Campus & Community

Financial aid program draws record number of applications

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Despite challenging times, 29,112 students apply to Harvard this year

Harvard’s financial aid program made the critical difference in leading many of the nation’s and the world’s best students to apply to Harvard College in these challenging economic times. A record 29,112 students applied for admission this year, compared to 27,462 last year. Enhanced a number of times recently, Harvard’s undergraduate financial aid program next year will be the most generous in its history, with $147 million in scholarships, an 8 percent increase from last year and a 167 percent increase over the past decade.

“For those aspiring to a Harvard education and for those currently at Harvard who come from families coping with job losses, home foreclosures, shrinking home equity, and the depletion of savings and retirement funds, our renewed program arrived at a crucial time,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “Financial aid enables students with modest means to believe Harvard is possible for them. Once they are here, the new program ensures they have the same academic and extracurricular opportunities as their more affluent classmates. The unwavering commitment of Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Evelynn Hammonds, dean of Harvard College, and President Drew Faust to keep Harvard open to talented students from all economic backgrounds sends a clear and compelling message to students and families everywhere,” he said.

Seventy percent of Harvard students receive some form of financial aid, with close to 60 percent receiving need-based scholarships. The average total student aid package is likely to be more than $40,000, about 75 percent of the total cost of attendance.

In December 2007, Harvard announced 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 and typical assets, removing home equity from financial aid calculations, and eliminating loans for all students. Nearly 25 percent of the admitted group are eligible for the original Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which asks for no parental contribution from those with annual incomes under $60,000 and reduces contributions from families with incomes of $60,000 to $80,000.

The record applicant pool resulted in the most competitive admissions process in the history of Harvard College. Only 7 percent of the applicants were admitted on March 31. Last year, 7.9 percent were admitted.

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. “Especially in these turbulent economic times, we look forward to talking with 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.

“Students and their families need 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,” said Meg Brooks Swift, director of student employment and the Harvard College Research Program.

By standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance in school, this year’s applicant pool reflects an unprecedented level of excellence. For example, more than 2,900 scored a perfect 800 on their SAT critical reading test; 3,500 scored 800 on the SAT math; and nearly 3,700 were ranked first in their high school classes.

More than half (50.7 percent) of those admitted are men, the reverse of last year’s class, which was 50.7 percent female. A record 10.9 percent of admitted students are from Latino backgrounds, 10.8 percent are African Americans, 17.6 percent are Asian Americans, and 1.3 percent are Native Americans.

Geographic representation remained similar to last year’s. More than 24 percent of the admitted students are from the mid-Atlantic, 21 percent from the Western and Mountain States, 18 percent from the South, 16 percent from New England, 11 percent from the Midwest, and 10 percent from the U.S. territories and abroad. Foreign citizens comprise 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, 134 U.S. dual citizens, and 71 U.S. permanent residents. Together, foreign citizens, U.S. duals, and U.S. permanent residents comprise more than 19 percent of the class. A total of 82 countries are represented in the Class of 2013.

Students’ academic interests remained very similar to those of last year’s Class of 2012. About 25 percent intend to concentrate in the biological sciences, 24 percent in the social sciences, 23 percent in the humanities, 10.5 percent in engineering, 8 percent in the physical sciences, 7 percent in mathematics, 2.2 percent in computer science, and 0.4 were undecided.

The Class of 2013 will bring extraordinary extracurricular talents across a wide range of endeavors. Major activities cited by students as extracurricular interests are music and other expressive and performing arts (44.2 percent), debate and political activities, including student government (33.1 percent), writing and journalism (21.4 percent), and social service (20.1 percent). In addition, 56.5 percent of the class expect to participate in recreational, intramural, or intercollegiate athletics.

“The new class is excellent in so many ways — in their accomplishments, of course, and also in their personal qualities. The help of alumni/ae is a tremendous advantage to us in the recruitment and admissions process,” said Marlyn E. McGrath, director of admissions. “Alumni/ae interviews were more important than ever this year as the Admissions Committee had to choose from so many highly qualified applicants. We are enormously grateful to them for all their hard work and dedication,” she added. The 10,000 alumni/ae volunteers around the world will be calling newly admitted students and hosting local gatherings in April.

Recruitment is the foundation of Harvard’s strength. Nearly 70 percent of all admitted students and 92 percent of minority students were on the original College Board Search List that helped launch Harvard’s outreach program for the Class of 2013. Staff will visit nearly 60 cities this spring, targeting the high school juniors who will eventually comprise the Class of 2014. Joint travel 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 will visit some of these areas and others to speak at high schools and meet with local alumni/ae interviewers.

Eliminating Early Action last year allowed more time in the 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 also eliminated early admission) met with an overwhelming reception in November, previously a time when all three institutions were off the road conducting early admission selection meetings. Harvard will once again visit 25 cities with this group.

“Undergraduate recruitment has a long and distinguished history at Harvard,” said Roger Banks, director of undergraduate recruitment. “Members of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program [UMRP] and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative [HFAI] played a crucial role in attracting this extraordinary group of admitted students.” Members of both organizations made 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.

“HFAI is one of our highest priorities and once again we were able to attract outstanding students from families with annual incomes under $60,000 and $80,000,” said Melanie Brennand Mueller, director of HFAI. Patrick Griffin, HFAI assistant director, added, “Undergraduates and alumni/ae formed a close partnership that enabled us 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 overnights, and visiting high schools. David L. Evans, co-director of UAC, noted that “prospective students are extremely interested in meeting current undergraduates to learn first hand about the Harvard experience.” Added Elise Eggart, UAC’s other co-director, “UAC members get rave reviews from visiting students about their hospitality and the warm welcome they extend to students interested in Harvard.”

Elizabeth Pabst, director of the Undergraduate Tour Program, observed, “Our tour guides and greeters are incredibly excited to welcome prospective students to campus throughout the year. They love to share personal anecdotes about life at Harvard, both inside and outside the classroom. They are often the first Harvard students a prospective applicant meets, and they introduce college life with grace, humor, and enthusiasm. Rain or shine, you’ll find them walking backwards through Harvard Yard, leading groups of prospective students and their families from around the world.”

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 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 applications, evaluate academic research of all kinds, and assess portfolios across a range of academic disciplines.

Members of the teaching faculty serving on the Admissions Committee are: Peter J. Burgard, John E. Dowling, Benedict H. Gross, Guido Guidotti, Joseph D. Harris, J. Woodland Hastings, Harry R. Lewis, David R. McCann, James J. McCarthy, Michael Mitzenmacher, 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 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 sixth 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 to students across the world.” 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.

To give admitted students the opportunity to experience Harvard life and meet their future professors and classmates, 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 dozens of events organized by extracurricular organizations. More than 1,300 admitted students will visit during the month of April, and nearly 1,100 will be here during the Visiting Program. “Many current students tell us that their experience during the Visiting Program helped them decide to attend Harvard,” said Visiting Program director Jim Pautz. “We know that contact with current undergraduates and faculty provides the vital difference.”

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