you’ll engage on our campus. College students are super, super engaged, active people outside of the classroom. Many people are going to tell you that they learned so much from their extracurriculars and their college activities, as sort of compared to their courses. They’ve learned lessons in leadership and collaboration and creativity. And so we want students who are really going to be engaged outside of the classroom here. You’re coming to learn, yes, but you’re also coming to live and to engage in a community.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] And in most cases, this kind of evaluation we’re doing, it’s not about matching up a specific applicant and their activity with a sort of Yale analog to that activity, right? There are more than 400 organizations on our campus. That’s going to be true at any place that you’re applying, and it’s not our job as the admissions office to make sure that every single one of those organizations has members who are interested and have experiences in those areas.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] So in a nutshell, to answer this question, what are we looking for here, I would describe it as we’re looking for students who are seeking to maximize opportunities around them and contribute to their communities in the process. I’ll say that again. We want to find students who are maximizing opportunities and contributing to their communities in the process. As we try to evaluate how your activities in high school might demonstrate this, we have to incorporate a ton of context.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Right? Just the number of activities, the kinds of activities that are available, very dramatically from school to school, from community to community. For some students, their individual opportunities are limited because of maybe family commitments or work commitments. And let’s make very clear– those kinds of things can be just as valuable, or even more valuable, than traditional school-based extracurriculars.
[Reed] I can certainly think of many times when I’ve been deeply impressed by applicants and what they’ve done outside of the classroom, but so often, that is from the amount of hours that they put into a job or into taking care of a younger sibling, not just research accomplishments or music accomplishments or other things they’re doing that might be more in a traditional sort of academic lens.
[hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Yeah, so the types of choices that students have available to them vary dramatically, and even just how much choice you as an individual applicant, is going to vary dramatically. When you have choices, though, what we hope is that this activities list reveals something about you. We hope that it shows how you’ve chosen to spend your time. We hope it reflects your interests, your values, and the kind of contributions that you’ve made to one or more shared experiences with others. And I think that’s a really important point. We are not just thinking about this in terms of your Individual achievement and sort of how you’ve gone along your own individual vector. We are very, very interested in how these kinds of activities have involved your work with groups of other people and your contributions to shared goals.
[Hannah] Yeah, which, by the way, is why it makes no sense to spend your time doing things you don’t enjoy only because you think it’ll help you get into college.
[Mark] I really dislike when I hear students sort of complaining about, oh, I’m doing this, and I’m doing this, and I’m doing this, because that’s how I’m going to get into college. It’s like, no.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] You’re approaching it completely wrong.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] You need to be doing things that you like doing. If you’re not doing things that you like, you’re making it harder for us to figure out who you are, right? If your activities list is full of things that don’t reflect you honestly and openly, we’re going to be scratching our head wondering, who is this person? This just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
[Reed] And I can promise you that once you’re in college, you’re not going to have the time, energy, or desire to pursue activities that you don’t want to do. And so it’s good practice to start saying no now.
[Mark] Yes.
[Hannah] Right. Yeah, definitely. So, we are going to get into some advice about if you are just starting out in your high school career and thinking about what kinds of activities to do, we have a little advice for you to help you find things that you care about. Before we get into that, though, we have some advice for seniors or juniors who might be actually putting together their application. They have all these hours of activities and experience behind them already. Just keep in mind that a busy list of activities doesn’t tell us a whole lot, and doesn’t help you stand out.
[Mark] Right. Whether you’ve identified one key area of commitment, or you have lots of activities, if you’ve been doing something for a while, your role will probably change over time. And when you are writing your application, you want to use that space– and it’s pretty small– to share that impact, and hopefully sort of demonstrate the importance of activity, not just that you did it.
[Reed] I believe the actual application asks you to list your activities in order of importance.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Reed] It’s a good time to reflect on what is actually most important to you.
[Mark] Please don’t overthink that.
[Hannah] Do not.
[Mark] We do a lot of head scratching sometimes when we look at the order on this list, and we say, you ordered it that way because you think that’s what we think is more important.
[Hannah] Right.
[Reed] There’s no 3D chess here, guys.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] Think about the things that you’ve probably spent the most time doing that have been most fulfilling for you. Please, please, put those on the top of the list. Even if something seems very impressive but it’s just not been a big, important commitment for you, it can go down the list. We’re going to read the whole thing, don’t worry.
[Hannah] All right, let’s move on and talk about some sort of just general advice.
[Mark] Yeah, I think this will be most applicable for folks who are starting their high school career. The options in front of you are a little bit different than those who are in their junior or their senior year of high school. But I’ll mention this might also be particularly relevant for folks who are kind of getting a fresh start with their activities, because they’re headed back to school after the pandemic. So if you find yourself with a blank slate in terms of, what am I doing outside of my coursework? What I want to get involved with, these are pieces of advice. We’ve got four tips for you.
Tip number one is find your people. I think this is the best place to start, in terms of, what should I be doing with my time? I think you’re going to find the most fulfilling, most valuable experiences if you start with finding people that you like spending time with.
I think we pretty consistently find that the people with the most compelling activities list are those that have really actively engaged with other people. Often, the activity itself is secondary to the experience of sharing time with other people and a shared goal. I think when you find your people, what you do together just becomes much more fulfilling.
[Hannah] And it’s also going to make it easy to find your people in college, even if that’s in a totally different activity.
[Reed] I also want to be clear that that doesn’t mean that we are prioritizing team-based activities over ones that are solo. You can find your people in activities that you are doing alone, because they have similar mindsets. They’re bringing shared values to the table.
[Mark] Absolutely. And you do not need to be constantly competing with your classmates to stand out. We’re not going to be lining up activities lists among applicants from the same high school. So instead of racing classmates into leadership positions, or trying to do the most service hours or being inducted into every Honor Society or every academic club, focus on the experience itself. Not how it’s going to look on a resume.
[Hannah] All right, our next tip is one I really like, which is just embrace small. So what we mean by that is, when you do something good and sort of relatively small, but then you try to pitch it to us as this world-changing endeavor, that’s when we start to get a little bit skeptical, and you sort of lose some credibility.
[Mark] Yeah, you don’t want the person reading your application to be looking at an item here and say, hmm, would this person have done this thing if it were never going to be on your college application?
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] And I will say, my biggest frustration is when someone has done something interesting, but the specifics about the actual day-to-day work of a project are conspicuously absent. So the space might be used to just sort of brag and say, oh, I founded an organization. It’s a registered 501(c)(3). Or we raised this amount of money, or we sent supplies to this number of children. But I never have any idea what you actually did.
[Hannah] Right.
[Mark] And that’s what I want to know about it, and that stuff might seem less impressive, but it’s actually much more interesting to me because I know that you are a busy high school student who is managing lots of different priorities. I can see that you are in a lot of rigorous classes and you’re doing well there. So I want to know, what did you actually do? Not just the accomplishments.
[Hannah] Yeah. I think that there is a myth out there that you need to have found something. Found an organization, or create something totally new to stand out, but a lot of the most compelling and successful projects that we hear about are small. They’re local, they’re simple. And it’s easy for us to see why a student had the idea to create something, and how they took initiative and got results.
[Mark] Yeah, I will say there are simply plenty of situations where founding something is just pretty meaningless. I will say, as a part of my regular review process, when I see that, I ask myself, OK, is this an organization that only has one member? And it won’t exist after you are no longer a high school student and a college applicant? I also wonder, was there really a need for this specific organization in the community? Like, were you listening to what was needed and jumping in, or were you just projecting what you wanted to do for your college application on it? And also, are you maybe at a brand new high school where everyone in every club is a founder, right?
[Hannah] Yeah, we see the word founder a lot.
[Mark] We see founder, co-founder, a lot. Without more information about what you did and why, that word– that title– it doesn’t mean a whole lot to us.
[Reed] I think a lot of students tend to forget that we can see the sort of legacies of these clubs and these foundings or co-foundings. Especially if we’re reading the same school year after year.
[Hannah] Right.
[Reed] I saw that someone created the physics club, and then it didn’t exist the next year, and then someone else created the physics club again another year.
[Hannah] Right, right.
[Reed] I get the picture.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Yeah. And I’ll be clear, I would much rather see someone who’s committing their energies to a project that already exists, and they got inspired by that project and that organization and they wanted to make a really meaningful contribution to it, than someone who created something new just to create something new.
[Hannagh] Yeah. A good rule of thumb for this– and also just for so many other parts of the application process– is, if it’s not important to you, it’s not going to be important to us.
[Mark] Yeah. OK, so here’s our next tip. I think this is probably good advice just for life generally. Find something that you can actually fail at. And along with that, something that you can improve at. Get better at. I think people who treat this part of the application as this rat race to prove themselves to be super successful think that you need to have four years worth of high school just raking in awards where you’re first chair in this, and you’re a starter and you’re the lead in that.
And so you would need to then start your high school experience already super excellent at something that you began in kindergarten. And I think this approach leads to a lot of really sort of missed opportunities, some real risk aversion, and some withdrawal from the activities where you might not be the best at something, but being the best at something shouldn’t be your priority in terms of deciding how to spend your time.
[Hannah] Yeah. As fellow control freaks ourselves, we understand the impulse here. You want to play to your strengths, you want to find the opportunities that demonstrate those strengths. And there are also probably a lot of activities that aren’t especially accessible to folks without experience. Like varsity athletic teams.
[Mark] Right. Even if I really wanted to try and fail at an athletics endeavor in my high school, it was not an option for me.
[Hannah] You could fail at it, but you couldn’t try it.
[Mark] I couldn’t be on the team. There was no space for me, so I understand opportunities might be limited here. But the point here is that trying something new and working to improve at it– can be so much more fulfilling and illuminating just for yourself than just doing the same old thing over and over again.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Reed] I think the important distinction here is that there is a difference between just participating and growing and contributing. The fact that you participated in any given activity doesn’t actually tell us that much, but improving at something– the story behind it, contributing to the success or direction of a team– is far more telling.
[Mark] And I’ll also mention, it’s not the case that you should do something that’s super novel. Like win a backwards unicycling competition or be a fire juggler. That’s cool, yeah. I mean, if that’s what you want to get better at, go for it. Probably get scraped up a bit along the way. But remember novelty alone– it’s not going to do much for your case.
[Hannah] All right, tip number four, I think this is our last tip here. Don’t make any decisions about what you do in high school based on how it’s going to look on your college application. I think this sort of sums up everything we’ve already been saying. But we get most excited when we see genuine interest and excitement and commitment. Not when we see a particular formula or collection of activities.
[Mark] Yeah, and this relates to something that we actually got a listener email about, which is– it’s a good question, is about, do you need to have a spike in your application? And this is– what’s interesting is this is not a term that I had heard before. But it sounds like it’s pretty common out there among students who are talking to each other. So, Hannah, can you like– what’s the concept of a spike?
[Hannah] Yeah, so the idea is that you could either be well-rounded, or you could be pointy in your activities. So if you’re well-rounded, you do a lot of different varied things. And if you’re pointy or you have a spike, then you have one thing that you’re really, really, really good at.
[Mark] Yeah, and I, over the years, have gotten tons of questions from students, saying, do you prefer well-rounded students, or pointy students?
[Hannah] Right. Yeah.
[Mark] And my answer is, yes. All kinds.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] And it’s interesting, because I know that this actually is a line that admissions officers have used over the years, where they explain that what they’re looking for is a well-rounded student body, not necessarily well-rounded students and I can understand where that’s coming from, but I think it’s much too dismissive of the well-rounded student, who maybe isn’t particularly spiky in one area. So I think people hear that and say, oh I’ve got to be spiky so that my spike is going to join all the other spikes and then together–
[Reed] Right.
[Mark] We’ll be this big spiky wheel or something, I don’t know.
[Hannah] Yeah, like whatever you do, that’s what you should do. I mean, if you happen to be the kind of person who wants to pursue a lot of varied things, if you’re a little bit of a jack of all trades, that’s great. Do that. And if you have this one clear passion, or spike, that you’re exceptionally good at, then do that. But one is not better than the other.
[Mark] And we see students go in the wrong direction both ways, right? We see students who are passionate with a capital P about something, but they think that they need to have a bunch of other stuff in their applications.
[Hannah] Right, yeah.
[Mark] So they’re just participants and involved, but it doesn’t mean much for us. And we also see students who really would love to be pursuing really disparate interests and contributing a lot different ways. They say, oh, I’ve got to have a spike. And so I need to abandon these things that I care about to double or triple down on this one thing. And no, you don’t need to do that at all.
[Hannah] Don’t– just don’t make these decisions based on how it’s going to look on your resume or on your college application. Make them based on how you actually want to be spending your time.
[Reed] Yes, there is a whole spectrum of activity, from the student who does it, all the student who does one thing. And when you get to college, we are not going to expect the student who does one thing to suddenly become a jack of all trades. And we’re not going to expect the student who loves doing it all to suddenly focus in on their extracurricular activities in college. You’re eventually going to have to select a major or majors. You’re not going to have to focus down your activities to one.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] Yeah. All right. Well, we have covered a lot here. We hope that it’s calmed some nerves a bit. Again, we wanted to talk about this, because we know that people can get really, really worked up about this. We know the pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into a lot of plans, and so people might be especially nervous about how we’re going to review these things. Always remember, your application is going to be reviewed by a real person who’s trying to understand another real person, not a collection of accomplishments.
[Hannah] Some applicants really stand out in their extracurricular activities, if they have national and global level accomplishments, but many, many more stand out for the little things that they just do every day and the energy and commitment they brought to those activities. And plenty of students stand out in their process for something that has nothing to do with their extracurricular activities.
[Reed] We like to say that students who are admitted to Yale are always missed in their communities when they leave, because they’ve made some sort of an impact. That’s what you should aspire to in your activities.
[Mark] I’ll say one more time, sorry, Michael Pollan. Be active at the level that’s right for you doing what you like.
[Hannah] Yep.
[Reed] Enjoy.
[Mark] Yeah, enjoy. Have fun. We enjoyed having you on the podcast today. Thanks for coming back.
[Reed] It’s great to be here.
[Mark] Thanks to our friend and colleague, Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Reed, we’re going to use your office again, sometime, so thanks in advance.
[Reed] Count on it.
[Mark] Thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours, and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.
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Episode 20: Senior Year Questions & Answers

Episode 20: Senior Year Questions & Answers

As they begin putting together college applications, high school seniors around the world will encounter unforeseen issues that can provoke concern and anxiety. Hannah, Mark, and Jill answer some of the most frequently asked questions from seniors, including questions that stem from situations that may seem unusual or unfortunate. The admissions officers explain how the committee considers extenuating or unique circumstances and why those circumstances will not hurt a student’s chances of admission.

[MUSIC PLAYING]
[Hannah] Hello. And welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m. Hannah. And I’m a Yale admissions officer.
[Mark] And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.
[Hannah] We are back after a bit of summer vacation. And we want to do something especially timely.
[Mark] Yeah. We are recording in mid-September, which means that seniors in high school all around the world are finalizing their college lists and they are starting to work on their applications.
[Hannah] Yeah. So we thought we would make something especially for them. And it’s specifically about the kinds of questions and concerns that we frequently hear from seniors, either right before or right after they apply.
[Mark] Yes. And we’ve been answering these questions for an awful long time. And we have noticed that there’s a sort of a consistent thread where these are the types of questions where the person asking them typically thinks that they are in a super-unique situation that nobody else has ever been in before. And it’s often accompanied by a lot of anxiety. And it’s wrapped up in a sense of, well, I’m sure that everybody else has had this super-simple, straightforward application process, but I have this weird issue and I’m probably doomed, right?
[Hannah] Right. But that is rarely the case. Hopefully, it is some comfort to know that hundreds of people have similar situations every year and it’s totally fine. These kinds of questions and the issues associated with them are very, very common.
[Mark] Yeah. An alternate title for this episode could have been something like Surprisingly Frequently Asked Questions. Like, we actually get these a lot, but you might think, if you’re asking it, that you’re the first person who’s ever asked it.
[Hannah] So we’re going to try to answer a bunch of these questions and put your mind at ease a little bit about things that you might think are big issues. But just know we aren’t trying to tell you that you shouldn’t ask questions of admissions officers. You should absolutely keep doing that.
[Mark] Right. We want to be proactive in giving these answers because we know that a number of our listeners will probably have some flavor of this question over the next few months. But we are not trying to discourage you from reaching out to our office with your questions. We like answering questions, whether they are specific or general and you are always better off asking someone like us, an admissions officer, rather than throwing it out into the internet looking for sort of random advice there, or worse off, paying someone to give you an answer.
[Hannah] Right. We will give you the correct answer for free. Yes, we cannot say this enough. So if you call our office Monday through Friday during the workday, you can speak with an admissions officer on duty. And what that means is every day out of the month, one of us has the task of being available to answer phone calls.
[Mark] In a minute here we’re going to give you some sample questions that have a lot of seemingly important, specific details. But usually those specific details aren’t a whole lot. I will admit, as an admissions officer, it can get a little bit tiring to hear sort of different versions of a question that usually ends with, will it hurt my application, x, y, or z? But we completely understand where you’re coming from here.
[Hannah] And that is one of the reasons we’re doing this episode, to answer the kinds of questions that are more about providing reassurance, so you can hear kind of those words of reassurance directly from us.
[Mark] And let’s say one more time, we completely understand why students ask these questions and why they can provoke a lot of anxiety. The college application process, it can feel really stressful. The stakes can seem really high. Your individual application and your particular circumstances are really important to you, and they’re important to us too. From our vantage point, we have the luxury of seeing how a lot of things that might seem like a really big deal to an individual student, though, aren’t actually a big deal when we are reviewing applications. So our goal here isn’t to make it seem like these are silly questions. Instead, we’re trying to proactively provide some reassurances for a few things that might otherwise keep you up at night.
[Hannah] Cool.
[Mark] All right, so we have compiled a list of questions that we answer a lot, even though the person asking them probably thinks they’re the first person to ever ask them. And these will all be questions that we typically get from high school seniors
[Hannah] Yep. To help us out we’re bringing back podcast all-star, Jill.
[Jill] Hi, everybody.
[Hannah] Hi, Jill.
[Mark] Welcome back, Jill.
[Mark] Thank you. I am so happy that you’re here. You are going to help us out today by delivering, in your best, dramatic interpretation, the version of this question that seems like a super-specific. And then we will try to give the sort of easy general answer to the question. And you can help out both with asking and answering.
[Jill] Perfect. That sounds good. I have to put my high school acting hat on.
[Hannah] Oh, yeah.
[Mark] Excellent. All right, so we’ve got a whole bunch of questions here.
[Jill] OK, first question. Quick question, guys. I’m a US citizen and I was born in Guam. But I’ve actually been living in Turkey for three years now. Do I apply as an international student? Also, do I need to take an English proficiency exam?
[Hannah] OK, this is a type of question that we get a lot. And there are many, many different specifics and variations. The simple answer is there is no such thing as applying as an international student.
[Mark] Think about that.
[Hannah] Is your mind blown?
[Mark] I’ve answered this question more than 1,000 times, I’m sure, in my time here.
[Hannah] Everyone goes through the same application process regardless of citizenship, regardless of where you live. There is no special additional application or supplement depending on your citizenship or where you live. So no, Jill, you just apply. You just apply. And it’s as simple as that. In terms of the English proficiency exam, it’s actually not required for anyone. It’s recommended if the language of instruction in your current school is not English. But if you’ve been at a school where you’ve been speaking English regularly for the past three years, then don’t worry about taking one of those exams.
[Mark] Exactly.
[Hannah] Awesome.
[Jill] Thanks, guys.  Sure. Question number two. Oh, my God, you will not believe this. My AP chemistry teacher just gave birth to quadruplets. And she’s going on maternity leave for the next like decade. The district couldn’t find a substitute teacher. And now my only option is to change to AP Physics. But that means that I can’t take my journalism class. And I’m the editor of the paper. And I think I want to be an engineer. And those quadruplets are like super-cute, but it’s not fair that they’re going to ruin my college dreams. What do I do?
[Hannah] Whoa, whoa, whoa, OK.
[Mark] First of all, don’t take it out on the quadruplets. They sound very cute. But they are not actually relevant to this question. So this is actually just a simple sort of schedule issue question. And we answer a lots of schedule issue questions from, particularly juniors, but also seniors as well. And we want to say here, stuff happens. We get it. Things can change. And we know that for most people, the schedule that they’re taking is probably not exactly what they wanted to, and that, sometimes, a few weeks into the semester, a monkey wrench gets thrown into all of it.
What you want to do is just make the decision that sort of makes the most sense for you in your circumstances, like how am I going to balance this and what do I want to do? Just do it at the local level. Maybe talk to a counselor or advisor at your high school. Once you make a decision, just let us know about it. If that’s in your application before you submit it, easy. If it happens after you submit it, just send us an update. Just be as thorough and as honest as possible so we can understand all that. You probably don’t need to include the info about the quadruplets. But if there’s a cute photo, sure, send it along. But just letting us know, hey, this is the course change that I made, here’s why, and here’s what my senior year schedule looks like now, that’s all we need to know.
[Jill] All righty. Question number three– so my Spanish teacher just got called into jury duty for a trial of a serial bank robber. I know, that’s insane and now he’s completely sequestered and he won’t be able to submit my letter of recommendation until after the deadline. Is my application going to be automatically rejected because it was late?
[Hannah] OK, another question we get all the time. And really, this just boils down to, what if some part of my application, some piece of material comes in after the deadline? It’s totally fine. Your application will not be rejected. It’s not going to be reviewed differently. We will accept letters from teachers and counselors after the application deadline.
[Mark] Right. The deadline applies to your part of the application, so a Common Application, the QuestBridge application, the Coalition Application, whatever is the piece that you are putting together with things like your activities list and your personal statements and all of that. It is absolutely fine if your counselor, registrar, teacher, whoever is submitting other documents on behalf of your application, submits those a little bit late. Obviously, you don’t want it to be a month late. And you can check your status portal to see what’s there and what’s not. And by the way, we’re going to wait to review your application until we’ve got everything that we need.
[Hannah] Right, yep.
[Jill] Question number four– yo bro, you will not believe this. A freak burst of gamma radiation pulsed through the cosmos and arrived in my bedroom precisely 11:59 PM, the day of the deadline. It completely wrecked my laptop at the very instant I was going to submit my application. Is there any way that I could still submit my application?
[Mark] Bravo, by the way, first of all. That’s awesome material too. I love it. [LAUGHING]
[Hannah] The simple answer is yes. Every year, we encounter some sort of natural disaster or some big extenuating circumstances that mean that, for some reason, some applications have to come in a little bit late and it’s OK. We’re going to accommodate those situations. I would also say maybe don’t wait until 11:59 PM to submit your application, just go for it next time, Jill. Think about maybe submitting the day before, just in case right.
[Mark] So we aren’t going to miss the opportunity here to say it is not a wise idea to wait until the very last minute, and a lot of applicants do. I don’t really understand why because your application is not going to get better the longer that you sit on it. So in addition to freak gamma ray bursts that might wreck your laptop, it is not uncommon that servers associated with the Common Application or something like that, dealing with a huge surge of millions of people trying to submit their application right at one time, can sometimes have issues. We’ve seen that in the past.
So regardless of whether or not you can apply after the deadline, yes, we are accommodating of extenuating circumstances. Just for your own mental health, we highly recommend that you do not wait until the absolute last minute. Our regular decision deadline is January 2. Don’t spend New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day fussing over your application. Get that done. Enjoy a winter break. Get it, get it off your desk and out of your mind. And enjoy as much of your senior year as you can with those applications out the Door
[Hannah] Yep. So then we can spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day reading your application. [LAUGHING]
[Jill] Good advice. All right question, number five. So I’m graduating from Douglas High School? I don’t know if you guys have heard of it, but I’m in this crazy thing. It’s called dual enrollment, where basically I’m taking courses at Southwestern Community College at the same time that I’m taking courses in high school. Do you need all of my grades? Also, how do I get them to you? Also, does this mean I’m going to need to apply as a transfer student?
[Hannah] Believe it or not, we have heard of dual enrollment before. Yes, we’ve been through it. So yeah, we would like to see your grades, both from your high school and the local community college or wherever you’re doing dual enrollment. This does not mean that you need to apply as a transfer student, certainly. We actually don’t accept transfer credits for college courses taken before you graduate from high school.
[Mark] So in most cases, a high school, if you’re doing dual enrollment, will list the courses that you’ve taken at a community college on your regular high school transcript with the name of the class and the grade. If you got that, you don’t need anything else. If you don’t have that, you will want to get an official transcript from that college and you can just ask them to send it directly to us.
[Jill] Got it. Question number six– so I am also graduating from Douglas High School. And it uses a 100-point grading system. But my ninth-grade year, I lived in a different state. And they used a 4.0 grading system. And then in 11th-grade, I spent a whole semester attending school on a boat. And they used a grading system based on colorful fish scales and seagulls. And I know it’s weird, but it worked. How are you going to recalculate my GPA to compare it with my classmates?
[Mark] Good question. We aren’t. We are not. We have not programmed any sort of supercomputer to re weight or unweight GPAs to put them all together, and this is a good example of why. Whether you’re were given grades and fish scales or anything like that, we know that there’s no single way that you can get everyone’s high school performance and put it on some sort of linear scale and line everybody up together. So we’re going to look at your transcripts, in this case, from every school. As we talked about in an earlier episode, I might ask an admissions officer who reads another part of the country if they know a little bit about your first high school, if it’s in another state or something like that. But we aren’t going to try to line up your application with other people from your school or try to fit it into some box that might not make sense for it.
[Hannah] Your transcript is never just boiled down to a GPA. We look at it. We look at the classes you take, where you took them, and how you did in those classes.
[Jill] That’s reassuring.
[Hannah] So glad.
[Jill] Question number seven– my school operates on a series of nine marking periods. We call them non-a-mesters. Do I need to submit the mid-year school report? And when should my counselor submit it, because there’s like nine semesters?
[Hannah] Yeah, schools are different everywhere. And they do all sorts of different kinds of things, and it’s just fine. Sometimes, whenever a progress report is available, you can put that and use that as the mid-year report. And it should be submitted whenever it’s available.
[Mark] Yeah, the mid-year report is something that, I find, can produce a unique threat of anxiety in applicants because it’s sort of the one thing that is required but doesn’t have a deadline because we know that schools produce it at different times. So just quickly, if you apply to Yale early action, you are not going to be required to submit a mid-year school report before you get an admissions decision in December. If you are admitted or if you are deferred, we are going to ask for that in January or February when it’s available.
If you already graduated from high school, meaning you already have a final transcript, no, it’s not going to make a lot of sense for you to submit a mid-year report. So you shouldn’t worry about the fact that you’re not going to have a mid-year report there as well. And then similarly, if you’re on some sort of weird system that’s not a traditional semester, all you need to ensure is that your school sends some sort of progress report, as you said, Hannah, that tells us, are you still enrolled in the classes you said you were enrolled in, and how are you doing in those classes? And you’ll just work with your counselor or registrar, whoever it is at your school, to get that to us whenever it is available. There’s a wide range of times. You’re not going to be disadvantaged if it comes at the end of February as opposed to January 2.
[Hannah] Yeah. And by the way, if we read your application and we feel like we should have had a mid-year report by now, we’ll shoot you an email. And we’ll say, hey, could we see that mid-year report?
[Jill] Wait, you’ll email me?
[Hannah] Yeah, sure. Why not? [LAUGHING]
[Jill] OK, question number eight. This is a very serious question. And I’m going to need you guys to really pay attention because there’s a lot of elements to this. I wrote in my application that I’d be playing on the soccer team this spring. But I just got a call from NASA. And they want me to board a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station next week to help them with an astro-botany project that they are working on. By the way, astro-botany is my other hobby. I really did think I was going to be on the soccer team, so I wasn’t lying on my application. If I’m admitted and you find out that I actually didn’t play on the soccer team, will you rescind my admissions offer?
[Hannah] First of all, congratulations. That sounds like an amazing opportunity and you should go for it. I think what your question really boils down to is that circumstances have changed over the course of your senior year and something is kind of different from what you originally put on your application. And that is totally fine. Your admissions offer would not be rescinded in this case. If you feel like you have a significant update to your application, you’re welcome to submit it through our application update form.
[Mark] Exactly. We make it easy to do for exactly that reason. We know that things change. We know that if you put together your application in November or December, by the time March has come around, things are a little bit different. So if something big like that has happened that’s exciting or is just changing what you had on your application, send us an update. That update goes right to your file. We have it immediately available to us in the admissions committee so that we will be as up to date as possible.
[Hannah] Yeah. Now, if you had put on your application I was going to play goalie for the soccer team and now I’m a center fielder, that does not necessarily merit an update to your application, so you know, only if it’s really a big change.
[Jill] Thank you. Question number nine– my school was all virtual last year. And I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure if my teachers know me as well as the teachers who taught me in-person before the pandemic. It’s been a while since those teachers have taught me, though. Is it OK if I ask a teacher from freshman or sophomore year? Which one should I pick?
[Mark] Yeah, so this is the question of the year. We put this one in here. And we didn’t dress it up with much because we’ve been getting this question a lot. It is very specific to the sort of moment we’re in with the pandemic. And we want to answer this question with the sort of most general, basic advice, which is to sort of zoom out a little bit and remember the purpose of a teacher recommendation. It’s to have someone who knows you pretty well and who likes the contributions you’ve made to the classroom. Try to share their first-person perspective on your work in the class with them to help us out in the admissions committee. So start with that first.
We aren’t going to go in with any presumptions that a teacher who taught you in a virtual setting couldn’t do that. Certainly, there are teachers and connections that happen virtually that are just as important and illuminating as ones in-person. We also aren’t going to go in with any assumptions that a teacher who hasn’t had you in the classroom since sophomore or freshman year is somehow going to be a worse or sort of a less helpful recommender for you.
[Hannah] Yep, exactly. Do what feels right to you, whoever you feel knows you best at this point.
[Mark] Yeah. Zoom back out to that simple advice, you want to pick teachers who know you and who like you. So regardless of setting regardless of time, the teachers who know you best and who like you the most, they’re going to write the best letters of recommendation for you. I know that this is causing a lot of anxiety. Take a deep breath and think about those people who are going to be great advocates for you in the process.
[Hannah] Absolutely. Thank you, Jill, for your amazing questions.
[Mark] Bravo.
[Jill] Thank you, thank you.
[Mark] I think you have a future in radio drama.
[Jill] Oh, God.
[Mark] It’s the start of the new career.
[Hannah] If this admissions officer thing doesn’t work out, you have something to fall back on for sure.
[Mark] So those are all questions that we’ve answered a few times. And we’re probably going to answer them a few hundred more. That’s fine. And remember, we are encouraging you to get your answers directly from us. If you’ve got questions that weren’t on this list, give us a call or send us an email. We’ll be happy to give you an answer.
[Hannah] Yeah. Before you do that, though, keep a few things in mind. We are not college counselors. And we can’t really provide individualized advice. Your college counselor is really the best person to do that for you. More than 50,000 people submitted an application to our office last year. So it wouldn’t be fair if we gave some of them personalized counseling but others not. So don’t call to ask, would it be better for my application if I do x or y, or, what should I write my essay about. We’ll happily give you a polite answer, but it’s going to be a pretty general one.
[Mark] Yeah. Another caveat here about asking questions is that it’s not a great use of your time or hours to ask questions that aren’t associated with any sort of action item. If you are just curious about something in the process, it doesn’t make sense for you to call us up and just say, hey, how do you deal with this, or, what in this hypothetical situation would happen if x, y, or z were to go. Our podcast is actually here to satiate your curiosity about the process, so just listen to all this stuff. You’ll get the insights that you want. But you don’t call us up just to get sort of one-on-one insights on any particular piece of your curiosity about the process.
[Hannah] Yeah, send those questions to me and Mark at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com, and maybe we’ll turn them into an episode.
[Mark] We’ll share it with all of our listeners.
[Hannah] Yeah.
[Mark] And then, finally, it is also helpful to know– we’re encouraging you to get good answers from us. But you should know, we don’t track any contact with our office or any sort of demonstrated interest. If you call, we aren’t making notes in some systems somewhere that says oh, this student called and they had a great question, or they had some really insightful thing. And then also, similarly, if you call and you start giving us all the circumstances around something, we aren’t going to be notating it for your application. You’re going to need to give us those details in an application update in writing via the portal.
[Hannah] Yes.
[Mark] All right, so for you seniors out there, we know what it feels like to be where you are. And if you feel like you are all alone or that your circumstances are conspiring against you, take a breath. Remember that thousands of people have put together their applications every single year. And remember that admissions officers aren’t power-hungry bureaucrats that are trying to make your life difficult.
[Hannah] Nope. Yeah, when things get tricky or you’re not sure how to approach something on your application, just be honest and forthcoming. That’s always a good rule. And remember that the person reviewing your application is another real thinking, feeling person. We have had unfortunate circumstances befall us too, and we understand.
[Mark] Yeah, we are not out to get you. We want to give everybody their best opportunity to be considered by the admissions committee in the best possible light. That’s our shared goal.
[Hannah] Yeah, absolutely. So if you have questions, get your answers from the most reliable source, which we will continue to say is going to be an admissions officer like me or Mark or Jill. And we hope we’ve answered a few of your questions today, even before you may have asked them. So thanks, Jill, for being our high schooler of the day.
[Jill] Yay. I wish I could go back to that time. [LAUGHING]
[Mark] Well, thank you also, Jill, for being a great sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Let’s say Thanks to Reed for lending us his office, where we are set up yet again in our studio on beautiful Hill House Avenue, so thanks, Reed. And Thanks, of course, to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should all check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.
[Hannah] If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale

Episode 21: Mailbag

The first in an occasional series. Admissions officer Reed joins Hannah and Mark to answer questions and address topics that listeners have sent to the Inside the Yale Admissions Office email account. Topics include seemingly taboo essay choices, the activities list, teacher recommendations, and when to contact your admissions officer.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MARK: Welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. If you are a regular listener, you’ve probably heard us plug our email address YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com, where we welcome your suggestions for future episodes.

Well, we get a lot of emails, and yes, we actually do read them all even if we don’t necessarily respond to them all. And today, we wanted to actually tackle a few interesting emails that have come in. Some are follow up questions related to previous episodes, and some are episode suggestions that we do want to talk about, but they aren’t quite enough to build a full episode.

MARK: Right. So today is going to be our first ever mailbag episode. A few of these, we actually think are great suggestions for full episodes, so stay tuned. We will be doing a few of those in the next few months or so.

HANNAH: Yeah, and some of the episodes we’ve recorded already have come from suggestions from the inbox. So yeah, keep them coming. Guess what, Mark. Today, we have a very special guest on Reed.

REED: Thank you so much for having me back. It has been great walking 3 feet from my desk right to the studio.

MARK: It’s finally happened, folks. The stars have aligned. It took us almost two years, but we are finally recording in Reed’s office with the man himself. So Reed, thanks for joining us.

REED: Happy to be here.

MARK: So before we dive in, a quick disclaimer. We’re going to encourage you to write to that Gmail address. But if you have an urgent question that’s about the application process, about your application, specifically, emailing YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com is the absolute slowest way to get an answer.

HANNAH: So slow.

MARK: We have lots of other ways. So just quickly, Admissions.Yale.edu/questions is our online form. You can also call our office during business hours. It’s probably the best way, if you’ve got a specific question. But if you’ve got a question about the podcast, or a suggestion, or some feedback, the Gmail address is the way to get to Hannah and Mark, specifically.

HANNAH: I know when you submit a question to a web form, it feels like it’s going off into some black hole of web form questions, but we do really go through those every day.

MARK: All right. So we’ve got a mailbag full of questions that are really good conversation topics.

HANNAH: Let’s start. This is a really good one. So the exploration of my Christian faith has been essential to my personal development and has even influenced my academic goals for college. I’ve heard, though, that it’s risky to write about religion or that it could quickly become a turnoff in essays, and I was wondering if you could dedicate some time to talking about how to approach taboo topics, such as religion.

REED: I think the first thing that I would say is that topics such as religion aren’t necessarily taboo. As long as you’re thinking critically about what you’re saying and writing, reflectively, about a personal experience, those topics are open seasons, so to speak.

MARK: Yeah, I really wouldn’t characterize any particular topics, with a few exceptions, as being risky or taboo. We talked in one of our essay episodes about something like “bathroom humor.” That I would call taboo. I would just call that a bad decision and a bad use of the space.

But generally speaking, if you are giving mature reflection and insight to something, you can really go in just about any direction. The important thing is that it’s important to you. And from the person asking this question, it seems like this is important to them, and so it sounds like it could be a really good productive topic for one of their essays.

HANNAH: Yeah. I think a trap that some people fall into is if they choose a topic that feels a little bit riskier, they might write about it with a little– they might try to distance themselves a little bit from the topic, and that just makes it a little bit worse because then you’re losing the personal reflection side of it. So if you are going to write about something like that, make sure, like Reed said, you’re really being reflective about it.

MARK: And I think it’s a good place to start to recognize that our admissions office staff is really diverse. You shouldn’t make any presumptions about the people who are reading your applications or who are going to be in the admissions committee. We really pride ourselves on reflecting a wide variety of backgrounds and identities. We also like our work because we get to meet really interesting students with all kinds of different backgrounds, and identities, and beliefs, and values in the application process.

So if it’s important to you, it sounds like it could be something that could be great to share. Yale is a place that really actively celebrates all kinds of different belief systems, identities, backgrounds, et cetera. So if that’s important to you, it could be a really valuable asset for your application.

HANNAH: Nice. And I’ll just make a quick plug. Check out our previous episodes on our what works and what doesn’t work in college essays.

MARK: Yes.

HANNAH: All right. Next question is from someone who listened to our earlier episode on the activities section of the application and says that because of the pandemic, they’ve realized that their activities list looks like it has two parts, the activities that they did before quarantine and then a chunk of activities that they picked up during quarantine. It doesn’t necessarily show commitment because these are opportunities that became available once all this time– this person had all this time on their hands. So what are our thoughts on that?

REED: I think you need to remember that everyone, everyone in high school and everyone in the world, was going through something a bit similar during this time. Your list of activities may not look exactly like you want it to look. It may not look anything like you imagined it looking when you began high school. But it’s important that it’s a reflection of who you are now and what you have ended up doing during this year and a half and during the years before.

HANNAH: Yeah. I read files internationally, and it’s been a good reminder for me to see that the pandemic has disrupted everyone. Whether I’m reading in Bulgaria, or Kenya, or New Zealand, everyone has run up against this issue.

MARK: Yeah, and it is interesting that there are some activities that were disrupted more than others. We’re in our second reading cycle now since the pandemic, and so we’ve seen a whole variety of pandemic-impacted activities list. Some of them look very strikingly similar to things that we were seeing before the pandemic. Well, many of them look quite different.

It has a lot to do with the specific activities. It also has a lot to do with a specific area. It might just be that your high school, or your county, or your state said that certain things were OK, and they weren’t OK down the road or across the border, somewhere else. So we aren’t going in with any sort of presumptions. Just use that space to tell us what you’ve been doing. It might have been more of a linear path. It may have been a sharp U-turn. Any of them could be absolutely fine.

REED: As Mark alluded to, part of the benefit of our geographic reading model is that we can apply this context, not just to what’s available within your high school, but what has been available to you in your school, in your area, in your county during COVID-19.

HANNAH: Yeah, and just remember, we’re not just trying to understand how you spend your hours and what you do, we learn other things that are a little more subtle from your activity list. We learn about what’s important to you. We learn about your resilience, your priorities, and how you’ve responded to the opportunities available to you or opportunities that suddenly weren’t available to you.

MARK: Yeah, and I think that there’s baked into this question a presumption that the strongest activities lists are those that show dedicated commitment to a passion, which assumes that even pandemic aside, that you arrived in high school fully formed and ready to dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to whatever handful of activities were available to you, and that’s just not the case. High school and college are times for exploration. They are times for trying out new identities, and new experiences, and new commitments.

And so if that’s been the case in the pandemic, maybe it was fruitful and exciting. Maybe there were things that you tried, you didn’t really like. As Hannah was saying, all of those pieces tell us a story. You don’t need to try to wrap it up in a bow and say, well, these are the things that I’ve been passionate with a capital P about for the entire time. We understand, in any circumstances, it’s going to be a mixture of things, maybe that are new, that are old, that you were trying out, that you found or a new passion. All of the above, we see in activities lists.

HANNAH: Yeah, as it should be. All right. We have another activities question. I love this question. I think it’s really interesting. The student received advice from their counselor that they should not put their time spent reading on their activity list, and this person goes on to explain how reading is important to them, the hours in the day they spend reading, across genres, how his friends and family have nicknamed him the librarian, and he’s sought out for his book recommendations. So is this worthy of inclusion on the extracurricular list? Because it’s not a, quote, “official activity.”

REED: So this is something that you get to decide entirely for yourself. Perhaps this is something that you would like to spend an essay discussing. Perhaps you don’t feel that it’s quite that important. Or that you want to use that space for something else. And you’d like to include that on your list of extracurriculars. That is wholly your decision.

And if it’s something that is important to you and meaningful to you, then that’s something that is completely worthy of being on that list. You have to remember that the extracurriculars aren’t solely the traditional items– work, clubs, sports, et cetera. They’re also things that you do in your free time. Simply sitting down and reading a selection of books that have meant a lot to you is something that you do. That’s how you spend your time.

MARK: And I know that this can be maddeningly open-ended, just like the essays. We talked about the essays and how they can be super frustrating because they are different than the more directed writing that you’re doing, typically, in your classes. The activities list doesn’t have a lot of guidance and directions in terms of what should be on it and what shouldn’t be.

That’s an opportunity. That’s an opportunity for you to try to tell your story and try to share what’s been important to you. So I know it seems crazy and, potentially, anxiety-inducing, that we’re saying like, there’s no rules here. Just use the space.

But you got to think about it from our perspective. We’re looking at tens of thousands of applications from all around the world, all kinds of different experiences. We think that the less that we can overlay at the very beginning in terms of what should and shouldn’t be in there, it’s going to allow different students with different activities and commitments to really let those things shine through.

HANNAH: And maybe on your activity list, you don’t just list reading one hour per day and leave it at that. Give us a little bit of the context that you gave us in the email, a list of the range of authors that interest you, or your unofficial title as librarian to your friends and family. That kind of detail on the activity list can sort of help give context to why you’ve chosen to include this activity.

And I feel like this question is just like a great reminder that, well, it’s totally good to seek out advice on the application process. Nobody knows you better than yourself. You know what’s important to you, and you should go with your gut and include things that you feel are important to include.

MARK: And one of the things I liked about this question was that it specifically mentioned that the person asking it– is swapping book recommendations with other people and is talking with this about others– that would be a great thing to include in the activities list sort of section about this. Remember the activities list, it’s not a matter of getting points awarded for certain things or adding up commitments, and leadership titles, and all of that. We’re trying to form a picture of who you are, and we’re especially trying to form a picture of who you are as a member of various communities.

So if there is an element of an activity that involves other people, definitely include that in the list. If it’s something you do completely on your own, great, too. That’s certainly be on the list. But if it’s got that other element, make sure that that’s part of the write up that you put in the application.

HANNAH: One thing that I really liked about this question is that they listed some authors that they loved reading, and Stephen King was on the list, and I’m a big Stephen King fan, so I appreciated that.

MARK: Main VIP.

HANNAH: Exactly. We have some questions from people who listen to our teacher recommendations episode. And one student is wondering whether we make allowance for the fact that teachers in some schools have an easier time getting to know their students than teachers in others. So for example, if there’s a class with fewer students in it, do those teachers have time to write longer and more detailed letters of recommendation, and how do we take that into account?

REED: So as we say time and time again, context is going to be key here. I actually try to address this question in every information session I give because I think it’s an important one in general to really reinforce that context point. We are looking at every single letter of recommendation, whether that’s from a teacher, a counselor, an outside source, with that contextual lens, even within a school. How long the teacher is taught for? How many classes the teacher has taught you in? All of those things are going to be important. This past year and a half, whether the teacher taught you in a virtual context or in an in-person classroom, we’re applying all of those layers to each letter of recommendation. And so we aren’t looking necessarily for the same things in each letter.

HANNAH: I would say that length and detail do not necessarily make a stronger letter of recommendation. Also, I’ve read some very strong recommendations that happen to be short. I get the sense that the teacher doesn’t have a lot of time to wax poetic about the student on and on, but they still know if they want to push for the student that they’re writing for.

MARK: Yeah, so rest assured that your context is going to be an important part of our evaluation. As you are thinking about the teachers to write on your behalf, though, do think about it as an opportunity. Think about it as a chance to expand our understanding of who you are and the contributions you make to a classroom. And so think carefully about the teachers who are going to write on your behalf.

I think sometimes people tie themselves in knots, trying to be overly strategic with the specific subject area or something, maybe tied to their perspective major. And at the end of the day, it really comes down to those teachers who know you best. And in my experience, those are the teachers who are most likely to provide the kinds of insights in their applications and take the time to provide something specific even if they’ve taught you in a really large setting like that.

HANNAH: We have another question about teacher recommendations. I’ve asked a teacher for a letter of recommendation, and they’ve agreed enthusiastically but asked for a brag sheet with activities and accomplishments. Is this a red flag? I know letters are meant to be personal and about the student’s engagement in class, rather than a regurgitation of accomplishments, and now I’m a bit anxious about using a letter from this teacher.

REED: So this is not necessarily a red flag. It’s not helpful if a teacher is simply regurgitating items that you have given to them. However, there is no way to know whether a teacher will do this or won’t do this before they have written the letter of recommendation and if you check that waiver box after they’ve written that letter of recommendation. If you are asked to submit a list of activities or accomplishments, it might also be nice to slip in some things you’re proud of from the class you took with them so that they can get their memory jogged a little bit and can talk a little bit more specifically about what you’ve accomplished in their specific class.

HANNAH: You can’t write their letter for them, but you can provide some sort of reminders. And if you have a project or paper in their class that you’re really proud of or a time you improved your performance, that little reminder could certainly help.

MARK: Speaking as a fellow control freak along with, at least, Hannah. I don’t know about you, Reed. But I certainly consider myself that. This is one of those things you aren’t going to be able to control. And you can control who your who’s writing for you. You can do all the reflective pieces I was talking about earlier. But you don’t get to write the letter, and that’s as it should be.

HANNAH: And what a relief, that you don’t have to write that letter.

MARK: That’s right. Yeah. Please don’t try to write the letter. That’s a bad idea.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

HANNAH: Yes. All right. We have one more final question for now. I was wondering if you could do a podcast on when, if ever, it is OK to contact your regional admissions officer? If it is inappropriate, then who do we contact to get more information about programs? Should you write to your admissions officer, if you’re visiting campus? So how do we feel about that?

REED: So I think it’s important to first say that at Yale, there is absolutely no benefit to befriending your regional admissions officer. They might make a lovely pen pal, but that is not going to help you in the committee process, in the application reading process, even if they are giving you some helpful advice in terms of how to navigate Yale’s resources for the application process for you personally.

HANNAH: I’ll take that a step further and say that I am not a lovely pen pal. I have too many applications to read.

REED: Neither am I.

MARK: There is an important bit of variation among college admissions offices here. I think if you go on different admissions office websites, you’re going to see that some, like ours, don’t list any public directory or listing of which admissions officer is assigned to which territory. You won’t even see who’s on staff on our website. And that’s because, as you heard, we aren’t tracking these things, and we’re not going to encourage you to reach out.

There are other schools that do the opposite, where they put the regional admissions officer front and center, and they want to encourage students to connect with that person in advance for their questions. So take the lead from what you see presented on the website. That will give you an idea of what we’re looking for.

None of us are going to be grumpy or scribble off some note in your file if you send us an email, to one of us that should have gone somewhere else. But we may very well forward it to the team of people who are answering questions that day, if it’s not really something that needs one of us to answer it specifically.

HANNAH: Yeah, and remember, we also switch up our territories pretty regularly. So keep in mind that if, in your junior year, you want to reach out to your admissions officer, a different person might be reading your high school when it comes time for you to apply.

REED: I also have to say that if you do want to know about specific programs or departments, while you can submit questions to Admissions.Yale.edu/questions, the best possible thing to do here is to do your own research. Admissions officers are not encyclopedias of knowledge about each university. The Google search that you’re doing to figure out about the psychology department is the same Google search that I’m going to be doing to find out about the psychology department.

HANNAH: So true. And by the way, things change when students are admitted and the volume of these questions is greatly decreased. We just can’t be that encyclopedia for every single prospective student. But once students are admitted, then your admissions officer will be very eager to talk to you about your questions.

MARK: Yes, absolutely.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: All right. Well, these were fantastic questions. Thanks to everyone who submitted these. We really appreciate the thoughtfulness that you’ve put into them, and you guys came up with some great topics. If this has piqued your interest about something else that you’re curious about, and you think would make for a good conversation, shoot us an email at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com.

Remember that those specific questions about your application or something that you’re just wondering about the admissions process should go to Admissions.Yale.edu/questions, or you can call our office. No, we don’t have a 24/7 customer support staff standing at the ready.

HANNAH: If only.

MARK: But we will try our best to address your questions in a timely manner.

HANNAH: Yup, we love to hear from you. We hope this has been helpful. Reed, thanks so much for joining and helping us answer these questions.

REED: Thanks so much. It was a pleasure to be here.

MARK: Fantastic. Thank you, Reed. And of course, thank you also to our friend and colleague Jill, who is both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Reed, you get double thanks for lending us your office. It’s a great place to record a podcast. Thanks, of course, to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 22: Financial Aid 101

In many ways, college financial aid can be even more complicated and anxiety-provoking than college admissions. Financial aid officer Matt joins Hannah and Mark to provide a simple introduction to the four tenets of Yale’s financial aid program: need-blind admissions, need-based financial aid, holistic needs assessment, and a commitment to affordability. The officers share insights on how financial aid applications are reviewed and advice on estimating your cost before applying.
 

[MUSIC PLAYING]

HANNAH: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah. And I’m a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And today’s episode is all going to be about money.

HANNAH: Money.

MARK: Financial aid specifically. This is a topic, like admissions, that can be the source of a good bit of anxiety. And like admissions, a lot of this anxiety comes from the fact that there is a ton of uncertainty involved. I know we have a lot of parents who are listeners.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: And as a parent, you have realized that your college education for your kids is probably one of the most expensive things that you are ever going to pay for. But you probably don’t have a great sense of how much you’re going to pay for it beyond a sense that it’s probably going to be a lot.

HANNAH: Now, of course, this is an admissions office podcast. But the financial aid office is sort of a sister or sibling office to us. And we are really lucky to have one person at Yale who is both an admissions officer and a financial aid officer. He’s joined us today on the podcast. Hello, Matt.

MATT: Hi, Mark. Hi, Hannah. Thanks so much for having me on the podcast today. I’m really excited to be here.

MARK: Thanks, Matt. In addition to being the perfect literal embodiment of how we try to combine our efforts at admissions and financial aid, you are also someone who’s been in this field for a long time. So we’re excited to tap into your expertise. And I have found in some ways that financial aid can be more complicated than admissions.

Today, though, we’re going to try to keep things simple. This is our 101 episode. And as we were putting this together, we kind of thought about four different things that you should keep in mind throughout the entire process of applying for financial aid. Thing number one, whether your family can afford to pay the full cost of attendance, or absolutely nothing, or something in between is not going to make it harder for you to be admitted. This is called need-blind admissions.

HANNAH: Yes. Thing number two is that how much financial aid you receive is going to depend on one thing alone, which is how much your family can afford. And that is what we call need-based financial aid.

MARK: All right, number three, financial aid officers, people like Matt, they’re like admissions officers, people like us. We’re real people. We understand that everything that affects your family’s ability to afford the cost of college is not always going to fit neatly into some government-issued form. This is called holistic-needs assessment.

HANNAH: Yes. Finally, the mission of the undergraduate financial aid office is not to be stingy with aid dollars or just work within a set budget. It’s to make sure that Yale is affordable for everyone.

MARK: So those are the four things you’re going to keep hearing us come back to, need-blind admissions, need-based financial aid, holistic needs assessment, and a commitment to affordability. Those are the four things that guide all of our work together in admissions and financial aid together.

HANNAH: So before we talk about aid, let’s talk a little bit about costs, what it’s going to cost you to attend a college like Yale. If you go on any college website, you’ll see something called the estimated cost of attendance.

MATT: Do not be scared off by this number. Yale’s estimated cost of attendance for the 2021-2022 academic year is $81,575. That figure includes your tuition, your room or your housing, board, which is if you’re unfamiliar with that term, that’s essentially your meal plan. There’s also a small student activity fee that we charge here at Yale.

And these four categories are what is known as billed expenses or direct costs, items that would appear on your Yale bill. And then we also include $3,700 in that cost of attendance figure as an estimate for how much you’ll spend on books and other personal expenses throughout the year. That includes things like travel costs, toiletries, some pocket money to hang out with friends on the weekends, things like that.

MARK: So any way you look at it, holy cow, that’s a big number.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Like you might have had just like a Looney Tunes kind of experience, where your eyes were like, ahooga, or your ears exploded, or something like that when you heard those numbers. So let’s call a spade a spade. That’s a big number. And by the way, that’s just for one year.

HANNAH: Right.

MATT: Right.

MARK: So as we said, stay with us. Stay with us, folks. Our goal is to actually bring that number down, way, way, way down. Let’s start though by explaining as you look across colleges, you’re going to see a good amount of variance, especially with that tuition figure, right? You might see that tuition is a lot higher, a lot lower at, say, a community college versus a four-year university, if you are in-state and going to a public institution versus out-of-state at a public institution versus a private institution. The tuition rate doesn’t tell you very much at all. Let’s start with that.

It certainly doesn’t tell you how good a school is. And it also doesn’t tell you how much you are going to actually pay. So we want to start off just with that number and say, don’t be fooled here.

HANNAH: Yeah, you’ll also see different prices for the other costs that Matt mentioned, like housing and meal plans at different schools. Things can really vary depending on whether you’re living on campus or at home. Are you traveling to campus from across the country? Or are you down the street from home? Will you rent books or buy books? Do you eat out a lot?

All of these different things will have a say in how much your cost of attendance will be. That’s why it’s called an estimated cost of attendance.

MARK: Yeah, that estimated piece is easy to miss in the name. You’re going to focus on the cost part. It’s good to remember that’s an estimate. Even before we’re talking about aid, we’re only talking about an estimate. A few things at Yale make it a little bit simpler. So let’s cover these bases first.

At Yale, everyone attends full time. So the tuition is the same for everyone. Everyone either lives on campus and has a full meal plan. Or they live off campus, but the estimated cost for housing and meals are the same. Everyone also has the same estimate for what they’ll spend on books and personal expenses. And then the one thing that’s a little bit different is we do use a personalized estimate for travel expenses based on where you call home.

If you are from West Haven, which is two miles away from campus, that’s going to be a little different than if you’re from Alaska. And we’ll actually adjust your estimated cost of attendance based on that figure.

HANNAH: Yeah. And it might be surprising to you that we’re talking about some things that wouldn’t necessarily show up on a bill, like your laundry detergent, or plane tickets, your groceries if you’re living off campus. But no matter where you’re applying to college and no matter how they give out financial aid, everyone’s going to be operating within this framework of estimated cost of attendance, which will just always include something beyond tuition.

MARK: Yeah, I find that sometimes that is counterintuitive for folks. They tend to focus in on, what’s the bill? What’s tuition? And from an aid perspective, we’re actually always thinking of a larger number. And Matt, you mentioned it is useful to divide those costs into two categories, what is billed and what’s unbilled. And billed expenses are, as the name implies, things that show up on a bill, like tuition, your housing fees, and meal plan costs. Unbilled expenses are those things that you’re likely to incur.

But actually, your actual expenses, they’re going to depend on your own choices for things like your travel, and your personal necessities, how many late night snack runs you make, et cetera.

MATT: We’re trying to encapsulate the full cost of attendance, right? Not just what it might cost you to pay towards your bill. But we know that there are other costs involved being a student at Yale.

HANNAH: Yes. So a large inclusive cost of attendance is a good thing because that is the starting point for estimating how much scholarship aid a family would need to be able to afford to attend. And remember that all of Yale’s financial aid is based on need. So Matt, do you want to talk a little bit about what exactly that means?

MATT: Sure. Yeah need-based financial aid simply means that we provide financial aid funding solely based on how much your individual family needs to make your education affordable. So we’re only considering your family’s financial situation when we’re doing our calculations to determine how much scholarship aid you would be eligible for.

And of course, there are a lot of different factors that go into that understanding of your financial situation, right? We’re looking at your family size, the number of students in college, and all of these different pieces that make up your family’s income and assets as provided to us on the financial aid application materials that you submit. But to sort of drive this point home, the financial aid office at Yale is not looking at your individual strengths as an applicant to Yale for your admission.

We’re not looking at your admissions application to determine if you should receive more financial aid. We don’t offer, in that sense, what are called merit-based scholarships. That’s a totally separate concept altogether.

MARK: Along with this need-based approach, there are two really important principles. We call them vertical equity and horizontal equity. They sound complicated. They’re actually really straightforward. What vertical equity means is that everyone at Yale should pay according to their means. So people who have higher income and assets, generally they should pay more. And those with lower income than assets, they should pay less because they can afford less.

Horizontal equity means that people at Yale who have similar income and assets should pay the same amount.

HANNAH: And by the way, we should mention here that Yale is one of a small handful of institutions in the US that has the same admissions and aid policies for all students regardless of citizenship or immigration status. And that’s what makes our work in admissions easier than it is at a lot of other places. We’re very, very fortunate to have that generous policy in the admissions office.

MARK: Yeah, so if you’re listening, you may already be someone who knows the basics of financial aid. And so you’ve sort of been like, yeah, yeah, yeah throughout all this. And now you’re wondering though, OK, all that sounds nice. But what is this going to mean for me? What is it going to mean for my family? What would our bottom line actually be? So Matt, you’ve probably answered that question a lot of times. What’s the simplest way for a family to get an answer to that question?

MATT: Oh, how I wish there was a simple answer to that question. That question, or the answer to that question rather, depends on a lot of different factors. But here’s what I can say. When you apply for financial aid, we ask you to send us a lot of information about your family’s finances, information about your household size, the number of students your family has in college in a given year. And using all of that data, we have a calculation here that provides us with a number.

And that number, which I would argue offers a realistic expectation of what your family might be able to pay for a Yale education, is the number that we use to determine how much financial aid you could ultimately receive. But keep in mind, this isn’t just a calculation. Again, there is a human on the other side of the desk here. I am an actual human being.

MARK: True story. Matt’s a real live person, folks.

HANNAH: Can confirm.

MATT: Yes. We’ll go through your family’s tax returns. We’ll read your FAFSA. We’ll read your CSS profile. And I’ll be thinking about your family’s financial circumstances, your individual circumstance, trying to account for all of these different factors that might play into how much your family would be able to contribute. And one great thing that all schools do offer is a net price calculator.

So on our website, we have two great tools for at least at the time domestic students, US citizens, or permanent residents, to estimate how much it might cost for them to attend Yale.

HANNAH: Matt, can you tell us a little bit about the types of documents that you’ll see sort of in the financial aid process? What’s required in sort of most simple cases, and then some of the other stuff that tends to come up in more complicated cases?

MATT: Sure. And I’ll try not to bore anyone with this. I’m a financial aid nerd, so I love this stuff. But a lot of people–

HANNAH: That’s why you’re here.

MATT: Yeah. But essentially, for most applicants, we’re collecting I like to think of them as buckets, three buckets of information. So first, there is the FAFSA. That is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is available to you online completely for free, as the name implies. If you’re an international citizen, you would not be asked to complete this form. So don’t worry about it. That’s the first main piece.

The second piece is the CSS profile, which is the College Board’s financial aid application. This is a form that usually asks for a lot more detailed information, a lot of information about the details of your parents’ income, some of the details of what makes up their assets, business equity, things like that. And then finally, that third bucket, we ask financial aid applicants to submit signed copies of your parents’ and you, and your tax returns, as well. You’re the student. Now obviously, there are a lot of different variations here depending on your circumstances.

Maybe your parents don’t file tax returns. Maybe you come from a divorced family or have parents who are divorced or separated. We’ve seen it all really. And what we do is we take all of these different data. And we use two different methodologies. This is where things get into the weeds a little bit.

We use a federal methodology to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid funding. And we use institutional methodology to calculate how much financial aid you might receive from Yale specifically. Each methodology makes a number of different allowances with regards to your family’s income and assets. And our goal here is not to make your family break the bank or spend their life savings on higher education, but to come up with a number that your family can realistically afford.

And we have straightforward cases, where it’s pretty clear what that number will be. We call these vanilla files because they’re pretty easy to read, pretty flavorless. All the vanilla fans out there, I hope you’re not offended. But they’re just easier to work with. And the information is really clear to us.

Things can get a bit more complicated in situations where there are some extenuating circumstances that might complicate our understanding of your family’s financial situation. Each of these additional pieces can really add layers of complication to that underlying calculation. But rest assured that much like the admissions officers reading your admissions applications, financial aid officers are trained for all sorts of different scenarios. And we have policies that carefully lay out the different ways we might treat any given situation.

And while each situation is unique, I can almost guarantee we’ve dealt with and seen some similar situation in the past.

MARK: Yeah, it really is analogous to admissions. I mean, I know that we get a lot of questions that are sort of premised on this idea of well, I don’t fit what I think the mold is, so I’m doomed.

HANNAH: Right, right.

MARK: And I know that you all sort of similar like, well, we don’t have this exactly. We’re not a vanilla sort of folder. So we must be doomed or we’re not going to qualify for any aid.

HANNAH: More of a rocky road kind of folder.

MARK: Rocky road indeed, indeed. And I think in both cases, it’s worth sort of doing a paradigm shift here, right? In the same way that our job in admissions is not to just say, well, this is complicated, so no. Your job in financial aid is to say, this is complicated. Let’s make sure that the student and this family can afford it the same way, right? Our goal isn’t to deny as many people as possible. Your goal isn’t to spend as little money on aid as possible.

The mission, as we said, one of our four things, your mission is to make Yale affordable for everyone.

HANNAH: OK, so let’s talk about what actually goes into these financial aid awards. Each one has essentially three parts, right? There is a parent share, which is based on the family’s ability to pay. There’s the student share. And this is what we think a student would be able to earn from one or more jobs during the academic year and the summer. At Yale, the nice thing about this is that it’s always set equal to our estimate for your books and personal expenses.

So that estimate is $3,700 per year. And if you spend less, that’s great.

MARK: The last part is the exciting part, scholarships.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Scholarships, meaning grants, meaning free money given to you that never needs to be repaid. And everyone who qualifies for aid is going to receive a Yale scholarship. That Yale scholarship might be a few thousand dollars a year. It might be upwards of $80,000 a year. Your collection of scholarships and your aid award might also include some from the federal government or outside organizations as well. In some cases, those scholarships can reduce your student share or even your parent share as well.

HANNAH: Yeah, and it’s important to note that Yale does not include loans in these awards. We’re always going to account for the full cost of attendance with these three pieces that we just went over.

MARK: So as we mentioned, admissions and financial aid are separate offices. And that’s for a good reason. Since 1964, Yale has operated with this need-blind admissions policy for all domestic students. And since 2000, it’s included everyone, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. That means that the admissions office is not in the business of revenue generation or budget balancing for the university.

HANNAH: Thank goodness.

MARK: Thank goodness. We don’t have to think about this at all, right?

HANNAH: I’m so glad that’s not our job.

MARK: I would be awful at it.

MATT: Good spot to be in.

MARK: There are a lot of private universities where they can’t do this. They have students that they want to admit. But they just can’t because they know that the university won’t be able to afford to give them the financial aid that they’ll need. Those schools are called need aware. There’s nothing wrong with those schools. It’s just simply a product of the financial resources that they have available. We are spoiled rotten in a lot of ways in our work in that we are at a university that has a very significant endowment. And it allows us to operate this way.

HANNAH: OK, you know Mark and I love to bust myths. So let’s tackle some misconceptions. Some people do not believe us when we say that we’re need blind. They see that we have a question on the application that asks, have you applied for financial aid? And so does that mean that we’re not fully need blind?

MARK: Busted. We ask that question simply to coordinate in our database. That’s because if you are admitted, we want to give you a financial aid award letter right away because we know that you’re going to need to know how much it’s going to cost before you make your admissions decision.

HANNAH: Another misconception, you say that you are affirmative for students from lower income backgrounds. Doesn’t that mean that you aren’t need blind?

MARK: Ah. Busted again, but good question. Here’s the deal. Admissions officers, we are never looking at your financial aid documents. And we also recognize that something as complex as socioeconomic diversity on our campus, it’s not as simple as just looking at families income. But I think the simplest way to understand all of this is to put it this way. Your family’s ability to pay won’t ever hurt your chances of being admitted.

HANNAH: If you are admitted to Yale and you receive a financial aid award and it’s not quite what you expected or you feel like it’s not quite enough to help you attend Yale, the admissions office encourages admitted students to request a review of their award if they don’t feel like it captures their family’s ability to pay or if new information comes in.

MARK: Yeah, you heard that right. There is no review process or appeals process for admissions decisions. But there actually is a process for reviewing financial aid awards. But please keep in mind this isn’t a negotiation at a car dealership.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Right? This is a process whereby if you have new information or contextual pieces to add that you know weren’t in the forms that you submitted or if you see that another school has evaluated your financial need differently, you should let the office know. So Matt, I know you’ve been in a lot of these conversations. What do those tend to look like? And what’s the review committee’s goal?

MATT: Yeah, it’s a great question. So every financial aid review committee is made up of roughly 8 to 10 financial aid officers.

MARK: Wow.

MATT: So we’ll receive a request for review from an admitted student or sometimes a current student. It’s usually a letter that spells out what the change of circumstances is. One financial aid officer will review that initial request for review, look at the documentation, look at what the student or family is telling us. And then we’ll present that information to this committee of 8 to 10 financial aid officers.

The full committee always has our financial aid senior leadership team. The aid officer will just lay out the special circumstances. Most often, again, it is a change of circumstances. We are responding to situations where often a parent loses a job or there’s some change to the income or assets that were initially reported. And as a committee, we’re hearing the case and trying to understand where the family is coming from and why their current financial aid award isn’t feasible for them.

All of the aid officers in the room review the details of the way we calculated a student’s eligibility for aid, that underlying calculation. And we’re trying to gauge whether the additional information we receive in the appeal is grounds for making an adjustment. So the review committee’s goal ultimately is to try and understand where the family is coming from, what additional circumstances we should be taking into consideration.

And there are three outcomes to these conversations. We can approve a request for review, where we find a lever to pull that makes an appropriate adjustment to the financial aid award. We can deny the request for review, not the funnest part of my job, unfortunately.

HANNAH: Right.

MATT: But these are situations where we just can’t respond to the change in circumstances for one reason or another. And then the third option is oftentimes, we just need more information.

MARK: Yeah.

MATT: Sometimes we just don’t have the documentation we need or the right documentation. And again, we see it all. We know that life happens. Circumstances change. So we encourage you to be in touch with us. You will talk to a human on the other end of that phone line.

HANNAH: So as you can see, this is all complicated. And we have only sort of scratched the surface here. There are a lot of unknowns in this process. But don’t let that discourage you from applying to colleges like Yale that have what appears to be kind of a higher sticker price or going through the process of applying for financial aid.

MARK: The time that you put into understanding and applying for aid can be worth literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. The terminology and the steps, they can seem complicated. But keep those four big picture things in mind that we talked about. Remember, your family’s financial situation is not going to hurt your chances of admission.

If you are admitted, your family is going to be able to afford the cost of attendance based on a need-based financial aid award. There are going to be real people involved in every step of the way. And remember that our goal is to make your education affordable. Matt, thanks so much for joining us today. Do you any final words of wisdom for folks who are maybe listening and just starting to think about financial aid for the very first time?

MATT: Sure, I have two very quick things. The first thing is whether you’re applying to Yale or whether you’re applying to other colleges and universities, it’s important, especially for financial aid, to not miss deadlines. Really do your best to make sure you’re meeting those application deadlines. It’s not the case at Yale. But at a lot of other institutions, if you miss a financial aid deadline, you could be missing out on financial aid dollars.

And then the second piece of advice I just leave you with is if you have questions, there are a whole host of financial aid officers out there who are waiting by those phones for your call, who like to talk to people and like to answer your questions. So really don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to help.

HANNAH: Awesome. Thank you, Matt. I feel like every time I listen to a financial aid officer speak, I learn more about the process too. So this has been really helpful, really great. And thanks for coming on. We’ll have to have you back.

MATT: Sounds great. Thank you.

MARK: All right, thanks to our friend and colleague, Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer, Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at Andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for another episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 23: Junior Year Questions & Answers

As they begin their college search journey, high school juniors face a mountain of information about the admissions process. Hannah, Mark, and Jill answer some of the questions that are most frequently asked by juniors. They share strategies for learning about schools, maximizing academic and extracurricular opportunities, and keeping the process in perspective. For juniors feeling overwhelmed or anxious, and for those who don’t know where to start the application process, the officers provide reassurance and advice.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MARK: Welcome to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: We are recording this in wintertime, which means that we know that a lot of high school juniors out there are just starting to really think about the upcoming college application process.

HANNAH: Our calendar is very cyclical in the admissions office and the shift from fall to winter is always associated with a change in the type of questions we start to receive.

MARK: Yeah. All fall we answer questions from high school seniors and they tend to be pretty deep into the weeds of the application process. The questions tend to be pretty specific. We did a whole episode for them a little while back. Check that one out if you are at that stage right now.

HANNAH: And we decided since we did those senior year questions, we wanted to do an episode for juniors and the kinds of questions that they might be asking. So we’ve thought about the kinds of questions and concerns that we often hear from juniors as they start this whole process.

MARK: If you’re starting off and you are already feeling a little intimidated by the process or unsure of where to start, let us tell you that is totally normal. You are only going to go through this process one time. Everything is going to be really new to you. We’ve been there before.

HANNAH: Yes, many, many times.

MARK: Going back over and over and over again. So we want to reassure you that whatever might seem concerning or unclear, it’s probably something that we have dealt with before and someone in your shoes has gone through as well.

HANNAH: So we’re going to talk about a series of frequently asked questions that you might be surprised to hear are actually frequently asked. If you’re ever feeling like your circumstances are conspiring against you, you’re all alone and dealing with some challenge or not understanding something, we just want you to take comfort in hearing that a lot of people and maybe even most people feel the same way.

MARK: So we’re going to try to provide some proactive answers to some frequently asked questions. But before we get to that, let’s make a quick note for those listeners for whom this might be the very first episode of the podcast. Smash that subscribe button and like us. Give us a five star review.

HANNAH: No, no, no.

MARK: No. None of that matters. We don’t have sponsors or anything like that, but I just always wanted to say that on the podcast, so now I’ve done it.

HANNAH: This whole podcast is about giving out free information from a reliable source. Real admissions officers, that’s me and Mark, working inside a real admissions office.

MARK: One of the reasons we decided to do this podcast is that we know that it can be really daunting just staring out at the sheer volume of information that’s out there about admissions. It can just be really difficult to through it all and figure out what’s good information and what isn’t.

HANNAH: Yeah, so our advice, always try to get answers directly from the source like an admissions officer. Hopefully we will answer some of your questions here. But if we don’t, you can always give us a call or shoot us an email.

MARK: Also if you have someone in your school who serves as a dedicated college counselor, they’re going to be a great, great resource for you. You should take advantage of their experience that they have working with members of your community. So reach out to admissions officers. Also reach out to a college counselor who works in your school.

HANNAH: If you call our office, you can speak with an admissions officer on duty. We have someone on duty every day. I happen to be on duty today as of this recording. We all field calls and we all enjoy helping people out.

MARK: All right. So let’s start answering some questions. To help us out with some of these frequently asked junior questions, we’ve invited back the one and only Jill who did an amazing job. Played to rave reviews on our senior year questions episode. So welcome back, Jill.

JILL: Oh man. You flatter me, Mark. Thanks for having me again, guys.

HANNAH: We are lucky to have you. Jill is going to maybe take some creative license with these questions to make them a little more entertaining. Our goal here is not to make it seem like these are silly or unreasonable questions at all.

MARK: It’s just the opposite. We completely understand why students ask all the sorts of questions you’re going to hear today. Our goal here is to just proactively provide some reassurances for a few things that might otherwise keep you up at night.

JILL: Yeah and keep it fun too. So should we get started? OK, so question number one. How should I choose what classes to take in my senior year? I mean, I really want to take this music class, but there’s also this art history course that I like. Oh, and British literature. That sounds so cool. But what do I do? How do I choose? What if art history is at the same time as music? I don’t know what to do.

MARK: Oh, yes. The schedule conflict question. We have answered this one a lot. And it’s always a little bit different, but at the core, it’s really the same issue, which is that there is a limited amount of space and time available in any student’s schedule. You are going to read on our website and other websites that we want to see that a student is taking the most rigorous curriculum available in their high school. But guess what? Even within one high school, there’s not just simply one way to have the most rigorous curriculum.

HANNAH: And don’t forget, when you get to college, you are going to have lots more opportunity to take cool classes in X,Y,Z subject. So if you really want to take that art history and you can’t take that British literature, maybe you’ll have the opportunity to do that in college.

MARK: Well, say that for Yale specifically, we take a very flexible approach to this. Other schools, particularly public schools in your home state might have less flexibility. So you want to make sure that you do keep your options open. For us, the most rigorous curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean X,Y or Z.

Final note here. If there is a conflict that just really ultimately doesn’t land the way that you want with your schedule and you feel like you want to give some context for that, you’ll have a chance in your application to provide that information. So no need to stay awake all summer worrying that whatever you got stuck within your senior year schedule is going to doom your chances. Take what you can and give us the information we need if you feel like it didn’t work out the way you expect it.

HANNAH: Yeah, absolutely.

JILL: That’s good. Great to know. All righty, question number two, what’s the best time of year to visit schools? Also is it important for me to meet my admissions officer when I come to campus? I can only be around for a day. I mean, what should I even do or should I see anything specific?

HANNAH: All right. Let’s take these one at a time. I would say the best time to visit campus is when you have the opportunity to do so. The same tours are offered year round at least at Yale. The scenery might change a little bit but generally, you’re going to get the same experience. Don’t worry too much about that. Just work with your own schedule.

I will say it’s always nice to visit schools when school is in session. You see a little more action on campus. You see students walking around. You might get kind of a better feel. But we get a lot of visitors over the summer and that’s fine too.

MARK: I’m also going to encourage you to think about what you want to get out of the visit. Don’t just visit to visit because it’s there. We do provide a lot of fabulous resources online. You can learn a lot about our school by going through our virtual tours and attending virtual information sessions and even listening to this fabulous podcast.

But there is something very special about visiting a college campus, but to avoid just hopping in the car or going on a plane and just showing up for a quick few hours, ask yourself, what is it that I want to learn from this visit that I’m not going to be able to get from other sources? That might also help you decide which colleges you want to visit and which you want to just explore online.

HANNAH: When it comes to what should you actually do or see when you’re on campus, check out the official tours offered at the school, but also if you’re interested in art history, for example, check out the art gallery on campus. I’m making a plug for that because Yale has an amazing art gallery.

MARK: And one final note, Yale does not track demonstrated interest. We don’t track who visits campus or who connects with us. Other schools might do things a little bit differently.

HANNAH: Right. You certainly don’t need to try to connect with the Yale Admissions Officer while you’re on campus. If you have questions, again, we always have someone on duty to answer questions, but it won’t necessarily be your specific admissions officer.

JILL: Question number three. I’m a junior this year and I was wondering how I should spend my free time this summer. I’ve so many options. I could stay home, get a job, but there’s also this really cool program at this school that I was thinking of. It’s not Yale though, is that a problem? Whatever. Anyway. I’m just like, what should I do?

MARK: You should do what you want to do, Jill. Truly. It’s great that you’ve got a lot of options. You want to pick the one that you think is going to be most enriching and interesting for you. Don’t tie yourself in knots thinking about what it’s going to look best on a college application.

There are a lot of really cool academic opportunities available in all different parts of the world for juniors. If they appeal to you for whatever reason, go for it. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pursue a bunch of activities that aren’t really of interest to you or that don’t align with how you’re thinking about where you want to pursue your academic life after college just because you think it will add some Laurel to your college application eventually.

HANNAH: Doing a summer program on a college campus can be a kind of a cool way to get a sense of what it’s like to live on that college campus, but it’s not going to necessarily help you out with your application to that school. So only do it if you want to spend five or six weeks doing whatever that program is offering.

MARK: Yeah, and there are a lot of non academic programs that we find are just as enriching and illuminating for students at this time where they come into their senior year. And they say, wow, that experience working in that job or that experience doing that volunteer program really changed the way that I’m thinking about my approach to college, and was a really just meaningful part of shaping my identity and who I am right now.

So we don’t go with any hierarchy for these things whatsoever. It is a great opportunity to do something meaningful for you if you can. We also recognize, of course, that a lot of people don’t have a ton of options. So again, we’re not going in with any expectation that a student do X,Y or Z.

JILL: Cool. Question number four. This might be a little weird, but ant farming for two years, but recently my ants have really been giving me a hard time. One of them keeps sneaking out of the farm and trying to start his own colony. I don’t get why he’s so opinionated and needs to stir the pot like this, but all I know is I’m getting sick of it. I don’t enjoy it anymore. I don’t want to do it anymore. But will it look weird on my college application if I’ve been doing this for super, super long, and then all of a sudden I just stopped doing it? I don’t want that to hurt my chances. What should I do?

HANNAH: I would never recommend that you stick to ant farming for two more years if it’s just going to torture you.

MARK: It doesn’t bring you joy.

HANNAH: It is OK to change your mind about what your interests are. Find new things to do, stop doing old things that you’ve lost interest in.

MARK: Absolutely. There is some old advice out there that your activities list needs to show four years of commitment to the same activities and increasing levels of leadership and all that. That’s all fine and good if you’ve really been able to find the things that you are potentially passionate about or just really, really enjoy and those don’t change.

But we know people change. We know that ants and their farms change over the course of four years. So if something’s just not working for you anymore, make the change more than anything for your own sake. It does not make sense to be doing a bunch of stuff that you don’t like doing just because you think it’s going to make you a better college applicant.

In fact, it’s going to make you probably a weaker college applicant because by senior year, you are not going to be really fulfilled by what you’re doing and it’s going to just seem like you’re going through the motions of whatever activities on your list and that’s probably going to show in how your application is put together.

HANNAH: Yeah I wish your ants all the best but you can give that up.

JILL: I can’t wait to get rid of them. In a similar vein, question number five. Is it too late for me to start a new activity? I there’s this whole thing where people think you’re padding your resume for college apps if you start a new activity like this year and then you do something new next year. But listen, there is this new Science Mimes club at my school.

OK, I know that probably sounds confusing, but basically, you take like scientific concepts and you mime them, and it just helps. It’s a cool thing. And so I was wondering if is that going to look weird because it’s new and I haven’t done it before, or what should I do here?

HANNAH: It sounds amazing. Check it out.

MARK: Yeah, new things sound fantastic. This goes for extracurricular activities. It also goes for academic interests. You may find that there is a new class that’s available to you, your junior or your senior year that doesn’t neatly fit into one of the categories you were doing before. We see this with new foreign languages. We see this with interesting elective classes maybe in a social studies class or something like that.

If it piques your interest, if it sounds like ooh, that could be fun. Go for it. Our expectation is not that you’ve again, arrived fully formed in high school and just continue along the predetermined path. Try something new. See what you like about it and maybe it’ll teach you something new about yourself in the process.

JILL: Question number six. Dude, my school doesn’t offer AP exams. It’s like maybe there’s like a handful of AP exams. I don’t know, but should I self-study for more AP exams? I mean, those books are big, man, but if I got to do it, I guess I’ll do it. I can stop taking my dogs for walks or something and study instead. So what should I do?

HANNAH: Definitely, definitely not. Keep in mind that we are always reviewing your academic background. In context, we’re thinking about what your school offers, we’re thinking about what’s available to you. And if your school doesn’t offer AP classes, we are not going to expect that you are taking these AP exams. We’re not going to be comparing your transcript to the transcript of the student at the school down the road who has 16 AP exams available to them.

MARK: Right. I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that there’s no rubric that we’re using that suddenly awards 10 bonus points for a certain AP score or 20 if you self studied for the AP exam. Certainly we see students who have a real interest in an area of study that’s not offered in their school. And they take the initiative to go find a way to pursue that somewhat independently either completely on their own or more frequently through something like dual enrollment or connecting with someone else. And they might sort of take advantage of the opportunity to take an AP exam at the end of that just to kind of see how their learning stacks up.

But that should be about the experience of learning the material and engaging with it because it interests you not just to potentially score more points because you have one more AP exam score than other students from your school might.

JILL: All right. Question number seven. I am ready. I am so ready. I have been doing my research since I was 10. I am there. I’m ready to get started on my college applications ASAP. Can I start working on my essays now? And I’m going to be honest, I may already have several draft topics and draft ideas in my college applications for success and acceptance folder, but will those essay prompts change?

HANNAH: We reevaluate our essay prompts every summer. And it’s likely that there will be some change. It probably won’t be drastic but you never know. So I would not recommend putting in too much work on final essay drafts before those new prompts come out, but there’s certainly no harm in doing some brainstorming, doing some writing and getting used to the form of writing college essays before you have those exact prompts.

MARK: Yes, and I think most importantly, go through the process of doing some reflecting. Ask yourself, regardless of how the prompt is phrased, what is it about myself that I think I would like to share in my college application, and what might be the most helpful and illuminating choices I could make to share that with people?

That kind of homework does pay off when you start doing it early, when you start writing things down and just playing with it so that you can adapt it to whatever space you’re going to need later.

And I’ll tell you, at the end of this process about a year later when you’re putting together potentially a handful of college applications, you’re probably going to find that there are distinct but similar prompts across various applications that don’t require you to write completely different essays but they will require you to adapt and revise some things.

So if you start with, all right, what are the core principles? What are the important things that I want to be able to share? Do that now and then figure out the specifics later in the process.

JILL: Cool, cool, cool. Question number eight. I had a rough transition to high school and my GPA reflects that. It’s a long story that I won’t get into it. Involves like rabid toucans and whatnot, but I’ve been working super hard since then and I started earning better grades more recently. Will I be at a disadvantage thanks to my ninth grade grades?

MARK: Great question. So you can rest assured that your most recent grades are the best predictors of your success in college. We’ve got data to back that up, and we go through our process thinking about that. It is useful to keep in mind that your entire secondary school transcript is going to be part of the application review. But we understand that challenges occur and for all kinds of reasons things may have gotten off to a rough start.

That’s not going to be something that’s ultimately going to destroy your chances of being admitted. But if there’s a story to tell there, you want to use some space in the application to tell the story. So as you’re going through your junior year, keep working hard at your classes. Keep increasing your rigor hopefully into senior year, so that by the time you’re applying you have both a really strong junior year and a very challenging senior program with strong performance in those classes.

But also start thinking about how am I going to give the important context about what went wrong whether it was the rabbit two cans or something else early in your high school career so that the people who are looking at that four year transcript really understand the background of what was going on then and now.

JILL: Cool. Question number nine. I started receiving all sorts of mail from colleges. You won’t believe it pamphlets, letters, swag. One school even sent me a drone. What does that mean? I don’t know. Am I being actively recruited? I must be a hot commodity right now.

HANNAH: This is a great question. And fortunately for you all, the person in charge of sending all of this information to juniors from our office happens to be in this room right now.

MARK: Yes, I’m the king of spam in the admissions office. And we get this question and it’s an understandable question. If you particularly are someone who took something like the PSAT or potentially the ACT or one of its analogs in your sophomore or your junior year, you’ve probably found that you’re starting to get very, very popular in terms of what’s showing up in your physical mailbox and also in your email inbox.

Let’s talk about what that means and what that doesn’t mean. What it means is that you are likely going to be academically competitive at any of the schools that are reaching out to you. That might be a really good sign at some schools that you are a perfect fit for them and they are very, very eager to see you apply and be admitted.

We try to be pretty clear in our communications that the reason why you’re receiving something from us is because you scored well on an exam. Our admissions process, though, is much more complicated than just what a score tells us. And so although we wish that we had a more nuanced way to think about who’s receiving our messages, test scores is really the best piece of information that we have.

So you should receive this information and feel good that oh, I could be a realistic candidate at any of these schools. But you’ve got to remember yes, there are many, many more students who receive these kinds of messages. We don’t send drones. I’m not sure who’s sending drones out there. But certainly emails and things in the mailbox, we send them to more students than we’re going to be able to admit because we don’t know a whole lot about you at the stage in the process other than that it looks like you are likely going to be academically in the right range for schools like Yale.

HANNAH: And we want to make sure we’re giving you the opportunity to learn about us. Wow. Jill, thank you for those questions.

JILL: Of course.

MARK: Spectacular.

JILL: Happy to do this.

MARK: Fantastic performance once again.

HANNAH: Yes. As you all go through this process, asking questions is going to be one of the best things that you can do. Obviously the college admissions process is probably unlike anything you’ve ever done before really

MARK: Yeah, the possibilities for you, we hope feel really exciting. You Should try to approach this whole thing as an opportunity rather than as a burden. This is an opportunity to learn about a much more diverse set of institutions, diverse places, communities, academic fields, and even approaches to learning than you’ve probably ever seen before.

It’s also an opportunity to learn a lot more about yourself. Think about expanding your identity and trying new things. And finally, it’s going to be an opportunity to wrap your head around a process that we know can cause a lot of anxiety, but which we promise if you step back and look at it with clear eyes, you’re going to find that it really isn’t that scary at all. That’s the whole point of this podcast, folks.

HANNAH: Yes, so when you do have questions, get your answers from the most reliable source. We’re going to say that’s us. And we hope we’ve answered a few of your questions today maybe even before you ask them.

MARK: If this is your first podcast episode, there are 20 some others that are already out there. We hope that they’re helpful for you throughout the months ahead and stay tuned. We’re going to keep recording some new episodes. We’ll take a break from reading in committee over the next few months and give you all that content that you love.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Jill, thank you so much for joining us today.

JILL: Of course.

MARK: Thank you also for being our sound engineer for this podcast and for being a great colleague and admissions officer. Thank you, [? Reed, ?] for lending us your office once again. And thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, you can drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 24: Lingo Bingo!

Episode 24: Lingo Bingo!
The world of college admissions and financial aid is complicated enough to have its own extensive vocabulary. Hannah and Mark try to make learning this lingo a little more fun by turning it into a bingo game. Admissions officer Marty joins the podcast to square off against Hannah in a spirited competition to identify terms that admissions and financial aid officers aid use in their daily work.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

HANNAH: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. And today we are finally recording an episode that has been on my list for a long time.

HANNAH: Finally.

MARK: So about a year ago, I think, I told Hannah I want to do an episode called Lingo Bingo. And Hannah you said, oh, great idea. I love it. How do you play Lingo Bingo? And I said, I have no idea.

HANNAH: I still have no idea, so I’m excited to find out.

MARK: So we’re finally here though. Today’s the big moment. I finally took a break from reading and I said, I just want to put together this ridiculous game. So to join us for this ridiculous game, we have our friend and colleague, Marty who’s making his podcast debut. Welcome, Marty.

MARTY: Hello. Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

MARK: All right. So before we go any further, this is the part of the podcast where I share that in addition to being an admissions officer, I am also a dad to three little kids. That’s an important note today because I borrowed a few things from my kids to make Lingo Bingo work.

HANNAH: Did you tell them that we were taking their toys by the way?

MARK: No, they have no idea. We have to bring them back as soon as this is over.

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: So in my house, we play a game called Alphabet Bingo. It’s totally riveting. The idea is very simple. Someone pulls a letter from a bag and you see if it’s on your little bingo board. And the first person who fills up their board with the letters wins. That’s it.

So I actually borrowed my Alphabet Bingo game from my kids. We’ve got it spread out here and I changed the letters on the board to little bits of lingo that are associated with admissions and financial aid. Some of these are admissions terms. Some of them are financial aid terms. Some are kind of insider terms that we use as admissions officers.

I actually went through and I mapped each term to the specific letter. So like the distribution lines up. Like we are playing Alphabet Bingo, but with admissions and financial aid terms.

HANNAH: OK. Excellent. I’m ready.

MARK: All right. So we’re going to paint a picture for our listening audience here. Hannah, I remember when I pitched this to you, you said, that’s cool, but how are we going to do bingo on a podcast?

HANNAH: Yes, I’m still wondering that.

MARK: Well, we’re going to find out. We’re going to try to paint a vivid picture for you of how this game is playing. It’s part of the game includes a little bell. Could we get a test of that?

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Very good. All right. So we have one bell and it’s situated between Marty and Hannah. And you guys are going to use that bell because I’m going to pull a description, a definition of one of these terms from my little bag here. I’ve got 25 of them in total. And if the corresponding word is on your board, ring the bell. Also borrowed it from my kids, by the way, that bell.

HANNAH: OK.

[LAUGHTER]

MARK: So don’t break it. We’ve got to bring it back.

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: And after ring in, you’ll need to say the word that’s on your bingo board. And also explain what it means, give its general significance. All right?

HANNAH: Oh. OK. I’m ready.

MARK: All right, so some of the words are only on one board. That’s like bingo. So some of them are only on one board. Some are on both. And if it’s on both, the other person can also ring in and maybe give the explanation, and you guys, you can both get credit for it. So this is going to be a collaborative–

HANNAH: We’re working together.

MARK: Yeah, but the first person to fill up their boards is going to win. And we’re going to see all this goes.

HANNAH: It’s on.

MARK: You guys, this is a total surprise to you.

HANNAH: We haven’t seen the words.

MARK: That’s right. You’re going to flip over your boards in a second.

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: And we’re going to be flexible here. We’re going to play Calvinball rules here. Like if we want to change things up, we’ll change things up. There’s no prize.

HANNAH: I’ve seen your kids play games. Rules are more like guidelines. So this is Mark’s kids style.

MARK: All right, are you guys ready to play?

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: All right. Let’s play Lingo Bingo. Flip over your bingo boards.

HANNAH: All right.

MARTY: Going down, Hannah.

HANNAH: Oh, boy.

MARK: All right. So take a quick look. Take a second just to look at it over. You’ve got 16 words or terms or acronyms on each one of your boards. I’m going to pull out a little definition from this bag. And by the way, each one of the clues rhymes.

HANNAH: Oh.

MARTY: That is excellent.

MARK: Like I said, I have three kids at home. It’s just how my brain works. I work in rhyming [INAUDIBLE].

HANNAH: It’s Lingo Bingo.

MARTY: How could you not?

MARK: So apologies in advance. They’re all bad rhymes. They’re all really, really terrible rhymes. Are you ready?

HANNAH: Let’s do this.

MARK: All right, the first term. This piece of writing helps set the tone for the rest of your app so make it your own.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: I’m going to go with personal statement.

MARK: Very good. Very good.

HANNAH: Yeah, it does set the tone for the rest of your app. And you should make it your own. We have talked a lot about essays and personal statements on this podcast, so we won’t go into too much depth. But Marty and I right now are in the middle of reading many, many, many, many, many, many, many applications every day. And one of the first things we see is that personal statement. And it really does set us up and introduce us to you and get us into your application.

MARK: Perfect. All right, put your bingo chip on personal statement.

HANNAH: Do you have personal statement too?

MARTY: I also have personal statement. I’ll say I was slower to the draw because I was looking for the letters E one which is how we refer to it in our work cards when we’re writing up our notes as we read our applications because that’s the first essay that we read. So Hannah’s totally right, it does set the tone because it is the first thing we read from your voice.

MARK: That’s perfect. I’m happy to award credit for that [INAUDIBLE]. So you guys both have it. All right number two, get a quick estimate of your college price with this nifty free tool that’s very concise.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Myin Tuition

MARK: Very good. Very good.

HANNAH: The Myin Tuition Quick Cost Estimator is a way to estimate what your cost of attendance would be in under three minutes.

MARK: Perfect. All right, full credit.

HANNAH: It’s concise.

MARK: And it rhymes with price. There you go.

HANNAH: And it rhymes with price. Myin Tuition. Marty, do you have Myin Tuition?

MARTY: I don’t. I don’t I didn’t even have the cost estimate.

MARK: Hannah is in the lead.

HANNAH: Oh boy.

MARK: The game is young. We’ve got a lot to do here. This handy number gives a digitized norm for marking your high school on many a form.

[LAUGHTER]

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: Is the CEEB code.

MARK: Very good. Very good. That was CEEB code. Yes, what on Earth is the CEEB code?

MARTY: It is a number that helps us track which high school you go to. It’s commonly put on forms like standardized testing, things like that. So that’s the code that you might type in to say, we’re sending this to Yale.

MARK: You got it. All right. The CEEB code.

HANNAH: CEEB code.

MARK: I couldn’t tell you what CEEB stands for. I don’t know.

HANNAH: I have no idea.

MARK: I don’t either. I think it’s quite old, but yeah. CEEB code. All right, so put your chip on, Marty. The score’s all tied up. Yale’s got 80 majors. Choosing one can be trying. Pick up to three and share where your interests are allying.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: The AA.

MARK: Very good. All right. So AA. What does that stand for?

HANNAH: This is insider lingo.

MARTY: Stands for academic appeal.

MARK: Very good.

MARTY: So this is the acronym that we use when we’re typing up our notes to say, hey, this kid let us know that they’re interested in these three majors. And what we think about that, what they shared.

MARK: Yeah, we talked about this in our little stuff episode. Yale allow students to pick up to three intended majors and then we ask them to reflect on it. So we intentionally give you that space because we know that you might not be tied down to one particular area, but share your thoughts on where you’re thinking you might wind up.

HANNAH: Right. Remember if you’re applying to Yale, you’re not applying to a specific program or school or department. You’re just applying to Yale College and you don’t have to declare your major right away. So it just gives us a chance to get a sense of what you’re interested in.

MARK: Right and AA is our internal lingo for it.

HANNAH: AA.

MARK: Why do these academic areas appeal to you? AA.

HANNAH: I feel like there’s a little bit of internal disagreement on what AA actually stands for in campus. Like academic answer, academic areas, academic appeal.

MARK: All the above.

HANNAH: All the above. All the above. I do not have AA on my bingo board.

MARTY: AA stands for all of the above.

HANNAH: Well done.

MARK: There you go, Marty. Next one, the College Board hosts this long application. It’s essential for scholarship aid generation.

HANNAH: Oh.

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: The CSS profile.

MARK: Very good. Very good.

HANNAH: Yeah, so this a form that you might fill out if you’re applying for financial aid and different institutions use it to determine how much institutional aid you might receive at that school.

MARK: You got it. Full credit.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: All right.

HANNAH: CCS profile. because this is an auditory experience, I just want to point out, Marty and I both have three dots on our bingo right now.

MARK: That’s right. We’re all tied up.

HANNAH: All tied.

MARK: Very good. All right, next one. Want financial help? Don’t worry. It’s cool. That fact won’t hurt you at this kind of school.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: I want to answer in jeopardy terms. I want to say, what is a need blind?

MARK: Totally. I support that.

MARTY: And need blind admissions is where we don’t have any kind of number or specific thing that we’re looking at for what your need is. So really we’re just looking at what kind of application you have, what you want to share with us.

MARK: Right. So a need blind admissions. The fact that you’ve applied for aid or the fact that you might need a lot or a little bit of financial aid is not going to change your chances of being admitted.

HANNAH: Yes, that’s right. We don’t need to worry about that in the admissions office when we’re reading applications.

MARK: Excellent. Oh, and Hannah’s got that on her board too–

HANNAH: I sure do.

MARK: –so it’s still a tie. Very nice. A popular option that shouldn’t feel scary. Though the name’s a bit dull yours might be extraordinary.

HANNAH: What?

MARK: Jill is here.

HANNAH: Our sound engineer is trying to get in on the action here.

MARK: I think the key piece is the name’s a bit dull.

JILL: Yes.

HANNAH: Oh. Yeah.

MARTY: Oh.

HANNAH: Oh.

MARTY: Oh.

HANNAH: Oh-oh.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Does this refer to the Common App?

MARK: Ding, ding, ding. Correct. Correct.

HANNAH: Wow.

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: That was too clever for me. So the name’s a bit dull, but yours could be extraordinary.

MARK: Exactly.

HANNAH: That’s true. The Common App, right, it sounds very common, but it is the most popular way to apply to Yale. And when you apply to Yale using the Common App, you could also apply to many, many other schools using the same form that you fill out. But there’s nothing common about your application if you have a good personal statement.

MARK: Got it. All right. You’re a QuestBridge finalist. You’ve had a good run. Now fill out this form and your Yale app is done.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: What is the QBQ?

MARK: Correct.

MARTY: That is the QuestBridge questionnaire with a couple of Yale specific questions. That includes questions like what we already talked about earlier, the AA which let us know about which Yale majors might be interested in.

MARK: Very good. Yep, we did a QuestBridge episode a long time back and you might remember that if you are named a QuestBridge finalist, you can just forward that application to Yale and we’ll take all that stuff you’ve already completed. And there’s just basically one more step, and that’s to fill out a couple of questions for us on the QuestBridge questionnaire and our internal term for that is QBQ.

HANNAH: We have a lot of silly acronyms in our process. I think QBQ might be my favorite.

MARTY: I really like the look.

MARK: Yeah, that’s up there. A gift of free money that’s from Uncle Sam for low income families. This program is grand.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: The Pell Grant.

MARK: Very good.

MARTY: That is money–

MARK: From Uncle Sam?

MARTY: –from Uncle Sam, yeah.

MARK: Yep. This is a federal scholarship program available for students from low income families. No matter where you are applying to college, if you’re from a low income background and you complete the FAFSA, you might find that you are eligible for a Pell Grant which will give you a few thousand dollars in free scholarship aid that comes from the federal government.

This digital space lets you check and update. Come the big day, it’s where you’ll learn your fate.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Your status portal.

MARK: Very good.

HANNAH: Yes. After you submit an application to Yale and other colleges, you’ll get access to a status portal, you’ll have a special log. It’s where you’ll see whether we have all of your required materials and where you’ll eventually check your decision. And you can also use it to submit updates to your application.

MARK: You got it. And you should activate it. When we send you the email–

HANNAH: You should activate it for sure.

MARK: –telling you to activate it, you should go activate it

HANNAH: Get on that status portal.

MARK: These short little answers, the length of a tweet can help reveal what makes you neat.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: What are the STs or short takes?

MARK: Very good.

MARTY: That’s one of my favorite parts of the application just because it’s fun quick takes, little blurbs that give us just a little bit of your voice. It comes in between a few of the longer essays right after the why Yale? Why you’re interested in Yale? There’s other questions similar like, what would be a class you want teach at Yale? The title of a Yale course you would want to do? Who you would invite to a college tea? Things like that.

MARK: The short takes, and we call them the STs. If you’re a senior in high school, the year you apply, send this in when it’s ready to show your grades are still high.

HANNAH: Oh.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Your midyear report.

MARK: Very good. Very good. Tell us about that.

HANNAH: Well, your midyear report lets us your progress for the first half of your senior year of high school. So basically it lets us know how you’re doing. We want to make sure that you are keeping up your strong academic performance not getting that senioritis. Your counselor will send in your mid-year report sometime in January or February. If you’re a current senior and listening to this now, make sure that made your report is in so we can see how you’re doing in your current year.

MARK: And this can sometimes be confusing because there’s no strict deadline on it. And sometimes on that status portal people see that it’s missing on January 5, and they start to panic. It’s going to be due when your school has your first semester grades available. So essentially when you’ve got some senior grades that are ready to share, your counselor should send them along. But it’s OK if that’s not until the end of February.

HANNAH: Right. Totally. And I work with a lot of international students whose schools don’t produce mid-year reports or anything like that. So we know that not everyone is going to have one of these to share.

MARK: Don’t think about football when you hear these letters. This non-profit org helps low income go getters.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: QuestBridge or QB.

MARK: QB. Yes we’re not talking about quarterbacks.

HANNAH: We are not. We have a whole episode on the QuestBridge application and it’s a great way for students who are coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to get connected with selective schools.

MARK: Very good.

MARTY: I have that on my board, but I’m not a football person so I was very slow to the draw on this one.

MARK: That’s all right. You still get credit. This platform is newer but mostly the same include a portfolio to showcase your aims.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: The Coalition App.

MARK: Very good.

MARTY: That’s a fun one too. It’s very similar to the Common Application, but on one of the essays you can include a specific portfolio or some kind of documentation of something that you want to share with us.

HANNAH: Yeah, there are three different ways to apply to Yale, three different application platforms. And now we’ve covered all three. The Coalition App was the last one.

MARK: That’s right. All three were part of Lingo Bingo. Most students opt for this typical plan. Get your news in the spring if you apply by January.

[LAUGHTER]

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: What it’s regular decision?

MARK: Yes.

MARTY: RD.

MARK: RD. Yes.

MARTY: That is as Mark just so well rhymed. If you apply by January, you’ll hear by the spring, by end of March, early April normally.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: Yeah. We have two application deadlines at Yale, regular decision and single choice early action.

MARK: You got it and there’s no advantage associated with either one.

HANNAH: I wonder if single choice early action is going to be pulled out of that bag any time.

MARK: OK. I think this is maybe my favorite clue.

HANNAH: Oh boy. I’m excited.

MARK: It sounds like a name or a Pure Prairie League song, but this is a math test that might make your app strong,

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: That’s amazing. I believe we are referring to the AMIE.

MARK: Very good. OK. The AMIE This is some real insider lingo here. So let’s explain the Amy for maybe folks who aren’t on a math team.

HANNAH: Yes. So if you are super into math and you do a lot of math competition, you might end up taking the AMC test which if you get a certain score on that would qualify you for the AMIE, which is a very difficult math test scored on a scale of one to 15. If you are really into competition math and you feel like you have some really exciting problem solving skills to show off, you could look into this. It can be a great way to signal those skills to us in your application.

MARK: Yeah, and it is spelled A-I-M-E for American Invitational Mathematics Exam, but we call it the AMIE. For a bonus point, would anyone like to sing the Pure Prairie League song in the clito? Does anyone know it?

HANNAH: No.

MARTY: No.

HANNAH: This is all you, Mark.

MARK: This is all me.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: All right. Well, I’m dating myself because this is an old school ’70s classic rock song. Let’s see if you recognize. This is, (Singing) Amie, what do you want to do? I was really looking for rhymes and Pure Prairie League song was what I came up with.

HANNAH: Well done.

MARK: Thank you.

HANNAH: Well done.

MARK: Thank you. Go check it out.

MARTY: Acapella, yeah.

MARK: I can’t tell you any other Pure Prairie League songs except for Amie, but that was their big hit. OK. Don’t use this space just to talk about Yale. Be reflective and honest to avoid sounding stale.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Would this be the why Yale essay or YY?

MARK: Very good. So we had the AA and now we have the YY. Little clever insider thing. Explain though YY.

HANNAH: Yeah. So on the application, we give you a little bit of space. It’s not a full length essay, but we ask you what has led you to apply to Yale? And in our office we call this the YY, like letter Y, letter Y.

MARK: So clever.

HANNAH: So clever. And this is really just your opportunity to let us know why you think Yale is a good fit for you and you’re a good fit for Yale. It would be really easy to Google a bunch of things about Yale and be like, oh, well Yale was established in 1701, and it’s part of the Ivy League.

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: We know that already. So instead, really reflect on why you feel like Yale is specifically a really good fit for you.

MARK: I could do a quick score update. How are we doing on our boards?

MARTY: Oh, I have four left.

HANNAH: what?

MARTY: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know, Hannah. You’re going to have to start answering some questions here.

HANNAH: OK, I have six open spaces.

MARK: All right, so Marty is in the lead.

HANNAH: Oh boy.

MARK: This test isn’t required, but you might discern that you should complete it if English is not how you learn.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: This would be the TOEFL.

MARK: Very good and appropriate that you had that on your board.

HANNAH: Yes. So we encourage students applying from outside of the US whose primary language of instruction in their school is not English to take an English proficiency test. The TOEFL is one of them. There are several other kinds of English proficiency tests that we accept, but the TOEFL is maybe one of the most well known ones.

MARK: Yes, and this is T-O-E-F-L. Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is very strange sounding. A toeful as opposed to a handful or a spoonful.

HANNAH: Yeah, TOEFL.

MARK: It seems very strange, I think. Nothing to do with anatomy, just one of these odd acronyms.

HANNAH: It’s not required. It is recommended again, if English is not your first language.

MARK: Yeah. If your apps ready early and you know where you’re choosing, consider this option, though the rules are confusing.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Single Choice Early Action.

MARK: Very good.

HANNAH: Or SCEA.

MARK: SCEA.

HANNAH: Yeah. Oh boy, the rules are confusing. So this is our early application deadline. Again, we have regular decision and we have Single Choice Early Action. There is no advantage to applying early to Yale. Those applications are not considered in a different way. It’s just kind of an early round. So if you really feel like your application is ready by November 1 and you want to get a decision in mid-december, you can choose to apply Single Choice Early Action.

Single Choice Early Action is very different from early decision programs at other colleges, which are binding. Single Choice Early Action is non-binding. So that means even if you’re accepted early, you still have until May 1 to let us know if you want to come. You can still apply to other schools during their regular decision round. But it is single choice. So if you do want to apply to Yale early, Yale can be the only private institution in the US that you apply to early.

MARK: Very nicely done.

HANNAH: Thank you.

MARK: It’s very confusing. It gets into legalese very quickly.

HANNAH: I’ve that spiel many times over the past 10 years.

MARK: Yes, we’ve all gotten good at it. When it comes to this form, don’t be afraid. It’s free from the feds and can get you great aid.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: Finally, I’m catching up

MARK: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE] here.

HANNAH: I have the FAFSA on my board.

MARK: Very good.

HANNAH: Or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

MARK: You got it.

HANNAH: And that is the form that you might fill out to see if you qualify for federal financial aid like those Pell Grants we were talking about earlier.

MARK: That’s right. And if you are a US citizen or permanent resident, that’s required for your aid application. You should make sure that you fill it out probably first. If you are not a US citizen or permanent resident, it’s not required, but you will want to fill out that CSS profile and maybe contact the Office of Financial Aid to see if there’s other documents that you’ll need with your aid application.

MARTY: We’re all tied up.

HANNAH: Oh man. OK.

MARK: Taking a gap year is one way to say you’re using this option and for one year be away.

[LAUGHTER]

[BELL DINGS]

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: That would be postponing or matriculation.

MARK: Yes, we talk about postponing.

HANNAH: Yes. So if you are accepted to Yale, you have the option to matriculate that coming fall or you could postpone your matriculation more commonly known as taking a gap year after high school and before college. Students do all sorts of cool exciting things on their gap years.

They might be traveling. They might be working. They might be taking some courses. It’s your year to do what you want to do. So yeah, if you want to postpone your matriculation, go ahead and do it. We’re getting to the end here. I only have two empty spaces.

MARTY: I have three.

HANNAH: Don’t call it a comeback.

HANNAH: We’re very close.

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: Your talents and scores and your address won’t sway any piece of the puzzle for how much dough we give way. That’s the poetic way away.

[LAUGHTER]

[BELL DINGS]

HANNAH: If I’m interpreting that couplet correctly, is this need based aid?

MARK: Very good. Very good. Yes.

HANNAH: OK. So our financial aid at Yale is not based on merit. So no matter your grades or extracurriculars, that will not affect the kind of financial aid you receive from Yale. It’s all based on demonstrated family need.

MARK: Perfect. Full credit.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: All right. It’s getting close.

MARTY: Hannah is down to one.

HANNAH: Oh boy.

MARK: I see.

MARTY: Root for the underdog people.

MARK: The activities list is an alternate name for this part of the app that might include games.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Marty.

MARTY: The brag.

MARK: The brag. Very good.

MARTY: Yeah. That’s the list extracurriculars or the activities that you have on your application. And beyond extracurriculars or activities and clubs and things, you also could include anything that you’re spending your time doing things like family responsibilities, jobs, et cetera.

HANNAH: Yeah, internally we call it your brag because it’s your chance to brag a little bit about how you spend your time.

MARK: You got it. All right. It’s getting close, folks. OK. No matter your aid, there’s two parts of your cost. For this one you’ll earn, borrow or be your own boss.

[BELL DINGS]

MARK: Hannah.

HANNAH: The student share.

MARK: All right. And that is–

HANNAH: That completes my bingo.

MARK: We’ve got a bingo.

HANNAH: Yeah. So if you receive a financial aid award from Yale again, it’s all need based. But the expected family contribution part of your financial aid award will include a student share, which is the amount that we calculate you could contribute as a student either through work or through outside scholarships or money you have saved up.

MARK: Very good.

HANNAH: I have to say I doubted you mark when you first brought in Lingo Bingo. But I’m sitting here with a full bingo board and I’m just feeling so satisfied.

MARK: Oh. Yeah. You won. Of course you feel good about it. I don’t know how Marty is feeling about his debut on the podcast.

MARTY: I had a great time, even though I didn’t necessarily win.

HANNAH: It was a close game.

MARTY: It was very close.

MARK: I hope we can do this again.

MARTY: Yeah, rematch–

MARK: Definitely.

MARTY: –for my sake.

HANNAH: Yeah. For sure.

MARK: We’ll come up with some more terms. We’ll come up with some more bad rhymes and we’ll do this again.

HANNAH: I can see this as a recurring game.

MARK: Absolutely. All right. Well, Marty, thank you so much for joining on the podcast today.

MARTY: Thank you so much for having me.

MARK: Thanks as always to our friend and colleague, Jill who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office where Lingo Bingo was first played. And Thanks of course to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 25: Final Review

Episode 25: Final Review
After every application has been read and has gone through an area committee, there’s one final step before decisions are released. Hannah and Mark discuss the last week of the committee process, known as Final Review, when loose ends are tied up and the hard reality of the selection process necessitates that some decisions change. Admissions officer Alfie joins to discuss how officers and committee members work together to finalize the first-year class.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MARK: Welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: And today, we are talking about the very final stages of our selection process, something that we call Final Review.

HANNAH: Yes. We mentioned this at the end of our second episode way back in– what was that, March 2020?

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: And we left everyone with a real cliffhanger.

MARK: This is what that sounded like.

HANNAH: But–

MARK: But.

HANNAH: –it’s not quite over yet. There’s more. And those decisions that come out of area committee are not necessarily going to be the final decision.

MARK: There is still one more act to follow, and we’re going to talk about that in the next episode. I think everyone knows why this episode has been a little bit delayed.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: In case you missed it, there was a global pandemic. We wound up working mostly remotely for about two years.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: Tiger King happened.

HANNAH: Oh yeah.

MARK: TikTok blew up. The Braves won the World Series. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that on this podcast yet.

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

MARK: A lot has happened in the last two years.

HANNAH: That nobody expected.

MARK: Nobody.

HANNAH: Yeah. Yeah, and we have gotten, I will say, a lot of email traffic about this episode. People keep asking on our email, hey, when’s that episode on Final Review coming out? They feel like we’ve really left them behind, so we do want to finally record, as promised, that episode.

MARK: That’s right, so here it is two years later, episode 25, originally slated to be episode 3.

HANNAH: [CHUCKLES]

MARK: All about the final review process.

HANNAH: Better late than never. And back in the studio to join us two years later is our good friend Alfie.

ALFIE: Hi. So excited to be asked back. I was a little worried that after episode 2, perhaps I had said something that was–

[LAUGHTER]

–amiss when I hadn’t been asked back to join you guys, so I’m very excited to be here today.

HANNAH: We’ve just been working our way through the staff, but we’re glad to have you back finally.

MARK: Yeah, we were saving this very special throwback cameo just–

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: –for this episode. We also thought you would be great because Alfie, you, of course, are a member, a fellow member with Hannah and me of the Final Review committee.

HANNAH: So before we get started, a quick reminder. Our goal with this podcast is to take you behind the scenes and show you how we do our work. This is not a “how to get into Yale” podcast. This podcast is not going to give you tips and tricks for devising some complicated strategy for how to get into Yale.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: And listening to this episode in particular really shouldn’t change anything about how you put together your application.

MARK: This Final Review process is both really difficult, and I also think it’s really interesting, in large part because it involves some cold hard truth. We can’t admit everyone that we’d like to.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: You’re going to hear us talking about the final steps of our process. Just keep in mind that there’s just no way that you, as an applicant, will be able to predict how your fate might be affected by any of this. We can’t even predict it as admissions officers that are inside the process.

ALFIE: I also really want our listeners to try and find some comfort in the fact that a lot of this process is entirely out of your control. If the number of students we could admit were just a little bit higher or if the other students who applied were a little different, some applicants would get probably a different decision.

MARK: That’s just how the cookie crumbles, and it crumbles a little bit different every single year.

HANNAH: So in our second episode, we explained that every day for about five weeks, we have daylong committee meetings to review admissions files one at a time. That process starts in February and goes through the middle of March. Those weeks are a lot of fun. They are also exhausting.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: But they’re fascinating. We all get to learn about all these amazing students from around the country and from around the world, and we’re in the room with different people from across the University as well. So if you haven’t already, go back and listen to one of our earlier episodes about that committee process.

MARK: And since we do that committee process pretty much the same way every day for five weeks in a row, there are a few things that are just kind of unavoidable. Unavoidable thing number one, the complete picture of an individual application might not be totally set the day that it’s up in committee.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Some applications, they just don’t yet have everything that we would need or that we would want.

ALFIE: Right. So for example, we might be waiting for an interview report, or sometimes, you want to see your midyear report. Sometimes, we have sent out those art evaluations or music evaluations, so we’re waiting to hear back from the faculty. Sometimes, an officer will opt not to hear a case at all that day and say, let’s just leave this open and hear it later. And then there are other times where a committee might hear a case and say, actually, for the applicant’s sake, let’s wait until we have something else until we make that decision.

HANNAH: Sometimes, there’s also breaking news that hits after the committee has met– if you win some sort of major award that wasn’t in the application at the time we met in committee. These are pretty rare, and I will say most of those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of application updates that we get throughout January, February, March don’t really move the needle. But occasionally, it happens. Sometimes, we’ll get some late-breaking information that might affect the committee conversation.

MARK: So kind of think about unavoidable thing number one as the fact that there’s just going to be some unfinished business after we’ve marched through all these areas.

HANNAH: Yep.

MARK: Unavoidable thing number two is that we’re aware of the fact that some committees may be a little bit tougher than others, or they might just have a dynamic that gave a slight advantage to certain students over others. And as we’re talking about this, it’s important to recognize that we don’t go in with any sort of quota for the number of students that we can admit either on a particular day or on a particular area.

And we’re also very, very intentional to not keep any kind of running count of how many students we voted to admit as we’re going through those weeks. You wouldn’t want it to be easier to get in if your area happened to fall earlier in the schedule. So I have a metaphor for this. We’ll see what, Alfie and Hannah, you think about this.

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: As I was trying to put this together like, how would I explain this? Because I feel like we get a lot of questions about, well, how do you know where to set the bar? And I explain that it’s not a set of criteria. It’s not a rubric. This just lives in the hearts and minds of our committee members.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: And I sort of liken it to driving a car without a speedometer. We have to hit a certain speed limit. We sort of know, OK, this many students applied this year, and we can only admit about this number. We’re going to have to be pretty tough, and we’re all sort of trying to feel out on any given day, OK, how fast should we be going?

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: All of our committees go through sort of driving at the speed that is just in our mind [INAUDIBLE] we think we’re going at the right speed– yeah, I think this is about right– and it’s not until the end of the process that we actually look and see, OK, how fast do these different committees go?

HANNAH: Right. Right.

MARK: And did we sort of, on average, drive at the right speed–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –to hit [INAUDIBLE] the numbers that we need to hit at the end of the day?

HANNAH: And there’s definitely going to be variability in that because we’re– the committee is made up of humans making very human decisions. So that’s good. I like that metaphor I’m going–

MARK: Thanks.

HANNAH: –to use that. So for those two reasons, it’s important to have a process at the end where you kind of go back and just take stock of the whole process again from a wider vantage point.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: That brings us to Final Review.

MARK: Yeah, and there are really two parts of the Final Review process. The first is just cleaning up some of that unfinished business.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

ALFIE: So the first part is called Cleanup, and it’s just like a regular area committee. We get five people together who are on the admissions staff, and we hear a handful of cases from each area that have loose ends that need tying up. And we are able to just do a quick zoom across the country during these last cases.

HANNAH: This is a good place to point out that officers all have geographic areas. Remember, we’ve talked about this before. And we fold those areas into larger units called teams. We started this model a few years ago originally with larger regional blocks, and then we switched to more purposefully random teams that have areas from all across the country. So we do Cleanup Review by those teams, and that’s really helpful because there’s probably someone in the review committee room who is also in the room the first time around the–

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: –student was heard and has that kind of extra context.

ALFIE: And the case does not show up in a cleanup committee. They basically fall into two categories. So the first category is a case that doesn’t yet have a decision either because it wasn’t ready for committee, as we were just talking about, or because the committee left it open for whatever reasons. And then the other cases where something new and important has hit the file. Unfortunately, sometimes, it might be a negative, so there could be–

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: Uh-huh.

ALFIE: –a big slip in grades. So [INAUDIBLE] that, midyear report did come in, and you didn’t do so well, unfortunately, [INAUDIBLE] a disciplinary violation that you or the school has made us aware of– anything that really is going to make us think twice about the committee’s initial decision to get to admit. And those are really the worst things–

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: [LAUGHS] Yeah, uh-huh.

ALFIE: –that can happen. Generally, when cases are coming back to committee, I can say that it’s usually something positive that has hit the file.

MARK: Yeah, we do dread those when we see on these sheets– because officers prepare sheets that say, these are the cases we want to–

HANNAH: Right, right.

MARK: –talk about and review, and we see, is there an action already on the file? And when we see, yes, the action is already admit, and we say, oh, no.

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: Oh no.

MARK: Why are we talking about this student?

HANNAH: What happened? [CHUCKLES]

MARK: They’ve already been admitted. And sometimes, we groan, and we say, yeah, if the committee had had that, we would not have voted to admit, and sometimes, we look at it, we say, OK, that’s not great, but we can sustain the decision–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –here. But it is our duty to go back and review that information when it comes in.

HANNAH: Yeah.

ALFIE: Right. And then, certainly, officers never love to– they always sort of grimace–

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: Right. [CHUCKLES]

ALFIE: [LAUGHS] –when they have to bring back some not-so-great news.

HANNAH: Officers present these files just like they do in regular committee. The area officer reads the area and outside reader work cards, and everyone in the room looks at a paper or digital copy of the slate, which is the list of applicants in that region. If you need a refresher on any of these terms, head on back to episode 2.

MARK: Yeah.

ALFIE: Was it in Lingo Bingo?

MARK: [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: Oh, no, I don’t think that was in Lingo Bingo.

MARK: No, it wasn’t. Well, next episode, next game, we’ll do that.

ALFIE: [LAUGHS]

HANNAH: Lingo Bingo part 2.

[LAUGHTER]

ALFIE: Yay.

MARK: So this whole process happens right after those five weeks of area committee, and even then, we still, very intentionally, don’t start counting up how many students we’ve admitted.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: We are going into that process completely unaware of what the bigger picture look like. So after all that’s done, we finally have a provisional decision on every single student who has applied.

ALFIE: And before you go on, I just want to be clear to the audience because I feel like this conversation could be creating some stress, perhaps.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm, yeah.

ALFIE: I’d want everyone to know that decisions, on most cases, do not change at this final stage.

MARK: Yeah.

ALFIE: And this decision that your application got in the area committee is probably the decision that you’re going to receive on the day that we release decisions.

HANNAH: Totally. The only challenge is once we get to the end of this whole process, we could say, hey, we’re done, everyone’s been through committee, let’s release those decisions and get start getting excited about yield season. However, there is a high chance that we’ve probably over-admitted in our work. We are so excited about all our applicants we voted to admit more students than we think we should if we want to hit our target size number for the first-year class. We only have room for so many new Yale students every year.

MARK: Mm-hmm. It’s virtually guaranteed that we will have too many students admitted. And now, the process of predicting how many students and even what types of students a college should admit, it’s a project that’s turned into this really big and complex cottage industry for some consultants out there.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Some other colleges out there, they use some really advanced econometric models that predict whether a student will accept their offer of admission and even how much financial aid money that student should receive. And we want to be clear, at Yale, we don’t do any of that.

HANNAH: Right, right. Yeah, we keep it a little simpler.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: We have an Excel spreadsheet–

MARK: That’s it. [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: –that tracks our yield rates. So that’s–

ALFIE: [INAUDIBLE].

HANNAH: Oh yeah.

ALFIE: [LAUGHS]

HANNAH: –the percentage of admitted students who enroll in a given cycle. And that Excel sheet has data for every year going back a few decades.

MARK: So a few of us will gather together and try to figure out, OK, how many students should we sort of responsibly offer admission to? And we’ll just get together. We’ll look at that spreadsheet. We’ll kind of squint a little bit.

HANNAH: [CHUCKLES]

MARK: And we’ll say, OK, we think it’ll be about this number. This year, Hannah and I were looking at this sheet with a few other people last week, and we said, OK, we think that the yield rate this year is probably going to be around 68%.

HANNAH: Yeah, and that’s– I mean, that’s really just a guess. It’s based on previous year data.

MARK: Yeah, unfortunately for us, these things do tend to be fairly consistent, which means that we can say, all right, we think it’s going to be in the neighborhood of 68%, which means just a little bit of basic algebra gets us to say, OK, our goal is to enroll about 1,550 first-year students this fall, we should admit about 2,280 of our applicants. That’s the number that we came up with last week.

HANNAH: Yeah.

ALFIE: Right, but none of those numbers is precise–

MARK: Yeah.

ALFIE: –or exact.

HANNAH: Right.

ALFIE: There’s a little wiggle room around both of those. This is a little bit of a guessing game at the end of the day for us. If our yield is lower than we expect it, we’ll get to go to the wait list, which I–

HANNAH: Yay! [LAUGHS]

MARK: Yeah, that’s the best.

ALFIE: –love, actually. Yeah.

MARK: We’re big fans of the wait list.

HANNAH: We love the wait list.

ALFIE: So much fun because we get to admit more students into the class and hopefully make some more applicants happy. And so that’s something that we– I actually think that we kind of hope that we don’t hit our target right on the nose so that we can go to the wait list.

HANNAH: Right.

ALFIE: And then if the number is higher than we expect, well, that’s actually not our problem.

[LAUGHTER]

Oops, we did our jobs too well.

MARK: Yeah.

ALFIE: But we can certainly make that work if it’s 10 more students who accepted our offers than we had predicted. If it becomes 100 more students, well, then we have some–

HANNAH: Right.

ALFIE: –more thinking to do and be– typically–

MARK: It’s a situation that’s worth trying to avoid.

HANNAH: Yes.

ALFIE: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

HANNAH: So last week, actually, we whipped out those spreadsheets, and we did a little squinting at them. And we came up with a target number of 2,280 admitted students. And then we looked at how many students we had voted to admit after all the area committees and cleanup committees wrapped up, and there were 2,312.

MARK: Which is pretty good. It’s pretty good.

HANNAH: It is quite close. Yeah, yeah.

MARK: Yeah, so we drove without a speedometer.

ALFIE: [LAUGHS]

MARK: Back to my metaphor. And we were pretty close to the right speed that we needed to be at, at least on average, right?

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: However, we can pat ourselves on the back for that, but we also need to get down to 2,280.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: It’s not optional at this point.

HANNAH: Yeah, and I don’t know. We’re not going to sugarcoat it. This is, I would say, one of the hardest parts of our job.

ALFIE: This is especially tough because we have to run a sort of bizarro committee now where instead of voting to admit a student to the class, we’re actually voting to take a student out, which is actually the part of the year that I look forward to the least.

MARK: Absolutely.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: It’s a tough job. Somebody’s got to do it.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: And I’ll say, thankfully, we try to go about it in a pretty thoughtful and deliberate way, and I think the first thing that helps us is that there’s going to be some degree of variance between committees. A lot of this is just the fact that there’s going to be change from year to year in a particular area. One year, there might be lots of really awesome students in one area, and the next year, fewer in another. We generally don’t think that it’s worth trying to iron all those things out year after year because over time, these things revert to the mean.

ALFIE: And it can also be the case, however, that some students were heard in a committee that was just a little more likely to hit the Admit button.

HANNAH: And I would say, even if we aren’t over admitted, it’s still a useful exercise to look at those students who fell just over the line and the students who fell just under it because we know there’s going to be that variance in committees. So basically, the goal of this final Final Review process is to look at the strongest students who have not been admitted to the class and the students who were admitted, who were maybe fall closer to that line.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

ALFIE: Thankfully, the Final Review process isn’t just about taking students out. We also get to put some other wonderful, fabulous students into the class for the first time.

MARK: And we crunch a few more numbers before this committee happens to help the process along. However, each decision still comes down to the specifics of the individual application and the committee members who are considering it. But we do start off by calculating some different rates of admission both by individual area officer and then by those larger teams that we talked about.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: This helps the dean come up with a target number for each one of those teams. So he might say, OK, I need your team to bring back the 15 sort of weakest admitted students in your team but also bring back five really strong students who are currently on the wait list. Another team might be asked to bring back 10 of their weakest admitted students and five of their strongest students on the wait list.

ALFIE: Individual officers will then go back over their slates and will look for students in both groups and send the names to the team leader to compare. Going back through the list of admitted students to find ones to take out is really, really not fun. And actually, as a team leader, I spent many, many hours on a Thursday going over the nominees from my team, and it was really tough. But finding the students who fell just short of an admit vote can also be really exciting. The job of the team leader is really to compare all those files and to come up with a list to bring back to that Final Review committee to be heard.

MARK: Mm-hmm. And Alfie is my team leader. So last week, I had to go through my cases and look through and say, OK, oh, I don’t want to, but yeah, Alfie, you should take a look at these handful of students who are currently in the class. But then I also got to go back and find a handful of students where I said, oh, I thought maybe the student would just get one more vote in committee, I was sort of bummed at the time, Alfie, take a look. I think the student is great and maybe is actually even sort of more appealing than some of these students who are currently in the class and should come out.

ALFIE: Absolutely.

HANNAH: Yeah, and then the Final Review committee spends a day just hearing all of these cases. And I’ll just say before you think, oh man, they must find the most heartless admissions officers to make up this Final Review committee, this sounds really scary, the three of us are actually constant members of that committee.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: So–

MARK: We’re nice people.

HANNAH: –it’s just [INAUDIBLE]–

ALFIE: We’re nice people.

MARK: I think.

HANNAH: –your friends. Yeah, Hannah, Mark, and Alfie will be there. So sometimes, we hear a case that’s suggested that we take out of the class, and we say, no, we cannot bear to lose that student. Like, give us someone else, we’ve got to keep this one in. And then, sometimes, we hear a case that’s suggested for bringing back into the class, and we say, you know what, I think we’re going to sustain the original committee’s vote, this is still not quite there.

MARK: Mm-hmm. But in most cases, we look at it an admitted student that’s being considered again, and we say, oh, yep, the student is awesome, I can totally see why they were admitted, but we’ve got to get that number down, and this is one that can go.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: With a heavy sigh, we say OK.

ALFIE: Yeah.

HANNAH: Yeah.

ALFIE: It is definitely a heavy sigh, and it stings a little bit every time.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

ALFIE: Especially because there’s no version of the decision letter that says, you know what, you were so close.

MARK: I know.

HANNAH: Right.

ALFIE: You were in the class for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we don’t have that letter. And perhaps it wouldn’t be a fun one to receive anyways. However, it is also really wonderful for us to take a student that was just short of an initial area review and then looked really strong when we stood them side by side with a different group of applicants in this Final Review process.

HANNAH: Yeah, so that’s kind of the last chapter. Finally, you’ve gotten your final Final Review episode. We are actually recording this on a Wednesday, and it’s actually the Wednesday before we are releasing our regular decision– decisions.

MARK: That’s tomorrow, yep. Woohoo!

HANNAH: That’s tomorrow, yep. We spent the whole day last Friday going through this entire Final Review process, and after that, the class was officially finished.

ALFIE: And on Monday, we had the very fun tasks that we always look forward to– getting paired up with one of our admission colleagues to double-check every single admissions decision. Yes, folks, all 50,000 admissions decisions were double-checked by all of us in the office. And as you can imagine, this took several, several hours and a good part of the day on Monday.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Once that’s done, we can start doing fun things like stuffing envelopes with packages for admitted students.

HANNAH: So understanding this Final Review process can feel like some really inside baseball. This is really what we mean when we say inside the Yale Admissions Office.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: But we think it’s a good illustration of the principles that really underline our work, the first one being that we are bounded by the limitations of reality.

MARK: [CHUCKLES] yeah.

HANNAH: Which is not always fun for us to remember. We would love to admit many more students than we can, but we can’t admit all of the students who get a unanimous vote from an admissions committee.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: Some of those are going to have to get taken out at the end of the process.

ALFIE: And second, we try to be as fair and consistent as possible in these committees. This process is very subjective, and there’s really no way that we can really balance all of the scales or even perfectly predict who will be the best members for our Yale community. But we’re doing the best that we can to give every applicant the same opportunity to really stand out in front of a group of real people, us, admission officers, and to take each case one at a time.

MARK: Next, we’ll say it again. As an applicant, keep in mind there is so much of this that’s just out of your control.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: Try to come to terms with that. Accept it. There are students who are taken out in Final Review one year who would have stayed in the class in another year. It just, it’s the way the cookie crumbles yet again.

HANNAH: Yeah.

ALFIE: You may have heard some of us say this before if you’ve attended an information session, or I’m sure it may have come up in another podcast. I’m sorry, Mark and Hannah.

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

ALFIE: I don’t remember every single one.

HANNAH: What?

MARK: OK.

[LAUGHTER]

ALFIE: Shocking, shocking. I know. But just remember that if you’re doing a thorough job identifying great college fits for you as you’re going through your college search, you’re looking at a range of selectivity, you’re going to find yourself having a really awesome experience in college because you’re going to have put in a lot of thought before you’ve actually submitted that application.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

ALFIE: But no amount of hard work or collection of accolades or time spent poring over online forums or money spent on expensive consultants is going to guarantee you a spot at any particular school. Trust us as much as you can. The sooner you accept that, the better your whole experience through this college application process is going to be.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: Yeah, well said. And finally, if you’re denied or put on the wait list, you’ll never know how close you came.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: So just tell yourself that you were one of those 40-some cases that had to be taken out at the very end.

MARK: Yeah, you were that close.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: You’ll never know. Just assume that you were that close.

HANNAH: Exactly, yeah.

MARK: Well, Alfie, thank you so much for joining us back in the podcast. It’s been great to have you on episode 25 after episode 2.

ALFIE: I know. This has been great, a lot of fun. I hope I can be asked back for perhaps a little Lingo Bingo or something [INAUDIBLE].

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Oh, all right.

HANNAH: Yeah, yeah.

MARK: You heard it here, next contestant. [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: We’ll definitely have you back sooner this time.

ALFIE: I think I can take you down this time, Hannah.

HANNAH: Oh.

[LAUGHTER]

I don’t know. I’m undefeated champ of Lingo Bingo. [LAUGHS]

MARK: All right, guys, let’s go get ready to release tens of thousands of admissions decisions.

HANNAH: Let’s do it.

MARK: That’s next up on our to-do list. Thanks to our friend and colleague Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. Be sure to check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 26: Should I Even Apply?

Episode 26: Should I Even Apply?
The highly selective admissions process can be daunting and feel discouraging, especially for students who fear that some aspect of their personal circumstances will put them at a disadvantage. Prospective students often ask “Given the very low rate of admission, should I even apply?” Hannah and Mark share insights on how to think realistically about the foundational criteria that make applications competitive and the wide range of personal situations and challenges that officers routinely consider during the contextual holistic review process.

HANNAH: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. The title of today’s episode comes from a question that we get quite a lot.

HANNAH: So much. [LAUGHS]

MARK: This question takes a few different forms and has a few different specifics but it almost always is phrased something like this– listen, I know Yale is really hard to get into, but– and then they, at this point, insert some sort of personal narrative like something about themselves that they think in their mind makes them maybe less competitive for Yale.

They wrap that part up and so they end the question with, so, do I have a chance? Should I even apply?

HANNAH: Yeah. And honestly, we don’t love this question, [LAUGHS] and that’s for a few reasons. I mean the first one is it’s so dangerously close to that chance me question that we’ve already talked about on this podcast.

It’s not a useful exercise and it’s impossible for us experts to give you your chance of admission based on a few basic pieces of information about yourself. It’s usually not the case that whatever you tell us about yourself when you’re asking this question is going to give us a clear sense of what your full application would look like.

MARK: Right. And remember, a whole lot of the decision making process at the end of the day boils down to the rest of the applicant pool.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: A lot of this is just going to be– it depends.

HANNAH: And the more complicated reason that we don’t like this question is that we don’t like being in the business of discouraging applicants though not for the reasons that you might expect.

MARK: Right. So, OK. Before we go any further on this, let’s explain how we or at least I typically answer this question. And I’ve gotten it hundreds of times in all kinds of different ways. We’re going to say, listen, the good news about Yale’s admissions process is that it’s holistic.

So everything you just told me, it’s going to be considered by a real person. And the full context and your individual circumstances are going to be part of the review. Remember, anyone applying to Yale, even if they’ve never gotten below 100% on any exam they’ve ever taken and they’ve won every possible award, they should understand that Yale is still very highly selective, which means that many of our very highly qualified applicants aren’t admitted.

In fact, most of the students in our applicant pool who are highly qualified aren’t admitted. And I usually wrap up by saying something like, listen our rate of admission is low. You should recognize that. But it drops to 0 for those who don’t apply.

HANNAH: Yeah, and that’s all true. We don’t give that answer because we want to drum up applications and make ourselves feel good about how many students were rejecting every year. We’ve talked about that in a previous episode. That is not our goal here. We give that answer more because we’ve seen students make really compelling applicants despite a whole variety of circumstances that they may have overcome.

MARK: Right. And there’s also a really very long and well-documented history of students from lots of marginalized and underrepresented groups who’ve been discouraged either implicitly or often explicitly from reaching for top colleges.

HANNAH: Yeah. Michelle Obama– she wrote about how her counselor discouraged her from applying to Princeton. And there are so many stories like that which begs the question, how many people who could have been admitted never applied because someone told them they weren’t qualified or they weren’t the right fit.

MARK: If you walk around the Yale campus you’re going to find plenty of students who were told by someone in their lives that they were wasting their time by applying to Yale. So we don’t like this business of saying, no, you really shouldn’t. It’s a bad idea. Don’t throw your hat in the ring. It’s just not in our nature.

HANNAH: Yeah. And most of the time, whatever that thing is about yourself or your circumstances that has you concerned isn’t something that’s going to be a deal-breaker.

MARK: Right. But–

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

MARK: Here’s the but. We also want to be as honest as possible on this podcast. This whole exercise is about transparency, about being real. An alternative title for this episode was Real Talk with Hannah and Mark.

HANNAH: Yeah. [LAUGHS] Maybe we’ll still title it that. I haven’t given up on that yet. Yeah. I mean we would be dishonest if we said that every single one of our 50,000 applicants was a real estate candidate. It’s just not the case.

MARK: It is the case that most of our applicants are very strong, very realistic candidates for whom an application to Yale makes perfect sense.

HANNAH: Hopefully this episode can be something of a public service to help you understand what sorts of things make an applicant truly uncompetitive. And we’ll also share a few things that aren’t actually deal-breakers that you might think are.

MARK: So as you know, if you’ve listened to our podcast, we try to keep positive vibes here. So we are–

HANNAH: Only positive vibes.

MARK: Only positive vibes. Even though we’re in a business where we deliver a lot of bad news, we’re pretty positive people. So we’re going to frame this positively.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Instead of wrapping this whole conversation around the kinds of things that are deal-breakers, we’re going to talk about some things that I call necessary but not sufficient criteria.

HANNAH: Uh-oh. Mark, the philosophy major’s back, y’all. [LAUGHS]

MARK: We’re back. So we’re back into some logic language here. A necessary but not sufficient criterion– what does that mean? That means in order to be competitive certain things are going to need to be true. But even if they are all true you shouldn’t interpret that to mean that that’s sufficient– that, OK, if I say yes to all these things and all these things are true that bam I’m suddenly definitely going to be admitted.

HANNAH: And if not all of the following things are true about you, applying to a school like Yale may not be a wise part of your college search strategy.

MARK: And fortunately there is an amazing collection of schools out there across a wide range of selectivity. We go through our jobs knowing that any student who’s put forward– even just the effort to put together an application for Yale– is someone who’s going to have a very bright college future.

HANNAH: So the number one thing– and this is something that I certainly see a lot– you need to have a very strong command of English to be a successful Yale student. It’s kind of as simple as that. I will say we get a whole range of applicants from around the world and some of them just– it’s very clear from just a glance at their essays that they do not have the level of English that’s going to be required for them at Yale.

We know why these applicants end up in our pool. We have amazing financial aid for students from outside of the United States. We’re one of few colleges in the US that is completely need-blind in our review process for all applicants regardless of citizenship and immigration status. But the fact is we are still looking for students who are truly going to be able to thrive at Yale.

MARK: Another necessary but not sufficient criterion is that you have strong and consistent academic strength, especially in your most recent semester. So I think it’s pretty easy for us to identify that a student’s high school transcript is the most important piece of the application. That’s something that really builds a foundation for us to understand, OK, is a student really going to be well prepared?

We need to see that a student is being consistently strong across a wide range of courses. This is important both because it’s an indication the student is actually prepared. You also have to recognize that most of those 50,000 applicants have consistent academic strength.

If you’re applying to Yale and your transcript is just not very consistent and your grades are not very strong, you’re going to find yourself behind the pack behind literally tens of thousands of people who have pretty strong and consistent transcripts.

HANNAH: Number three is stepping up to the plate for the academic challenge. And this really just comes down to not only demonstrating that you are earning the good grades in high school, but that you have challenged yourself and taken classes that are maybe the advanced level classes offered to you.

MARK: This is pretty nuanced because we are very cognizant that high schools vary dramatically. Your context plays a big role in us understanding what kinds of academic challenges you have available to you. Some students have been taking college level courses since ninth grade and they’re able to pack their schedule every single semester with three, four, five or more very rigorous college level courses.

Those might be AP, those might be IB, they might be A-Level, they might be dual enrollment courses. We’re familiar with all of them. Some students have lots of access to lots of these. Some students have access to almost none of these. So our evaluation for this has to be contextual.

And if you aren’t taking advantage of the rigorous courses that are available to you, again it’s going to put you behind many thousands of other students who are stepping up to the plate.

It’s also not a great sign that if you’re applying to a place like Yale that has 2000 courses and 80 majors and has really rigorous courses across the board that you’re going to be someone who’s really excited about that. So there’s an element of fit here. It’s not just a matter of how academically accomplished are you.

HANNAH: Yeah. And just to be clear, when we say, taking advantage of the rigorous courses available to you, that doesn’t necessarily mean filling every single hour of your day with the hardest classes you can find. It means finding those best fit classes for you. And if those best fit classes happen to be the more rigorous classes, that is a good sign that you would be up to the academic challenge of Yale.

MARK: And just a piece of personal advice here. If you find yourself really having a hard time personally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, as you are going through particularly your sophomore, junior year and a very rigorous course schedule, we are not going to be the ones to tell you like keep at it.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: It may very well be absolutely the right decision for you to take a step back from those things and to take care of your needs. That’s going to be important for you as you prepare for college. We are very aware of the fact that the sense that students have to do x, y, z in order to get into college just period can really be to the detriment of students’ mental health.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: This is nuanced. [LAUGHS] but we’ll say that the students who are most successful in our process are those for whom that decision to challenge themselves consistently across the board is just a reflection of their interests and their strengths, and not a sense that it’s something that they are drowning in as they go.

HANNAH: Right. Yeah. If you’re miserable in your high school classes, you’re going to be miserable in your Yale classes.

MARK: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. The next necessary but not sufficient criterion is having academic and personal integrity before and throughout the application process. So to put this very simply, if you are lying, cheating or stealing as a high school student, if you are lying, cheating or stealing in putting together your application, game over. I’m going to make this one the deal-breaker.

HANNAH: Super clear. Yeah. Yeah.

MARK: That’s really critically important to us across all dimensions but I would say, particularly academic integrity. So if any of you are listening and you are tempted to cheat, to plagiarize, to misrepresent yourself either in your courses or in your application process, know that if you do that before, during, or after you apply, things are not going to end well for you.

HANNAH: All right. Number five would be academic interests that align with a liberal arts approach. And this kind of goes back to challenging yourself academically because you’re looking forward to challenging yourself in college. We don’t admit students who are going to come to Yale and study one thing in a vacuum. That is not the type of education we offer here at Yale.

It’s a place where students inform their studies across disciplines. And you need to really be excited about that in order to be a successful, happy Yale student.

MARK: I know that every year I’ve read some really accomplished and very impressive applications from students who have just done amazing things and they’re going to do great things in college, but they are just a terrible academic pick for Yale.

And it seems that they’ve applied to Yale less because they’re actually interested in the four year experience of learning here and more just because it has an impressive sounding and prestigious name. And sometimes they’re confused like how did I get denied? I’m so accomplished. And we say, well, did you know what you were signing up for?

HANNAH: Right. Right. We want to set you up for success. We want to admit students who are really going to thrive in that interdisciplinary approach. All right. Our last necessary but not sufficient criterion is maturity, independence, and interpersonal skills to live on a college campus with other people from very diverse backgrounds.

MARK: Yeah. This one’s a little bit vague understandably but again, sometimes we read applications from students who are just clearly not very interested in using their four year college experience to live and learn with other people from a diverse set of backgrounds. That’s a really important part of the education that we’re offering here. So you need to be interested in that.

You also need to be ready for that. If that seems like something you would rather avoid, there might be a very different excellent school that’s available for you. But you would be again barking up the wrong tree if you’re looking at Yale.

HANNAH: So, remember, for each of these examples there are simply so many thousands of applicants who are very strong in all of these areas. So if there’s one that’s a real deficiency for you, you’ll be pretty far behind in the pool.

MARK: If you, however, feel good about all those things, then you’ve earned that original answer to the question.

HANNAH: Right. Right. Should I apply? Yeah.

MARK: The answer to the question, remember, says, listen, our rate of admission is low but it drops to zero if you don’t apply. So here are a few of the things that I’ve found that sometimes people will think will disqualify them that really aren’t deal-breakers at all.

HANNAH: Oh, yeah.

MARK: Kinds of things that get inserted into the middle part of that question where it’s easy for us to say like, listen, listen, no, no, no, no, no.

HANNAH: The first one I would say switching high schools for whatever reason. I know students change schools for a whole lot of reasons– their families move, whatever. And often it causes a lot of stress because they say, oh, I don’t have these four consistent years at one school. How is this going to be looked at?

And the answer is, as with everything else, it’s going to be looked at contextually. We understand there are all kinds of reasons beyond your control for what high school you attend or if you switch high schools. So this is never a deal-breaker in itself.

MARK: It’s pretty ordinary, and it’s something that we’re very used to dealing with. All right. Next on the list would be changing your extracurricular activities, again, for whatever reason– maybe because you switch schools, maybe because your interests changed, or maybe because there was a new band director and you didn’t click and your interest went some other way.

There is a myth out there that students have to have four years of continued increasing involvement in all of their activities. And so we get a lot of these questions that say, well, for whatever reason, this switch and either it suggests my interest went this way or this context changed. I couldn’t do this anymore.

Not a big deal at all. What you hope though, is that when you’re applying hopefully the things that you do outside of the classroom are a reflection of your interests and your values. Hey, which is to say that if particularly it’s early in your high school experience and you’re finding yourself doing a lot of things that you don’t really like, think about switching.

HANNAH: Totally.

MARK: Do something else. Don’t double and triple down on something you don’t like just because you think, oh, I can’t possibly switch.

HANNAH: You will have a better high school experience and therefore be a better college applicant if you spend your time doing the things that you actually want to be doing.

MARK: Bingo.

HANNAH: Yeah. All right. This is a little bit of a tricky one– getting less than straight A’s or not being ranked number one in your school. People feel if this is the case for them, they’re like, all right. Well, automatically I must be out. We obviously talked about a strong and consistent academic record being very important.

But there are a lot of reasons that students don’t get straight A’s and many of those students get admitted to Yale. It might be that you had a little bit of a bumpy start in your freshman year of high school, that you took some time to adjust, but there is an upward trend on your transcript where it shows you’re clearly getting better.

Maybe you took a risk and challenged yourself with a class that you weren’t quite 100% ready to ace and you got a B on that class. And again, we’re looking at that class and we’re trying to understand what happened.

MARK: Next up here would be similar to this– not taking every possible AP, IB, A-Level, dual enrollment course whatever have you. This question is often framed in terms of some tough choice that you have. It might be a particular scheduling conflict. The orchestra class meets at the same time as AP Physics, and you love orchestra, you’re really dedicated to it, but you also want to take this other AP class. What should you do?

And this question, we usually get it with a lot of angst because it seems like it’s just not possible to do everything that you want to do. And we get that. We are very, very well aware. I like to say that in my experience, most applicants– truly most of them– don’t have the high school schedule that they would want. It falls short of their ideal for some reason or another.

We aren’t going in with a sense that students need to have x number of these courses, even if a lot of other students in your high school have those courses. The only thing I’ll say here is that if there is some very clear reason why you wanted to take some challenging course– some particular challenging course– that would probably make sense for you, again, given what we were talking about in terms of challenging yourself consistently across the curriculum, and for whatever reason, you just couldn’t.

That’s a good thing to explain to us in the Additional Information section of the application. Very, very easy for us to understand that. But even absent some sort of contextual challenge where just the limitations of space and time are what’s preventing you from taking that class. Even if you just for whatever reason haven’t taken the maximum number of challenging courses that some other student in your high school has taken, that’s not a deal-breaker. That’s not the end of the story for us, right?

We’re going to look at your transcript and get a sense of, does the student have a really strong academic foundation? Are they well prepared to thrive here? Have they challenged themselves? All those things can be true even if you don’t have the maximum number of AP, IB, A-Level, dual enrollment courses– whatever other acronym they’re going to come up with next year.

HANNAH: Yeah. Yeah. Say it again for the folks in the back. You don’t need to take every single challenging class available to you. All right. Spending your summers doing something that’s not academic. You’ll notice that we did not include an academic summer activity in our necessary but not sufficient criteria list.

You certainly do not need to do some sort of summer college program on a college campus or some kind of special academic program in order to get into a school like Yale. We want to see that you’re spending your summers doing something other than sitting around on your couch. But that something might be volunteering. It might be a continuation of your extracurricular activities. It might be a paid job that you’re doing over the summer.

MARK: Yeah so we’re recording this in the summer. And I will say, every summer when I go and get ice cream, I have fond memories of my first summer job, which was scooping ice cream.

HANNAH: Oh, nice.

MARK: And I now feel this bond, this connection with the teenagers who are scooping ice cream. Speaking from experience, scooping ice cream– awesome way to spend my summer. It’s a great job. I got paid $5.25 an hour.

HANNAH: Oh, back in the day.

MARK: I got free ice cream.

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

MARK: It was great. It was great. OK. Next thing that’s not a deal-breaker is managing a learning disability, a physical disability, or illness, mental illness, or other kind of illness. We get a lot of questions before students apply saying, I’ve had this challenge or I have this challenge. Is that a deal-breaker? Should I even apply?

And we want to be crystal clear that this is not going to be something that is going to be held against you in the application process. We are not going to discriminate against students who have faced or are facing any of these challenges.

Our best advice is for you to be as forthcoming as possible about what those challenges have looked like. You do not need to paper over them. You do not need to make it seem like you’ve just had some charmed experience where this thing isn’t part of your story. I think the best thing you can do is be as forthcoming as possible.

Understand that we are going to be contextual and holistic in our evaluations as you heard us say a few thousand times on this podcast. We know that students from a wide variety of experiences and challenges can still thrive and do fantastic work on our campus. We also know that our students benefit from a fabulous collection of resources through our Student Accessibility Services office. You would not be the first student who has been facing challenge x, y, or z to enroll at Yale and thrive at Yale.

HANNAH: All right. The last thing on this list is a one time dip in academic performance connected to a specific challenge. And this goes back to that getting less than straight A’s. Sometimes folks will have had some huge life event or something that caused them to not perform at their best academically for a semester or for a year. And that is not necessarily an immediate deal-breaker for us.

The best advice we have is to explain to us what happened. Use that Additional Information section of the Common App or ask your counselor to address it in their letter to us. Just let us know if there’s some context that we should know about surrounding a dip in performance.

MARK: Right. So if you imagine when we’re reading an application and looking at a transcript, if we see that there’s one semester where the grades are just much lower than the other semesters, our immediate gut instinct is to say, what happened? It’s not to say, OK, next, or disqualified, or rubber stamp reject, move on. We say, I bet there’s a story there. We want to know that story. Be sure that you’re telling us that story.

HANNAH: Yeah. And we want to know that you’ve developed some tools to help you get through that if a similar challenge happens to you in college, right? We want to make sure that you are well-equipped to handle anything that life throws at you.

MARK: Right. So don’t leave that a mystery and just hope that we don’t notice. Make sure that we get the full story there. OK. So let’s wrap things up here. I think it’s important to point out that there are two things that are true at the same time. Thing number one– you shouldn’t disqualify yourself from applying to selective schools. And two– you should be realistic about your college search.

HANNAH: Yep. We can’t say this enough. Remember that admissions decisions from one school are not value judgments about your worth or your potential to be a successful college student somewhere.

MARK: Right. If you learn about a school, you like what it offers, and you start to really imagine yourself thriving there academically, socially, personally, you should apply to that school full stop. Let’s make that crystal clear.

HANNAH: Yeah. I would say though but applying just to see if you’ll get in isn’t a great approach. Applying just because it’s Yale and I’ll throw my hat in the ring is not great either. And applying even though you know you’re unlikely to do well over four years here just isn’t a good use of your time or ours.

MARK: So, remember, you are in the driver’s seat here. I think sometimes people ask us this question because they’re having a hard time answering it for themselves. Should I apply or not? And say, well, can I just outsource this to the admissions office–

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

MARK: Should I apply or not? This is your decision. Remember there’s three big decisions that are going to determine where you go to college. First one is where do I apply, the second one is where do you get in, the third one is, where am I going to matriculate among the great options. And you get to make two of those three choices.

The first one– where you apply, the third one– where you matriculate. Don’t hand over one of those to somebody else. It’s your decision to make. Thanks to our friend and colleague, Jill, who’s both our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. Thanks to Reed who is lending us his office. And Thanks to former Admissions Officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at Yale admissions podcast at gmail.com. And finally, remember, that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University Thanks for listening.

[SOFT MUSIC]

Episode 27: 2022-2023 Application Update

Episode 27: 2022-2023 Application Update
The first-year application for fall 2023 admission includes several new questions that were written by admissions readers during the office’s annual retreat. Admissions officer Chandler joins Hannah and Mark to preview the additions and discuss the office’s goals for the new questions. This episode is an update to Episode 6: Essays: The Little Stuff, originally released in summer 2020.

MARK: Welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: And I’m Hannah. I am also a Yale admissions officer. And we are here to talk about updates to our application questions.

MARK: I think we should call this our first annual application update episode.

HANNAH: Yeah. This would be a good one to do every year. It’s July. Every summer, we make some tweaks to our first year application, and we thought the podcast would be a perfect place to give a roadmap to this year’s application and talk through some of the reasonings behind the changes we made.

MARK: So if you are going to be applying for first year admission in the 2022-2023 application cycle, this podcast is for you. If you’re listening to this in the future, and it’s not 2022-2023, you might still get some helpful insights, like keep listening, don’t worry. But the questions will probably have changed a little bit again.

HANNAH: Right. And if you are in the future, and there is not an episode about your coming application cycle, you can always write us an email and say, hey, remember to record an episode about the changes to the application this year.

MARK: Right. And we don’t know how long these podcasts are going to be around in the air. So if it’s really far in the future, maybe there will be something cooler than email or podcasts. I don’t know. So like if there’s some neuro link update that you can do or have your personal robot download the question to us, whatever makes sense, very cool people in the future, to connect with us.

HANNAH: Anyway, this episode is designed as an update to our sixth episode titled Essays– The Little Stuff.

MARK: As a reminder from that episode, we receive applications from three different application platforms. You can apply with a Common Application, the Coalition Application, or the QuestBridge application. And on each of those application platforms, you will complete one or sometimes two longer essays that go to really every college you’re applying to through that platform.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Yale doesn’t write the specific prompts for those, but after you write those, you have the chance to answer some Yale-specific questions. Sometimes those are called supplemental essays.

HANNAH: Yes, and this is the part of the application that we control, and we spend a lot of time thinking about what we ask and the kinds of answers that we’re looking for.

MARK: To help us talk about the process of writing those application questions, we have another friend and admissions officer who’s making his podcast debut. Welcome to the podcast, Chandler.

CHANDLER: Thank you both for having me. Excited to talk today about this year’s essays. We’re recently posted, and we’re excited to begin reading in just a matter of months.

HANNAH: Welcome, Chandler. So we invited Chandler to join us today because he was a member of the team in our office that was tasked with writing this year’s questions. We get the question a lot, what do you do during the months when you aren’t reading applications? And the answer is everything else that we’re too busy to do when we have 50,000 applications to read.

MARK: One of those things is that we always have a couple of day-long office retreats. Retreats, maybe not the right word.

HANNAH: It sounds like so much fun, but–

MARK: Everyone’s picturing us on Adirondack chairs somewhere just thinking deeply about things.

HANNAH: If only.

MARK: It’s a day long meeting, basically. I might say a long day meeting.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: These are long.

HANNAH: We do go to somewhere other than our office to have these day long meetings, usually somewhere else on campus.

MARK: Yeah, not far. But the point of these is to take some time when you’re fresh off that most recent admission cycle and debrief a bit. Share some thoughts and ideas about what we thought went well and what needs to be improved.

HANNAH: And we always block off some time for a big staff wide discussion of these Yale specific questions. We go through them one by one, ask for people’s thoughts. What did you think when you were reading the answers to this question this year? How might we improve it?

MARK: Yeah, one of our very earliest ideas for a podcast episode was to actually take our little portable recorder and just capture kind of documentary style this discussion.

HANNAH: I still think we should. I think people would be surprised how carefully we think about the specific wording of these questions.

MARK: Yes. And because everybody in that room has just finished reading thousands of responses to the same questions. And so everyone right in that moment has their strongest and freshest thoughts about what worked and what didn’t work with the questions we asked that cycle. And sometimes there’s consensus and other times, there’s big disagreement about what worked and what didn’t work.

HANNAH: You’re probably wondering what’s the measure of success for a question, how do we decide something worked well or didn’t work well.

MARK: The simple answer is did the question help applicants reveal something important about themselves. We often think about committee discussion and try to remember instances where really good answers to questions helped shape a conversation about a student. So what we are not doing is going around the room, giving our best evil laugh,

[LAUGHS]

Good. We’re not some sort of mean, evil cabal of admissions officers who are cooking up the trickiest and most inscrutable routines and would say, oh, this is really going to make them sweat. Or like they are going to give us some really bad answers to this. Perfect.

HANNAH: Yeah, actually it’s kind of the opposite. One of the most common reasons we get rid of a question and go in a different direction is we think that a lot of applicants didn’t really get what we were looking for and we want to make it a little more clear exactly what we are hoping to get from these responses.

MARK: And I don’t think that is necessarily the fault of the applicants. That’s sometimes the fault of the questions we’re asking.

HANNAH: Yeah, exactly.

MARK: Yes. It’s very common for us to say, oh, we thought that this was going to work this way. But this is not how the question was perceived. Anyone in that room can suggest that a particular question be dropped or altered. Anyone can suggest that we add a new question. And occasionally, we even consider a big shift in the structure of the questions themselves.

HANNAH: Oh, yes. Like we did this year.

MARK: Spoiler alert. Coming soon.

HANNAH: We’ll talk a little bit about it in a couple of minutes.

MARK: So in that process, we gather a lot of notes from everyone in the room. And then we take a few volunteers to form a little subcommittee that’s going to work on finalizing the changes that were suggested and then honing the exact language for each one of those questions. And Chandler, even though you just finished your first year in the admissions office. You bravely joined that subcommittee.

HANNAH: Yeah, nice. Can you tell us a little bit about what that process was?

CHANDLER: One of the things that was really important for us to do during the retreat was to make sure that we took really good notes about what everyone in the office had said regarding the questions that we use this past year or ideas that they have for this coming year. And then we talked about those as a group of five admissions officers in the subcommittee.

MARK: So for this year, Chandler, what were some of the priorities for that group? Were there particular things that we had gathered from retreat that we really wanted to make sure that this year’s questions reflected?

CHANDLER: I think that we have some big themes. So the first is we want to make sure that we are asking a question related to a student’s academic interests. And we want to get to know them as a student and who they might be in the classroom at Yale. We also want to ask about a student’s membership in community. We want to know what communities have they been involved in already? And how might that manifest when they get to Yale’s campus?

And then I think finally, we are thinking about our short take questions. These are the fun ones that students are really creative with. We always want these to be fresh so that we are receiving new ideas and students have their own kind of creativity with these questions as well.

HANNAH: Nice. After our larger all staff retreat discussion how many times did you all meet as a committee before you had final questions?

CHANDLER: Yeah. We met twice. But for some longer sessions, we started off just kind of talking about the large themes, what we want to keep, what we don’t want to keep and we came up with general ideas of what each question might sound like, what the topic might be. And then when we met again, we kind of tried to wordsmith each of these questions so that we could make sure that they made sense to applicants, to us as officers, and to make sure that we were maintaining the overall ideas that we came up with in the first meeting.

MARK: So I was also a member of the subcommittee and I’ll say Chandler was especially dedicated to this effort because he actually joined the second of these meetings while he was on the road. I don’t know if you were driving or passenger?

CHANDLER: Yes. I was driving. And so I really had to listen to what everyone was saying just as our listeners are listening to us.

MARK: You had your Zoom audio up and running. And it was funny because this was the meeting in which we had essentially up on the screen like someone’s with a Word document and the blinking cursor. And we’re just like literally swapping words around, trying out different nouns and adjectives in different places. And we would all look at it and we would say, Chandler, how does that sound to you? And so he would say like, read it back to me.

And it was kind of cool actually to get someone’s take and actually hearing it. You get sort of tunnel vision when you’re looking at it. So Chandler, I’m curious your first year doing this, were you surprised in terms of the level of specificity that we take in honing each one of these questions?

CHANDLER: Absolutely. I think that because there are so many people who first gave us ideas and then there still were a lot of people in the subcommittee sentences and questions are going to sound different to different people. But we were able to work together as a team to produce questions that will make the most sense, we think, to applicants, at least for this coming year. And then we have the opportunity next year to make any tweaks that we think these questions are going to need.

MARK: I’ve been on this committee a few times and I have had experiences of putting the other questions that I thought would be fantastic. I was so excited about and the whole committee was like, oh, this is going be great. And then it just kind of flops–

HANNAH: Yeah, isn’t that disappointing.

MARK: –end up that way. And you’ve got to just put ego behind and say like, well, that didn’t work. Let’s try something else.

HANNAH: Right. All right, so should we talk about the changes for the coming year.

MARK: Yeah. So there’s one big change and this is that we’ve switched from asking to shorter essays that were around 200 to 250 words to one longer essay that’s going to be about 400 words. And I’ve been doing this long enough to know that this is switching back.

Back in the day, we used to just have a longer second essay. We would always talk about two essays, usually at that point, we only kept the Common Application. So it was the Common Application essay and then the Yale essay. And that prompt for years and years and years was the most open-ended application to essay prompt. It was simply tell us something more about yourself.

HANNAH: And then over the past several years, we’ve broken it down. We’ve added these short answer questions. We’ve asked very specific questions about your academic interests. And we’ve split that second essay up into two shorter half length essays to give students an opportunity to write about two separate topics.

MARK: And it’s been a long simmering debate at these retreat meetings. And I have seen myself go from being in a pretty slim minority to being in the camp of wanting to return to a longer essay to suddenly getting the votes.

HANNAH: Oh man, I’m so excited about this. Mark is so excited about this. We’ve both been lobbying for this for a couple of years at retreat now. I just miss reading the longer essay. I feel like students have more room to maneuver in that essay, more room to give us a deep reflection that we’re really looking for. Some students wrote fantastic shorter essays, but for a while now, I’ve been just like itching to let students have a little bit more room.

CHANDLER: I think a benefit to allowing students the opportunity to respond in a longer essay is to give us more of what they’re maybe passionate about, a longer topic that is still going to be Yale specific, but is also going to be detailed.

MARK: So depending on your preferences, you might be cheering or groaning right now. And we can tell you that even among admissions officers, there are folks who fall into both camps.

HANNAH: Totally, but oh, man. I was so excited when we took that straw poll in our retreat and everyone agreed that we should make this change at least for a year and we’ll see how it goes.

MARK: So one of the challenges associated with this is that by switching to one essay, we lost the chance to ask what had been a required short essay question that was specifically about a student’s engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Students were all required to answer this question. And we said, well, we don’t want to lose that. So our clever solution here was to actually incorporate some of the text of that essay into what you’ve heard us talk about on the podcast before is what we call the AA.

The AA is our shorthand for academic appeal, which is essentially a little short snippet that students give us reflecting on why they selected the three Yale specific majors that they selected. So Chandler, we’re hoping that we can actually use you as our official reader of the new questions.

CHANDLER: Sure.

MARK: Read out for us what the new hybrid AA question is. This is going to combine an old question that was really specifically about academic majors with our previous essay prompt that had been about a topic that excites you.

CHANDLER: Sure. Can we get a little drum roll, please?

MARK: Sure. All right. Here it is. New question for 2022 to 2023.

CHANDLER: Tell us about a topic or idea that excites you and is related to one or more academic areas you selected above. Why are you drawn to it?

MARK: See what we did there?

HANNAH: Yeah. And you have 200 words or fewer to respond to this. So this is a little bit longer than it’s been in the past. This is a chance for you to think about really connecting the dots. So this shouldn’t just be about those majors. I think one of the things that we didn’t like about the previous wording of the AA was that students would often give us a laundry list. They would say I put chemistry because chemistry is really neat and I like it. And I also put history because history is how we learn about the past, isn’t that great? And I also put English because I like reading.

And we would say, OK, we didn’t learn a whole lot about you or your connection to those majors there. So this is designed to be a little bit more directed. And remember when you are listing those three academic interests, this is not you declaring a major, this is not applying to a specific program. It’s just getting an idea of what you are excited to learn about.

MARK: So students who are submitting any of our three applications, Common Application, Coalition Application, QuestBridge application, they’re going to answer this question. They’re also going to answer the question that we call the why Yale or the why Y? Our clever way of putting it, which is unchanged, just simply what is it about Yale that has led you to apply.

HANNAH: Yes and that one is 125 words or fewer. We’ve talked about it extensively in our previous episode.

MARK: Students using the Coalition Application or the Common Application are also going to answer our short takes and they’re also going to answer this longer essay. So three of those four short takes are the same as they were last year. And really haven’t changed much in a few years. We’ve really liked these short takes.

HANNAH: Yeah, Chandler.

CHANDLER: Sure. So the three repeat questions. First, what inspires you? Second, Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What would you ask them to discuss?

Three, you are teaching a new Yale course. What is it called? And this year we came up with a new fourth question. So if we could have a drum roll, please, what is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application?

HANNAH: Oh, boy. I am just excited to see what people come up with. It’s so open ended. And I feel like the first three are also open ended, but they’re more directed and we like the answers to them so much, we decided to keep them. Number four is a little bit, we just want to give you a little bit of extra space. And remember, this isn’t the Additional Information section of the Common App. So that is a section where you might talk about extenuating circumstances or more maybe important things that you want us to know about. This is a chance for you to just take 35 words and tell something fun about yourself.

MARK: Yeah, it’s interesting how we backed ourselves into this question. So in our subcommittee Chandler. The short takes are hard to write because we know that the responses are going to be so short and that it can be challenging for students to give us something that we think is really distinctive in that space.

And so we were playing around with a couple of different prompts saying, well, is this really going to tell us something new? Is it going to tell us something that isn’t included anywhere else in the application? And I think someone on the committee finally just said, what if we just asked them what’s something about you that’s not included elsewhere in your application?

HANNAH: I’m excited.

MARK: I’m excited too. Yeah.

HANNAH: We haven’t read answers to this before, so there’s not much advice that we can give you. And honestly, what I kind of like about this question is there’s no way to game it or figure out what the strategy is to this question. It’s so open, clearly there is no strategy. Just use it to tell us something new.

CHANDLER: And I’ll say having been on the subcommittee, we don’t have a secret agenda underneath this question. There’s not anything specific that we’re looking for. We just want to see what you come up with, whether that is creative or it’s simply just something about you that is new like Mark said.

HANNAH: All right. Let’s talk about that final single longer essay that will be a part of the supplement.

MARK: They’re going to respond to one of these two prompts in 400 words or fewer. So take it away, Chandler.

CHANDLER: The first is Yale carries out its mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community. Reflect on a time when you exchanged ideas about an important issue with someone holding an opposing view. How did the experience lead you either to change your opinion or to sharpen your reasons for holding onto it?

And the second question is reflect on a time when you have worked to enhance a community to which you feel connected. Why have these efforts been meaningful to you? You may define community however you like.

HANNAH: So you will choose either one of these as an applicant and write about one of them and we can maybe talk a little bit about what our goals are, what we’re trying to get out of these essay prompts.

MARK: So the first one, it’s worth mentioning, we actually are including a link to Yale’s mission statement and say Yale carries out its mission. And that line that you heard right after that is actually a quote from the mission statement, quote is, “Through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community.” So that’s directly from our mission statement. We think it’s really important that students embrace a diverse range of opinions and that you encounter people who disagree with you about things even if that encounter doesn’t change your mind about something. You might have that encounter and still hold fast to your previous beliefs.

HANNAH: Right. You aren’t going to come to college to have all of your existing beliefs and opinions confirmed and reinforced. That would not be a good liberal arts education in our mind.

MARK: We think this topic is somewhat timely. Our sense is that there’s greater access to information than ever before. But it also seems to be easier than ever to live in an echo chamber where algorithms are feeding you things that you’ll definitely like and resonate with. If you remember back when we talked in the essays what works episode, one of the things we talked about is the process of changing your mind about something. I will admit, I just really like these kinds of essays personally. I think that this topic tees up that kind of reflection really, really nicely.

HANNAH: Right. I think what we’re not looking for here is like the closing argument of a debate where you say, here’s an opinion that I hold and a time someone disagreed with me. And here’s how I won that argument.

MARK: Absolutely.

HANNAH: Yeah, we don’t necessarily need to hear that. We are looking to hear you reflect on this experience. And it’s not the outcome that we care about, whether you change your mind or not, it’s more the reflection that you have on it.

MARK: When I talked about changing your mind about something, I said, it’s important to be pretty generous towards yourself and your previously held belief about something. Like you shouldn’t say like, oh, I was so foolish and naive. How could I ever believe that? Similarly, when you’re talking about someone holding an opposing view, you should not say like, well, I encountered this rube you know who believed this absurd thing and encountering them made me more certain that I was right about this important thing. That’s not going to be a productive approach to that question.

HANNAH: For the second topic, this is similar to a previous topic we had on a shorter essay. That one was about reflecting on your membership in a community and why it’s important to you. This time we’ve made it a little bit more active. We’re interested in what makes a community important to you. But you also want to hear what you do and specifically how you think those efforts make that community better.

MARK: And hopefully, you’ve heard us talk about how important diversity of all kinds is to us. It’s not a buzzword. This is the core of our educational mission. We think that bringing together a group of students with different experiences, backgrounds, interest, opinions, beliefs, talents, ambitions, et cetera, makes our community better. And so we are keenly interested in how you have engaged with communities.

That might be a community of folks who share something really important in common with you. It might be in itself or really diverse community, but we’re interested in how you’ve acted in that community and engaged with it and made it even stronger and better. I wouldn’t use this as a chance to brag about how you enhance the debate team community by earning lots of points in the final rounds, that’s not really what we’re going for here. Community can mean just about anything, and that includes your debate team, but we would encourage you to think creatively about the people you spend time with, who are meaningful to you, and the role you play in making that community stronger.

And I hope that because we’re giving you a little bit more space, you have some time to give us a sense of why a community is important to you, what your membership looks like, and detail those efforts. So remember we’re talking about this being active. You’re going to have some space for reflection, but also we are interested in the specifics, like what have you done? So that’s what you will see if you are applying for first year admission in 2022, 2023 admissions cycle.

A lot of thought and work has gone into it. We hope you like it. I mean, maybe that’s asking too much. We hope at least that you find it accessible and not scary and a collection of opportunities to speak about yourself to a group of people who are really pretty interested in learning all about you.

HANNAH: Yeah, absolutely. I’m really excited to see what we get out of these essays. It’s always fun for us to switch things up a little bit and then see how people respond. Remember to think about what you like about Yale that’s made you want to apply and use these questions to help us connect those dots.

MARK: These Yale specific questions can be a space for you to be clever or funny or showcase different facets of yourself that just didn’t get much space in the other parts of the application. But again, remember, the most important thing is that they need to be revealing about, you, the person putting together that application.

HANNAH: Think about them more as opportunities than assignments. This is your opportunity to really take control of your application, to have your voice come through, and to let us know what it is about Yale that makes it a good fit for you and why you’re a good fit for Yale.

CHANDLER: I think going off of that, Hannah, I hope that applicants will have fun with these questions. I in the past as admissions officers, we’ve answered the questions ourselves and we showcase them to one another. And so maybe we’ll do that again because I do think these are fun questions or can be opportunities to get creative.

MARK: And remember, there’s no answer sheet. Each one of them is something that we go into with an open mind and part of what makes our job interesting is that we do get to see thousands of students respond to the same questions in different ways.

HANNAH: And remember, if you aren’t planning to enroll in college in fall 2023, your questions may be different. Next spring, we might want to be sitting around talking about how these topics didn’t work out how we expected. We may tweak them again.

MARK: All right. Well, good luck putting together your applications all you rising seniors. We are looking forward to reading them soon.

HANNAH: Yes. Thank you, Chandler, for joining us for your podcast debut.

CHANDLER: Definitely. Thanks for having me.

HANNAH: Of course, we’ll have you soon.

MARK: Thanks to our friend and colleague, Jill. She is our sound engineer and a great admissions officer. We also want to say bye to Jill because she’s actually leaving to go to another office here at Yale. So we will miss having her on the podcast as an all-star and also having her behind the scenes. So Jill, Thanks for all that you’ve done.

HANNAH: Thank you so much.

MARK: You will be missed. Thanks also to Reed who continues to lend us his office. We really appreciate that Reed. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 28: Early Admissions

Episode 28: Early Admissions
Selective colleges offer a variety of early admissions programs, including early action, restrictive early action, early decision, and early decision round 2. Hannah and Mark explain the differences among these programs and share insights on how the Yale admissions office approaches its single-choice early action program. At Yale, opting to apply through early action does not give an applicant any advantage, but the officers explain why an early program may be the right choice for some students at some colleges.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

HANNAH: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale admissions officer. Today’s episode is going to be about a topic that we hear about a lot this time of year.

HANNAH: Yes. We are recording in mid-October, so everyone is currently asking us about Yale’s Single Choice Early Action Program.

MARK: Yeah. So we thought we would do an episode about this to give you just a quick explainer about what kinds of early programs are out there generally. We’ll also talk about our approach to Yale’s specific flavor of early program. And then we’ll wrap things up by talking a little bit about why early programs make sense for some students and for some colleges.

HANNAH: And the big million dollar question– should I apply early, and is it going to give me a leg up in the process? And I think we should state right out of the gate that Yale’s Early Action Program does not give students an advantage in our process.

MARK: Right. We busted this myth in an earlier episode. We’re going to dig in a little bit deeper today and explain why that’s a myth at Yale. But we’ll also try to explain why it’s not really a myth at some other colleges. So we understand why we get this question and why there’s an expectation that there might be an advantage.

HANNAH: OK. So early programs generally fall into two categories. You got early decision and early action.

MARK: Yeah, those were actually terms on our Wingo Bingo episode.

HANNAH: Yes. Yes.

MARK: This is one of the bits of vocabulary that just is part of the college application process that enters your brain junior year. The distinctions and the nomenclature decision versus action, they make no sense intuitively. But colleges do use them pretty consistently to mean different things.

HANNAH: Yeah. So let’s do early decision first. And just as a reminder, this is not what Yale does.

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: But early decision programs are binding. So when you apply, you’re actually signing a contract that says if you admit me through this program, I am coming to your school. There are a couple subcategories of these programs. There might be Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2. And the difference here is really just the timing. So ED 2 programs are usually aimed at students who applied early to another school, weren’t admitted, and want another chance to apply early again somewhere else and are willing to sign on that dotted line.

MARK: Right. So the most important thing for students to consider with these programs, the binding early decision programs, is that you shouldn’t apply to them unless you are absolutely sure you want to attend.

HANNAH: Right. Yes.

MARK: Don’t forget that key piece of this. I think this is a good example of how students can sometimes get ahead of themselves, and they prioritize the application and the selection process over the search process. And they rush into an early decision program or think they have to apply somewhere early because they perceive an advantage around it.

And yes, it’s true. Many schools– not Yale, but many other schools– look differently at their early decision pools than their regular decision pools. And we’ll talk more about why that’s the case in a minute. But remember, an offer of admission, even to a great school, even a selective school, it’s not worth anything if it’s not where you want to go.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: So first things first, make sure if you’re applying to a school through a binding early decision program, that you really, really want to go there.

HANNAH: You also, if you’re applying somewhere early decision to a binding program, need to be really mindful of financial aid. So some schools allow students to get out of ED contracts if their financial aid award is not going to be affordable. But some schools don’t. So just make sure you’re not putting yourself in a position that you don’t want to be in when it comes to affordability.

MARK: Yes. We have come across students who find themselves in just really uncomfortable and unpleasant situations having signed that early decision contract, been admitted, and then regret that decision later on in their process. And it’s just not a great way to spend your senior year dealing with that kind of thing.

HANNAH: So the other version of an early program is early action. And that’s what we do at Yale. Early Action, or EA, is non-binding. So if you’re admitted, that’s great, congratulations, good for you. But you still get to compare other offers, visit campus, request a review of your financial aid awards, submit other applications to other schools later in the process. You’re not going to need to make up your mind and commit until May 1st.

MARK: Right, so early decision– binding. Early action– not binding.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Then there’s another subcategory of early action programs that’s called single choice early action. Another term for the same thing is restrictive early action.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: They mean the same thing. They are– we will admit it right here on the podcast– wildly confusing.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: They get wrapped up in a lot of legalese. Yes, apologies. So let’s just go out there and apologize.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Sorry, folks.

[LAUGHS]

This is not an easy program to wrap your head around. We don’t like the nomenclature either. It’s what we’ve got. Yale has this program. A handful of other highly selective schools do as well. So, OK, let’s break down the terminology here. This is a restrictive early action program. OK, the early action piece means it’s non-binding, right? OK, we’ve already established that.

The second piece, though, is the restrictive piece. And what that means is there are some rules about where else you can apply early.

HANNAH: Right. If you’re applying early to Yale single choice early action, you cannot apply early to any other private US institution during any flavor of their early program. You can apply to those schools in regular decision. You can apply to public schools at any time. You can apply to schools outside the US at any time. But single choice early action at Yale means that Yale is the only private US institution you’re applying to early.

MARK: You got it. And if that sounds like terms and conditions on a contract, we, again, we apologize. This gets into legalese pretty quickly. The last specific note on this is that when we’re talking about other early programs, what we are defining that as is a program that’s guaranteeing an admissions decision that will be delivered to you, the applicant, before January 1st.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: So things that fall outside of that would actually be most early decision round 2 programs. These typically notify students later, usually in the middle of January or February. Students are welcome to do that and also apply early action to Yale. It’s also fine to apply to a program that is actually not giving you a guaranteed admissions decision date. They’re just saying, hey, get your application in.

Do that, you can apply to whatever schools you want through regular decision. And you can submit your applications whenever you want. This is not a restriction on when you apply to schools, it’s a restriction on other early programs.

HANNAH: OK, so let’s talk about early action at Yale. Yale’s early action deadline is November 1st. And we will give you a decision around the middle of December. And your decision could be one of three things. You might get accepted, you might be deferred, or you might be denied.

MARK: Quickly on each one of those. As we’ve alluded to before, if you are admitted through early action, woo-hoo, you’ve just gotten some good news from Yale.

HANNAH: Congrats.

MARK: But you have not signed anything in blood. You still have the option to submit other applications, and you will not need to reply to that offer of admission that you’ve received in December until May 1st, along with everybody else. We would be delighted if you said, well, of course, I want to come to Yale and you let us know right away. But you hold all the cards essentially from mid-December until May 1st in that case.

Your application might also be denied. And if your application is denied, it means that it’s closed. You will not be eligible to apply for admission for that admissions cycle. Your application is closed, and we’re going to really encourage you, if you get that news, to use that time between the middle of December and the beginning of January to make sure you are submitting applications to regular decision programs across a good range of selectivity.

HANNAH: Yeah. And then the third option there is that your application might be deferred. And what that means is that we see you as a compelling candidate for Yale, and we want to consider in our broader regular decision pool. So we automatically roll your application over. And you’ll get a final decision at the end of March, along with the other regular decision applicants.

MARK: We read EA applications just like any others. It’s the exact same reading process, the exact same collection of committee meetings that you’ve heard us talk about. It’s just all condensed and in miniature, and it runs between November 1st and middle of December. We even run the review committees, like the ones we talked about, that we do at the spring at the end of the process. We’ll do that whole thing, just looking at our EA students as well.

HANNAH: Yeah. The only difference is we have a little more flexibility. We have the option to vote to defer a student.

MARK: Some schools in their early rounds, they defer almost everyone. Others defer very, very few. Yale falls somewhere in the middle typically. I will say in recent years, we’ve been deferring a smaller group of students. Even though it’s really painful for us to do this. But we’ve actually thought of it as a wise thing to be denying more students early.

HANNAH: Yeah. And I mean, it’s painful, because a lot of those students are really academically competitive. But we have been doing this a long time. We know how selective our process is. And we just know when a student is not really going to have a chance of admission. And for those who apply early and are rejected, I can understand that it feels like a slap in the face that you’re outright rejected.

But as hard as it is, at least you have some clear information as part of your application process. You’re not waiting another few months. And we hear a lot of feedback from students and especially from their counselors that they would rather a student be denied outright if there’s really no chance then just deferred and strung along for another few months.

MARK: Right, exactly. So full transparency, we struggle with this. It is sometimes really hard for us to deny a student. Because we worry that it’s going to be perceived as, well, you weren’t a realistic candidate, and then that might be perceived particularly in a community as like, oh, no, students like this shouldn’t apply. But it’s really not that simple. Right, we’re trying to make a good prediction about what will be coming through our regular decision pool.

And when we’re making this decision about whether to defer or deny a student, we’re really asking ourselves, OK, what do we think is going to be behind curtain number two when we get tens of thousands of regular decision applicants? And if we have a pretty good sense that even though your application was strong and academically competitive, if we just know that it’s almost certainly not going to emerge, we will go ahead and deny that student.

If there’s any question, though, on really either end– if we say the student is close to being admitted but we don’t know if they’re going to stand out when all those other applications come along, we’ll defer. Similarly, if we’re saying, this looks strong, but we’re not quite sure if it’s going to emerge, but listen, this student might actually stand out depending on what comes in the regular decision pool, a defer is relatively easy for us.

You’ll sometimes hear a committee say, hey, a defer is cheap.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: We can punt this decision until later in the spring with the benefit of more context.

HANNAH: Yeah. And just a reminder, if you are deferred early action, it means your application is strong. It doesn’t mean that there’s some sort of deficit that you need to make up for and submit a whole bunch of extra new materials. It means that your application is strong. We just need a little bit more time. So if you’re deferred, your job is done. You do not need to send anything else to Yale.

MARK: And one final note for students who are deferred, just because I think this is the most common question we get around the end of December and beginning of January is, OK, I’m a deferred applicant, what do I do?

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: And there’s really two action items. The one is required, which is make sure we get your mid-year school report.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: So we want to see if you are still enrolled in your senior year of high school. That you’ve been continuing to do well in your classes. So make sure we get some record of your first term, semester, trimester, whatever it is. Those first grades that are available, we will want to have those when we’re reviewing your application and regular decision.

The second piece is optional. If you have new information, essentially like breaking news that’s just happened in your life between November 1 when you applied and let’s say the middle of February or beginning of March, you can put together one nice, concise application update. Use your portal to send it together just to give us the latest and greatest. You don’t need to go back into your drawers and essentially say, what are the things I didn’t include in the application from five years ago that I should have put in there? I’ll just start throwing things at the wall now.

HANNAH: Right. Do not do that.

MARK: But we know that your life continues to move along. So if there’s new awards or accomplishments or a project has taken on a new dimension since you put that application together in the fall, you can let us know about it.

HANNAH: Yeah. So let’s talk about our EA applicant pool. We have said that there’s no advantage associated with applying early, and it’s true. But people still don’t believe us when we say that. And we get why. It makes sense. The percentage of students who are admitted is higher than the percentage of regular decision students who are admitted. Right?

So that is true, but that is for a couple of reasons that aren’t the result of giving those early action students a boost in our process.

MARK: Right. So I think the key piece to remember here is that you shouldn’t think about this as like apples to apples comparison. If I had been in the early pool, my chances of admission, rolling the dice would have been this. And if the same person had then applied through regular decision, rolling the dice would have been this. For a whole bunch of reasons, the pools are just different.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: The simplest thing is that the early action pool, by basically every measure we can think of, tends to be stronger.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: We tend to see applicants who are academically more competitive and also just have put together more complete and comprehensive and competitive applications. Doesn’t mean that all of them are. Certainly not. But just if you were to pick out any random early action application versus any random regular decision application, the chances that an early action application was strong along the dimensions that matter in our process would be higher for an early action student.

HANNAH: Right. And part of this is because our applicants do a pretty good job of self-selecting and identifying that Yale is going to be a really good fit for them. If Yale is their early action school, remember, they’re not applying to any other school early action. So there is something about their academic profile or the rest of their profile that they’ve identified as being a really good fit with Yale. And usually, people do a pretty good job of identifying that.

So that early action pool just tends to be much stronger. Whereas in regular decision, we’ll get all sorts of applicants who are just tossing in an application to Yale.

MARK: And I think that’s well said and a nuanced point. It’s not that we are saying, oh, this student has identified Yale as their first choice, they’re probably likely to come, so we should admit them because they’re demonstrating their preference.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: It’s that that preference is actually revealing something about them that they’ve done a good reflection and good matchmaking, as you were saying. And we’re going to keep coming back to this, right? College admissions is about a fit. And when students have applied early, often they’ve done really good work in identifying that fit and we see the same kind of thing in them that they’ve seen in us.

HANNAH: Yes, totally. The early pool also includes most of our recruited athletes. We are definitely going to go in depth about this topic in a future episode. By the time a prospective student athlete receives the support of one of our coaches, they’ve already gone through a long vetting process. And most of those student athletes who are being recruited are going to apply through our early action program.

MARK: One final note here. I like to explain that in my mind, it’s actually harder to be admitted to Yale early than it is to be admitted to Yale through regular decision. And I want to dig in–

HANNAH: Do explain.

MARK: OK. That doesn’t mean that you’re worse off. It’s harder in my mind because it is in our interest to be conservative in that early action round. Right? When we’re in that admissions committee in early action, we have in the back of our minds the fact that we are going to receive tens of thousands of regular decision applicants. And the last thing that we want to do is to find ourselves in February reading these applications from amazing students in regular decision and thinking, doh, I wish we had 25, 50, 100, 200 more spots available.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: And so, if there’s any hesitation, as we said, that committee will say, hey, a defer is cheap. It’s pretty easy. So it’s in my mind actually a higher bar to clear early. Because we have to be certain that you would be admitted to Yale no matter what comes through our regular decision round.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: So if there’s any reason for hesitation, we will go ahead and defer. And we found that our deferred applicants tend to actually do pretty well in the regular decision round. So that’s another question we get from students who’ve been deferred. They say, hey, what are my chances? And we’ve generally found that these students do about as well or even maybe a little bit better just from a pure numbers standpoint in terms of the admissions rate as our regular decision students.

So we do find every single year there are dozens of students who are deferred from early action who are admitted in regular decision. We were cautious the first time around, and then at the end of the day, they really did emerge. We hoped that they would, and they did. And then we go ahead and say, sounds great. We’re happy to admit you through regular decision.

HANNAH: Yeah. And I feel like this is a good point to just remind folks that the goal here of this episode is not to give you insights into how to best gamify our process and figure out what’s going to give you your best chances. We’re just explaining how this works behind the scenes so you have a better idea of what is really happening when you’re deferred and how we are considering students in these two rounds.

MARK: Speaking of going behind the curtain, let’s Zoom back out again a little bit. And let’s go away actually just from Yale’s process specifically and talk about early application rounds generally. I don’t know if any of our listeners follow the policy discussions and debates. Hannah and I are in this. We go through it year after year after year.

And so there are, I think, some really good criticisms of early programs that are out there, especially early decision programs. So we thought we’d talk a little bit about what the dimensions of this debate are generally and how you and your counselor in particular might want to think about your place in your specific application journey given just what swirls around in the landscape.

HANNAH: I think the biggest argument against an early decision program is that they really advantage students for whom financial aid isn’t necessarily going to be an issue, and students with savvy college counselors who can help them get their apps together early.

MARK: Yeah. And at many schools, applying early, particularly through early decision, really does give an advantage to students who apply. And the reason for this is pretty simple. And it’s not some nefarious, crazy insider scheme.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: It’s as simple as colleges want to admit students that are likely to attend their schools.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: I think that sometimes gets lost in the conversation. But it’s worth remembering from your perspective as a student, you can apply to lots and lots of colleges and get lots and lots of admissions offers. But you are only going to attend one school.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: That gets lost in this. Remember that. You are only going to attend one school.

HANNAH: Yeah. And that’s the best argument that colleges make in favor of these programs, is that they’re saying, look, it benefits everyone if students who know they want to attend the school find that out early before they spend their time submitting lots of other applications. It reduces the work for the student. It relieves the burden on other schools who don’t have to read as many applications. And it lets students wrap up this stressful application process early in their senior year and then enjoy the rest of their senior year of high school.

MARK: Yes. Something that has happened just over the last decades is that students are now able to apply to colleges online. This is great. It’s reduced barriers for lots of students and it’s been fantastic for folks. Particularly from under-resourced communities, it’s made it a lot easier to apply, which is awesome.

It has also, however, contributed to just a large increase in applications, which can create a vicious cycle, right? More and more applications from the same number of students can mean that the rates of admissions go down in all these schools, which actually prompts students to want to submit more and more applications because they perceive it as a lottery ticket. And well, if I buy more lottery tickets, I’m going to get higher chance of admission, which drives applications up.

And you can just see how that cycle would sort of play itself out year over year and exacerbate things. Early programs are actually a nice bulwark against that vicious cycle.

HANNAH: Yeah. And for some colleges, knowing that you will definitely attend their school may make them more likely to offer you admission. And remember that the process of admissions, like we’ve talked about before on other episodes, is about finding fits and building a class. Not about handing out trophies.

MARK: All right. So that’s our little inside baseball policy landscape. We are only experts on the Yale process. So only take our word for what we’re talking about with Yale specifically. Here is our advice to you, though, for how you should think about early programs generally.

Piece of advice number one. No, you don’t need to apply early anywhere to have a good outcome. This is overblown.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: I think that I’ve heard this from a lot of folks who, I have to apply early somewhere and I’ve got to figure out which school I’m going to apply early to. And they really get caught up in the gamesmanship and the strategy and the thinking about where your chances are going to be best. And they forget that most important piece of, well, where do I actually want to go?

HANNAH: Right. Totally. Another thing to keep in mind is that applying early can give you an advantage some places, but not everywhere. And it’s a good thing to go ahead and ask colleges about that point blank. Is applying early to your program going to give me an advantage in the process?

MARK: And then finally, for whom does it make sense to apply early? This is pretty consistent, I actually think.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Applying early to a school makes the most sense for students who’s identified one school as their top choice throughout their college search process. And they have their application materials ready to go. They’re feeling good about particularly their junior year grades on their transcripts. They also should be really happy to be finding out from just one college early in the process.

And I tell folks, you should be prepared to just be getting one piece of information, even if that piece of information is, as we talked about, not good news. It could be, sorry, one piece of information you’re getting early is you’ve been denied. Or, sorry, you’ve been deferred and you’re going to have to wait until regular decision.

So if you fall into that category, you’ve got one school that’s your top choice, you’re happy with your application. And as far as just managing your own expectations and information gathering throughout your senior year, you want to hear from that school first. Applying early could make a lot of sense.

HANNAH: I think that’s good advice. Remember, you can always talk to us about this choice, and we’re happy to answer any questions you have about applying early to Yale.

MARK: And we’ll say it again. At Yale, the stakes are not high.

HANNAH: That’s right. That’s right.

MARK: So we just talked for 20 minutes about this, but let’s get back to the simple fact of this at Yale. The stakes aren’t high, and it’s not going to give you an advantage.

HANNAH: And if you want to work on those Yale essays for another couple months, go back and listen to our other episodes about what works in the essays and rework those, go ahead and take the time.

MARK: That’s the long and short of it. All right. Thanks to Reid for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 29: Mailbag 2

Episode 29: Mailbag 2
Podcast listeners have continued to send fantastic questions and topic suggestions to the Inside the Yale Admissions Office email account. Admissions officer Deb joins Hannah and Mark to respond to listener inquiries about the honors section of the application, twins, home-schooled applicants, reapplying, and balancing priorities in senior year.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MARK: Hello. And welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: I’m Hannah. I am also a Yale admissions officer. And today, we are doing another mailbag episode, where we’re going to answer some questions that we’ve gotten to our email address. If you’re a regular listener, you’ve probably heard us plug our email address YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com, where we welcome your suggestions for future episodes.

We get a lot of emails. We do read them even if we don’t respond to them all. Today, we want to tackle a few interesting emails that have come in. Most of these are episodes suggestions that we really do want to talk about, but we’re not sure we have enough material for a full episode for each one.

MARK: Yeah. And it’s really fantastic that people are emailing us. Thank you to everyone who has sent us questions. The questions are a great way for us to hear from you all about what you’ve liked and also what you’d like to cover. So thanks.

HANNAH: Yeah. A disclaimer though if you have an urgent question about the application process or your specific application, emailing YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com is the absolute slowest way to get an answer. So we encourage you to submit questions to Admissions.Yale.edu/questions, or call our office, and questions submitted on that website are looked at daily. But if you have a general question or episode idea, keep them coming to us.

MARK: I am also really excited because we have another admissions officer making her podcast debut today.

HANNAH: Wohoo.

DEB: Wohoo.

MARK: Welcome to the podcast, Deb.

DEB: Well, thank you, guys. I’m really excited to be here.

HANNAH: Thanks for joining us.

MARK: All right. Well, let’s dive into some of these excellent questions that our listeners submitted. And like we did last time when Reed joined us on our mailbag round one episode, Hannah, you can read us the questions, and then Deb and I will try our best to give the answers.

HANNAH: All righty. OK, question number one. I wanted to know if you could please release a new episode covering where seniors should be in the college application process. More specifically, I, myself, have been struggling with figuring out the right balance and order of priorities between college-related tasks and schoolwork. I’m currently taking a rigorous course load which requires a lot of my time, but I also want to ensure that my college app accurately reflects me as a student. Any advice?

DEB: Well, yes. Hopefully, by the time that you’ve started your senior year, there are a lot of things that are really in place and that you are working on, in terms of maybe a rough draft or better than rough draft of your essay, that you’ve thought about your extracurricular activities and maybe made a list out so that it’s super easy to add that or migrate that to an application platform, that you’ve thought about your list. You’re hopefully not adding many schools as a senior. That you’ve done the research, you’ve done the self-reflection. You feel like this extracurricular activity that’s called applying to college is something that you can handle on top of everything else.

MARK: Your senior year should mostly be about being a senior.

DEB: Yes.

MARK: Not about applying to colleges. We don’t want to minimize the tasks that’s associated with putting together the application. But it shouldn’t be the all encompassing thing. Either in terms of just the physical time that you’re spending with it or just the mental energy that you’re putting towards it. I like to tell folks, by the time you’ve reached your senior year, even if you haven’t opened up your college application yet, most of the work is already done.

DEB: Right.

MARK: Your classes are already been chosen. And you’ve completed them. Their grades are your grades. You have no control over what your teachers are going to write. You’ve probably hopefully already thought about who is going to write those. Your activities are them. Task of putting together your application is really just the end piece of what’s been a three plus year process of going through high school.

So senior year, budget some time for this. But please, please, please don’t miss out on the special time that you’ll have as a senior in high school, and try to do some things that just have nothing to do with college whatsoever.

HANNAH: Yeah, for sure.

DEB: Yeah. And I think it’s really good advice, to just spend a little bit of time consistently until you hit that submit button on focusing on your application. You don’t have to spend several hours. But if you manage that time, then the time itself doesn’t get overwhelming to you.

MARK: And just budgeting time to, hey, maybe listen to a podcast, like this one. Might just help give you some headspace that’s in the more comfortable non-task oriented environment where you can just start to think creatively about what you’d want to put in your application.

HANNAH: Yeah. And we know it’s stressful, but consider this practice for college. Because if you’re coming to college at a place like Yale, it’s going to be a four-year test of your time management skills.

MARK: You can do it.

HANNAH: You can do it. All right, could you maybe talk about how twins are looked at in the application process at Yale? I’m a rising senior and a twin, and I’ve heard mixed ideas from other schools. Either we admit both or neither, because we don’t want to separate them. Or we consider twins separately. I’m curious about what Yale does.

DEB: Each twin is a unique individual. And so that’s how we’re going to review them in the application process. And so, admissions committees at Yale look at each student individually and what they bring. So we will not think of them as a package deal.

MARK: I think it’s helpful to remember we see a lot of applications every single year. So we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen multiples beyond twins. We’ve seen triplets, we’ve seen quadruplets. And we have also seen among multiples, different attitudes towards college, right? Some students sort of have the attitude of, well, I would definitely want to go with my twin or my triplet. Others say, actually, that’s the last thing on my mind. We wouldn’t go in with any assumption one way or the other.

HANNAH: Don’t let the fact that you are a twin change the way you fill out your college application.

MARK: Well said. Or where you apply.

HANNAH: Right.

DEB: Yes.

MARK: You still have full flexibility as anybody else.

DEB: And just be confident that we’re going to look at you uniquely.

HANNAH: All right. Next question. In case you are looking for podcast topics, my friends and I thought you might consider doing one on the honors section of the application. It seems to cause some grief among students and counselors as to what should or should not be listed.

MARK: I would encourage you to probably not think too hard about this. I think this is a good example of the kind of thing where it’s just useful to remember there’s a real person on the other end of this, not some sort of computer that’s going to assign a particular weight to whatever you write in there. I think the most valuable things that show up there are things that are not reiterating other pieces of information.

So a good example of this might be you can certainly include something like being an AP scholar, right? But I probably already have a sense that you would have qualified for that because I’ve already seen the AP exam scores that you shared on your application. So that designation, which is simply just automatically associated with taking a certain number of exams and getting a certain number score on it, is not really new information.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: You’ve certainly not hurt yourself, you’ve not offended me by including that. But did you need to include that? No. Do you need to use all five of the spaces that are on the Common Application to convey that you are an accomplished and honorable person? No, certainly not. But if you have something particularly that’s not represented in some other part of the application, this can be a good place to convey it.

HANNAH: Yeah. The vast majority of applicants that we read are not going to have something in this section that actually truly stands out or catches the eye of their admissions officer. We learn a lot more about your achievements from your essays, from what your teachers say about you in their recommendations. So I would not spend too much headspace thinking about what goes in this section.

DEB: I would agree. I think that this is something that is part of the application, provides some context, but it is not the thing that will either admit someone or not admit someone.

MARK: One final note here. It’s absolutely appropriate to use this space to share a school level award. That’s one of the designations that something is at the school. It might be that your school offered an award for something that’s pretty specific to that community. Go ahead and include it there. We are not only looking for Olympic gold medals or Academy Awards.

[LAUGHS]

If you earned an award that was something meaningful in your school, go ahead and include it here.

HANNAH: All right. Do you have any advice for homeschooled students applying to Yale? What do you consider when reviewing homeschooled applicants?

DEB: I don’t think that we consider anything specifically different. I think that’s the thing that people have to remember, is a homeschooler will have a transcript, will have recommendations, will fill out an application. Will have a school counselor that might be the parent that will fill out that particular recommendation. But the requirements for homeschoolers are the exact same things that we require of students who’ve attended a brick and mortar school.

So I think those are the things to keep in mind. And all of those things in a whole person review process matter to us.

MARK: And I think, as you’ve heard us say a lot about lots of different things, we don’t assume that all homeschool students look alike. We know that there’s a wide variety of approaches to secondary education that falls under the larger umbrella of homeschool. This could be you working primarily one on one with just an individual or several individuals locally. It could mean that you’re doing a lot of online courses that are involving folks all around the world.

It might involve actually a lot of dual enrollment courses at a community college. We’ve seen it all. And I think my advice is just to ensure that if you are a homeschool student, meaning that you are not applying from a traditional brick and mortar school, use the space in the application to give us as much insight about what your educational journey has looked like. And some of the thinking behind it as well.

I think the other piece of advice is that it is important to include insights from folks who are not family members. And so you do want to ensure that you have letters of recommendation from folks who ideally worked with you in an academic setting. But if you’ve not had teachers in an academic setting who aren’t family members, even someone from extracurricular organizations, those insights can be particularly valuable.

HANNAH: Another question we have is, how strict are the guidelines when choosing teachers for letters of recommendation? While it’s recommended to have two teachers in core subjects, would it be allowed to ask teachers who have taught you in an elective class or two teachers from the same subject if you feel like those teachers could speak the most about your personal growth and character?

DEB: I think the key piece to choosing teachers to write on your behalf is that first they should be academic in nature. So that could be an elective course, or it could be a required course. It will be up to you. But in think of the traditional English, math, science, history, and language. Those should be in the areas that you would have people write on your behalf. If you feel that two people from the same area can write on your behalf, sure, great. That’s fine.

I find personally it’s a little helpful to have different perspectives, because you are maybe possibly a different student in a math course versus a history course. But there’s not a specific recipe that we’re looking for.

MARK: I think people typically overthink this. They overthink the process of selecting their teachers around areas like the subject that they’re teaching. And that’s really much less important to us than the kinds of insights that they’re able to provide about you. But it’s important that those be academic insights. We can also get some great character insights and group dynamic insights, but these have to give us some sense of how you’ve grappled with a particular topic and shown your interest and enthusiasm for that work.

If you’ve had a valuable relationship with another person for another type of class that’s not an academic class. Someone can submit an supplemental letter of recommendation. Just speaking from experience, those rarely move the needle much for us. So we’re going to encourage you to focus on finding those two academic teachers who really know you well. But if you feel like, hey, I’ve also got this other dimension and this other person wants to write for me and their insights would be quite different, go ahead and ask them to include it as a supplemental letter.

HANNAH: All right. Are there any cases where sending supplemental materials hurts your application? For example, if you have a piece that you’re really proud of but it isn’t something that’s won a ton of awards, should you send it?

MARK: So this is a great question. We did a whole episode about supplementary materials with John a little while back. So I’d recommend that you take a listen to that to get a sense of the sort of level that our most accomplished musicians and artists are typically at. I think it can be tempting to just imagine, well, I can just add more to my application. And hey, even if it doesn’t get a good review, I’ll go ahead and send it.

There is some truth to that. It’s pretty unlikely that a weak review would truly hurt an application. But I can imagine a situation where it might pull the rug out from under a student’s application. And I can think about it this way. If you are presenting yourself in the application, let’s say, as someone who’s really excited about music and your application is filled with musical activities and you’re also presenting yourself as someone who really wants to focus on music in college, if you were to submit a music supplement and that review were to come back pretty mediocre, we would have a hard time building a case around that student because they’re making so clear music is my thing and music’s what I want to do.

I think that same student, if they were saying, hey, I like your school and I could major in just about any particular area and I’m excited about that and I want to do music, I think their enthusiasm and their accomplishments would come through loud and clear. We wouldn’t need or expect any sort of supplement. And essentially, because we aren’t admitting students to a particular major, they might be better off applying without a supplement. If that makes sense.

HANNAH: Yeah. But I also think that if a student applies who’s interested in studying art and it is all throughout the application, that it is helpful if they do submit art. Because our art faculty are really good at identifying intellectual talent in that particular area. Whereas I might think a picture’s really pretty and I might really think, wow, yeah, I’d love that person to paint for me or to sketch for me, that isn’t the intent of our faculty when they’re reviewing.

MARK: I think that’s a great point. It’s not just evaluating your accomplishment. Our faculty are also really actively thinking about, who do they want to work with? And who do they sort of see has the potential for growth with them? If that’s something that you feel like you are ready for, including a supplement could be a great addition to your application.

HANNAH: Yeah. And on the other hand, if you are not interested in continuing to pursue this in college, at the college level with our Yale professors, then there’s no need to submit a supplement.

MARK: Right, absolutely. Yeah, don’t assume that just because your activities list includes music, dance, art, et cetera, that you are expected to submit a supplement.

DEB: And as former podcasts have alluded to, more is not always better.

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: Yes. All right, we have one last question for our mailbag today. Could you talk about tips and information for second or third time applicants?

DEB: I think if you do choose to apply again, we’re going to be looking for different and new information that wasn’t there the first time. And so if it’s exactly the same thing as you presented the first time through, that’s not going to give us the kind of information that we seek.

HANNAH: Yeah. I think we should probably just say, it is very rare that a second or third time applicant will get admitted.

MARK: Right. Don’t think about it as if I had a 5% chance first time, I’m going to increase my odds by taking another 5% chance. It’s not a lottery ticket. Same sort of dynamics will be in play.

HANNAH: Yeah. The most common re application scenario that might lead to an acceptance is if you applied as a first year student, you were denied, and then later you apply as a transfer applicant. And that’s because that student has had some college experience. Their application is going to look quite different than it did when they applied as a high school senior. What we don’t recommend is applying as a high school senior, not getting in, and then taking a gap year to reapply again as a first year student.

MARK: Yeah. And on that note, I know that we often get questions from folks who’ve been denied who say a week later, OK, I’m planning to reapply again, should I do this, that, or the other? And my answer is always really shouldn’t make any big life decision that’s predicated on changing your odds of admission to Yale. It’s simply so highly selective, it just doesn’t make sense to be uprooting yourself, or potentially as you were saying, losing a year of your life where you can do something else just because you think it might shift the odds one way or another.

Our advice is really going to be you are going to have great options for all kinds of things. Do what you want to do. And when the time comes and the deadline comes round again, if you really feel that you want to give it another shot, go for it. But don’t turn your life upside down in the meantime.

HANNAH: Well, that’s it for now. Keep those questions coming. Remember, always head to admissions.yale.edu/questions if you have a specific or urgent question about your application.

MARK: Deb, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

DEB: Well, thank you. It was really fun excellent podcast debut.

MARK: Maybe we’ll have you back soon.

HANNAH: Yes.

DEB: Great.

MARK: Thanks as always to Reid for lending us his office. Thanks also to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 30: Reading Reloaded

Episode 30: Reading Reloaded
For their thirtieth episode, Hannah and Mark revisit the application reading process detailed in episode 1. They share insights into the office’s new initial review process, which helps officers invest more time in the files that will get a full hearing in the admissions committee, and they detail the notes and ratings officers use when writing application workcards. Despite the significant increase in applications over the past three years, admissions officers still review files one at a time and make decisions via committee discussions.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

HANNAH: Welcome back to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: And I’m Mark, and I’m also a Yale admissions officer. Hannah, happy 30th episode.

HANNAH: Happy 30th. Wow.

MARK: This is really exciting.

HANNAH: I know. It’s been three years.

MARK: It has been almost exactly three years since we had the crazy idea to start this podcast. We thought that it would be a good occasion to actually go back and revisit our very first episode.

HANNAH: Yeah. I actually went back this morning and listened to that episode. It was so cute, young Mark and Hannah making a podcast.

MARK: [LAUGHS]

HANNAH: We’ve come so far.

MARK: But there’s more to say because we went– I went back to that episode, too, and I realized we really only skimmed the surface. And we’ve also got some updates that we can talk about, too.

HANNAH: This is also very timely because as we were when we recorded that first episode about reading three years ago, we are back in the middle of reading a whole bunch of applications and even more than we were three years ago.

MARK: Even more. So this year, we’re talking– it’s January 2023 right now, and this year, for first-year admission, we’ve received more than 52,000 applications.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Three years ago, we were talking about 36,000 applications.

HANNAH: I know.

MARK: I know, for most people, that just seems like a lot and also a lot.

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: It does make a difference. I will say, though, that what it means for our staff at this time of the year is pretty much the same thing, which is that, hey, it’s January, and that means all 25 or so admissions officers here, what we’re doing all day every day is reading applications one at a time.

HANNAH: Yes, exactly. The change in numbers has actually made such a difference for us that we actually switched up our process and added a new step.

MARK: Yeah, so we wanted to tell you all about it. This is a pretty exciting change. It’s really the first kind of major change, I think, that we’ve made in the process in the last few decades.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: And hey, I’ll give you some credit, Hannah. This was all your idea.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: Sometimes, you have an idea, and people let you do it, so it’s great.

MARK: So it’s been a little while since we’ve recorded. Part of that reason is that we’ve both been very busy. Hannah and I both have slightly different jobs here at the Admissions Office then we did a few months ago.

HANNAH: Yup.

MARK: Hannah’s new title is Senior Associate Director for the First-year Process.

HANNAH: Yes, so I oversee everything that has to do with reading and selecting the new class of first-year applicants.

MARK: And Hannah put together a really good proposal that she presented to staff this summer that we’ve adopted that is all about adding a new step to our process that we are calling Initial Review.

HANNAH: So we’ve explained before that we read files geographically. So we divide up the whole US and then the rest of the world into 25 or so slices. An admissions officer is responsible for reviewing those applications, getting decisions on those applications through the committee process, and then connecting with the students who are admitted, which is obviously the most fun part of all this. [CHUCKLES]

MARK: Yes, yes, you get to see a student sort of go from paper person in the application to real flesh and blood when you hopefully meet them on campus at Bulldog Days, which is our program for admitted students in the spring. That part has not changed at all, right?

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: We still have territories. We still read geographically. Committee process, all the same. For example, I still read for several states across the Southeast. Hannah, you still read for parts of Europe and for Africa. What’s new is a step at the very beginning of the process.

HANNAH: Every single file is now first reviewed by a senior admissions officer, and when I say “senior,” I mean the average years of experience for this team is between 15 and 20.

MARK: Yeah, these are folks who’ve seen just individually tens of thousands of applications, worked through this process, be presented to admissions committee, seen decisions roll out– all of that.

HANNAH: Yes, they have seen it all. And in this Initial Review stage, instead of taking notes like we do when the area officer first reads a file, what they’re doing is taking a look at the file as a whole, sort of a bird’s eye view, and determining whether it’s going to be competitive in the next stages of the process.

MARK: So most of this review involves checking those criteria that we talked about in an episode a few months back. That episode was called Should I Even Apply? And we talked about some, what I called, necessary but not sufficient criteria–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –in very technical, philosophical kind of language. Those criteria were basically things where we said these things are not true about you. It probably doesn’t make sense for you to be applying to a school that is as selective as Yale. So we identified six of those in that episode. Go back and have a listen to learn a little bit more and get a better sense of these things. We said these six things need to be true.

You need to have a very strong command of English. You need to have a strong and consistent academic record that’s showing strength, especially in your most recent semesters. We need to see that you stepped up to the plate for the academic challenge, whatever is available in your context. You also need to have academic and personal integrity. We need to see that your academic interests align with the liberal arts approach that Yale is offering. And we need to see that you have the maturity, independence, and interpersonal skills needed to live on a college campus with lots of other people from really diverse backgrounds.

HANNAH: So if an initial reviewer looks at a file and sees that it doesn’t meet these criteria or that it’s otherwise pretty clear that among the 50,000 applicants, this file is not going to be one that’s going to be considered by the committee, the reviewer can go ahead and indicate that the file doesn’t need a full review by the area admissions officer.

MARK: And we should make clear that the initial reviewer, in this case, has access to the full application.

HANNAH: The area officer still owns that file as part of their territory, and they’ll still bring it through the committee process and be responsible for getting it an admissions decision.

MARK: In practice, this exercise essentially is about sort of a single branching mechanism. And Hannah, you were very thoughtful and deliberate about putting this together where, really, we, as initial reviewers, only have two choices. [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: Yes. [CHUCKLES]

MARK: You open up this file, you take a look at it, and you’re either going to say, this application needs an area review.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: This is strong. It’s meeting these criteria. I’m not going to take the time at this moment to go do a full review of all the good stuff that’s in there, but I can tell this is a realistic candidate. Give this a full review.

HANNAH: Yeah, and that process is actually pretty quick, right?

MARK: Yes.

HANNAH: Because– and it can be quick because you know you’re passing it along for a full in-depth read, whereas the process for identifying the students who aren’t going to get that full read is actually slower because you want to make sure we’re not missing anything important.

MARK: That’s right. And it has to be very clear that the student is really going to be weak in our pool, and it’s our job as an initial reviewer to say so.

HANNAH: Right, exactly.

MARK: And I think it’s worth noting at this stage that this part of the process is really a product of not just the increase in volume that we’ve seen in our applicant pool but also a real change in composition of the applicant pool.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: I’ll say it very plainly. We have more uncompetitive and sort of unqualified applicants in our first-year admissions process now than we did not even all that long ago. So I–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –started reading admissions files about 15 years ago. We had about 26,000 applications, just about half what we have now, and I don’t think that this kind of Initial Review process would have worked in that stage.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: I think there would just be so many more of the applicants who would be so competitive that it kind of wouldn’t be worth your time to be adding this initial step because you just wouldn’t wind up identifying that many students who weren’t really competitive in the process. That has changed.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: A lot more of our applicants, just as a percentage of the pool now, don’t meet those kind of necessary criteria to really truly be competitive in our process. Most do.

HANNAH: Yep.

MARK: But a lot don’t.

HANNAH: A lot don’t, and we needed a way to more efficiently work our way through those files to make sure that we’re giving our area readers more time to focus on the strongest applicants.

MARK: And that part so far has been great. I think we as admissions officers really appreciate when you’re going through your area, now knowing that going through one by one file if it’s already gone through the Initial Review stage.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: Every single application that we’re reading is going to be strong and competitive, and we can really invest the time in making sure we’re doing a full read, taking the kind of notes that we want to prepare that file for committee. And this adds a lot more consistency to the process of reading.

HANNAH: Right. So you’re reading fewer in a day, but they are generally stronger, and you need to dig in more.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: People ask us a lot, how long do you spend on each file? And the answer has always been that it depends.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: And now, with this new level in the process, it’s even more variable.

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: Some files that are going to head to the admissions committee will get three full reads with long notes from different admissions officers. They might be heard in one or two or three committees, each of which might spend 10 or 20 minutes discussing the file. Like, we really do invest a lot of time.

MARK: Whereas, those other files, if they’re not meeting the basic criteria, it’s going to be a pretty quick review process, and they’re going to get moved along.

HANNAH: So that’s Initial Review, and then the rest of the process going forward is very similar.

MARK: So three years ago, we introduced the idea of reading. [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: It is the core component of our work. It’s probably– oh, I don’t know. I was about to say it’s the most interesting thing, but I think committee is actually maybe the most interesting part of our process. But these two go hand in hand.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: And it’s something that I think all of us as admissions officers just love. I don’t think you can be an admissions officer if you don’t love the process of reading a file, opening it up, meeting a student, getting to know them in their context. We gave some initial overview of that process, but today, we want to go in a little bit more in-depth.

HANNAH: Right. So let’s say that a file has kind of cleared that initial stage and moved along to the area reader. It’s now that person’s job to read the application front to back and make notes and ratings along the way.

MARK: These notes and ratings are designed to serve as a shorthand for the committee process, where a decision is ultimately rendered on a file. It’s really important to note that these notes aren’t a rubric, and on their own, they’re not going to tell you very much about why a student was admitted or denied. The entire process of writing a work card is designed to prepare for a committee discussion.

HANNAH: Right, exactly. In that first episode, by the way, we had fellow admissions officer and gymnastics superfan–

MARK: [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: –John. Come on.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: And he talked about how Olympic judges score gymnastics events. And we brought that up because it’s so tempting to think of our review process that way, but it’s absolutely not. We brought up as a contrast.

MARK: That’s right. That’s a contrast.

HANNAH: Yeah. [CHUCKLES]

MARK: That’s right. So that whole system of ratings, you’re going to be inclined to think of things that way, and that’s just not how it works. When an admissions officer is reviewing an application and writes a work card, they don’t create a scoresheet. It’s not going to get fed into some algorithm that averages things up and then sort of tells us, OK, here are the top performers.

Think about this more like notes that a lawyer might jot down before arguing a case in a courtroom. That lawyer is going to want to say, OK, here’s the evidence I want to present, exhibit A, B, C, here’s some context for understanding the case, and essentially, here’s the argument that I’m going to make. That’s what you’ll find in a work card.

HANNAH: Yeah, it’s really designed to summarize the contents of the file, identify where the officer thinks it’s relatively strong or relatively weak, and give an overall sense of how the file stacks up in our larger applicant pool.

MARK: So remember, we don’t make decisions with just a word card or just the ratings.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: If you were to see a work card for your application– and we’ll share some examples of work card text in just a minute here– it wouldn’t give you a lot of new information. Would pretty much–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –just summarize what you already put in the application.

HANNAH: Yeah, exactly, and it wouldn’t give you very much insight into our process and why you were or were not admitted to Yale.

MARK: Right. The committee is where the magic happens.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: So episode 2. [CHUCKLES].

HANNAH: Yeah. [CHUCKLES]

MARK: After you’ve listened to episode 1, go back and listen to episode 2, all about committee.

HANNAH: So should we talk about the individual parts of the work card and how we work through them?

MARK: Let’s do it.

HANNAH: OK.

MARK: So when we open up a file, we have all the different components that you’ve heard us talk about before. We have the pieces that a student has put together in typically the Common Application, the QuestBridge Application, or the Coalition Application that includes your activities list and your personal statements, some answers to the Yale-specific questions that we put together. We’re also going to have your transcript. We’ll have your teacher recommendations.

HANNAH: So when we open up a file, we also open up a little form which is where we kind of take our notes and write our work card, and we’ll be taking notes as we go. So the first big thing that we have to notate is what you’re involved in, your extracurriculars, which we call your EC box on the work card. We’ll read through your activities and your honors section and pull out the most meaningful commitments or awards.

MARK: And the idea here is to summarize these so that when it comes time to committee, we can present this quickly just with our notes rather than having to have all five members of that committee pull up your application and read through every item.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: So a quick example of this might be something like a student is varsity swim captain, a student government rep went to summer Governor’s School for Spanish, is on the math team, and does some regular service through their honor societies.

HANNAH: Yes, very basic, except if you were to see that in actual writing, everything would be abbreviated.

MARK: Yes. [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: And it would be very hard to decipher.

MARK: I realized that that would not communicate very clearly on the podcast, though.

HANNAH: Yeah, exactly.

MARK: What you just heard, imagine that sort of scrunched up into maybe half of the number of characters. You might imagine the ones–

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: –that actually [INAUDIBLE].

HANNAH: We all have our own special way of abbreviating everything. And remember that the work card is designed to be read in committee, so we really want to set the stage here for committee to help explain where a student lives, where they go to school. So an example of that, the student is from a very small town, only 1,500 people, that’s three hours from a big city.

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: Or we might say something like the school offers both AP and IB courses, the student is in IB diploma program. It’s really just kind of setting the stage.

MARK: Yeah, we want to orient those members of the committee who might not really know anything about their school or even the state or the country. All right, next up are the notes that we make about a student’s essays and short responses to our Yale-specific questions. These are really quick summaries of just what you chose to write about with a pretty quick sense from the reader about what might be particularly strong or weak about an essay.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: So an example of this might be something like E1. That’s our little shorthand for the first essay.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: Probably figured that out.

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

MARK: E1 on the lessons learned from starting a podcast with a friend, there’s good reflection and insights here about collaboration and creativity.

HANNAH: Yeah, we usually–

MARK: That would be it.

HANNAH: Right, that’s it, and it’s a line about the content and the reflection or what themes might come through in the essay.

MARK: Yup.

HANNAH: Pretty quick. And then we also might note things like the AA, YY, or STs. Those are other abbreviations that you might have heard us use on podcast before.

MARK: They were on Lingo Bingo.

HANNAH: Lingo Bingo.

MARK: I think there were squares on Lingo Bingo.

HANNAH: These are all of our short answer questions like, why did you apply to Yale? Or the short takes that we have you fill out on the application. And if something stands out in those sections as strong or insightful or surprising or funny or concerning, we might note it in the word card. We also might not and just skip through that section.

MARK: All right, so next up are these letters of recommendation, and our shorthand here is T1, T2, and CR, meaning the first teacher recommendation, the second teacher recommendation, and a letter of recommendation from your counselor. Now, if you can think about what these letters might look like, they’re typically one to maybe one and a half pages. There’s probably 500 or so words of text in a typical letter of recommendation.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: We’re going to try to condense that down, again, for the sake of the committee to pull out the most salient notes and descriptors that a recommender used and also give the committee a sense of maybe how strong or even just generally helpful the letter of recommendation is.

HANNAH: Yeah, exactly. So for example, we might say T1 AP Physics says impressive curiosity and consistently strong contributor to discussions and group projects, a top performer who improved the classroom environment for everyone.

MARK: Yeah, or maybe a counselor recommendation. We might say like CR says teachers gush about her in the faculty lounge, she’s a visible leader on campus that younger students admire for her activism on important topics that have initiated meaningful changes in the school community.

HANNAH: These aren’t the only important pieces of information that we glean from this letter. They’re just the ones that are going to help us kind of steer the committee discussion, and committee might say, oh, that thing you said about the AP Physics teacher was interesting. I want to read that whole letter.

MARK: We’ll oftentimes write something just as simple as See This as a signal to the committee. I know oftentimes–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –if I come across a really fantastic essay or really impressive letter recommendation that just has a lot of content and substance in it, I kind of know I’m not going to be able to capture everything that’s important in it. I might pull out a couple of things but just say, you know what the committee should really just pull this up, you’re going to want to read the whole thing because there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

HANNAH: And then we end things up with what we call a tagline or just a quick sentence or two that gives an overall summary of the file.

MARK: Yeah, this is sometimes called the gestalt, which I loosely borrowed from a concept in psychology. I think if there’s any psychologists listening to this, they’re going to say, yeah, you got that totally wrong.

HANNAH: [CHUCKLES] Right.

MARK: That’s one of these things that just stuck around for a while. This idea in psychology is connected to the idea of capturing the basic essence or outline of something.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: And so it’s designed to really give a one-line overview of what the area officer thinks the case for the student is.

HANNAH: You can think of it as the answer to the question, why is this file being presented in committee? And keep in mind that the committee is already looking at the academic information and the rating, so this is more just a summary.

MARK: So I actually went back and found a tagline for a student who applied years ago that I thought was a good example of a typical sort of thing that I might write out for a case that I’m excited to present to committee. I said, “I find his part impressively mature and reflective. This is a consistent file for a compassionate and self-aware young man who stands out as a value-added community member.” That was my in-the-moment take, and then, when I presented it to committee, I read exactly those words.

HANNAH: Yeah, and I think your use of the word “consistent” when you say this is a consistent file is a good demonstration of– the tag is really summing up what we see across all different parts of the application from the student’s own essays, the teacher recommendations.

MARK: Yes. We know that each student is greater than the sum of their parts.

HANNAH: Right, right.

MARK: And so, even though we’re going to identify a few parts and highlight them, we want to zoom out at the end and give the overall picture.

HANNAH: Yeah, exactly.

MARK: Let’s talk about ratings now.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: OK, so this draws a lot of attention.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Understandably because, again, it’s your natural inclination to think about this like someone judging a gymnastics routine.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: And we use some numbers in our process, but these are used as a shorthand to promote discussion. Again, it’s not a rubric. Nothing’s averaged out. Nothing’s summarized. It’s just designed to quickly capture how strong different parts of the file are in the area reader’s opinion and, at the larger picture, showcase where the strengths in the file might lie.

HANNAH: Right, and these numbers really serve to point the committee’s attention to certain pieces in the file to really see the file’s strengths.

MARK: And these are things that, as we talked about in that Committee episode, that print on our paper slate that folks have access to. This is the thing that I said is sort of like reading the matrix.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Hannah, have you seen–

HANNAH: A what?

MARK: The Matrix yet?

HANNAH: [LAUGHS]

MARK: It’s been three years.

HANNAH: Never heard of it.

MARK: You still haven’t–

HANNAH: Still haven’t watched The Matrix.

MARK: Oh my.

HANNAH: It’s like part of my persona now.

MARK: I know.

HANNAH: I can’t watch it.

MARK: I think what folks– podcast listeners need to start an online campaign to change this. We need to make this happen sometime soon.

HANNAH: I’m going to have to see a lot of signatures.

MARK: But anyway, imagine a whole bunch of numbers, and it’s kind of a code that once you’ve been around for a while, you kind of know how to read. And these different numbers give you a sense of, sort of, OK, is the strongest part of this application maybe to be found in the recommendations or maybe is the strongest part of this file to be found because they have some really impressive extracurricular contribution? So we use a couple of different numbering skills.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: None of them make much sense, honestly.

[LAUGHTER]

But then we’ve had them for a long time, and we’re kind of stuck with them. So–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –when it comes to things like your extracurricular activities and your letters of recommendation, we use a 9-point scale. So 9 is the strongest. 1 is the weakest. In practice, we primarily use the middle of a scale. You’re almost never going to see something that isn’t a 4, 5, 6, or 7–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –on a printed slate, even across hundreds of applications in a typical day.

HANNAH: Yeah. So for example, when we’re rating your extracurricular accomplishments, we occasionally see some super, super extraordinary extracurricular accomplishments, like an Olympic medal.

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: So we reserve those top, top ratings for something like that. Most people are going to fall in that middle range.

MARK: Right. We also read some really extraordinary letters of recommendation that give some amazing details about how a student transformed a learning environment and was absolutely singular in an educator’s career, and so we’ll reserve that 8 or that 9 for that kind of letter.

HANNAH: Yeah, and by the way, the bottom of the scale is almost never used for recommendations–

MARK: Yeah.

HANNAH: –unless a teacher wrote to say, like, I really don’t recommend the student for XYZ reason, which you’ll be relieved to hear is very rare.

MARK: Extremely rare, yeah. I’ve never seen someone use a 1 or 2. I think it would have to be something like the student vandalized my house.

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Why are they asking me to write this letter?

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: This was a mistake. Yeah.

HANNAH: Exactly. And then we use an overall rating on the file, which is, just to keep you on your toes, kind of oriented in the opposite direction–

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: –on a 1-to-4 scale, with 1 being the strongest.

MARK: Yes, and one is reserved, again, for the tippy, tippy top. Some officers work for years in this office, and they never use it. [CHUCKLES]

HANNAH: Right, right.

MARK: And this is mostly a reflection, I think, of just knowing how tough the committee process is. All of us have had the experience of seeing really, really strong students just not make it and not be admitted, and so we’re reluctant to often use that tip-top rating because all of us can imagine even really extraordinary students, just for one reason or another, mostly just because of the strength of the pool, ultimately not being admitted. So 1 is pretty rare. Then we have a whole bunch of flavors of 2.

HANNAH: Right. This isn’t really a 4-point scale.

MARK: That’s right.

HANNAH: It’s more like a 7-point scale disguised as a 4-point scale.

MARK: Someone who is a statistician listening to this could maybe suggest a better way to capture this than what we have.

HANNAH: Yes. We have a number of different flavors of 2. You could be a 2-plus, a 2-plus-plus, a 2-minus, just a regular old 2.

MARK: Yep.

HANNAH: These distinctions aren’t going to mean a whole lot to you. Really, most of the files that are going to be considered in the committee room are some flavor of that 2.

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: And whether we have a plus or two pluses or a minus on the file is just an indication to the committee that in the context of the applications I’ve read, this is where the student falls.

MARK: Right. So you can sort of think of the 2 as being a place where admissions officers say like this is a strong candidate, this is a student who’s got all the pieces in the right place, depending on how the cookie crumbles, this student being admitted to Yale sort of makes perfect sense. That is just as true for a file that’s getting a 2-minus as it is for a file that’s getting a 2-plus-plus.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: The gradations are really just our sense of urgency and relative strength from our perspective as the area admissions officer.

HANNAH: It’s a very silly system.

MARK: [LAUGHS] Yes. Yes, it is.

HANNAH: But if you think about it in terms of the strength of the applications that we review, of course, we need a lot of different ways to say this student is a competitive applicant for Yale.

MARK: Yeah. That’s a good way to put that.

HANNAH: So instead of having a real 7- or 8-point scale, we have developed these other shorthands.

MARK: Yeah, and then we have a 3 and a 4. Both of them are saying that sort of, you know what, among our tens of thousands of applicants, this is just not one that’s going to emerge. It’s really signaling to the committee I don’t think the student needs a discussion at the committee table. It’s going to be pretty straightforward that they’re not going to stand out.

HANNAH: So the steps that we just described, we go through over and over and over again as we work our way through the process.

MARK: It’s funny we’ve just talked about what we’ve basically been doing just with our mouse clickers and our keyboards and our minds just thousands of times over and over again over the past few months.

HANNAH: Yeah, and reading is– it’s really just the first step. As we’ve said before, the magic happens in the committee room.

MARK: Right. One of the things that we love about this time of year in reading is coming across a file that’s really strong and exciting. When we read that, though, at this stage, we’re just excited because we know that we’re going to have to present that student to a committee, right?

HANNAH: Mm-hmm.

MARK: That’s sort of exciting. It’s sort of I’m going to get to share this.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Not, oh, I know the student’s going to be admitted, like, it’s done. It’s like, ooh, there’s a cool case here, this is going to be an interesting discussion, I’m excited for that next step.

HANNAH: Yeah, and first, you get to share it with a second reader, right?

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: Someone who’s also going to sit alone and read that file in full and make some comments on a second work card, which is always really exciting. I’ve been doing second reads a lot this week, and it’s cool to read the files that your colleagues have said, oh, I’m so excited about this one.

MARK: That process of doing a second read on a file is very similar, and this reader will give ratings in those different areas. But rather than documenting, OK, first essay’s about this, teacher 1 says this, they are really just capturing that overall gestalt–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –that overall tagline and giving their sense of things. And we deliberately ask those readers to do a full review of the file before they read what the first reader wrote about it. So we really want to get their kind of pure sense of the file without that context. And it’s a nice balance where you get someone who’s got the area context and then someone who maybe doesn’t know the area all that well but can put that student in the larger context of what they’ve seen in their areas and doing all kinds of other outside reads as well.

HANNAH: Often, we agree with each other on the strengths of different files, but sometimes, colleagues and maybe the faculty and deans who sit in committee may disagree or have different takes on the same applications.

MARK: Yeah, this is what makes the job interesting. You get to bounce your opinion and your take of things off of other people–

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: –and see what they think about it. And no one has a kind of veto vote.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: And no one has a sort of– you proceed directly into the class vote. Even the dean of Admissions gets outvoted in committee when he’s got a vote at the committee table.

HANNAH: Mm-hmm, yeah.

MARK: I think that’s a good thing, right?

HANNAH: Yeah, totally.

MARK: No individual one of us is going to be able to predict the future or know everything about an applicant. We’re going to make better decisions by getting different people with different opinions and perspectives together in a room and trying to hash it out and trying to reach consensus. Congress could learn from us, I think, right?

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: Right. Yeah, definitely.

MARK: Because our process works even though it involves plenty of disagreement about things.

HANNAH: Definitely. Well, maybe we will revisit committee again in a future episode.

MARK: Mm-hmm.

HANNAH: Remember that the notes in a work card that we’ve been talking about serve as an incomplete artifact with a file.

MARK: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

HANNAH: It’s a combination of index and maybe a blurb for a book. It’s designed to accompany the book itself, not to stand on its own.

MARK: Right. It starts that committee discussion, and then the committee has the benefit of reviewing the entire file itself. We never actually go back and say, OK, what was that? Read the work card again? We say, let’s go to the file.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Let’s go see what– let’s go read that essay ourselves. Let’s go–

HANNAH: Exactly.

MARK: –read that recommendation.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Well, Hannah, hey, it’s been great fun making 30 podcast episodes together. Here’s hoping–

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: –we’ve got 30 more in us. So you think we’ve got it?

HANNAH: Yeah, I think we could do that.

MARK: Let’s do it.

HANNAH: All right.

MARK: Well, thanks to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for a future episode, drop us a line at YaleAdmissionsPodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Episode 31: Yield Season

Episode 31: Yield Season

Yale admissions officers always look forward to April, when their focus shifts from selecting students to working closely with admitted students deciding where to matriculate. Throughout the whirlwind month, admissions officers, current students, faculty, and campus partners make countless connections with newly admitted students and their families. These efforts culminate in Bulldog Days, a three-day open house event produced by the same admissions officers who review applications. Hannah and Mark share some of the strategy behind Yale’s yield efforts and reveal an exciting plan for their next episode.

MARK: Welcome back to Inside the Yale admissions office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: It’s April, and so this podcast is all about what we like to call yield season.

HANNAH: Yeah, yield is another bit of, like, insider admissions lingo that we use. It’s something we think about a lot, but it’s something that usually doesn’t cross applicants’ minds at all.

MARK: Right. A college’s yield rate refers to the percentage of your admitted students who decide to enroll. So, yield season is the time of year when we work to get all of the fantastic students that we’ve admitted to choose Yale over all the other good options that they have.

HANNAH: Yeah, and another bit of insider trivia– yield season was originally scheduled to be our fourth episode, not our 31st episode.

MARK: We had all kinds of plans–

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: –as most people did in spring of 2020.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: COVID, of course, threw a monkey wrench in those plans. And so after two years of doing a complete pivot to all virtual yield season, we mostly got ourselves back to normal last year in 2022. And this year, 2023, we’re really back at it with all of our favorite yield programming and some new stuff that we picked up during the pandemic.

HANNAH: Yeah, and part of what makes yield season so exciting is it’s all compressed into the month of April. So there’s really this ticking clock. Admitted students have to make up their mind about where they want to enroll by May 1.

MARK: This year, we released admissions decisions for our regular decision applicants on March 30. That means we have exactly one month to show these students some love, and they’ve got one month to decide where they’re going. The whole thing is a little bit like a really bad reality TV dating show.

Like, imagine “The Bachelor.” You know, whatever– the bad reality show of your choice. Like, we are now in the position where we are all waiting to see which suitor gets the rose from each one of our admitted students.

HANNAH: Yes, stay tuned. And it’s fun because the shift from reading and committee season to yield season is probably the most dramatic transition in the admissions office calendar, right? We’ve just spent five months in our reading caves spending just about all day every day reading applications one by one or making decisions while, you know, stuffing our faces with snacks in the committee room. And now, we get to actually interact with real human beings.

MARK: Yes. Our job has just completely changed. Like, we are doing a different job this month than we were last month. Those reading months, it’s a kind of, like, monastic lifestyle. Like, many of us have to put in some effort to interact with other human beings.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: That is not the case yield season, and we love that. We get to switch from, like, paper people to real, live, flesh and blood people that we meet.

HANNAH: Yeah, and the tables turn in another way to where we get to go from being the ones making the decisions picking students to really hoping that the students pick us back.

MARK: Yes, so if you’ve listened to other episodes, you’ve been like, wow, who gave these people all the power?

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: Like, why do they get to make these decisions? Don’t you worry?

HANNAH: Our power is gone.

MARK: We not get the final say.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: The last chapter of the story is us waiting to hear, just as applicants did in the last stage, will they pick us?

HANNAH: Right, and it’s kind of fun because it becomes all about those admitted students.

MARK: That’s right, and we’ll talk about all the fun stuff that we do in the month of April. But it’s worth sharing a little bit about why we care about our yield rate. At first glance, it can seem like, is this just a big popularity contest? Like, are we spending a lot of energy because we just want to be the most desirable college out there?

The thinking here is that the colleges that have the highest yield rate will then have an even lower admit rate since you won’t need to admit as many students in order to fill your class. And that’s going to make it even harder to get in. And honestly, there is some kernel of truth to this– not the part about wanting to admit fewer students. Like, trust me. Admissions officers want to admit more students all the time. That’s our MO.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: But certainly, it is true that a high yield rate would generally mean that your school was perceived as looking pretty good, at least relative to its immediate peers. But just as an admit rate on its own, it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of a school and certainly not its fit for you. A school with a high yield rate doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better school, that it’s a better school for you.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: You shouldn’t just think about this number as saying like, well, the best schools have the highest yield rate.

HANNAH: And just as some colleges do some maybe ethically suspicious things to drum up applications from students who aren’t necessarily competitive in order to seem more selective, colleges can also do a lot to manipulate their yield rate. And usually, this takes the form of factoring in how likely a student is to yield when making admissions decision.

MARK: This is why some colleges consider what’s called demonstrated interest in the admissions process. They want to get a sense before they make their admissions decisions, will this student actually enroll in our school, and if that student, say, did a campus visit, met with a recruiter on the road, et cetera, it’s going to increase their likelihood of enrolling and probably that college’s likelihood of admitting them. It’s also why some other schools use some pretty complicated prediction models to screen out students who might be very strong, but based on their past experience with students of a similar profile, they predict that they’re unlikely to matriculate.

HANNAH: Yeah, and at Yale, we’re really lucky or spoiled, however you want to say it. We don’t have to worry about this, and we do not factor this type of thing into our admissions decisions.

MARK: Right, and let’s recognize part of the reason that we’re very spoiled is that we are in a really good financial position. We have an endowment at Yale that’s valued in the billions. No one is looking to our admissions office to sort of keep the doors open with tuition dollars next year. That means that we don’t need to think about enrolling a particular sort of subset of students who can pay the full price or increase the size of the class. A lot of colleges are in a very different position.

HANNAH: Yeah, so we get to just admit the students we think are the strongest and the best fit for Yale, and then we put a lot of pride into our yield season because we’ve already gotten to know every one of our admitted students, and we’ve already gotten really excited about the idea of them being at Yale.

MARK: So we are kind of back in a sales position at this point, right? Like, we are pitching Yale to these students, and we really want them to choose Yale. But let’s be clear. Like, we aren’t paid on commission.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: There’s no bonus given out to the admissions officer who winds up with the highest yield rate on their admitted students. But every admissions officer at Yale, we put a lot of effort into yield because it’s the final leg of this journey that we’ve been on for months and months and months.

HANNAH: Yeah, and Mark and I have talked a lot about how we organize our work around territories in our office, right? So, officers are typically traveling to an area in the fall, reading applications from that area in the winter, and then working to yield those students in the spring. And we get a lot of pride of ownership in doing things that way. So a lot of our yield work is really very personal.

MARK: We invest a lot in this because we know these people. Like, in order to arrive at this place in April where you are an admitted student, a lot of effort has gone into learning about who you are and actually getting excited about what you would add to Yale and what you take away. One of the very first things we do every yield season– Hannah and I were just doing this earlier this week– is we write handwritten letters to every admitted student.

HANNAH: Yeah, we call them mash notes. Every single admissions officer writes them. It’s very time-consuming, but it’s also really fun.

You just write this little personalized letter. You go back through the application and think, what do I want to say specifically to this student? What do I want them to know about what I was really excited about in their application? And if they can decipher my handwriting, then they will find out.

MARK: Yes. Like a lot of people, writing with a pen is not something we do all that often now. So, apologies at least to my admitted students.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: –probably not be able to decipher what I wrote for you, but I guarantee you it was something nice.

HANNAH: It was very nice.

MARK: –something personal.

HANNAH: Yes, and we’re really trying to make a case for Yale specifically– like, highlighting particular programs and resources, student groups, campus culture, all that good stuff. We also run a big online forum called the Admitted Student Network. Admissions officers are active there. We can send messages, join group conversations. And then we also have some social platforms like Discord and Instagram so students can connect with us online and connect with each other, more importantly.

MARK: Yeah, so we’ve gotten lots of ways to connect virtually, and it’s cool to actually see kind of in one space admitted students who are from all kinds of different geographic areas. Getting them in one space for the first time is pretty cool.

HANNAH: And this is all very nice, but our favorite thing is meeting admitted students in person.

MARK: And this happens in a few different ways. We, of course, have some students who will just visit campus throughout the month of April. They’ll take a tour.

We might be able to set them up with something like a meal in the dining hall. It’s always nice when I get to kind of take a break from my day and actually just meet with an admitted student one on one here on campus. We also have alumni volunteers who host receptions in their local area.

So these are people who’ve usually been involved in the interviewing process, and they get really excited when there are admitted students from their area. And they’ll put on a little reception. And in some of the bigger areas, admissions officers will actually travel from New Haven to go hang out in one of those things. They’re super fun.

HANNAH: Those are so fun. And like, yeah, it’s great to see admitted students connect with people in their area who are also planning to go to Yale. And then there’s the main event, which is Bulldog Days, which we will talk about in a minute.

MARK: So, as admissions officers, we’re all nice people. We’re pretty knowledgeable about Yale. We have a vested interest in getting admitted students to come to Yale.

But you know, on average, we tend to be a slightly older crew. Just talking with us probably isn’t the best way to learn about Yale. So a lot of what we try to do is actually kind of step out of the way and help make connections between admitted students and others in the community, especially current Yale students and also faculty, other admitted students, other folks around the university as well. So it’s not just going to be talking with the sales people.

HANNAH: Yeah, and Mark and I are both Yale graduates, but we’re also more than 10 years out. Can that be true? So, admitted students probably don’t want to hear all our stories from things back in the day. But thankfully, hundreds of current students get really, really excited to talk to admitted students.

MARK: So many current students. We love this, and we just can’t say thank you enough to the hundreds of student volunteers who sign up for different programs.

One of them is called [? pre-Frasch ?] advisors. These folks cold call and cold text admitted students, and then they host small group virtual sessions. We also have a few dozen admissions office student employees who do things like run our social media accounts. They host virtual student forums. They emcee our fabulous admitted student virtual talent show.

HANNAH: Yeah. And then, of course, you know, the biggest event, where, really, the whole campus comes together to help us put on a great show is Bulldog Days. At the end of the month of April, we host a three day event with two overnights for our admitted students. We have more than 600 students volunteer to host [? pre-Frasch ?] in their on-campus rooms. Over 200 student groups will show up for a big extracurricular bazaar, and about 100 of those groups will also host special events designed to introduce admitted students to what they do.

MARK: So, you can kind of think about the way that Bulldog Days sits in the yield season calendar a little bit like Christmas. Like, if you think about Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas shopping season and then, like, decision release day for yield season is equivalent of Thanksgiving, and Bulldog Days is Christmas. Like, that’s the main event. That’s what we’re all working towards, and that’s really when the magic happens. Planning Bulldog Days takes a huge amount of time and coordination across campus.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: I mean, we’re hosting more than 1,200 teenagers on a college campus for three days. And it’s while classes are in session.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: It’s a big deal.

HANNAH: Yeah, and it’s the same group of admissions officers who read applications and make decisions who run this whole thing. This is part of what makes our job so interesting. It really changes every few months. All of a sudden in the month of April, we become event planners.

MARK: Yes, and both Hannah and I have both held the title of Bulldog Days Director–

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: –at various points in our career. I would describe it as some combination of, like, wedding planner, cruise ship director, like, and school principal kind of thrown in–

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: –as well.

HANNAH: Right, right. We think it’s really important that admitted students have the chance to visit campus after they’ve gotten the good news. You know, even if they go on a college tour before they applied, seeing a campus as an insider with the application process behind you is such a different experience.

MARK: We strongly recommend this wherever you apply in our admitted. Especially if you’re choosing between several options, take the time to visit again if you can. It can really open your eyes.

And I’ll say we kind of put our money where our mouth is here. We will pick up the cost of traveling to campus for about 500 students who are from lower income households every year. We book them flights. We get them shuttles to campus, everything. It’s a whole other level of complexity.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Like, we also turn into travel agents as well.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: But it’s really worth it because we want students who are making this big decision to do it with the benefit of actually seeing this place and seeing it as an admitted student.

HANNAH: And we do hear from admitted students that their visit to campus for Bulldog Days was the thing that really clinched their decision for them to come to Yale.

MARK: Yes, so we’re going to tell you more about Bulldog Days in a few weeks at Bulldog Days.

HANNAH: Yes, very exciting. Yeah, our next episode we’re actually going to record live in front of an audience of admitted students.

MARK: So, if you are listening, and you are a newly admitted member of the Yale class of 2027, come to Bulldog Days, and you can see the first, maybe only–

HANNAH: Yeah, we’ll see how it goes.

MARK: –episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office recorded in front of a live audience.

HANNAH: So exciting. Yeah, we’re going to do this on Wednesday, April 26, at 9:00 AM at Lindsey Chittenden Hall on Old Campus, and maybe we’ll see you there.

MARK: Yeah. In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do, including figuring out how to record a live podcast.

HANNAH: Yeah, yeah.

MARK: –have no idea. But we’re going to– we’ll make it work.

HANNAH: We’ll get it worked out between now and then.

MARK: So, we’re going to go back to work for now. Thanks to Reed for lending us his office, and thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

Episode 32: Bulldog Days Live!

Episode 32: Bulldog Days Live!

A live audience of recently admitted students joins Hannah and Mark for a special episode recorded at Bulldog Days, a three-day campus preview program. Special guests Chandler and Marty share insights on how admissions officers plan and execute Bulldog Days with the help of current students and campus partners. Three admitted students reflect on their experience navigating the college search and application processes, and the hosts share dozens of pearls of wisdom submitted by audience members to help future college applicants.

[MUSIC PLAYING] [CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

HANNAH: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Inside the Yale Admissions Office. I’m Hannah. I’m a Yale Admissions Officer.

MARK: And I’m Mark. I’m also a Yale Admissions Officer.

HANNAH: We are not actually inside the Yale Admissions Office today. Where are we, Mark?

MARK: We are in front of our first ever live podcast audience. Welcome, everybody.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

HANNAH: This is not just any audience. We are actually joined by about a hundred or 150 newly admitted Yale students who are here at Yale for Bulldog Days.

MARK: Specifically, we’re at a beautiful lecture hall in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. We’re currently looking at this fantastic audience of admitted students. Hannah, I guess some people have been listening to our podcast over the past few years.

HANNAH: Evidently, yeah. It’s great. We’ve met a lot of fans over the past three days. These admitted students are here getting to know Yale, but they’re also here to get to know their admissions officers. And so many of them have come up, and so many of their parents have come up and said, oh my god, you’re Hannah from the podcast. So it’s so nice to meet you all in person.

MARK: It’s been great fun. On our last episode, we talked about Yield Season. This happens primarily in the month of April when 100% of our attention is focused on all of you, our admitted students who have until May 1 to make up their mind about where they’re going to college.

HANNAH: Yeah and Yield Season culminates in Bulldog Days or BDD as we call it. We invite every single admitted student to a three-day open house kind of preview event. And this year is the biggest Bulldog Days ever.

MARK: Ever. We have more than 1,400 admitted students who are here. They have come from across the US and from more than a dozen countries around the world. How’s Bulldog Days going, guys? You having a good time?

AUDIENCE: Yeah.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

MARK: All right.

HANNAH: Nice, awesome. You’re going to be able to hear a little bit more from some of these admitted students. We’re going to have a few of them up to say some things a little later in the episode. But for now, this recording is happening on the final day of Bulldog Days. All of these folks have taken a few days off of school, and they have been on our campus, probably running around all day yesterday and the day before to various different events. So I’m really impressed that they made it here at 9:00 AM on the final day of Bulldog Days.

MARK: This is very, very early. I imagine a few of you are probably a little bit tired. A quick show of hands here, how many of you slept on a couch or the floor or an air mattress for the last two nights? Yeah, every single hand in the room is up.

HANNAH: Wait, can we do this, can we do that by applause-o-meter? How many of you slept on the floor or on a futon? Yeah, OK.

MARK: All right. Good for you, and you still made it here this morning. Thanks for coming.

HANNAH: Amazing. So we’re going to talk a little bit about Bulldog Days and how this whole program comes together, who’s behind it. And in order to talk a little bit more about that, we actually have a special guest today, the Director of Bulldog Days, Chandler.

MARK: Come on up, Chandler.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

CHANDLER: Hey, guys. Thanks for having me on.

MARK: Good to have you, Chandler.

HANNAH: Hey, Chandler.

MARK: So it’s day 3, Chandler. I know that the fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet. The program is not over, but this has been a wildly successful Bulldog Days. And this is Chandler’s very first year directing this, so let’s give Chandler a big round of applause for making this whole program happen.

[APPLAUSE]

HANNAH: Yeah, Mark and I know how much work goes into this because we each have held this job at different points in our career. And it is so much work to be responsible for this huge, huge program. So I’m amazed that you even have time to come and sit on a podcast right now.

CHANDLER: Well, I’ll probably leave halfway through.

HANNAH: Perfect. So do you want to give us a little overview of the kinds of events that happen during Bulldog Days?

CHANDLER: Sure, there are very many, so I’m not going to cover them all. But one kind of signature event that I know a lot of you have probably attended in the past two nights are the showcases. How many of you were at the showcases? Can we get some applause?

[APPLAUSE]

All right. Awesome. So we had probably over a dozen different student performance groups show up to the Shubert Theatre in downtown New Haven and perform for all of you. So I know that those are some of the two favorite events that students partake in, but there are probably another 250 that you all have had open to you all, including various panels and master classes with Yale faculty members.

There have been many different student group organizations that have hosted late night events for all of you each night. I know over a hundred different events. And then we have some fun meals as well. So I know we have the New Haven Pizza Party, which is a signature event that you all–

MARK: My favorite.

CHANDLER: Yeah, mine too now. And then this afternoon, we have the Food Truck Farewell Lunch with six different local food trucks showing up to feed you all before you depart campus.

MARK: So give these folks an idea of what goes into planning Bulldog Days, Chandler. So give them an idea. Like when did we start planning? What does this look like? What has your life been basically for the last nine months plus in getting this whole thing together?

CHANDLER: Sure. So we really only started planning in April of last year. So it’s been–

MARK: Yeah, exactly.

CHANDLER: –it’s been a year of a lot of planning and what Mark and I actually were reflecting on yesterday was the fact that it kind of just starts in an Excel spreadsheet. We just kind of think about what we’ve done in the past, what we like to keep, what times work best. And then we start thinking about improvements.

So these have been conversations that have happened since this event ended last year, a year ago today, thinking about what we can do better next year to make this the best Bulldog Days ever for the incoming class. So hopefully, you all have experienced the best Bulldog Days ever in the history of Bulldog Days.

MARK: I’d say so. What do you guys think? You only had one.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

HANNAH: It’s just sort of a little inside joke in the admissions offices. Every year we say, best Bulldog Days ever because there are always little tweaks and improvements and new things that we come up with.

MARK: And on that note, Chandler, you have invented a lot this year. You’ve come up with a lot of new tweaks and changes. Last year, was your first year as a Yale Admissions Officer, and so you experienced Bulldog Days for the first time. And you kind of instantly had a list of things, where you’re like, I think we could do this better and this better, and I have this idea. Of the many changes you’ve made, what’s one or two of your favorite things that you’re most proud of adding to the program this year?

CHANDLER: Sure, so these are some little details, and they might not stick out to all of you as fun, exciting, and new things that we are doing. But one is registration. You all went through this tent on old campus when you arrived on Monday for most of you. That used to all take place inside Dwight Hall.

You would have to come to that front table to get your packet, and as you can imagine, with 1,400 of you showing up, that would have been a very crowded place between your luggage and the refreshments that we have and the financial aid table and everything going on in there. So this is the first year that we had registration under a tent outside, and we actually had over 800 registered by around 4:00, which, I think, really helped us out and helped you out so that you could get off to the various events that were starting off on Monday afternoon.

So that’s one. And then the other one that I really liked during the pizza party and I still see some tags out here, but we actually implemented name tags, at least, for Monday. So that we could see names and know which admitted students we were talking to, where you were coming from, and hopefully, it allowed you all to meet each other and see each other’s names and catch on to each other’s names, at least, on Monday night to make the awkwardness of showing up to a new place with a new 1,400 friends a little less awkward.

HANNAH: Yes, I love that, like the things that admissions officers get excited about are like efficient workflow of registration–

CHANDLER: Absolutely.

HANNAH: –name tags, like these are such little, tiny details, but they make such a difference in your experience of arriving on campus.

MARK: Well, Chandler, it’s been a great success. Everybody, I hope that you get a chance to shake Chandler’s hand later today. Thank him for a fabulous Bulldog Days if you’ve had a good time. And Chandler, thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

CHANDLER: Thanks for having me on.

HANNAH: All right, back to work, Chandler.

[APPLAUSE]

Yeah, so you might be wondering, really? Admissions officers plan this whole event? We really do. The focus of our jobs, which is in the month of April, to becoming event planners basically. We do get a little help from the Yale Conferences and Events Office, who are real, actual professional event planners.

MARK: A lot of help, I’m going to say. They are amazing.

HANNAH: Yes, quite a bit of help. Yeah. But Chandler and a number of other people in our office really do a lot of the planning and conceiving of all of the events that happen on campus.

MARK: Yeah, big shout-out to some other folks in our office. Jackie is responsible for getting more than a thousand of you connected with volunteer student hosts and actually optimize with an algorithm that a student computer science major coded to connect you with hosts who had similar interests. Our colleague Anna wrangled more than 200 undergraduate organizations to participate in the bazaar yesterday and to put on hundreds of late night events as well.

Our colleagues Skyler and Juliette put together our amazing BL Travel program that actually booked flights and shuttles for several hundred undergraduate students who qualified for that program. We have just an amazingly talented collection of staff and everyone really pitches in to make this event possible.

HANNAH: Yeah, and we also have a really amazing crew of student workers. We hire a number of current Yale students who are called recruitment coordinators in our office. They work in our office year-round, but really, their time to shine is Bulldog Days. And they take on a lot of the planning and a lot of just like the management of on-site programming. You have seen them around. They’re standing at the entrance of the doors of every event that you go to and welcoming you in. So our recruitment coordinators also really help make this event happen.

MARK: And their fearless leader is a fabulous admissions officer named Marty, who we’re going to invite up to the stage now. Come on up, Marty.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

So throughout the entire year, Marty actually has his office in a space in our building that we call the Bullpen. Hannah and I have both done our time in the Bullpen as well. This is a spot where you have your desk where you have to do your work and read admissions files and answer emails and all that. But you are also surrounded on all sides by undergraduate student employees who are recruitment coordinators.

So Marty has been in that space all year, and he’s been leading these folks. And you have really put a charge into them to make Bulldog Days happen. So tell us a little bit about what it’s like to lead that student group and what our students have been doing throughout all of April to get ready for Bulldog Days?

MARTY: Yeah, I mean, for me, if you’ve ever seen a movie where there’s a montage set to the song “Eye of the Tiger,” that is what April in the Bullpen looks like and feels like. There is just a lot of different planning that goes into all the different events. My office becomes just of clusterphobia like nightmare of boxes of all your swag bags.

All the students pack individually these swag bags that you all received, all of those tote bags and notebooks and things. And then they also are just also open on lots of different spreadsheets, working on different events like hanging out in The Buttery or anything like that.

MARK: We’ve hosted some fabulous virtual events this April as well, and Marty, you and the students have been a big part of that. Tell folks about maybe some of your favorite things we’ve done online this month.

MARTY: I loved the class of 2027’s Got Talent Talent Show.

HANNAH AND MARK: Yes.

MARTY: That is a hit every year, and this year, we had way more unique talents than I’ve ever seen before. And there was a historical sewing demonstration. There were lots of different cool things. There was someone who did a rap about Java, which I learned a little bit from that one. Yeah, so that’s definitely one of my favorites, and this year, we also added back a lot of virtual programming for a program called Yale and You, which is for first generation, low income students as well.

HANNAH: Awesome. That’s great. Well, thank you for wrangling all of our student employees and getting them to help out with this amazing programming. I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the philosophy behind Bulldog Days and the kind of event that we aspire to put on for our admitted students.

I think one thing that really stands out to me, and one thing that I really tried to put front and center back when I was in charge of this event is giving admitted students the real Yale experience. So yes, of course, Bulldog Days is a lot of programming. A lot of planning goes into it. We really want to put our best foot forward and show you the best of Yale.

But at the same time, we also really want to give you a taste of what it’s actually like to be a Yale student. And that is not always just like amazing events and master classes and all of that. It comes with challenges, and you’re learning new things, and you’re navigating a new place. So we want to give you that experience as well. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you and your student employees help make that happen?

MARTY: Yeah, I mean, I remember when I was a student. I went to Yale before becoming an admissions officer here, and I remember my own Bulldog Days. And I remember feeling so overwhelmed with joy at just how much joy I was feeling by all of the vibes of the students on campus.

And I remember my mom was visiting with me, and she asked one of the current students, one of our tour guides, she asked, did they tell you all to be really nice to us or like to wear your Yale gear or something like that? And I Remember the tour guide telling us, no, this is just how much people like this place and this community. And so I think that’s the same philosophy of what I try to make sure that our students are doing as they’re running this program and all of the events that you’re seeing them at.

So at the beginning of the year, I have a long talk with them all just about their own Yale experience, and I try and tell them, we want to be pro-truth not pro-Yale. So whatever background or identity that you come from, however that is incorporated in your Yale experience, like that is an important aspect of your story to share with them.

So I really want them to give you all their genuine, honest rendition of what a Yale experience looks like. And then amidst that, sure, there might be ups or downs or things that they have learned in their time at Yale that are also important things to be sharing with you all.

MARK: And I think if there’s one word or theme that would capture Bulldog Days but also just so much of our work, including this podcast, it’s the word fun.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: We all have fun with our jobs. We have fun with this podcast, and we have a lot of fun with Bulldog Days. And I have to say, both Marty and Chandler, you guys have in the midst of running a very complex event, where a lot of things can go wrong, you all have both still had a lot of fun and made things a lot of fun for students. I actually want to ask how was the admissions officer glow dance party last night? That seemed like a lot of fun. It was past my bedtime, so I didn’t make it.

MARTY: Yeah, in my free time, I love doing dance fitness or Zumba or something like that. So last year, during Bulldog Days, in a late night delirious stupor of all the admissions officers who were still hanging out at Dwight Hall, which is where we’re all based for questions, for late registration, for things like that, all the admissions officers and I were dancing. It was really fun and somewhat delirious as I said.

So this year, we decided to make that a whole event and my friend and I who loved doing dance fitness taught a bunch of different songs that we know choreography to. And there are a lot of you who were there. It was really fun. We had glow sticks, and we just had a good time. It was fun to dance through the last hour of the second long day of Bulldog Days.

HANNAH: Amazing. Yeah, if you are a regular listener of this podcast, you know that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we try to bring that approach to all aspects of our work. So having fun and just like celebrating and having a good time is a really big part of Bulldog Days, not only for you guys, but also for us.

MARK: Marty, thanks so much for joining us and congratulations on making it to this part of Bulldog Days.

MARTY: Thank you so much.

[APPLAUSE]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MARK: So before we invite up actually a few audience members, Hannah and I thought because we have the mics here and because we are experienced Bulldog Days veterans, we might share some of our favorite Bulldog Days war stories–

[LAUGHTER]

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: –from the past. You want me to go first?

HANNAH: I do, yeah.

MARK: All right, so I’m going to make this quick. This is a great story, and this audience will appreciate it. So if you all arrived on Monday, you saw that there was a giant inflatable Bulldog that was hanging out on old campus. The Athletics Department owns this thing, and now, they are in charge of delivering it and taking it away.

But back in the day, the Admissions Office was actually in charge of getting this thing, inflating it, deflating it, and taking it back. And 10 years ago, my very first year running Bulldog Days, it was the very end of the program, end of the day on Wednesday. I was completely wiped and exhausted, and I think it’s OK to explain that at the end of this program, just about the thing that every admissions officer really wants is a cold beverage and to relax at the end of the day on Wednesday.

So I was very much looking forward to this, but the very last thing that I had to do was return this inflatable bulldog all the way back to the Yale Bowl, which is about 4 miles away from here. Now, learning from this experience actually this year, I now rent a U-Haul truck, and one of the things I did on Monday was I had about 120 pizzas in the back of this truck.

Before we learned to rent a U-Haul, I actually asked a colleague and friend of ours to rent a pickup truck. I thought, well, a pickup truck will do the job.

HANNAH: Right.

MARK: This inflatable bulldog when it deflates is still pretty big. It’s about the size of this big table that we’re on here, and it actually lived in a big sort of laundry cart. And so the last thing we had to do was get this bulldog back to the Yale Bowl. We got this thing. It barely fit into the back of this pickup truck. So you can imagine a pickup truck with like this laundry hamper in the back and just this big mess of vinyl sticking out of it.

So my friend and colleague is driving this thing, and he takes a left turn a little too fast. And the bulldog just comes toppling out of the back of this thing, ba bomp ba bomp ba bomp ba bomp ba bomp. We hear it and actually nails the car that is parked right next to a bodega about a mile away from here.

So now we have a motor vehicle accident at this point. We have to call the police. We’re there for a while. There’s lots of ups and downs and twists and turns of the story.s but, I think, my absolute favorite part of it is the officer arrives on the scene, and he’s taking his notes. And we have to explain, all right, so we were driving a pickup truck, and our load fell out and hit a car. Well, what was your load? It was an inflatable bulldog.

[LAUGHTER]

Was it inflated? No. And I love this officer was trying to be so serious the whole time, and you could just see like, the sides of his mouth start to go up. Like, he was trying to not laugh, and it was very, very hard for him. Long story short, the bulldog made its way back. We got our cold beverage, and we just, we had a great inflatable bulldog story that I love telling for the last decade now.

HANNAH: That was 10 years ago? This is the first Bulldog Days where we have been allowed to have this inflatable bulldog back. So we were really excited that they let us have it back for Bulldog Days.

MARK: Absolutely.

HANNAH: Finally. I definitely can’t top that story, but I will tell you a little bit about our experience with Bulldog Days last year, which was the first return of Bulldog Days after COVID, right. So we had a couple of years where we weren’t allowed to host students on campus.

Yale was very public health conscious and very strict about rules about visitors on campus with the priority of keeping the Yale community safe and healthy. So we had to work really, really hard to convince the Yale Public Health folks that we should be hosting 1,400 students from around the country on campus.

MARK: It was the first event for visitors in three years. We were the very first ones. We were writing the script for this in 2022.

HANNAH: Right, so we were having regular meetings with the Public Health and Safety folks at Yale. And when we told them not only do we want to invite 1,400 students from around the country. We want to host them on campus in student rooms, and they’re like, oh, we don’t know about that. So they ended up coming up with this whole testing protocol for our admitted students where if you had been admitted last year, and you were attending Bulldog Days, we would mail you a test like two weeks before the event, and you would take the test or you would have to take it three days before your arrival on campus.

MARK: And log it in an online system.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Chandler was in charge of this. I’m seeing him just shudder over there remembering this.

HANNAH: Oh, memories.

MARK: It was bananas.

HANNAH: And then once you arrived on campus, you had to do a rapid test. Like that was part of registration. So this kind of explains a little bit why Chandler is so proud of how efficient and fast registration is this year.

MARK: It was anything but.

HANNAH: Last year, we had lines snaking all the way along College Street outside of Phelps Gate.

MARK: For Blocks and blocks.

HANNAH: Blocks and blocks like hot sun beating down on these poor students who are just waiting for their turn to take their rapid test. So we made it through, but we are just so glad that we don’t have any of those restrictions for you all this year.

MARK: Yes, last year, you would have spent probably about 90 minutes to 2 and 1/2 hours in line just to get into Bulldog Days. So I think most of you probably had about 9 minutes or so in line today. So that was a big success.

HANNAH: Yeah. We probably have a ton of other amazing Bulldog Days stories, but I want kinda of want to hear from our current students.

MARK: I do, too.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: So you guys have been very patient. We’ve just been yammering on up here with our normal chatting we could have done in the admissions office. But we’re not in the admissions office. So we want to hear from them. And you know, remember, we said from the beginning, this is not a podcast about how to get into Yale.

And so we are not going to bring up some admitted students here and ask like, what were your tips and tricks? Like what did you do? And this is not going to be about figuring out what got you in. However, we realized very quickly, we have an amazingly rich collection of wisdom from all of you. All of you just went through this process, and now, you’re on the other side. And hopefully, you feel good about that experience. And so we want to invite a few people up to talk a little bit about their experience and then share some more wisdom–

HANNAH: Yeah, and we have never had a current Yale student or a prospective Yale student on the podcast before, so this is another first for us. We’re really, really excited. We sent a little survey around to everyone registered for this event last week to get a sense of who might be brave enough to come on the podcast. I was kind of expecting like two people might raise their hands. More than 30 of you we’re like, I want to be on the podcast. So we can’t interview everyone, but we did pick a few. So we are going to start with Daisy.

MARK: Come on up, Daisy.

HANNAH: Come on up.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

All right, hi, Daisy. Welcome to the podcast.

DAISY: Hi, thank you for having me.

MARK: So good to have you here. Could you just let the audience know where are you coming from today?

DAISY: I’m coming from all the way in a small town in Texas called Houston.

[LAUGHTER]

I don’t know if you guys have heard of it.

MARK: Teeny little flat.

DAISY: Yeah, but yeah, I’m super excited to be here.

HANNAH: Awesome. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you approach the college search process and what you were thinking as you were getting started on your applications?

DAISY: Well, honestly, for me, all the colleges that I considered had like– I want to major in economics, and they had amazing economics programs. All of them had great things to offer, and I think the main determining factor was the culture. And so I know for me, I think I thrive better in a collaborative environment compared to super cutthroat and competitive.

It’s like sometimes, competition can help, but for me, personally, I want a place where students can come together, and it’s not about who gets the best grade. It’s about the learning experience. And when I was researching Yale, I actually decided to apply to Yale because I got this little booklet in the mail with a guide to Yale College, and I saw that. And I completely fell in love with it, and I was like, oh my God, this is beautiful.

And so obviously, I was looking at location, campus culture, student life. I was watching a whole bunch of TikToks about the colleges and stuff. I tried to get a authentic perspective from students. I was like, sometimes DMing students, like, hey, I’m thinking of applying. I don’t know. Give me your honest opinion.

So yeah, and then from there, I kind of tried making a spreadsheet to be organized. I stopped like halfway, and so I was just keeping everything in my head. And then I decided to apply to Yale, and I’m super grateful for having gotten in. And now that I’m here, I’m like, yeah, this is the college for me. It’s a great fit.

MARK: All right.

HANNAH: Amazing. Congratulations.

MARK: And very impressive.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: As you think about what you’ve learned from the process, what do you feel that you know now just about applying to colleges, generally, that you didn’t know a year ago or even 6 months ago?

DAISY: Honestly, I learned the importance of being authentic. So whenever you’re applying to college, you want to show them like, oh, I did this, this, and that. Oh, I’m into this. Oh, like I did this club or I did this. And I mean, that’s very important, obviously, but it’s also very important like whenever you’re applying to college, you’re not just going to study there. Obviously, they’re going to admit you.

All the students that apply, specifically to Yale, all of them are super smart, and so the most important thing is to be yourself on the application, which I know everybody always says that, and you don’t get it until you’re after the application process like how important it is just to be honest in your application. So if you’re like a generally funny person, try being funny in your essays. If you’re not, maybe not, don’t try your luck the first time.

But yeah, it’s just very important to make your resumes– not your resumes– your essays not sound like a resume. And I really struggled with that at first, but then I– little plug– I got into this program called Matriculate for FGLI students, which I hundred percent recommend to anybody listening to this podcast. And it connects you with college students that can help you with your application and editing your essays.

And for me, that was a very big thing like trying to make it sound personal to me for whoever was reading my application knew like, yes, this is Daisy. This is not just a student that did this, this, and that. This is her story, and this is why she’s applying here.

MARK: Fantastic.

HANNAH: Yeah, great. Do you want to tell us what the highlight of your Bulldog Days has been so far?

DAISY: Honestly, it was last night at Grace Hopper in The Buttery. I was doing karaoke, and it was super fun. I’m glad my voice isn’t too affected by it, but it was really fun. Honestly, the people here are so excited to be here. It’s super easy to make friends. I can walk up to people, smile at them, and they’ll smile back, which is really beautiful. And I’ve met some really like very interesting people, and everybody here is super down to earth. And I really love interacting with my future classmates. So I’m really excited for the fall.

HANNAH: Nice. What was your karaoke song?

DAISY: I did “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift.

MARK: Oh.

HANNAH: Amazing.

MARK: Yeah.

DAISY: Yeah.

MARK: That’s a winner.

DAISY: But there was like some people did “Fergalicious.” We did “Boy’s a liar” by Ice Spice and PinkPantheress, so that was really fun. It was just amazing honestly. That was the best part.

HANNAH: Nice.

MARK: Outstanding.

HANNAH: That’s great.

MARK: All right. Daisy, thanks, so much for joining us on the podcast today.

DAISY: No, thank you for having me.

MARK: Fantastic.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

HANNAH: Next up, we are going to welcome Henry.

MARK: Henry, tell us a little bit about where you’re from.

HENRY: So I’m from Michigan, Metro Detroit area.

HANNAH: And how did you approach the college search process, and what were you thinking about as you started your applications?

HENRY: The summer before my senior year, I really didn’t know that much about what I wanted in a school. I didn’t know the size. I didn’t know business school, liberal arts school, engineering school, music school. So what I did was make a list of colleges from pretty much all these different groups. And I picked a few from all those groups, and i applied.

And the idea was that throughout senior year, I would figure out what I wanted. And hopefully, I would have a lot of options just in case my interest change, in case what I wanted out of college changed. And I think that really worked for me because at this point I’ve decided I want a liberal arts school, but I didn’t really know that at the beginning of senior year. So it was good to give myself a lot of options.

MARK: And I think that’s great, and I think it’s pretty typical. I was definitely in those shoes myself. I remember people asking, do you want this or that? And I was like, wait, I’m supposed to know this? I’m supposed to be fully formed and all of my, both personal preferences, but also this extraordinary collection of knowledge about what college experiences are out there? So I love that actually part of your search process was a sort of journey of self-discovery about this as well. You don’t have to start with all the answers already.

HANNAH: And it’s OK to cast a wide net as long as you’re deliberate about it. You’re doing it because you need to answer those questions a little bit and figure out what you want.

HENRY: Exactly.

HANNAH: And what do you feel like you’ve learned from the process? Is there anything that you know now that you wish you had known 6 months ago or 12 months ago?

HENRY: Yeah, when I started writing essays, particularly like the Yale essays– I know there are a lot of them– it was really stressful trying to come up with ideas, see how to market myself, how to communicate who I am. And looking back, it was actually a really interesting opportunity for self-reflection. I just kind of learn about who I am, what I want because before this process, I didn’t really take that much time to just write about myself and think about myself.

So I learned that even though that process of coming up with ideas, polishing everything off is very stressful, the process of actually writing about yourself can be very useful and very interesting.

MARK: Cool. All right. And you are on a podcast that has listeners all around the world, and they are hungry for advice. So what advice would you give to maybe a younger student who’s starting this process?

HENRY: I think, going off what I just said, a lot of people feel like there’s pressure to craft a false identity or come up with these obscure interests that they don’t actually have because they think doing those things will get you into an elite school.

And in my experience, just talking to people, and in my own applications, I realized really if you just write passionately about things you like, in many cases, that’s enough. So my advice would to be confident that who you truly are and your true interests are good enough for these schools.

MARK: Very well said.

HANNAH: Nice.

MARK: Great.

HANNAH: Nice. Do you have a highlight from Bulldog Days that you want to share?

HENRY: Bulldog there are a lot of highlights. One of the most interesting ones– this is kind of specific, but I went by accident to a meeting of the Yale Independent Party.

HANNAH: OK.

HENRY: And–

[LAUGHTER]

It was– I didn’t expect it to be that interesting, but the people, they did a debate on should education be practical? And the people there, they were so charismatic. They were so funny, and the rule is every time somebody says something you agree with, you tap on something. And every time, you disagree, you hiss like sss.

MARK: Mhm.

HENRY: And it got to– it was a very funny environment, just people asking questions, acting all formal. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.

MARK: Excellent, all right, sounds like we’ve got a new Yale political union member right here.

HANNAH: All right.

HENRY: For sure. For sure.

MARK: All right, thanks for joining us, Henry.

HENRY: Yeah, thank you so much.

MARK: Fantastic.

HANNAH: Thank you.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

All right, we have one final student that we are going to invite up, so please welcome to the stage, Laura.

MARK: All right, Laura, tell everyone a little bit about where you’re from.

LAURA: I’m from El Salvador, which is a country like a really small country in Central America, really culturally rich though.

MARK: Fantastic.

HANNAH: Amazing. Thank you for coming all this way to Bulldog Days.

LAURA: Yeah, of course.

HANNAH: Do you want to talk a little bit about how you approach the college search process?

LAURA: So for me, it was pretty experimental because I didn’t know a lot about the US application process or what the educational offer was here. There weren’t many resources in my school or my country in general. So I signed up for College Board’s College Search, I think, and I just got like spammed with emails. But it was really helpful in getting invitations to colleges.

And I just joined a lot of webinars where I look them up. And it was really helpful in seeing what I want because I didn’t actually even know that there was a liberal arts education available until I saw the Yale website actually. And so yeah, that was my process just going out and experimentally seeing what I wanted to do and what I wanted for my education in the next 4 years of my life.

HANNAH: Very cool.

MARK: Yeah, and specifically, with the process of applying to American universities, which can seem really daunting even for folks who are from the US and have a lot of folks around them who’ve gone through it before, I imagine it can be kind of scary and seem complex, particularly if you’re coming from an international background. What resources were most useful for you and just figuring out what is it like to apply to any American university?

LAURA: Yeah, definitely, so I went on like an online crusade looking for stuff. This Yale Admission Podcast was probably my first point of reference. I loved it, and thank you so much for having it actually. It was just helpful to see what the process is like and some tips. And then there are also some YouTube videos. There’s this master timeline that was in an article in Khan Academy for applying to college which is really helpful, honestly. And so you could just see everything that you should do in your freshman year till your senior year of high school for applying to Youth of US, which is really helpful.

HANNAH: That’s great. I know we have a ton of international listeners, so they will be really excited to hear you and hear the story. Is there anything that you learned from the process that you want to share, anything that you know now that you wish you had known back when you started?

LAURA: I agree that it’s a process of self-reflection a lot. Like you have to know about yourself not only to write the essays but also like to see what kind of college you want to apply to. And I feel like that’s going to make such a huge difference in your process of applying because if you apply to a college that’s actually a fit and that you actually like, it’s, going to be way more seamless or genuine to apply and answering the questions just felt fun for Yale, for example, because I actually wanted to share these things about me.

HANNAH: Great. Great. And along those lines, do you have any specific advice that you would want to share with our listeners, maybe especially other international students looking to apply to colleges in the US?

LAURA: Yeah, probably just make use of the online resources. It can seem a bit daunting if you don’t have the resources or not many people from your country are in this type of scope. But yeah, make use of the resources. Don’t let it detract you from applying and also just be genuine in your applications. Coming as an international student, that makes you like– you have that extra thing to bring to the community, so make that shine through in your application as well.

HANNAH: Great. Well said.

MARK: And highlights of Bulldog Days?

LAURA: I have loved everything so far, meeting the people. Everyone here is so nice, so open to get to know you. I think, in terms of events, the showcases, I really loved. Like yesterday, there was this at home at Yale, and it was like a cultural celebration. I loved seeing every single group. And then also I went to a class, a visiting class from a philosophy professor. It was really, really interesting, and in an actual Yale classroom with actual Yale students. So that was really cool.

HANNAH: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for being here and for sharing some of your insights, and safe travels home.

LAURA: Thank you.

MARK: Thanks, Laura.

[APPLAUSE]

All right, so for our last piece of the podcast, we received so many fantastic submissions when we sent this little survey out. And there was so much incredible just collective wisdom and advice that was there that I quickly realized, wait a minute. We can’t just ignore this. We have to include this in the podcast.

It was really hard finding just three students to interview up here. We said, let’s actually give everyone who submitted this form a chance to actually have their pearls of wisdom added on the podcast. So Hannah and I are going to rapid-fire, go through all of this great stuff for the benefit of our podcast listeners who I know really want to hear from our admitted students about what their advice of going through the process was.

HANNAH: Yeah, all right. Let’s do it.

MARK: You ready? All right. All right. Cameron said, his advice was, “fall of senior year can be stressful and busy. One thing I did that helped was I blocked out Friday afternoons exclusively for fun.”

HANNAH: Aw.

MARK: “I would usually wake up the next day full of fresh ideas with a renewed sense of motivation.”

HANNAH: Wait, can I start doing that? I love it. OK, Shalena said, “I’d share words I wish someone told me as a first generation student applying to college. No matter what, you will end up where you are meant to end up as long as you genuinely show your authentic self in your application.”

MARK: Victoria said, “as an international student from Toronto, I was pretty much all alone during the admissions process to the states. I learned a lot about myself in the process, especially through the essays, which I had a great time writing. Not only did I learn about my passions and interest, but I also learned how to present and advocate for myself through the application. My advice to younger students would be to go for it because you lose nothing by trying and gain so much just by going through the application process.”

HANNAH: Ty said, “some advice I want to share with younger students is to find people that they trust to look over their applications and not get too fixated on the results of the college application process. You will excel wherever you decide to go.”

MARK: Jeffery said, “comparing yourself to your classmates even ones that you know well is actually impossible. Also, a school that might be seen easier to get into is not an indicator of what any other school is going to make in their admissions decisions either.”

HANNAH: Mm. Isabelle said, “be completely true to yourself. Don’t talk about who you wish you were or what you wish others think of you. When you finish your essay, you have to feel like you are sending a piece of yourself to the admissions officers to examine. I learned that you don’t have to be perfect, just passionate and genuine.”

MARK: Irene said, “as a first generation college applicant, I initially struggled to navigate the overwhelming sea of brochures, panels, and emails from colleges. I was able to find resources, Yale’s podcast being one of them, that gave me an impression of what the college application was like besides just intimidating numbers and statistics.

HANNAH: Olivia said, “it truly does work out the way it’s supposed to. Although there is some luck involved, I think after talking to other admits, I can sense some similarities in our personalities and thinking despite being such a diverse class.”

MARK: Nicholas said, “your story isn’t supposed to be an awe-inspiring autobiography of a super genius prodigy. For juniors, I would tell them to first reflect on how they’ve reached their best selves, what they’ve done to get here, and what they have to show for it. For those younger, I would tell them to forget about college and focus on becoming the best version of themselves.” I thought that was great.

HANNAH: Nice. Rebecca said, “I learned the importance of writing a story that is true to you. A lot of essays that worked that you may find online may make you feel like your essay must match a certain style or format. But writing a story that shows who you are is what’s most important. Find your own writing style and don’t feel pressured to write a certain way, in a similar vein, and don’t be pressured by “What Got Me Into Insert School” videos on YouTube.”

MARK: Yes, beware.

HANNAH: Beware.

MARK: Ellen said, “I don’t want–” excuse me– “I didn’t want to feel like my worth relied on an acceptance from any college. So I tried to approach my applications in a self-centered way. The application process was an opportunity to recognize my achievements and rather than feeling inadequate about the things I hadn’t done, realized what I hoped to do in the future. I reached a point where I was proud and happy to have applied to Yale even if I got rejected because after all the thinking and writing, I was more self-confident and driven.”

HANNAH: Nice. William said, “do things outside of school that genuinely interest you. Start your essays early and know that it’s OK if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life.”

MARK: Humphrey said, “I’d advise younger students to balance their college list, not just in terms of acceptance rates, but also in terms of different academics and college experiences. That way, when decisions roll around, they’ll have more choices to work with.”

HANNAH: Alexis said, “be OK with the unexpected. I’m on a very different path than I thought I would be. Enjoy this great period between admission and matriculation.”

MARK: Sophia said, “for essays, I learned to be specific, elaborating and exploring one specific topic is much more impactful than speaking broadly. When you go more specific, you can reveal all your personal qualities found in that one topic or idea.”

HANNAH: Brooke said, “focus on what you are passionate about not what career you will have. If you go where your curiosity and zeal to learn are fed, there will be ample opportunities for success and genuine happiness.”

MARK: Yu Lin said, “don’t count yourself out before you even begin. Don’t let low admissions rates scare you away from applying. Also, stay true to yourself, even if the people editing your essays disagree with you. At the end of the day, the application is supposed to represent you in the best way. I had a chemistry joke that people really didn’t like because they thought it was very cringe. Perhaps, it was, but I kept it.”

Yu Lin, if you’re going to make a chemistry joke, do it in your application to Yale–

HANNAH: It’s got to be cringe, yeah. Andre said, “don’t feel the pressure to have anything finalized until it’s submitted. The application is a living, breathing representation of you. You might want to change what schools you’re applying to, literally, two days before the apps are due, and that’s completely fine. The only important part is to get started with something. Rough college lists and essays can always be improved upon, but you can’t improve upon something that doesn’t exist.”

MARK: Word.

HANNAH: I love that one.

MARK: Yeah. Irene, “I think the thing I did best was to not fixate on a particular school but rather, create a list of things I valued in a school like size, culture, collaboration. I would advise younger students to visit all schools before they applied.” Second that for sure.

HANNAH: Yes. Colton says, “have fun while writing your essays. Don’t put too much stress on making them perfect. Just make sure they show something about you. I actually had fun while writing my essays because it felt more like creative writing.”

MARK: Sasha said, “Your essays and especially the Why Us essay are a chance to show who you are beyond the statistics. Based on your essays, your admissions officer should easily be able to see you on campus.”

HANNAH: Aneesh said, “there’s a lot of metagaming or strategizing among people nowadays to try and game the application by putting different majors or interests that aren’t necessarily what you want to study. But if the story you tell isn’t true to yourself, it comes out in your writing. I found my best applications were ones where I was authentic, genuine, and really allowed my excitement to shine through.”

MARK: Drake said, “talking with current students and recent alumni is highly valuable, whether it be through interviews or just reaching out to people. If possible, attending accepted student days”– hey, great idea– “for a few different colleges is helpful to see them as an admitted student and decide which you like best.”

HANNAH: Gia says, “if you’re the work well under pressure type, do that. If you’re not, do what works for you. I think the biggest thing to remember is that whether it’s about essays, what colleges you choose to apply to, or literally, anything else, it’s great to get advice. But your opinion matters the most. Trust yourself.”

MARK: Alyssa said, “only apply to colleges that you are truly in love with and can see yourself attending. Don’t apply just to apply. It was truly a life-changing experience for me to hit pause in my busy schedule and think about who I am as a person. It really helped me understand where my passions were and what I hope to do with my college education.”

HANNAH: Eva says, “I learned that it is important to use the community around you for hidden and underrated resources. While it’s fine to get traditional advice from professional college counselors or campus visits, it is just as helpful if not more to reach out to the people around you, teachers, librarians, former students. They often have a lot of advice that people overlook.”

MARK: I like that. Amelia says, “I learned that a process is a process. Don’t expect that everything will be decided once you hit the Submit Application button. Patience and resilience is key. Throughout the middle of the year, I learned that patience will help me stay calm and organize to finish my senior year no matter what the decisions may have been. I learned that slowing down isn’t the end of the world and the journey is much more important than the final destination.”

HANNAH: Yes Charles says, “throughout the process, I have altered my thinking from what do they want to see to how should I show them who I am? Nobody really knows how to tell that story better than you, not a consultant, not your mom, not even Reddit.”

MARK: Keira said, “you don’t have to be the next Shakespeare. It’s better to write something on on the page and get it there than have nothing at all. What I found worked best was setting a timer and writing without stopping for 10 minutes. I didn’t allow myself to delete or edit anything. With this method, I was able to write more supplements in a two-hour timespan that I previously wrote in an entire week.”

HANNAH: That’s awesome. Fareed, “I’ve learned that during the college admissions process, you can only worry about the things you can control. You can’t really worry about your past grades, your past mistakes, even failed competitions. You have to worry about what you can do in the summer before senior year and your senior year. Focus on what is ahead of you.”

MARK: Melda said, “I learned from the college application process that everything matters. Your application is in a broad sense your narrative, and every detail matters. Don’t hesitate to express your passions and interests on your college application.”

HANNAH: All right, and the last one from Tenzin says, “honestly, at the very beginning, I was super overwhelmed, specifically, with the names of all the colleges. Everyone would just toss around names of colleges and cool facts about them, and I was like, I’ve literally never heard of that place in my life. After that though, I was super mellow about it. I kind of just settled on the fact that college will be what I make of it, wherever I end up.”

MARK: All right, that was some amazing advice. Thank all of you for your fantastic–

HANNAH: Incredible advice.

MARK: –contributions. Our listeners thank you.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: And hey, Hannah, that’s a wrap on our very first episode with a live audience.

HANNAH: We did it!

MARK: All right, safe travels home, everybody. And if you are a high school junior listening, maybe we’ll see you next April at Bulldog Days. Thanks to the Bulldog Days planning team and the Yale Conference Services for helping to make this live recording happen. Thanks also to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at AndrewBrickJohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

Episode 33: 2023-2024 Application Update

Episode 33: 2023-2024 Application Update

[MUSIC PLAYING] MARK: Welcome back to Inside the Yale Admissions Office. My name is Mark, and I’m a Yale admissions officer.

HANNAH: And I’m Hannah. I’m also a Yale admissions officer.

MARK: It is time for our second annual application update episode.

HANNAH: Yes, we started this tradition last year and we promised we’d keep it going, so we’re back. This episode is going to be all about the first year application for the 2023/2024 admissions cycle.

MARK: Yeah. If you’re a podcast superfan, you can go back and listen to last year’s episode. It was episode 27. You could start really kind of overanalyzing what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, but maybe don’t recommend that. It probably be more productive to go back and listen to episode six, which was titled Essays, The Little Stuff, which we put together to be all about the Yale specific questions that we ask on the application.

HANNAH: Yeah, these are sometimes referred to as the supplemental essays. These are the questions that the Yale Admissions Office writes and we give them a little bit of an update every year.

MARK: To help us talk about the process of writing those application questions, we have another admissions officer who’s making her podcast debut. Welcome, Jackie.

JACKIE: Hi, mark. Hi, Hannah.

HANNAH: Hi, Jackie. Welcome to the podcast. So before we discuss this year’s questions, let’s just give a quick overview of how we come up with them.

MARK: It’s easy to imagine that we as admissions officers might meet every summer in some superhero villain lair somewhere like underground and we would write these questions and we’d all practice our evil laugh. How could we trick them and how could we trip them up?

HANNAH: Right. But that is not our goal. Like the application isn’t some sort of American Ninja Warrior style obstacle course that we’re designing to trip you up and weed out the weak or anything like that. That is not how we approach this.

MARK: It’s summertime, so American Ninja Warrior is on. And I just have to say, I’m a huge fan.

HANNAH: We’re an admissions office though, not a rejection office, right? We’re looking for ways and reasons to admit you.

MARK: So you should think about every single part of the application as being designed to actually help you. I know that that seems like a stretch, but truly we have put every question in there because we’ve thought this is something that could help an applicant reveal something important about themselves and give us more insights to work with when we’re considering them in the admissions committee.

HANNAH: Yeah. So when we get together to start thinking about updating these questions, we are often thinking about committee discussions and trying to remember instances where really good answers to questions helped to shape a conversation about that student.

MARK: And one of the most common reasons why we edit or we drop a question is because we found that a lot of applicants didn’t quite pick up on what we were looking for or if we found that the questions sort of tend to lead to some unhelpful responses. We all kind of sit around and remember instances in the committee where we kind of groaned or said, oh, no. Like the student didn’t quite get what the application question was for. And we tend to say, that was on us.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: We could have asked this question better.

HANNAH: We led these students astray in the way that we framed this question. So this all starts in a big, all-staff meeting at one of our annual retreats. We go through the questions one by one and just get feedback from everyone in the office who has an opinion.

MARK: Then we gather up all those notes and we take volunteers for a subcommittee that works on fine tuning and finalizing all those changes and honing in on the exact language that we’re going to use in each of these questions this year.

HANNAH: And as Jackie knows, sometimes you are voluntold for that subcommittee as opposed to volunteering based on your insightful commentary and that all-staff discussion. So Jackie was on our subcommittee this year, helping write the new application questions.

MARK: Jackie, I’ll put you on the spot. You are one of our younger admissions officers, and this means that you actually aren’t that far removed from filling out questions like this yourself. For our listeners, do you remember kind of how you approached these kind of questions as an applicant and what you tried to do with them back in the day?

JACKIE: Yeah, absolutely. I remember being really stressed about the essays once upon a time. I always felt really pulled in two different directions by the essays. Some people told me that the essays should be serious and intellectual while others told me that the essays should be more quirky and creative. And it was really difficult when I had these trusted adults with me who were sort of pulling me in two different directions. In the end, I think I decided to follow what felt most true to me, which was something in the middle. Although, I’m sure I’d be my own worst critic if I were to go back and read my own file.

But as an admissions officer, I think I’ve come to realize that the two options aren’t as mutually exclusive as I once thought they were. You can be one or the other or you can be both, but as long as you stay true to what resonates with you, I think that you’ll end up writing an essay that feels true to you. I think something that’s come up often in this job is just realizing that I work in this job because I like to read the stories of the applicants, like what makes them tick, how they perceive the world, how they reflect on the experiences that they’ve had. I think the most compelling essays are often the ones where students voice is most. Whether they choose to be serious or funny in those ways is entirely their prerogative.

MARK: And we’ve talked about this. That’s tricky. That’s absolutely the advice that we give. And I always just sort of like to acknowledge when we say that like that doesn’t instantly kind of give you insights where you say, oh, fantastic. OK. Now I know what to write.

HANNAH: Yeah, easier said than done. Yeah.

MARK: Absolutely.

HANNAH: Jackie, as a member of this subcommittee, was there anything that you particularly wanted to see included in the questions or that you were excited to elicit from applications this year?

JACKIE: Yeah. Well, selfishly, I wanted to keep the last short take, which we’ll get to.

HANNAH: OK.

JACKIE: When I applied, it was a longer version of that short take and I just really remember reveling in the fact that I had complete autonomy over what I could put in my application. But in all seriousness, the goal of working with this committee was to try and make the questions as accessible as possible. So one of the primary questions that we ask ourselves in this committee is, are we evoking the type of reflection that we expected when we asked these questions?

We don’t expect some sort of template answer as part of these– as part of asking these questions, but we do want our questions to be well thought out and to reflect the prompt that we ask. At the same time, we also can’t be so open-ended that students have no clue what direction to take the essays. And so it’s a thin line to walk.

MARK: We always try every year to get a little bit closer to that.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: Did anything surprise you about being behind the curtain for the first time this year and seeing how these questions are crafted?

JACKIE: Yeah, totally. I remember remarking in the subcommittee that I felt like I was back in a seminar room or an AP Lang classroom. We were discussing things like misplaced modifiers, parallelism. I think Mark had a thesaurus up at one point and we spent hours in quite a few email chains working through the questions.

And sometimes it felt like we struck gold and then we’d go back to a question and then we’d realize 10 minutes later that the question wasn’t asking the type of thing that we actually wanted to evoke. It felt a lot like an essay drafting process, only there was additional pressure because we might have 50,000 plus applicants reading the prompts at the end of the day. I just think most people would be surprised by the amount of time that we spend working on these prompts.

MARK: Yeah, I think that’s a good parallel. Like our experience of writing the questions is in many ways like an applicant’s experience of writing the essays themselves. And you have this experience exactly as you said, where you imagine, oh yes, I want it to get this and say this and be this way. And then you put it into words and you’re like, that’s not it. There’s that mismatch between how it works in your head and how it reads on the page. And trying to get those two things closer to each other is all part of that editing process.

HANNAH: Yeah. Should we dive in and get to the actual questions?

MARK: Let’s do it. It’s game time.

HANNAH: All right.

MARK: All right. Announcing the new short Yale specific questions for 2023/2024. And Jackie, would you do the honors today of reading these question prompts?

JACKIE: Yeah, absolutely.

MARK: All right. So if you are an applicant and you’re going to submit any of the three applications we accept for first year admissions, Coalition Application, Common Application, or QuestBridge Application, you will be asked to respond to the following three short answer questions.

JACKIE: Students at Yale have time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided. Tell us about a topic or idea that excites you and is related to one or more academic areas you selected above. Why are you drawn to it? And finally, what is it about Yale that has led you to apply?

HANNAH: And those ones are 200 words or fewer, 125 words or fewer. These are kind of short paragraphs basically.

MARK: And there’s no change this year. Surprise. These are exactly the same as they were last year. There are three different questions that Jackie just gave us. Excellent oration, Jackie. Thank you. But you can really think of them as two pieces. We’re going to ask first for your thoughts about your academic interests and then for your thoughts about Yale.

HANNAH: For both parts of this, our advice is to use the space to tell us about you, not telling us about us, right? We don’t want you to be talking too much about things we already know about Yale or about some cool topic or idea that is interesting but not necessarily connected back to you.

MARK: Right. The space here is limited and I think probably the most common pitfall we see is that people use up an awful lot of space to give us encyclopedia entries on the topic at hand or about Yale. And sometimes you learn some interesting things when reading applications. Like Jackie, I don’t know in your first year if you learned new things about Yale from the things that people had dug really deep into Google research to write their why Yale prompts.

JACKIE: Yeah, apparently Yale has a really strong Baroque program.

HANNAH: Who knew?

MARK: Oh yes. Baroque operas. Operas are standing at Yale. I knew that, but I’m a geek.

HANNAH: Yeah, but we want to hear more about you and why you specifically are excited or feel like you are a good fit for Yale.

MARK: I will say the other common issue that I find in these responses is that students tend to use the future tense gratuitously in these. And they tend to answer them as if they’re going to use the space to give us a wild fantasy about what their perfect life would be like as a Yale student, and what their perfect life would be like as an academic or a professional after I majored in x, y, and z.

And the whole thing is sort of framed in terms of like, at Yale, I will do this and this and this, and then after Yale I will do this. And I’m interested in this topic because it will mean that I can become a path-breaking surgeon who’s going to create a new way to do this amazing medical thing. And I’m sort of imagining that seems like an interesting future person, but it’s not actually telling me all that much and all that directly who the person applying right now is.

HANNAH: And remember, we’re very deliberate with our wording here. We’re asking you to reflect on why you’re drawn to a particular topic or idea in that first question or what has led you to apply to Yale. That’s present tense and past tense.

MARK: Right.

HANNAH: Yeah.

MARK: You will see as we do these questions, we often have a two-part structure to them. There’s like a sentence that leads up to it. Or in the case of the very first one, just asking to select majors several sentences. And then the last sentence is the thing that’s actually giving you the direction for the essay. So like hone in on that why are you drawn to a particular topic idea. You want the focus of your 200-word response to be that why and what has led you to apply to Yale. Focus on that piece, which is past tense.

HANNAH: Right. So if you’re applying to Yale with QuestBridge, you’ll only need to answer those questions we’ve just discussed since you have a lot of other questions to answer in the QuestBridge application. But if you apply with a Common App or the Coalition Application, we have some more questions. We have four very short answer questions that we call short takes. Two of these are new this year and two are returning from last year. Jackie, would you like to do the honors?

JACKIE: Short takes are my favorite. I think I love reading them when I’m reading an application because there’s such a quick take. The first is, what inspires you? If you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be? Other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you? What has been the impact of their influence? What is something about you that is not included anywhere else in your application?

HANNAH: Yeah, so that last one is the one you were referring to earlier Jackie that you really wanted to keep in, right? So that one is unchanged from last year. Those were often very insightful and revealing.

MARK: Yes, that was new last year and we liked it a lot.

HANNAH: –stick with it. Yeah.

MARK: And similarly, the first one, what inspires you, has been around for a while and we like that one as well. We like that it’s very open-ended. It’s a nice, concise question, and we get some great things out of there.

HANNAH: We get a broad range of approaches to this question and it works out really well. Our advice for all of these, especially the one that’s like something about you that’s not included anywhere else in your application, truly don’t overthink it. The best answer is really do tell us something new, but that can be big or small. It can be serious. It can be silly. It can be whatever you want it to be.

MARK: Right. We kind of got the sense from the responses we received last year that applicants kind of liked having a space to add in something meaningful or interesting that otherwise wouldn’t fit. I think that’s how you should approach this. You could tell us about something that you’ve done certainly that might be interesting that didn’t fit, but don’t think about this as just like, oh, they gave me an extra entry on my activities list. Like there’s an extra resume bullet that I can add here and they should know that I’ve accomplished something very impressive and like here’s where we would learn about it in this space.

HANNAH: There’s other places in the application designed for that, so use this for something different.

MARK: So then we have two new short take questions. The first is this one, if you could teach any college course, write a book, or create an original piece of art of any kind, what would it be?

HANNAH: So this is replacing a question that we’ve had for a long time, which is, you are teaching a new Yale course. What is it called? And I have always loved that question, so I’m a little nervous this year. I’m curious what we’re going to get with this new one.

MARK: Right. This was a staff favorite. It wasn’t just you, Hannah. A lot of people liked this question. We had it for a long time. It was fun to read a lot of hypothetical courses. And oftentimes we said like, we really want to take that class. That’s great.

HANNAH: Yeah. Right. Right. But we sometimes got the sense that putting 17-year-old applicants in the position of thinking about teaching specifically was tricky. And we got a lot of also gimmicky responses that were very clever and maybe made us laugh but weren’t necessarily that revealing.

JACKIE: So with this new question, our goal was just to be as expansive as possible. And so we’re just trying to encourage you to think big. So we didn’t want to limit you just to a college course. We wanted you to think about what you might teach, what you might write, or what you might create right now. Also, this isn’t designed just to tee you up to say, after I major in x at Yale, I’ll do this super impressive thing.

Remember, this is a present tense sort of question. Think about the kind of thing that you’d love to create if you had unlimited resources plus the knowledge and the talents to match your grandest ambitions. What sort of thing would you most like to attach your name to?

HANNAH: The other new question is, other than a family member, who is someone who has had a significant influence on you, and what has been the impact of their influence?

MARK: This is replacing another question that has been on our application for a while that was about someone you’d like to invite to speak at something specific to Yale that’s called a College Tea. That’s a special Yale event where we have an intimate conversation with important guests.

It was interesting, but the issue we found that we kind of just got a lot of name-dropping and not a lot of revealing reflection. And the question seemed to tell us more about what celebrities or personalities were just kind of trending with high school students this year. It was like this very slow, analog version of Twitter and who was trending on Twitter just to see, OK, who’s trending in short take three this year?

HANNAH: Yeah. And like sometimes when those answers were great, it was because there was something insightful about the actual question that they would ask the person they’re inviting, but that didn’t really happen often enough, I think.

JACKIE: Yeah, often felt like that question was entirely about someone else and not about the applicant themselves.

MARK: Exactly. And I will say that’s, in this case, the trap that you want to avoid. And I want to make clear like we didn’t set you up to trap you. We’re not trying to set you up for failure, but any time that there’s a question about a relationship, it can be a little bit dangerous because we find that students can be tempted to use the space to write about the other person.

HANNAH: Right. Right. But like pay attention to the second part of the question there, which is, what has been the impact of their influence? The way you answer that is more important than who you choose.

MARK: We explicitly said other than a family member because we sort of assumed that if we didn’t have that disclaimer at the front, overwhelmingly we would be getting family members. Nothing wrong with that, but we just said, hey, we want to encourage people to actually look outside of just their immediate family. We think that’d be more revealing.

HANNAH: Yeah. And if you end up going to college at a place like Yale, you were going to be surrounded by people who have the potential to have a huge impact on you and who you may be inspired by. So this is setting us up to see, OK, who in your current world have you kind of recognized that in.

MARK: And it’s probably worth clarifying, this could be someone that you’ve known personally: a teacher, a mentor, a friend, or a neighbor. It could also be someone you’ve never met but who’s just influence how you see the world. It could be an author or an artist or an academic out there and you say, wow, I read this book or I saw this show, I saw this performance and it really changed me. And as I think about who I am right now, some insight into me can be revealed by understanding that I’ve been affected by this thing.

HANNAH: So next up is the longer and the last Yale specific question. This one is about 400 words. So it’s sort of a slightly shorter version of the Common App essay. And you’ll choose from three possible prompts.

JACKIE: Reflect on a time you discussed an issue important to you with someone holding an opposing view. Why did you find the experience meaningful? Reflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you like. Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you?

HANNAH: I noticed a trend, which is that every single one of those start with the word reflect.

MARK: Yes, that was intentional. We are giving you three different avenues for reflection. You get to choose your own adventure. You can talk about an experience that’s personal to you. That was that third option. You can talk about your meaningful membership in a community. That was the second one. Or you can talk about a meaningful interaction with another person that involves opposing views. In some ways, this is sort of like first person, second person, third person. You can choose which mode is going to be most revealing for you to dive into.

HANNAH: Right. So like an individual experience, an experience with one other person, or an experience with a larger community. But whichever one of those paths you choose to go down, it should still be about you.

MARK: Essential. It must be about you.

HANNAH: Yes. And the first two prompts about discussing an issue with someone and community membership are similar to questions that we asked last year, but we have adjusted them a bit to try to emphasize reflection over description and storytelling.

MARK: We found that a common issue with last year’s question about a discussion with opposing viewpoints was that people spend a lot of time in space, either kind of just detailing the interaction itself or explaining why they felt they were right and the other person was wrong.

HANNAH: Right. Yes, that happened a lot last year. And again, like that’s on us. That’s due to the way that we ask the question. But this year we really wanted to focus that question on why these sorts of discussions matter. And when you’ve had one of these experiences, what did you take away from it?

MARK: And remember, first word in all of the essay prompts, reflection. We care about the reflection, not the specifics of your views or your reasons for holding them. We want you to reflect on the experience that you had with somebody else.

JACKIE: Yeah. And kind of similarly, our community prompt also looks a lot like last year’s. The big change here is removing a phrase about working to enhance a community. We kind of found that a lot of applicants thought they needed to describe the specifics of a service project or do a little bit of bragging about how their leadership role helped improve a club at a school or something like that, which is fine.

There were a lot of great essays that were based around those things, but we wanted to point you in a slightly different direction this year. We wanted to keep it a little more simple. We’re all members of lots of communities. Think about one that connects you with others and why it’s meaningful.

MARK: Right. And finally, we added a new prompt this year. Our goal here is just to give the most direct possible route to personal reflection and to tie that reflection specifically to something that you will bring to college.

JACKIE: Yeah, note that we say enrich your college, not enrich your college experience. So we’re not asking you to tell us why you are going to be a super strong student who’s an awesome leader and does a million cool activities once you’re in college, right?

MARK: Right. But we do want you to think about how something you’ve experienced, something that has shaped you would be an asset in a college environment where students come from a wide range of backgrounds with lots of lived experiences, and the whole environment is set up to encourage students to learn from each other.

HANNAH: Yeah. So a good way to start thinking about this is to ask yourself, what is something that I’ve experienced that not everyone my age has experienced? And how has that kind of played a role in shaping me into the unique person I am now?

MARK: Right. And all you really need to do in this essay is tell us about it. What is it and how has it shaped you? You don’t need to use the space convincing us that it will enrich the college you attend, but you need to do the work of identifying that thing that you think they would like to hear about this and I think that this would be an asset for me in college.

HANNAH: Yeah. I’m excited to read these, so good luck and send us something good.

MARK: All right. Yeah. Well, let’s give you some just sort of parting final advice for this year’s essays. I’m going to say, start with this. Think about what you like about Yale that’s made you want to apply and then use those questions to help us connect the dots. By the time that we reach this part of your application, we already have a sense of your accomplishments. We’ve already seen some general reflection from you and your personal statement.

By this point in the application, we are intrigued, we are excited, and we really want to start sort of connecting the dots between this interesting and ambitious person and our school specifically. So think about making those connections in this part of the application.

HANNAH: These can be places to be clever or funny or serious or to showcase different facets of yourself that didn’t get much space in other parts of the application. There are many, many different ways to successfully approach these types of questions, but the most important thing is they always need to be revealing.

MARK: Right. You want to think about each one of them as an opportunity, not an assignment, not an exam question, not an apparatus on the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course.

HANNAH: Right. Right. And if you aren’t planning to enroll in college in fall 2024, your questions may very well be different depending on how this goes this year. Next spring, we might be sitting around talking about how these topics didn’t work out as expected and we’ll tweak them once again. Jackie will be back to think up some new questions for you.

MARK: Any other final pieces of advice, Jackie, to share with our listening audience?

JACKIE: Yeah. I just want to echo what we’ve been talking about, which is this idea of reflection throughout the essay and the application process. As you approach the application, always approach it from a standpoint of trying to communicate who you are and how you think about things. And again, don’t focus on what you think we want us to hear. Focus instead on what you want to convey to us.

HANNAH: Great advice. Well, happy writing, and we’re excited to see what you come up with here and how you interpret and approach these questions.

MARK: We’re looking forward to reading answers to these 50,000 plus times over the next few months.

HANNAH: Yes.

MARK: Well, Jackie, thank you for joining us on the podcast today. We’re delighted to have you and hope we have back soon.

JACKIE: Yeah, thank you for having me, guys.

MARK: All right. Thanks, of course, to Reed for lending us his office. Thanks to former admissions officer Andrew Brick Johnson, who composes our music. You should check him out at andrewbrickjohnson.com.

HANNAH: If you have comments or an idea for an episode, drop us a line at yaleadmissionspodcast@gmail.com. And finally, remember that the views expressed in this podcast are ours and don’t necessarily represent those of Yale University. Thanks for listening.