Yale employs targeted outreach strategies

Tyler Foggatt

February 10, 2015

Yale is the only school in the Ivy League that did not see an overall increase in applications this year — an outcome that may have resulted from new outreach strategies targeted at specific groups of applicants.

Yale received 30,227 applications for the class of 2019. While this is the second-highest number of applications ever submitted to the college, it remains a 2.2 percent decrease from last year’s figure. Across the Ivy League, Dartmouth and Brown reported slight increases in the number of applications received, while Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Columbia each reported all-time high application totals. Cornell has not yet released numbers for this year.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said last week that it is common for peer institutions to drum up application numbers by marketing to students who are unlikely to be competitive applicants. In contrast, he said, Yale only targets high-achieving students who are likely to gain admission to the University.

“Yale restrains its marketing efforts in an effort to focus attention on the most competitive potential applicants,” Quinlan said in an email.

Director of Outreach and Recruitment Mark Dunn ’07 said that in contrast with previous admissions cycles, the Admissions Office did not market heavily to students who seemed uninterested in Yale during the college search process. In accordance with University-wide cost cutting, the Admissions Office trimmed its outreach budget by sending out fewer materials to these students this year, he said.

“We tried to find the group of applicants that we felt we could identify as just not that into Yale,” Dunn said. “They’re strong academic students, but as we’ve sent out materials in the past, we saw that they were not engaging with Yale. They weren’t visiting campus or going to information sessions on the road, and they had not applied in significant numbers.”

The Admissions Office was able to identify roughly 16,000 of these unlikely applicants, Dunn said. These students did not receive viewbooks this year, he added, the most expensive piece of Yale’s outreach mailing in terms of printing and shipping.

Instead, Dunn said, the Admissions Office specifically targeted high-achieving, low-income students this admissions cycle, sending them supplemental mailings about Yale’s financial aid policies. During the summer of 2013, the Admissions Office began sending informational postcards to prospective applicants in certain areas, he added. The first postcard was about Yale’s net price, Dunn said, and the second outlined the process of applying for an application fee waiver.

In accordance with a commitment Yale made to the White House last January, for this cycle the Admissions Office expanded this initiative by incorporating a third element to these mailings — a letter from a current student receiving a generous financial aid package, Dunn said.

In comparison to last year, the University saw a 10 percent increase in applications from students who received these targeted mailings about Yale’s affordability. Applicants interviewed said they appreciated these mailings and found them to be very informative.

“I did receive several mailings from Yale,” said Santiago Vargas, a high school senior from Massachusetts. “These resources were actually fairly helpful in summarizing what Yale has to offer.”

Dunn said he is unaware of whether Yale’s peer institutions employed similar outreach methods this cycle, but he imagines that they are also doing various kinds of targeted outreach. Dunn said colleges may determine their outreach methods to target the groups that are underrepresented at each school.

College counselors interviewed said the University’s targeted marketing efforts are likely what caused the slight drop in applications this year, and they commended Yale’s efforts to reach out to students who may be less informed about the availability of need-based financial aid.

“Every year colleges get better and better at marketing to students, and they market to students who are unqualified for admission,” said Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm. “It sounds like Yale tried something experimental this year, and it does look like it hurt their application numbers, and will invariably hurt their admission rate.”

But William Morse ’64, who worked for Yale’s Admissions Office from 1978 to 1982 and is currently a private educational consultant, said this year’s increase in applicants from low-income census tracts is more important than the University’s overall application total. This is exactly where the Admissions Office should be putting its time, energy and attention, Morse said.

Michael Goran, director and founder of IvySelect College Counseling, said Yale will continue to be at the top of many students’ lists, regardless of small changes in application numbers from year to year.

“When you’re talking about over 30,000 applications, I don’t think incremental fluctuations are significant,” Goran said. “I applaud Yale for seeking out low-income, high-achieving students and following through on their [White House] commitment, relative to what Harvard, the other Ivies and Stanford do.”

In addition to targeted mailings, Yale has used group travel sessions with peer universities to reach out to prospective applicants, Dunn said.

The University has also expanded its ambassador program, he added, with more than 300 student ambassadors who will visit over 600 high schools around the country this year.

“Recognizing that we are in a place where we’re turning down more than 90 percent of the very qualified applicants who come at us, we’re conscious about being very thoughtful in terms of the outreach that we’re doing and thinking about who wants to hear what from us,” Dunn said.

Yale accepted 6.3 percent of its applicants last year.