Campus & Community

The end of Early Action: Steady as it goes

5 min read

Part of effort to expand financial aid, increase openness in admissions

In its final year, the Early Action program saw about the same number of applicants and admitted students as in each of the previous three years. A total of 4,008 students applied this year compared with 3,869, 4,214, and 3,889 in the preceding three years. This year 861 students were admitted compared with 813, 869, and 902 for the past three classes.

“Once again the Admissions Committee has chosen a remarkable early group, and they will form the nucleus of the Class of 2011,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of Admissions and Financial Aid. “They have demonstrated unusual academic, extracurricular, and personal promise – fully comparable to the high standards of the previous three classes,” he said.

Beginning next year, Harvard will eliminate its Early Action program and move to a single application deadline of Jan. 1. The change in policy, which builds on Harvard’s efforts over the past several years to expand financial aid and increase openness in admissions, will take effect for students applying in fall 2007 for the freshman class entering in September 2008.

Harvard intends to use the time and capacity freed up by the move to a single admissions cycle to focus even more energetically on outreach and recruiting. The admissions staff will travel more widely to make presentations in key areas to educate students, families, and college counselors about Harvard and the college admissions process more generally. The University will also work with secondary schools in a renewed effort to make applying to college less complicated and less stressful than it is today. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to talk with students and secondary school officials about finding ways to make the transition from high school to college more thoughtful and less frenetic than it is today,” said Fitzsimmons. “The college admissions process, influenced significantly by early admission, has too often interfered with vital educational and personal growth, subverting the integrity of the entire secondary school experience,” he said.

While it is still too early to tell precisely what the socioeconomic composition of the newly admitted group will be, it is clear that last year’s substantial increase in students eligible for the new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) has been sustained. Under the initiative, parents from families with annual incomes less than $60,000 are not required to make a contribution, and those with income from $60,000 to $80,000 contribute significantly less than in the past. “We will have more definite information about the final numbers over the next few weeks as more admitted students complete their financial aid applications, but we are enormously encouraged by what we have seen so far. We are extremely grateful to the undergraduates, alumni/ae, and staff who have worked so hard to recruit outstanding students of modest economic means,” said Sarah C. Donahue, director of financial aid.

About two-thirds of Harvard undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance and more than 50 percent are eligible for need-based grant assistance. Harvard has increased its grant assistance by 62 percent over the past seven years and reduced the median loan indebtedness of graduating seniors from $16,500 to $6,800.

Slightly more women than men (439 and 422, respectively) were admitted early this year. Last year was the third year in a row that more women than men matriculated in the first-year class in September.

African-American students will comprise 7.2 percent of admits, Asian Americans 23 percent, Latinos 7.9 percent, and Native Americans nearly 1 percent. Intended fields of concentration remained similar to last year, but with somewhat more interest in engineering, computer science, and mathematics. Geographic distribution was also similar, but, continuing a trend, there was a slight rise in the number of international citizens.

“Admitted students will hear a great deal from us over the months ahead,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. “Faculty, staff, undergraduate recruiters, and alumni/ae will use telephone, e-mail, and regular mail to reach admitted students with information about Harvard. Many Harvard Clubs will host local parties during the winter holidays and in April. All admitted students will be invited to Cambridge on April 21-23 for our Visiting Program. Through personal communications and the excellent Harvard coverage of the Gazette, Harvard Magazine, and the Parents’ Newsletter, we will acquaint them with the remarkable opportunities awaiting them here – including the freshman seminar program, which has more than quadrupled in size over the past few years to more than 130 courses; the greatly expanded study abroad opportunities; the revitalized undergraduate curriculum; and many other recent developments that will enhance their Harvard experience,” she said.

E-mail notification was sent Dec. 15 to the 94 percent of the applicants who requested it, and letters were mailed simultaneously to all applicants. In addition to the admitted students, so far 2,917 were deferred, 171 were rejected, 13 withdrew, and others remain incomplete. Admitted students may apply to other colleges under their Regular Action programs and need only inform Harvard of their matriculation intentions by May l, the national common reply date.