Campus & Community

A record pool leads to record results

9 min read

A record applicant pool of 22,955 applied to Harvard College this year, resulting in a number of new milestones. Traditional admission letters (and e-mails) were sent today (March 29) to 9 percent (2,058) of the pool, the lowest admit rate in Harvard’s history. In addition, the Class of 2011 entering this coming September will be the most economically diverse to date, with an estimated 26 percent eligible for Harvard’s new Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) for low- and middle-income families, which requires no contributions from those with annual incomes under $60,000 and a reduced contribution for those from $60,000 to $80,000. Since the inception of the program three years ago, there has been a 34 percent increase in aid for students from families with incomes under $60,000.

“The new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative continues to send a clear and unambiguous message that Harvard welcomes students of excellence regardless of their financial need,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “More than ever, students from all economic backgrounds recognize the critical importance of living with and learning from talented classmates whose life experiences differ from their own, classmates who come from the widest array of economic, ethnic, cultural, and geographic origins,” he said.

Just over half (50.5 percent) of those admitted are women. Records were set for the percentages of African Americans (10.7 percent), Asian Americans (19.6 percent), Latinos (10.1 percent), and Native Americans (1.5 percent).

By standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance in school, this year’s applicant pool reflects the remarkable level of excellence typical of recent years. For example, nearly 2,500 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT verbal test; almost 3,200 scored 800 on the SAT math; and more than 3,000 were ranked first in their high school classes.

Harvard’s financial aid program this coming September will be the most generous in its history with $103 million in scholarships for undergraduates, a 6.8 percent increase over the past year, and a 57 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 package will likely be more than $36,000, over 70 percent of the total cost of attendance.

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. EDT. “We are always available for students and parents who have concerns or questions about how to finance a Harvard education,” said Donahue. “We are also happy to 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 want all students to be aware 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, which enable students to create partnerships with faculty members on academic projects of mutual interest.”

Geographic representation remained similar to last year’s. Nearly 27 percent of the admitted students are from the mid-Atlantic, 20 percent from the Western and Mountain States, 17 percent from New England, 16 percent from the South, 11 percent from the Midwest, and 10 percent from the U.S. territories and abroad. Foreign citizens comprise 9.1 percent of the admitted students compared to 8.7 percent of the Class of 2010. A significant number of other incoming students will also bring an international perspective, including Americans who have lived abroad, 114 U.S. dual citizens, and 88 U.S. permanent residents. Together, foreign citizens, U.S. duals, and U.S. permanent residents comprise nearly 19 percent of the class. A total of 79 countries are represented in the Class of 2011.

Perhaps due in part to the recent announcement of Harvard’s new School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the percentage of students interested in engineering rose from 8.4 percent to 9.5 percent. There was also a rise in the percentage of those interested in mathematics (7 percent to 8.6 percent) and computer science (1.6 percent to 1.7 percent), fields closely allied to engineering. There were slight declines in those intending to concentrate in the physical sciences (8.7 percent to 7.7 percent), the social sciences (26.3 percent to 24.8 percent), the humanities (25.7 percent to 23.8 percent), and those undecided (1.4 percent to .3 percent), but a rise in interest in the biological sciences (21 percent to 23.6 percent).

The Class of 2011 has a wide range of extracurricular interests. Major activities cited by students as an extracurricular focus are music (23 percent), followed by creative writing, journalism, and other writing (22 percent), social service (20 percent), arts, dance, and drama (19 percent), student government (12 percent), debate (11 percent), and political groups (8 percent). Fifty-eight percent of the class plans to participate in recreational, intramural, or intercollegiate athletics.

“Once again recruitment was crucial in attracting outstanding students to Harvard,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. About 70 percent of all admitted students and more than 90 percent of minority students were on the original College Board Search List that helped launch Harvard’s outreach program for the Class of 2011 last spring. “In addition, our 9,000 alumni/ae volunteers will be calling newly admitted students and hosting local gatherings in April. Simultaneously they will be preparing to assist our staff visits to nearly 70 cities this spring, targeting the high school juniors who will eventually comprise the Class of 2012,” said Lewis. “In addition to recruiting at local high schools and college fairs, our alumni/ae conduct interviews that are critical to our decision-making process,” she added.

“Recruitment requires real dedication on the part of large numbers of undergraduates,” said Roger Banks, director of undergraduate recruitment. “We are enormously grateful to members of the Undergraduate Minority Recruiting Program (UMRP) and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) for their crucial role in attracting this extraordinary group of admitted students.” Members of both organizations made countless telephone calls and sent e-mails and letters to prospective applicants. They also met with visiting middle school and high school student groups and traveled to various parts of the country to recruit talented students.

“We are delighted to set yet another record for economic diversity and we have exciting plans for expanded recruitment next year,” said Melanie Brennand Mueller, director of HFAI. Patrick Griffin, HFAI assistant director, added, “We are grateful to the many undergraduates and alumni/ae who work with our office to reach out to talented students from all backgrounds.”

Fitzsimmons and Lewis lauded the efforts of the Undergraduate Admissions Council (UAC) and the undergraduate tour guides and greeters who work throughout the year with visitors to Cambridge, leading tours, hosting overnight visits, and visiting high schools. David Evans, co-director of UAC, noted that “students involved in the UAC give generously of their time to help prospective students get a realistic view of undergraduate life.” Added Talhia Tuck, the other co-director, “We get numerous compliments from students about their visits to Harvard and the hospitality extended to them by UAC members.” And James Pautz, director of the Undergraduate Tour Program, observed that “our tour guides and greeters enthusiastically welcome prospective students to campus throughout the year, infusing their presentations with their own anecdotes about life at Harvard. They’re often the first Harvard student a prospective student meets, and they introduce campus life with grace and humor – all while walking backwards on Harvard Square’s brick sidewalks in all kinds of weather.”

Fitzsimmons and Lewis emphasized the importance of the role of the teaching faculty in the admissions process. Faculty talk with many prospective students in person or on the telephone and answer their many letters and e-mail inquiries. 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 assess portfolios across the academic disciplines. Members of the teaching faculty serving on the Admissions Committee are: John E. Dowling, Mary M. Gaylord, Benedict H. Gross, Guido Guidotti, Joseph D. Harris, J. Woodland Hastings, Harry R. Lewis, David R. McCann, James J. McCarthy, Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Richard J. O’Connell, Orlando Patterson, Nancy Sommers, Frans Spaepen, John Stauffer, Steven C. Wofsy, and Robert M. 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 and financial aid staff, and the teaching faculty will telephone and meet with admitted students.

For the fourth year, the Admissions Office has been hosting online chats and message boards for admitted students, starting in December with the students admitted under the Early Action program. Additional chat sessions in April will provide an opportunity for admitted students to speak with Harvard undergraduates and one another. Danielle Early, director of Internet Communications, noted, “The chat sessions and message boards extend our outreach and recruitment dramatically.” Prospective Harvard students can post questions to Harvard undergraduates and admissions representatives on the message board. “The boards provide yet another way for students to meet and make connections with future classmates,” said Early.

A Visiting Program for admitted students is scheduled for April 21-23. 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 as well as to meet their future professors and classmates,” said Visiting Program director Erin Fehn. More than 1,200 admitted students will visit during the month of April, and nearly 1,100 will be here during the Visiting Program. “Past experience indicates that many students make their decisions to attend Harvard as a result of the Visiting Program. Their contact with current undergraduates and faculty provides the critical difference,” added Christine Gibbons, assistant director of the Visiting Program.

Admitted students have until May 1 to reply for September matriculation.