Campus & Community

Early action numbers hit a plateau

3 min read

While a record 6,128 students applied for admission under the College’s early action program this year, applications have remained just over the 6,000 level for the third year in a row. Last year, 6,096 applied early, while the previous year saw 6,026 applicants.

“This year’s total is right in line with the slight increase in high school graduates we will see each year until 2008,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “There were many who predicted a dramatic downturn as a result of Sept. 11. Those of us on the road recruiting in September and October, though, had large crowds at nearly every meeting. While students and, especially, parents expressed understandable anxieties about air travel, it was clear that most students were more determined than ever to realize their educational aspirations. Their interest in attending colleges with strong international relations offerings, broadly diverse student bodies, and rich opportunities in public service was more evident than ever before,” he said.

Harvard is one of the few national institutions with a nonbinding early admissions program. Most other colleges offer early decision, which requires admitted students to attend. Students who apply by Nov. 1 and who are admitted to Harvard in mid-December can apply to other colleges, and need only notify Harvard of their intention to enroll on May 1, the national reply date. In the interim, students can visit Harvard, reflect on whether Harvard would provide the right match for them, and compare financial aid offers from other colleges. “This period of time during the senior year can often be critically important in making the best college choice,” said Fitzsimmons. “We believe that offering students such flexibility is at least partially responsible for our high graduation rate – in recent years around 97 percent – and always among the very highest in the nation.”

Harvard has offered early action for many years, and high schools are now becoming familiar with the standards required for early admission here. Harvard does not offer a competitive advantage to those applying early. “A student has the same possibility of admission whether he or she applies early or during our regular action program, which has a Jan. 1 application deadline,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. “Many binding early decision colleges tell students they have a somewhat better chance of being admitted if they apply early,” she said. This advantage has helped to fuel greater interest in all early programs over the past decade, and colleges with early decision, which have much smaller numbers of early applications due to the binding nature of the program, have been witnessing significant increases in percentage terms. In addition, the total numbers of applications, counting both early and regular action, have been rising at many colleges, including Harvard, which had a record 19,014 applicants last year.

Geographical distribution of Harvard’s early action applications was much the same as last year, except for a substantial (19 percent) increase in the Midwest. Applications from Canada increased 16 percent, while most other areas were relatively flat including applications from abroad. Proposed academic concentrations also remained similar.

For the first time, applicants will be notified electronically (by e-mail at an address verified as secure by the applicant). The traditional letters will be mailed on the same day, Dec. 14, and as in recent years, applicants will be able to telephone for a decision (Dec. 19).