Campus & Community

New Financial Aid Initiative shows solid ‘early’ results

5 min read

More financial aid students admitted

Harvard’s new Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), announced last spring by President Lawrence H. Summers, has led to the admission of more financial aid students in this year’s Early Action competition, especially those from low- and moderate-income backgrounds. More than twice as many admitted students were granted application fee waivers this year compared with last year (43 vs. 20) – a strong indication they will be eligible for the HFAI once their financial aid applications are completed. More than 61 percent of admitted students have applied for financial assistance compared with 58 percent last year.

In announcing the new HFAI on Feb. 29 in a keynote address to the American Council on Education, Summers noted the low college participation rates of students from modest economic backgrounds and stated: “We want to send the strongest possible message that Harvard is open to talented students from all economic backgrounds.” Over the summer and throughout the fall, Harvard undergraduates working with the admissions office called, e-mailed, and wrote to promising high school students who might qualify for the HFAI, including 9 percent of the students just admitted.

“We are extremely grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our undergraduates in helping Harvard to take this crucial first step in ensuring that President Summers’ vision is realized,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid.

A total of 885 students were admitted to the Class of 2009 from an Early Action pool of 4,213. Last year, 902 of 3,889 were admitted early. Harvard’s nonbinding Early Action program allows admitted students to apply to other institutions, compare financial aid offers, and inform Harvard of their final college choice on May 1, the national common reply date.

The demographics of the early group are similar to last year’s Class of 2008, and proposed areas of academic interest remained quite stable. International students are again well represented with 11.4 percent either foreign nationals or dual citizens (11 percent last year) along with almost 3 percent permanent residents. While the geographic representation within the United States is similar to that of last year’s class, gains experienced last year in the Midwest reverted to the pattern of previous years, declining from 11.5 percent of the admitted group to 8.1 percent. While slightly more women than men were admitted early last year (the first time in Harvard’s history), this year women comprise 46.3 percent of the admitted students, reflecting normal fluctuations in early admission as evidenced by the fact that 45.2 percent of the admitted group two years ago were women.

Nearly 18 percent of the admitted students are Asian American (20.7 percent last year), 8.7 percent are African American (6.9 percent last year), 3.4 percent are Hispanic (2.3 percent last year), 2 percent Mexican American (2.9 percent last year), 0.7 percent Native American (0.8 percent last year), and 0.9 percent Puerto Rican (1.7 percent last year).

“Members of the teaching faculty provided invaluable assistance by meeting with prospective students and responding to numerous letters and e-mails,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. “They also read hundreds of applications and evaluated such diverse materials as music tapes, art portfolios, computer programs, and academic projects of nearly every kind imaginable,” she said.

As always, admitted students are invited to request an early estimate of the financial aid awards they will receive in April. The Financial Aid Committee will meet in January and February to respond to these requests and will notify students and their families as soon as possible about their awards. “We look forward to working with prospective members of the Class of 2009, not only in the months ahead, but over the next four years to make their undergraduate experience the best it can be,” said Sarah C. Donahue, director of financial aid. Nearly two-thirds of Harvard undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance and nearly 50 percent are eligible for need-based grant assistance. The average grant will likely be $26,000 (although grants can range from $500 to $40,000), and the average total aid package including job and loan expectations will be close to $30,000.

On Dec. 14, decisions were communicated to the 89 percent who opted for e-mail notification, and on Dec. 15 decision letters were mailed to all applicants. In addition to the 885 admitted students, 3,120 were deferred, 135 were rejected, 63 were incomplete, and 10 withdrew.

Admitted students will hear from faculty, admissions staff, alumni/ae, and undergraduates over the next few months via telephone, e-mail, and regular mail. “We will do everything we can to inform students about what awaits them here – the freshman seminar program which has more than tripled in size over the past few years, the greatly expanded options for international study, and the myriad opportunities that have long been valued by Harvard students, many of which may also be enhanced as the comprehensive review of the College is completed over the coming months and years,” said Fitzsimmons. Students will be able to experience student life firsthand during the formal Visiting Program from April 29 to May 1 or at other times that fit their schedules in the coming months.