Campus & Community

Undergraduate Applications Top 18,500

4 min read

A record 18,687 students have applied for the 1,650 places in the Class of 2004, according to the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, marking the ninth time in the past decade that applications for admission to Harvard have risen. Last year, there were 18,161 freshman applicants.

“There are three principal reasons for such unprecedented interest in Harvard,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons, “all of which have long-term cumulative effects: the expanded financial aid program announced last year by Dean Jeremy R. Knowles, a variety of innovative recruitment methods employed over the past decade, and the remarkable manifestations of the recently completed Harvard Campaign that have provided extraordinary new and refurbished academic, extracurricular, athletic, and residential facilities.”

The new financial aid program offered an additional $2,000 per year in need-based grants to students receiving scholarships in order to reduce loan and/or job expectations. In addition, students are allowed to use the full amount of scholarships won from non-Harvard sources to reduce further or even eliminate loan and job requirements. These new benefits were extended not just to prospective students but to all current undergraduates.

Approximately 60 percent of undergraduates who receive scholarship aid have chosen to reduce their loans. While some have reduced their term-time employment, most have continued to work, citing the benefits of work experience, research jobs, and internships. Nearly 2,000 students receiving outside awards have been able to use those awards to reduce their loan and job requirements. And more than 200 have won so much in outside scholarships that they have eliminated the annual term-time work and loan requirements completely. Over the course of four years such students stand to save $25,000 or more in loan and work expectations.

Sally Donahue, director of financial aid, reported that “students greatly appreciate the freedom and flexibility the new financial aid program provides. They now have more time to take full advantage of the many academic and extracurricular opportunities available to undergraduates. They can also plan for the future, both for graduate school and their eventual careers, without the burden of excessive loan indebtedness.”

Nearly 70 percent of Harvard undergraduates receive some kind of financial aid, and almost 50 percent, a record number, receive scholarship (or grant) aid. “Harvard’s need-based financial aid program and its policy of need-blind admissions have made it possible to assemble a student body of unsurpassed excellence, including many students from very modest and middle-income backgrounds,” said Donahue.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions, noted the long-term benefits of the past decade’s stepped-up recruitment efforts: “While we are pleased to see record numbers of applicants this year, many people, including faculty, current undergraduates (the Undergraduate Admissions Council, the Undergraduate Minority Admissions Program, and the Crimson Key) and over 6,000 alumni/ae Schools and Scholarship volunteers have been working hard for many years to ensure that Harvard is considered seriously as a college choice by the very best students in the United States and around the world. We are extremely grateful for all their help, and we know that their efforts are the foundation of Harvard’s success in admissions.”

She noted that the strategic use of College Board-based search mailings and broader and earlier staff travel have also helped. “This coming year, for example, staff will visit 50 cities in the spring in conjunction with other colleges, conducting evening meetings with parents and students and breakfast seminars with high school counselors. Another 50 cities will be visited in September and October, along with regular travel on our own. We will also be augmenting our recruitment in rural areas and internationally,” Lewis added.

Geographic patterns indicated slightly larger increases in the Midwest and abroad, with a slight decline in Canada. More applicants expressed interest in engineering, computer science, mathematics, and the physical sciences, with a slight decline in the biological sciences. Applications from minority students remained at high levels. Applications from women increased 3.4 percent, compared to a 2.5 percent increase for men. Women comprise 48.2 percent of the applicant pool.

In line with the high standards of recent classes, the excellence of the applicant pool is even more remarkable than the increase in the number of candidates. For example, more than 55 percent of the candidates averaged 1400 or higher on their SATs; nearly 1,700 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT verbal; almost 1,900 scored 800 on their SAT math; and just under 3,000 were valedictorians of their high schools.

“The Harvard Campaign, the campaigns before it, and the constant generosity of alumni, alumnae, and friends who give so much of themselves and their resources have made it possible for Harvard to attract outstanding students year after year,” said Fitzsimmons. The Admissions Committee and faculty members have been reading Regular Action applications since December and began the evaluation meetings in early February. Decision letters will be mailed April 1.