New at Yale (but not to New Haven)
When Chelsea Coronel, a recent graduate of New Haven’s Wilbur Cross High School, starts at Yale this month, she’ll see familiar faces on the pathways and quads: six of her Cross classmates will be Yale College classmates too.
Jacquelin Onofre-Avila, an incoming student from Achievement First Amistad High School, a New Haven public charter school, can likewise count on immediate connections — her best friend from Amistad will be a fellow first-year.
The same is true for Julia Rosado of New Haven’s Hillhouse High School; her best friend from Hillhouse will also be a freshly minted Yalie.
In all, 17 students from seven high schools in the New Haven Public Schools system are part of the incoming Yale College Class of 2027 — just shy of the decades-long record of 19, set two years ago by the Class of 2025. (That group included students admitted to earlier classes who deferred enrollment due to the pandemic.)
“Yale draws promising students from across the globe, but we also benefit from an abundance of talented and ambitious young people in our own backyard,” said Jeremiah Quinlan ‘03, who became dean of undergraduate admissions in 2013 and has overseen significant increases in Yale College enrollment by local public school students. “With a remarkably diverse population and a wide assortment of high school options, New Haven public schools graduates are prepared to succeed at many colleges across the country, including Yale.”
The number of New Haven public school students annually entering the college has been trending upward for the past 15 years — from two in 2008 to a recent seven-year average of nearly 15. The dramatic increase is the result of a sustained, multi-faceted, and expanding effort by Yale, the New Haven schools, and community partners, such as New Haven Promise and Squash Haven, to encourage and help local students prepare for higher education — and to make clear that Yale is an option for some of them, regardless of ability to pay.
Increasing representation of local public high school students within Yale College is more than a matter of soliciting applications. Many local students are from families with limited financial resources and would be first-generation college students. Helping them find their interests, build their strengths, and become familiar with the culture and mechanisms of higher education are key elements in expanding the pool of well-prepared applicants, both for Yale and for other colleges where New Haven students seek admission.
To this end, the university has developed an ecosystem of opportunities for middle and secondary school students to learn directly from Yale students and faculty, and in many cases to experience Yale from the inside. While some educational enrichment programs have existed for decades, the number and variety of them has increased significantly over the last 10-15 years. University-wide, there are now dozens of distinct programs representing hundreds of individual sessions over the course of a year.
“It’s not Yale just saying we have a commitment to the New Haven Public Schools,” said Patricia Wei, associate director of undergraduate admissions, who aims to visit each city public high school at least once annually, almost unheard of for a school district as large as New Haven’s. “We are showing that.”
Yale from inside
The enrichment programs expose students to a wide variety of intellectual fields, a mere sampling of which would include, among the sciences, computer science, neuroscience, robotics, and human anatomy; among the arts, playwriting, music, and photography; and humanistic thinking broadly. Some activities last part of a day, others unfurl over weeks or months. And some are fully immersive experiences in which students live on the Yale campus, such as Citizens Thinkers Writers, a two-week summer residential program that brings New Haven public school students to campus for seminars led by Yale academics with an emphasis on close reading, analytic writing, and college-level discussion. Many programs involve developing life and study skills as well as subject-specific learning. All are free for New Haven public school students. (The Yale Office of New Haven Affairs website maintains an extensive list of youth programs.)
A major umbrella program called Yale Pathways to Science offers on-campus experiences for students from middle through high school. “Science on Saturdays,” for instance, brings to Yale hundreds of local students from a panoply of schools for weekend lectures, demonstrations, and experiments led by Yale students and professors. No advance registration or regular commitment is required. Students may come often or drop in occasionally, as they like.
“It’s voluntary — and that’s a great thing for teenagers these days,” said Claudia Merson, director of public school partnerships in Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs.
Coronel, Onofre-Avila, and Rosado all participated in Pathways programming. From middle through high school, Rosado devoted more than 1,600 hours to it, initially tagging along with her big sister, then on her own. “Time really flies when you’re learning!” she said winkingly in an interview in June, as she was planning her valedictory speech for Hillhouse High’s commencement.
Beyond frequent partial-day enrichment events, Yale also offers intensive multi-week and semester-long experiences for local public school students. Rosado participated in the six-week Yale Pathways Summer Research Internship (YPRI), which places students in Yale science labs where they work directly with Yale students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors. And she enrolled, for free and for credit, in a regular semester-long Yale College course.
Any given semester, 20 or more juniors and seniors from the New Haven, West Haven, and Orange (Amity) public high schools are enrolled in Yale undergraduate courses, part of a program that exemplifies the partnership between local schools and the university. The schools identify students who are ready for and interested in doing college-level work; Yale brings them into its classrooms and provides instruction at no cost.
In the most recent year, students have taken classes in sociology, psychology, Russian, computer science, African American studies, and other fields.
Rosado took “Purposes of College Education,” a course developed and taught by Pericles Lewis, a comparative literature professor who also happens to be the dean of Yale College.
The course turned out to be especially influential. One day, as Rosado strolled across Beinecke Plaza en route to a discussion session at the Humanities Quadrangle, she realized that, after a lifetime in New Haven, where she was born and raised, and despite wondering if she ought to venture farther afield for college, Yale felt fully real — and a genuine possibility for her.
“‘This is actually a place I would enjoy being at,’” she remembers thinking. “People that I knew were there, and they were happy.”
Rosado applied early action — and by December knew that if she wanted Yale, Yale wanted her. Now they’ve made a match.
Another important factor in the rising number of New Haven public school students attending Yale is the university’s heavy investment in financial aid, according to Wei.
Yale College, which has steadily enhanced its financial aid policies, does not expect parents earning less than $75,000 annually, and with typical assets, to make any contribution toward the cost of their child’s education. Financial aid awards for these families, which are known as zero parent share awards, cover the full cost of all billed expenses — tuition, housing, meal plan, and hospitalization insurance.
In all, more than 3,500 undergraduates currently receive need-based financial aid from Yale, with an average Yale grant of more than $66,000 — an amount that exceeds the current cost of tuition.
It’s been a high priority to “help students understand that we are affordable,” Wei said, and to dispel the notion that Yale College is “beyond reach.”
For Coronel, a first-generation college student and the youngest of four children, this was an encouraging message, one she heard from both Yale admissions representatives and mentors at Squash Haven, the Yale-affiliated non-profit where she’s been a regular since middle school. “I know that the financial aid will be good enough for me to attend,” she said.
Squash Haven, which is free and open to New Haven youth, played an important role in Coronel’s college journey. Beyond teaching her to play a “really cool underground sport” that she’s come to love and providing regular academic tutoring, typically from Yale students, it welcomed her into a community that, she said, “feels like a team and a family.”
This was especially the case during the pandemic. As soon as public health guidance permitted, Squash Haven invited students to hit balls against an exterior wall of the group’s Ashmun Street headquarters, Coronel said. “I really appreciated that,” she said. “It was a way of destressing.”
Squash Haven also organizes and leads students on college tours. Through the group, Coronel visited more than 25 colleges, including Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Wesleyan, Williams, and, of course, Yale, where Squash Haven students play on the Payne Whitney Gymnasium courts.
Ultimately, Coronel decided Yale was the place for her, in part because she’s interested in science, especially neuroscience, and senses she’ll find opportunities to participate in research as an undergraduate.
In late spring, as she contemplated her arrival at Yale and prepared for a squash tournament at Amherst, she was looking forward to seeing more of Yale from the inside, not least the libraries and, as an adventurous vegetarian gourmand, the residential college butteries and dining halls, which she’d so far experienced mainly through TikTok reviews. She’s also got an interest in feminism-focused groups and Yale’s cultural houses.
“I can’t wait to explore,” she said.
Onofre-Avila expressed a similar eagerness, and said she’s looking forward to experiences that seemed like marvels when she first learned they were a common part of Yale life, including casual interaction with professors. “It was a surprise to see that you could go to office hours or go to lunch with them,” she said.
She’s excited about joining a campus community that, as early as middle school, she perceived as “this huge cultural center and melting pot.”
Onofre-Avila, who has early thoughts of majoring in political science and envisions herself as a lawyer one day, is also relieved that she’ll have the chance to get an exceptional undergraduate education without going far away.
“I don’t want to leave my mom behind,” she said. “It’s only us two.”
Coming to Yale means she’ll be able to share it with her mother, who first encouraged her to participate in “Science on Saturdays” because it would give her people to be with and something stimulating to do on Saturdays at a time when her mother worked six days a week.
“She knows she could easily get there, see me downtown,” said Onofre-Avila, who didn’t tell her mom where she’d applied to college until after opening her acceptance from Yale. “We could easily meet up.”
Rosado, who’s been thinking she’d like to take classes in graphic design and English as well as computer science (“I’m not a straight STEM person”), is generally eager to sample widely from Yale’s bounty. “I like to dip my fingers in lots of pots,” she said.
But she may self-impose a moratorium on visits home, at least until late November.
“I have a running joke with my mom that I’m not coming home until Thanksgiving,” she said. “My sister and mom and other friends are betting against me. But I’m prideful. I’m going to have to stick it out until Thanksgiving.”
However often they drop in to see their families, Rosado, Onofre-Avila, and Coronel will soon have an additional home in New Haven. And, as Wei sees it, an important role in a virtuous cycle for university, city, and community alike.
“The more New Haven public school students who attend Yale, the more accessible it seems” to the students behind them, she said. “You’re inspired by your peers to think Yale is a possibility. And the younger classes say, ‘Why not give it a try?’”