Harvard’s new financial aid initiative aimed at students from low and moderate economic backgrounds helped support close to an 80 percent yield on students admitted to the College Class of 2008 entering in September. Announced in February by President Lawrence H. Summers in an address to the American Council on Education, the new financial aid initiative requires no contribution from parents with incomes below $40,000 and reduces expectations from families with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000. The yield on students from families with incomes below $60,000 is just under 84 percent.
Yield, the percentage of admitted students who decide to accept an offer of admission, is considered a measure of a college’s competitiveness. Harvard’s yield remains, by a substantial margin, the highest of the nation’s selective colleges – particularly striking because students admitted under Harvard’s Early Action program are free to enroll at other colleges.
The current yield is slightly above last year’s 78 percent, allowing the Admissions Committee to admit only a small number from the waiting list this year. The yield is likely to rise by the time the committee makes its final selections in June.
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 reflected in part more liberal early admissions guidelines in force at a number of selective colleges, including Harvard. While the Early Action application numbers this year dipped by over 3,700, Regular Action numbers bounced back to produce another large applicant group.
“Remarkable individuals from around the United States and throughout the world have been brought together to comprise the Class of 2008” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “They have demonstrated unusual excellence in their academic and extracurricular lives, but their greatest promise lies in their personal qualities and character. They will do much to enrich the College over the next four years, and we expect they will make important contributions to others throughout their lives,” said Fitzsimmons.
Harvard’s strong financial aid program is critically important in encouraging outstanding students to apply and, of course, to enroll. Over the past six years, Harvard has expanded its undergraduate scholarship program by nearly 50 percent, while inflation rose by only 13.5 percent. During that time, the average debt of graduating students has declined by more than $5,600, to $8,800 per student for the Class of 2003.
In addition to aid provided to moderate- and low-income students, those from middle-income backgrounds benefit from Harvard’s financial aid program. The average family income of a scholarship recipient is $88,000, and there are 600 students from families earning in excess of $130,000 who receive grant assistance.
“The total aid provided to undergraduates for 2004-2005 will exceed $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. Close to half will qualify for need-based scholarship assistance with an average total aid package of over $28,500, or roughly 70 percent of a student’s total costs, including an allowance toward personal expenses,” said Donahue.
“Harvard College is built upon the twin principles of need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid,” said William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “We are determined to protect every student’s ability to come to Harvard, regardless of his or her financial background.”
For the first time in Harvard’s history, women comprised over 50 percent of the students admitted to the freshman class in April. Currently this is still the case, but the numbers are so close that the final result may not be known until later in the summer or even at registration in September.
The Class of 2008 is similar to last year’s class in terms of geographic background and intended field of concentration. There are slightly more students from the Midwest and abroad, and fewer from the West and the East.
Prospective social sciences concentrators comprise 27 percent of the Class, while 25 percent listed humanities and 22 percent indicated biological sciences. Eight percent are interested in the physical sciences and math, respectively, while 7 percent lean toward engineering, 2 percent toward computer science, and 1 percent undecided.
Minority students did well in this year’s competition. Asian-American students will comprise 19.7 percent of the Class of 2008, compared to 18 percent last year. African-American students will comprise 9.2 percent of the Class (8.8 percent last year), Latino students 8.9 percent (8 percent last year), and Native Americans 1.1 percent (0.8 percent last year). While the yield on Asian-American students declined from 84.1 percent to 81.3 percent, the yields for other minority groups rose. The yield on African-American students increased from 66.5 percent to almost 70 percent; Latino students from 70.5 percent to 73.6 percent, and Native-American students from 60 percent to 94.4 percent.
“Once again alumni and alumnae made an enormous difference in recruiting students to Harvard by visiting high schools, arranging visits to high schools for admissions officers, interviewing candidates, calling admitted students, and hosting local gatherings in April for admitted students and their parents,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. “Current undergraduates and members of the teaching faculty have also worked tirelessly throughout the year to ensure that Harvard continues to enroll outstanding undergraduates. We are grateful to all of them.”
The recruiting program for the Class of 2009 has already begun. More than 56,000 letters have been sent to high school students, and Harvard admissions officers will visit 60 cities this month in conjunction with three other colleges. Thousands of prospective students and their families have already visited Cambridge over the past few months, attending group information sessions and tours. Attracting the world’s best students is now a multifaceted effort throughout the year.