In high school the best students often use to the fullest the resources available to them. There are stories of Bill Gates, along with his friend Paul Allen, hacking into the computer system at Lakeside high school. Tales of students who begin on the school newspaper as freshmen and gradually expand their responsibilities to managing editors are legion. These are the type of applicants many of the most selective schools seek.
It makes sense. Students who show leadership, assertiveness, and originality in high school are likely to build upon these traits in college. These kinds of students are involved with their campuses, and the lives of their fellow students and faculty, and this generally leads to a successful college career, and beyond. This is confirmed by a comprehensive review of the results of more than 2,500 research studies: “The impact of college is not simply the result of what a college does for a student. Rather, the impact is a result of the extent to which an individual student exploits the people, programs, facilities, opportunities, and experiences the college makes available.” (Thriving in College & Beyond, Cuseo, Fecas, and Thompson, Kendall Hunt Publishing, Iowa, 2007)
Think about this from the standpoint of a selective institution. Yale, for example, even with its hefty tuition price tag of just under $40,000, spends $142,000 per full-time (FTE) student. In essence, through its endowment, grants, and other sources of revenue, Yale is subsidizing each student attending to the tune of about $100,000 per year. Additionally, if a student’s HH Income is less than $200,000, the family pays only 10% of its income towards tuition, a discount of $20,000 off the sticker price. Yale wants each student that matriculates to do well, very well. They’re betting a minimum of $400,000 on each undergraduate that attends.
With the stakes this high, the admissions office subjects candidates to severe scrutiny (as you’d expect), and does want to get a picture of not only how well a student will do academically, and the Yale admissions office is not shy to mention that the top 6,000 applicants are virtually interchangeable, which means most candidates will be able to handle the academic workload and almost equally add to the Yale community, but how well they might exploit what Yale has to offer. Your candidacy is therefore critically affected by your actions and efforts in high school.
So, Yale is looking for students who will immerse themselves in the college and its resources, and take initiative to discover and define how the campus will meet their intellectual, athletic, aesthetic, and community service needs and desires.
Intellectually, the school wants students who are self-motivated learners. If you’re planning to take the humanities or social science tract, you would seriously consider the Directed Studies program freshman year. If you’re more geared to the sciences or engineering, then the Perspectives in Science tract might be part of your plan for freshman year. Additionally, getting to know the resources of the campus, from its 12.5 million volume library to some of the exhibits in the British Museum of Art, to where can you get assistance on writing a paper, or even figuring out how to attack a new subject area through the learning center or department.
Even athletically, there are many nuances of participation between the various college intramural games, to the full-fledged Division 1-AA interscholastic teams. Or possibly taking a karate class at the Payne Whitney gymnasium during a steel gray day in February might be desired.
From the standpoint of taking advantage of the artistic elements available among the classes, the museums, the dramas, the singing groups, the ensembles, or even studying the architecture of the campus, students need the vitality and drive to uncover the areas of interests.
I haven’t even begun to cover the Political Union, or participating in undergraduate research projects, or submitting articles to the Yale Daily News…you get the idea. With so much to offer, Yale wants to find students who will exploit its resources: this is absolutely a key criterion when your application is being evaluated in the admissions office. All interested candidates should take note; although all the prepared candidates probably already have.