Campus & Community

More women than men admitted to Class of ’08

8 min read

Records set for percentages of Asian Americans, African Americans,and Latinos admitted

For the first time in Harvard’s history, women comprise more than 50 percent of the students admitted to the freshman class.

“This milestone is a long way from the 4-to-1 ratio of males to females in the

Students poring over laptops in
(Staff file photo by Jon Chase)

1960s,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “We are grateful to the visionaries at Harvard and Radcliffe who instituted equal access admission for women in the 1970s, as well as to faculty, students, staff, and alumni/ae who have worked so hard over the years to recruit outstanding women to the College.”

The Class of 2008 was selected from a pool of 19,750 applicants, the second largest total in Harvard’s history. Last year’s record 20,987 was reached in part by more liberal early admissions guidelines at a number of selective colleges, including Harvard. While the Early Action application numbers this year decreased by more than 3,700, Regular Action numbers bounced back to produce another large applicant group.

Admitted students were notified April 1 by letter and by e-mail.

Women outnumbered men by only three: 1,016 to 1,013.

“We knew that more women than men had been admitted in Early Action, but we did not know how close the final numbers were until after the last vote was taken,” said Fitzsimmons.

All applications are considered individually, and final decisions are made by majority vote of the 35 members of the Admissions Committee during February and March.

By standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance in school, this year’s applicant pool is impressive. For example, 56 percent of the candidates scored 1,400 or higher on SATs; 2,700 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT mathematics test; nearly 2,000 scored 800 on their SAT verbal test; and 2,800 are valedictorians of their high school classes.

Harvard’s new financial aid initiative to attract talented low- and moderate-income students underscores the critical importance of need-based scholarship assistance in encouraging the best students to apply to Harvard. The $2 million plan, announced at the end of February by President Lawrence H. Summers, eliminates the need for parents with incomes of $40,000 or less annually to contribute to their child’s Harvard education and lowers the contribution expected from parents with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.

“We want to send the strongest possible message that Harvard is open to talented students from all economic backgrounds,” Summers said. “Too often, outstanding students from families of modest means do not believe that college is an option for them – much less an Ivy League university.”

Harvard’s new initiative brings the total annual scholarship commitment for undergraduates to $80 million, an increase of nearly 50 percent over the past six years, while inflation rose by only 13.5 percent.

“Harvard College continues to believe strongly in the twin principles of need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid,” said William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History. “At a time when universities and families nationwide are facing the effects of a weak economy, we are determined to protect every student’s ability to come to Harvard regardless of financial background.”

“The total aid provided to undergraduates for 2004-2005 will likely top $112 million,” said Sarah C. Donahue, director of financial aid. “Two-thirds of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, including scholarships, loans, and jobs. Nearly half will qualify for need-based scholarship assistance with an average total aid package close to $28,500, or roughly 70 percent of a student’s total costs, including an allowance toward personal expenses,” said Donahue.

In addition, other forms of financial assistance such as the Faculty Aide Program, the Harvard College Research Program, and the Dean’s Summer Research Program enable students to pursue partnerships with faculty members on academic projects of mutual interest.

Financial aid staff will be available to talk with admitted students and their families on weekdays during the month of April from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Families are offered a wide range of payment options, including the opportunity to prepay tuition at current rates or to extend payments up to 15 years.

While U.S. regional representation remains similar, the Class of 2008 will be somewhat more international than its predecessor. More than 25 percent of the admitted students reside in the mid-Atlantic, 19 percent are from the Western and Mountain states, 17 percent from New England, 17 percent from the South, 12 percent from the Midwest, and 10 percent from the U.S. territories and abroad.

Foreign citizens number 166, up slightly from last year’s 161. As usual, a significant number of incoming students will bring an international perspective, including Americans who have lived abroad, 81 U.S. dual citizens, and 81 U.S. permanent residents. Together, foreign citizens, U.S. duals, and U.S. permanent residents comprise 16.2 percent of the class, compared with 15.4 percent last year.

Areas of academic interest are similar to those of the Class of 2007. Just over 22 percent list biological sciences as their proposed concentration, while 9 percent are interested in the physical sciences. Nearly 9 percent lean toward engineering, 8 percent toward math, and 2 percent toward computer science. The social sciences attract almost 25 percent as do the humanities, with 1 percent undecided.

The Class of 2008 has a wide range of extracurricular interests. The major activity cited by students as an extracurricular focus is music (26 percent); followed by creative writing, journalism, and other writing (24 percent); arts, dance, and drama (21 percent); social service (19 percent); student government (12 percent); debate (12 percent); and political groups (9 percent). More than 57 percent of the class plans to participate in recreational, intramural, or intercollegiate athletics.

Records were set for the percentages of Asian Americans (18.9 percent), African Americans (10.3 percent), and Latinos (9.5 percent). Native Americans will comprise nearly 1 percent.

“Students, faculty and alumni/ae worked extremely hard during the year to recruit students throughout the country. We are very grateful for all of their efforts,” said Roger Banks, director of undergraduate minority recruiting.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions, cited the efforts of the Undergraduate Admissions Council, the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, and the undergraduate tour guides and greeters in working throughout the year to ensure that the students interested in Harvard were well served.

“Our undergraduates played a vital role in leading tours, hosting overnight visits, and visiting schools. Their assistance contributes in critical ways to the strength of future classes,” she said. In addition, she credits the more than 7,000 alumni/ae Schools and Scholarship volunteers. “Their work in their local communities helps attract the very best students into our pool, and their interviews give us vital guidance in making our admission choices.”

Lewis also emphasized the critical role of the teaching faculty in the admissions process: “Faculty spend enormous amounts of time throughout the year talking to prospective students in person or on the telephone and answering their many letters and e-mail. Faculty accessibility is a clear demonstration of their commitment to undergraduate education. In addition, faculty members read hundreds of application folders, evaluate academic research of all kinds, and assist in evaluating portfolios across the academic disciplines.”

Members of the teaching faculty serving on the Admissions Committee are James Anderson, Michael Brenner, John Dowling, Noam Elkies, Mary Gaylord, Benedict Gross, J. Woodland Hastings, Akira Iriye, Harry Lewis, Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Richard O’Connell, Nancy Sommers, Frans Spaepen, Steven Wofsy, and Robert Woollacott.

Personal contact with admitted students will be very important over the next few weeks. Members of the Undergraduate Admissions Council, the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, the admissions staff, and faculty members will telephone and meet with admitted students.

This year, for the first time, the Admissions Office is hosting online chats for admitted students. There will be additional chat sessions in April that will provide an opportunity for admitted students to speak with Harvard undergraduates and their future classmates. Meghan Crnic, director of Internet Communications, noted, “The chat sessions have been a wonderful success, with over 500 of the Early Action admitted students from 47 states and 14 countries joining previous sessions.”

In addition to hosting online chats, admissions officers will e-mail admitted students, inviting them to ask any questions they have about Harvard.

A Visiting Program for admitted students is scheduled for April 24-26. In addition to visiting classes, students will attend faculty panel discussions, concerts, receptions, departmental open houses, symposia, and events offered by extracurricular organizations.

“The program will give students the chance to explore the many opportunities awaiting them here in Cambridge,” said Megan Basil, Visiting Program director. “We know they will enjoy meeting their future professors and classmates.”

More than 1,200 admitted students will visit during the month of April, and nearly 1,100 will be here during the Visiting Program.

“Our undergraduate hosts give students a realistic picture of what it is like to be a student here. Their contact with prospective students is a key element of our success in enrolling the new class,” she said.

“Recruiting remains crucial in our efforts to attract the country’s and the world’s best students each year,” said Fitzsimmons. “Nearly 70 percent of all admitted students and 88 percent of minority students were on our original College Board Search List that helped launch our outreach program for the Class of 2008 last spring. We visited hundreds of cities across the country and throughout the world to invite the most promising students to apply, and we hope very much our admitted students will join us here in September.”

More than 84 percent of the applicants opted for e-mail notification of their admissions decisions along with the traditional letter. Students have until May 1 to reply.