Yale Admissions Officer Scott Clark Shares Insight into the Admissions process wit AC's Marissa Becker

Posted by Marissa Beker

'Tis the season for submitting last minute college applications. AsianConnections' Marissa Becker sits down for a rare interview with Yale Admissions Officer Scott Clark.

As students are putting the final touches on their college admissions applications, Yale Admissions Officer Scott Clark shares insight on the complex selection process in a rare interview with AsianConnections' Marissa Becker.

Marissa What advice can you share for students applying to college today?

Scott: The biggest piece of advice that I would have for students is just to relax as they go through this for several reasons.

For one, getting your heart rate up is unhealthy and nobody wants to see that.

Two, it ends up being counter productive for your goals, as far as getting into schools and doing well, being happy and being successful because youll be making choices based on anxiety, based on status, what have you, and those are all the wrong reasons to make your decisions.

And so, were very concerned about all the anxiety thats coming into play these days and we really want to just see students emotionally divest a little bit, not get so wrapped up into getting into the most prestigious college but rather spend their time finding the college where they think theyll be happy and where they think they will be successful.

Your self esteem, your self worth has absolutely no business being wrapped up in this because if most students dont get in, then you can just think to yourself of actually being in good company if youre actually not admitted. Youre in the majority in that case.

Basically, to just understand that so few people in the world even get to go to college. This should be exciting, this shouldnt be a stressful time because no matter what happens, if youre the type of student whos considering a school like Yale, youre going to go to college, youre going to go to a good college.

Marissa: With the highly competitive nature in getting into college these days, especially with Yale, how do you go about the selection process of who gets in, and who does not?

Scott: Were an academic institution and so we begin with those as pre-requisites. Were definitely looking for the academic super stars. Youve got to have good grades, good test scores and those things absolutely have to be top notch. Then once we move beyond those things, it really does get a lot more subjective.

We then start looking at essays, teacher recommendations, and your extra curricular activities. You have to be very active, your essays have to be well written. Your teachers have to be willing to advocate you very firmly, very vigorously and really be willing to go to bat for you. In that sense, it is somewhat objective, that you can measure those things relative to the other students.

But then, it really does become subjective in terms of what really is an enjoyable essay to read, which activities are you doing that we find interesting, do we see you being happy at Yale? Do we think that Yale will be a good fit for you? Do we think that you will add to the Yale community?

Will you be more than just a number there, more than just another intelligent student? So many eyes are looking at the application in addition to the geographic area being represented. For example, I will read all the applications from Southern California first and then well have another reader and then itll get to the committee.

So, at least, there are several sets of subjective eyes that are looking at these things and so although there is a great measure of subjectivity to it, we think that there are several checks and balances in our system that give a student the best chance possible.

Marissa: How do you weigh legacy admissions?

Scott: First of all, to clarify legacy admissions, its only if your parents and grandparents went to Yale. We dont consider you a legacy if you had a brother, sister, aunt or uncle that went to Yale. If your parents or grandparents went to Yale, and you are a very strong candidate along the lines we just talked about, then the scales are tipping admit for you, then that can be something that can be very much in your favor.

If the scales are already not tipping admit, youre not a student who would get in or have a very good chance otherwise, then your legacy status is not very relevant.

Marissa: In addition to reviewing the admissions applications that come into Yale, you actually go out and scout? How do you go about doing that?

Scott: Scouting for me is coming out to Southern California, my geographic area. Its more about helping the students identifying themselves than it is about us identifying the actual students.

There are many students out there for whom Yale would be a great place, theyre certainly intelligent enough to be there and they would certainly add a lot to the community.

I think there is very strong feeling across the country and definitely in other countries that Yale is a place for perhaps the very wealthy or the students who are at the absolute tip top, the best grades, the best test scores and that there is no room for diversity in there.

One of the things that we want to make the students understand is that although we want students who are at the top academically, there is room at the top! It doesnt necessarily mean only straight As and only perfect test scores. We are looking for very talented people and for some students, talent is in the academic realm and for others it could be their talent is in music or athletics.

And so for me, its important to go out and share these things with students so they can realize that Yale could be a place for them. We really want to help them identify Yale as a potential place for them to spend their four years. So thats what the scouting means, to make the students aware what Yale has to offer.

We want to make them aware of what it takes to be there and help them see that Yale is definitely something that is possible, particularly for those students from lower middle class or poor backgrounds, and for students in public schools who might think that Yale is a bastion of the elite and privileged. We want to make it clear to them that it is something thats do-able and realistic.

Marissa: What should athletes know before they apply to Yale?

Scott: For students who are going to be recruited as varsity athletes, first of all, what they should know is that we are not a scholarship giving school. We are part of the Ivy League, we dont go out and do much recruiting of our own. For the most part, these student-athletes have to identify themselves to us.

So, if you are a competitive athlete, and you want to be recruited, youre probably going to have to make the coach aware. You will have to make a phone call or send an email to the coach and then theyll work with you on exactly what needs to happen.

You need to be aware that its something we consider a talent, it can be very much in your favor but the other components of the application really are very relevant still. We are not making admissions decisions just on the basis of a students athletic talent. Their academic talent and the other components of the application are going to be weighed just as heavily for them as for anybody else.

Marissa: For artists, singers, musicians and other students with special creative abilities, can they include samples of their work in their application?

Scott: They definitely can. Unfortunately, were not able to accept theatrical performances or dance performances. That is simply because those departments are reviewing those things for us. We, in the admissions office, are not really qualified to review a students art work or musical work. The Music department has agreed to review those things and the Art department has agreed to review slides but the other departments have not made that agreement with us.

So, if students are talented in those areas even if they dont plan on majoring in those areas, they should definitely still submit samples of their work to help us know exactly where their talents lie and the ways they can be adding to the Yale community.

Marissa: Financial aid is always a concern for many students applying to college, how does Yales financial aid program work?

Scott: I should preface it by saying that I think we have a really awesome financial aid program. First of all, were need blind for all students, that is domestic and international . So, were never considering a students parents ability to pay when were making our admissions decisions. Second, were need based which means we dont provide scholarship based on academic merit, athletic talent or anything like that.

Rather, its simply what your parents need is what Yale is committed to providing. Were just very fortunate to be a school that is as well endowed as it is financially and really just able to afford to make Yale a possibility for all students. So, we really do believe that pretty much every family around the world actually can afford it and we really do believe that.

There are a few exceptions to it. So basically, students submit the forms, and then Yale does the number crunching. We plug things into a formula, but then we have a lot of professional discretion. If a student has a father who works on commission, and you know that would mean that his salary would fluctuate, Yale would make adjustments for that.

If a student has parents that have other financial concerns that dont show up on their tax returns, Yale will still take those things into consideration. So, basically, the goal of our financial aid office is to make Yale financially possible for all students regardless of their background.

Marissa: How does the personal interview work, and is it necessary to have one to be admitted to Yale?

Scott: We highly recommend that a student have an interview if they are given that option, but were not able to offer that to all students , and so we cannot make it a requisite for admissions.

Particularly students in certain foreign countries, were just not going to be able to interview them all, although we do try because we do have Yale alumni all over the world. But if were not able to do it, a student should not be overly concerned that being admitted is not going to be possible for them.

Basically, youll be contacted after youve submitted your application and your interviewer will arrange a place for you to meet. Youll sit together and discuss yourself, theyre not really interested in you academically in the same way we are in the admissions office.

Theyre really just interested in you personally, do they see you at Yale? Do they think that Yale will be a good fit for you? Do they think that youll be happy there, from their perspective as someone who spent four years there.

They then submit their recommendation to us, basically they write up the interview report as a narrative of how the interview went. We then make our judgment based on what weve seen on the application. We kind of put things together to create as complete a picture of you as possible.

Marissa: Theres always that rivalry with the Ivy League schools, especially between Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Why should a student consider Yale over Harvard or Princeton?

Scott: The answer is really quite simple, its because Yale is the best! Just kidding. But really, speaking professionally, we think that they are simply different experiences. Its really hard to say that any is better or worse, they are just different experiences.

I think that its very important that as students do their research, that they check out the schools, see what they have to offer, then make a determination as to what is the very best experience for them. I would always rather let Harvard or Princeton students speak for themselves, but I can say that Yales focus is on the undergraduate.

We are a research university but were also focused on undergraduate education. We have a unique set-up for campus life with the residential college system with students being divided into smaller groups creating a more manageable social setting.

We think that our city, New Haven, where were located, is just a fantastic place to spend four years. Its a mid-sized town that offers a lot of great opportunity, both cultural, social, night-life, that sort of thing.

So, I can say that Yale has all of these great things and its a really interesting and fun place to go to school, but its a completely different experience than living in Cambridge, Massachusetts or living in Princeton, New Jersey. So, its essential that students do their research and figure out which experience is right for them.

Marissa: Is there a higher probability that an applicant could be flat out denied during early admissions over regular decision?

Scott: No, the probability of being denied is always just high, whether you apply early or regular. The reality is that you can do everything right and still not be admitted. Thats a harsh reality and one that were certainly not pleased with, but thats why we tell students that they diversify their options and apply to several schools.

But being denied early or being denied regular, we firmly believe that any student whos denied early wouldve been denied regular and any student admitted early also wouldve been admitted regular.

Marissa: Would you rather take an applicant who takes harder classes during their high school career but not doing as well or someone who takes easier classes and doing very well?

Scott: Simply put, you absolutely must take the harder classes. Not doing as well, I suppose could be defined as having a few Bs as opposed to a student who took easier classes and got straight As.

In our minds, there really isnt a big difference between a transcript with straight As and a transcript with three or four Bs quite honestly. However, that being said, you still need to be doing very well in the difficult classes that youre taking because we need to be certain that you can also do well in the difficult classes that Yale has to offer.

Thats why its so important to us that we see that youre challenging yourself very much in your high school career, but not over challenging yourself. Not providing so much of a challenge that youre burning out or ceasing to enjoy your work because then that defeats the purpose. We want you to love learning because youre choosing your classes.

You are the architect of your educational experience at Yale and so we need to be quite certain that you are someone who enjoys learning and youre not doing it simply to get somewhere and not just simply to build your resume.

And so while we advocate challenge, while we say that you must take difficult courses, overloading yourself and then
burning out and then learning to hate your courses will be counter productive.

Marissa: Do you prefer the SAT over the ACT, or are both equally accepted?

Scott: Both are equally accepted because we recognize especially in many countries not both exams are offered. Our requirements for testing are very, very broad to give students the most options possible. Essentially, we say that you have one of two choices, generally, depending on what country youre located in.

The SAT 1 in tandem with three SAT IIs, any three SAT IIs you want, just play to your strengths as far as which ones you choose. Or you may take the ACT by itself, equally weighted, equally as acceptable and then sometimes in some situations we find that we may have to make some exceptions to that, were always willing to do so, just whatever is available to the students.

Marissa And the best advice that you want to convey to the students applying to college is just to relax and try not to make the application process a stressful one, as you mentioned in the beginning of our interview?

Scott Absolutely.

Marissa: Thanks Scott for sharing your thoughts with us.

Scott: You are very welcome.