Campus & Community

Class of 2009 chosen from record 22,796

9 min read

Class of ’09 will be Harvard’s most economically diverse

students in classroom
Harvard’s financial aid program next year will be the most generous in its history. (Staff file photo Justin Ide/Harvard News Office)
Harvard’s new Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) has led to the largest applicant pool (22,796) and the most competitive admission rate (9.1 percent) in the history of the College. The Class of 2009 will also be Harvard’s most economically diverse.

All applicants were notified of their admission decisions on March 31. Nearly 88 percent requested an e-mail notification along with the traditional letter. The 2,074 admitted students have until just after May 1 to reply for September matriculation.

Close to 360 admitted students are likely to be eligible for the new HFAI program, which requires no parental contribution from families with incomes under $40,000 and a greatly reduced contribution from families with incomes from $40,000 to $60,000. The number of first-year students who will benefit from HFAI increased by 22 percent compared with last year.

The HFAI program was announced in February 2004 by President Lawrence H. Summers. “Our intention was to send the strongest possible message to families across the nation that Harvard is – really and truly – an option for exceptionally talented students whatever their financial means. It is gratifying to see that our message is being heard and that the results of our first full year of recruiting are so encouraging,” stated Summers.

Harvard’s financial aid program next year will be the most generous in its history, with $84.6 million in scholarships for undergraduates, a 56 percent increase over the past six years. Two-thirds of Harvard undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, including scholarships, loans, and jobs. The average total student aid package will be close to $30,000.

“Harvard can do its part to alter the unacceptable disparity in economic background that characterizes the college-going population nationwide,” said William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History. “Let me be blunt: You don’t have to be rich, or even well-off, to come to Harvard.”

“Harvard’s new Financial Aid Initiative attracted a wide variety of students into the applicant pool,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “During our recruitment trips, the message that Harvard is open to all students of talent was enormously appealing to students whether or not they were seeking financial aid.”

By standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance in school, this year’s applicant pool (and admitted group) remained quite similar to last year’s impressive Class of 2008. For example, once again 56 percent of the candidates scored 1400 or higher on SATs; almost 2,150 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT verbal test; more than 3,200 scored an 800 on the SAT math; and nearly 3,200 were valedictorians of their high school classes.

Once again, the male/female ratio was close to 50-50. While last year women slightly outnumbered men, this year there were 1,047 men and 1,027 women admitted.

Geographical representation was similar to last year. 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, 16 percent from the South, 12 percent from the Midwest, and nearly 10 percent from the U.S. territories and abroad. Foreign citizens number 175, compared with 177 for the Class of 2008. A significant number of incoming students will bring an international perspective, including Americans who have lived abroad, 97 U.S. dual citizens, and 73 U.S. permanent residents. Together, foreign citizens, U.S. duals, and U.S. permanent residents comprise 16.6 percent of the Class, compared with 16.3 percent last year. A total of 80 countries are represented in the Class of 2009.

Areas of academic interest are also similar to those of the Class of 2008. Nearly 23 percent list biological sciences as their proposed concentration, while 9 percent are interested in the physical sciences, 8 percent in engineering, 8 percent in math, and 1 percent in computer science. The social sciences attract 24 percent, the humanities 27 percent, and 1 percent are undecided.

The Class of 2009 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 (23 percent); arts, dance, and drama (22 percent); social service (17 percent); student government (14 percent); debate (10 percent); and political groups (10 percent). Nearly 55 percent of the class plan to participate in recreational, intramural, or intercollegiate athletics.

A record 10.5 percent of the admitted students are African American, while 17.8 percent are Asian American, 8.2 percent are Latino, and slightly more than 1 percent are Native American. “Students in the Undergraduate Minority Recruiting Program (UMRP), faculty, and alumni/ae worked extremely hard during the year to recruit promising candidates throughout the country. We are very grateful for all of their efforts,” said Director of Undergraduate Recruitment Roger Banks.

Students in the UMRP worked closely with other undergraduates who were part of the HFAI recruitment efforts. “Many students and alumni/ae have contributed to the success of the new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative,” said Sarah E. Beasley, co-director of HFAI.

“We are particularly indebted to our team of 17 undergraduates who have been in contact with over 12,000 high school students since the beginning of the summer and throughout the school year,” added Melanie Brennand Mueller, the other co-director of HFAI. Undergraduates also met with visiting middle school and high school student groups, and several traveled to different parts of the country to recruit talented students who might be eligible for HFAI.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions, cited the efforts of the Undergraduate Admissions Council 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 high schools. Their assistance contributes in critical ways to the strength of Harvard,” she said. In addition, she credits over 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 with 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 Professors James Anderson, Michael Brenner, Lizabeth Cohen, John Dowling, Noam Elkies, Mary Gaylord, Benedict Gross, J. Woodland Hastings, Akira Iriye, Harry Lewis, James McCarthy, 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 Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, the admissions staff, and the teaching faculty will telephone and meet with admitted students.

For the second year, the Admissions Office has been hosting online chats and message boards for admitted students, starting with Early Action. There will be additional chat sessions in April, which 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 and message boards have been a wonderful success, with over 450 of the Early Action admitted students from 42 states and 12 countries joining previous sessions.” In addition to hosting online chats, the Admissions Office launched a message board for admitted students. Prospective Harvard students can post questions to Harvard undergraduates and admissions representatives on the message board. The boards are also an opportunity for students to meet and make connections with future classmates. Since the board was launched in January over 3,400 messages have been posted.

A Visiting Program for admitted students is scheduled for April 29-30. 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. We know they will enjoy meeting their future professors and classmates,” said Visiting Program Director Grace Cheng. 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 has an enormous effect on their college choice.”

“Recruitment is the foundation on which Harvard’s excellence rests,” said Fitzsimmons. Over 71 percent of all admitted students and nearly 90 percent of minority students were on the original College Board Search List that helped launch Harvard’s outreach program for the Class of 2009 last spring. “No institution works harder to attract the nation’s and the world’s best students. Our not-so-secret weapon is our 7,000 alumni/ae volunteers who will be calling and holding local gatherings for our newly admitted students in April while preparing to assist our staff visits to nearly 80 cities this spring, targeting the high school juniors who will comprise the Class of 2010. Our alumni/ae make a remarkable commitment to Harvard,” said Fitzsimmons.

Sarah C. Donahue, director of financial aid, and her colleagues 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. “We are always happy to talk with students and parents who have concerns or questions about how to finance a Harvard education,” said Donahue. “In fact, we often talk with families who have not applied for financial aid to outline the wide range of payment options, including the opportunity to prepay tuition at current rates or extend payments up to 15 years,” she said. “We remind all students that there are other forms of financial assistance, such as the Faculty Aide Program, the Harvard College Research Program, and the Dean’s Summer Research Program, that enable students to create partnerships with faculty members on academic projects of mutual interest.”