Campus & Community

A record pool leads to a record-low admissions rate

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A record applicant pool of 27,462 has led to an admission rate of 7.1 percent, the lowest in the history of Harvard College. Traditional admission letters (and e-mails) were sent on March 31 to 1,948 students. Last year 2,058 applicants were admitted from a pool of 22,955.

“With such a large and deep applicant pool, it was more challenging than ever to make the final admission decisions,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “The admitted students are outstanding in every way, as are many of those not admitted.

“The elimination of Early Action, the recent expansion of Harvard’s financial aid program, and the large number of new financial aid programs at other colleges make it extremely difficult to predict how many of the admitted students will choose to enroll,” said Fitzsimmons. In order to continue its long record of not exceeding the number of spaces allocated for freshman admission, the Admissions Committee has admitted 110 fewer students than last year. “We are taking a conservative approach because of the current uncertainties in the college admissions world, and we will admit additional students from the waiting list as spaces become available,” he added.

Harvard’s financial aid program next year will be the most generous in its history with $125 million in scholarships for undergraduates, a 21.4 percent increase from last year and an 87 percent increase over the past six years. Two-thirds of Harvard undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, including scholarships, loans, and jobs, with over 50 percent receiving a need-based scholarship. The average total student aid package will likely be close to $40,000, over 78 percent of the total cost of attendance. More than 25 percent of the admitted group are eligible for the previous Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), which asks for no parent contribution from those with annual incomes under $60,000 and reduced contributions from those with incomes of $60,000 to $80,000.

Harvard announced in December 2007 a sweeping change in financial aid for middle and upper-middle income families, establishing a zero-to-10-percent of income contribution standard for families with incomes up to $180,000 a year, removing home equity from financial aid calculations, and eliminating loans for all students. This new program may have contributed to the record application total, but applications had been running significantly ahead of last year’s pace before the announcement.

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 delighted to hear from students and parents who have concerns or questions about how to finance a Harvard education, including families who may not have applied for financial aid but who are interested in the wide range of available payment options. Our program offers assistance to all students and families, ranging from a monthly payment plan to 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 that enable students to create paid partnerships with faculty members on academic projects of mutual interest.”

By standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance in school, this year’s applicant pool reflects the level of excellence typical of recent years. For example, over 2,500 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT critical reading test; 3,300 scored 800 on the SAT math; and over 3,300 were ranked first in their high school classes.

More than half (50.2 percent) of those admitted are women. A record 11 percent of admitted students are from African-American backgrounds, 18.5 percent are Asian American, 9.7 percent are Latino, and 1.3 percent are Native American.

Geographic representation remained similar to last year’s. Nearly 26 percent of the admitted students are from the mid-Atlantic, 20 percent from the Western and Mountain States, 16 percent from New England, 18 percent from the South, 11 percent from the Midwest, and 10 percent from the U.S. territories and abroad. Foreign citizens comprise nearly 9 percent of the admitted students. In addition, a significant number of other entering students will bring an international perspective, including many Americans who have lived abroad, 87 U.S. dual citizens, and 83 U.S. permanent residents. Together, foreign citizens, U.S. duals, and U.S. permanent residents comprise over 17 percent of the class. A total of 77 countries are represented in the Class of 2012.

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 9.5 percent to 11 percent. There was also a rise in the percentage of those interested in the biological sciences (from 23.6 percent to 25.5 percent), while other areas of study were quite similar to last year’s: 24.4 percent social sciences, 22.8 percent humanities, 7.4 percent physical sciences, 6.8 percent mathematics, 1.4 percent computer science, and 0.8 percent undecided.

The Class of 2012 will bring extraordinary extracurricular talents across a wide range of endeavor. Major activities cited by students as extracurricular interests are music and other performing arts (46.6 percent), writing and journalism (23.4 percent), debate and political activities, including student government (33.7 percent), and social service (18.2 percent). In addition, 53.3 percent of the class expect to participate in recreational, intramural, or intercollegiate athletics.

“Alumni/ae remain our not-so-secret weapon in recruiting students,” said Marlyn McGrath, director of admissions. “They rose to the challenge of attracting students to Harvard in the post-Early Action era and conducted the interviews that are so important to us in the selection process,” she said. In addition, the 9,000 alumni/ae volunteers around the world will be calling newly admitted students and hosting local gatherings in April.

Recruitment is the foundation upon which Harvard’s excellence rests. Over 70 percent of all admitted students and 90 percent of minority students were on the original College Board Search List that helped launch Harvard’s outreach program for the Class of 2012 last spring. Staff will visit nearly 70 cities this spring, targeting the high school juniors who will eventually comprise the Class of 2013. These trips will be conducted with Duke, Georgetown, Penn, and Stanford. A similar number of cities will be visited by this group in the fall. In addition, Harvard staff and students visit some of these areas and others to speak at high schools and meet with local alumni/ae interviewers.

Eliminating Early Action allowed more time in the late fall for staff to reach out to students who might not otherwise think about applying to Harvard. Joint outreach trips with Princeton University and the University of Virginia (both of which have also eliminated early admissions) met with an overwhelming reception in November, previously a time when all three institutions were off the road conducting early admissions selection meetings. Harvard expects to double these trips next year from four to eight regions of the country.

“Recruitment requires enormous dedication on the part of a large number of undergraduates,” said Roger Banks, director of undergraduate recruitment. “We are extremely grateful to members of the Undergraduate Minority Recruiting Program (UMRP) and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative 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 with this year’s results, and we have exciting plans for expanded recruitment next year,” said Melanie Brennand Mueller, director of the 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 McGrath praised 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 Elise Eggart, the other co-director, “We get numerous compliments from students about their visits to Harvard and the hospitality extended to them by UAC members.”

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 students a prospective applicant meets, and they introduce College life with grace and humor — while walking backward on Harvard Square’s brick sidewalks in all kinds of weather.”

Fitzsimmons and McGrath emphasized the importance of the role of the teaching faculty in the admissions process. Faculty members speak 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 Harvard’s 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, Frans Spaepen, John Stauffer, Steven C. Wofsy, and Robert M. Woollacott.

Personal contact with admitted students will be crucial 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 fifth year, the Admissions Office is hosting online chats and message boards for admitted students. 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 25-27. In addition to visiting classes, students will attend faculty panel discussions, concerts, receptions, department 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. Over 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,” said Valerie Beilenson, assistant director of the Visiting Program. “Their contact with current undergraduates and faculty provides the critical difference,” added Nathalie Galindo, the other assistant director.

Admitted students have until May 1 to accept their offers of admission.