Harvard staff pitched in to help load the mail truck with letters of admission. The letters were mailed out today (March 30) to 2,158 students, 6.2 percent of the record pool of 34,950 applicants. More than 60 percent of the admitted students will receive need-based scholarships averaging more than $40,000, benefiting from a record $160 million in financial aid.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

An unprecedented admissions year

long read

Harvard College invites 6.2% of record 34,950 applicants

Nearly 35,000 students applied to Harvard College this year for admission to the Class of 2015 entering in August. Letters of admission (and email notifications) were sent on March 30 to 2,158 students, 6.2 percent of the record pool of 34,950.

More than 60 percent of the admitted students will receive need-based scholarships averaging more than $40,000, benefiting from a record $160 million in financial aid. Families with students on scholarship contribute an average of $11,500 annually toward the cost of a Harvard education.

Many other selective institutions also experienced record admissions years and have made substantial changes in their financial aid programs. “The public policy benefit of enabling students from all backgrounds to make the most of their talents through higher education will be felt for generations to come,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “Our colleges and universities are reaching out more than ever before for students with remarkable personal qualities and character who can play leadership roles in addressing the many urgent challenges facing us,” he said.

Beyond improvements in financial aid and outreach, Harvard has made substantial changes both to support students once they enroll and to improve their college experiences. Among the enhancements in the past decade are: a new program in General Education; a four-fold increase in the number of small freshman seminars; a new program offering more than 40 secondary fields; the new School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; an augmented advising system that doubles the number of advisers to more than 400 (and includes 200 peer-advising fellows and 60 resident proctors); expanded opportunities for close collaboration with faculty through numerous research and regional centers; a new Arts Initiative and the New College Theatre to enliven already vibrant arts and humanities opportunities; and a wide variety of new possibilities for study abroad, supported by a $100 million gift from David Rockefeller.

“We have worked very hard over the past few years to ensure that every student who comes to Harvard is given the support and the tools that they need to succeed here,” said Dean of Harvard College Evelynn M. Hammonds. “I am very pleased by the progress we have made in delivering an educational experience equal to the talents and aspirations of our undergraduates.”

Not only did more students apply this year to Harvard, but the academic strength and diversity of the pool increased as well. By standard measures of academic talent, including test scores and academic performance, this year’s applicants presented an unprecedented level of excellence. More than 14,000 scored 700 or above on the SAT critical reading test; 17,000 scored 700 or above on the SAT math test; 15,000 scored 700 or higher on the SAT writing test; and 3,800 were ranked first in their high school classes.

Minority representation remained strong. The admitted class is 17.8 percent Asian-American, 11.8 percent African-American, 12.1 percent Latino, 1.9 percent Native American, and 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian. Although it is difficult to make precise comparisons to previous years because of changes in federal requirements concerning the collection and reporting of race and ethnicity information, it is likely that the percentages of African-American and Latino students are records.

Slightly more than half (51.5 percent) of those admitted are men. Last year, both the pool and the admitted group comprised more males, but the matriculating class included only eight more men because a higher percentage of women accepted offers of admission.

Geographic representation remained similar to last year’s figures. More than 22 percent of the admitted students are from the mid-Atlantic states, 21 percent from the Western and Mountain states, 19 percent from the South, 16 percent from New England, 10 percent from the Midwest, and 12 percent from the U.S. territories and abroad.

Foreign citizens make up 10 percent of the admitted students. In addition, a significant number of other entering students will bring an international perspective, including 141 U.S. dual citizens, 70 U.S. permanent residents, and many Americans who have lived abroad. Together, foreign citizens, U.S. duals, and U.S. permanent residents constitute nearly 20 percent of the class. There are 85 countries represented in it.

Nearly a quarter (24.9 percent) of the admitted students intend to concentrate in the social sciences. The biological sciences attracted 23.3 percent. Students expressing an interest in the humanities constitute 19 percent. Students planning an engineering concentration represent 12.6 percent, the physical sciences 9.5 percent, mathematics 7.7 percent, computer science 1.9 percent, and 1.2 percent undecided.

The Class of 2015 will bring extraordinary extracurricular talents to Harvard across a wide range of endeavors. Major interests cited by students include music and other expressive and performing arts (44 percent), debate and political activities, including student government (35 percent), social service (21 percent), and writing and journalism (19 percent). In addition, 56 percent of the class expects to participate in recreational, intramural, or intercollegiate athletics.

“Faced with 35,000 applicants, our alumni/ae interviewers contributed to our process as never before,” said Marlyn E. McGrath, director of admissions. “Personal qualities and character remain central to each and every admissions decision. Our 10,000 alumni/ae volunteers around the world are irreplaceable in other ways as well — attending college nights, visiting schools, and calling newly admitted students and hosting gatherings for them in April. There is no way we can thank them enough for their loyalty and devotion to Harvard,” she said.

Added Elizabeth Adams, liaison to the Alumni/ae Schools and Scholarship Committees, “We are particularly grateful to our alumni/ae volunteers for making our new electronic system function so well, a change that enabled interviews to be submitted rapidly and in time to assist the admissions committee in its vital work.”

Recruitment is the foundation on which Harvard’s excellence rests. Nearly 70 percent of all admitted students and 87 percent of admitted minority students appeared on the original College Board Search List that helped launch Harvard’s outreach program for the Class of 2015. Staff members will visit 60 cities this spring, targeting the high school juniors who may eventually join the Class of 2016. Joint travel trips will be conducted with Duke University, Georgetown University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University. “Joint travel is the fundamental element of our recruitment. Last spring and fall, Harvard admissions officers visited all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, where we saw 44,000 high school students and parents. We also met with more than 3,000 high school guidance counselors,” said Jennifer Gandy, director of the Joint Travel Program.

Eliminating Early Action three years ago allowed more time in the fall for staff to communicate with students who might not have otherwise thought about applying to Harvard. Joint outreach events 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 once again will visit nearly 20 cities with this group. Even though Harvard has restored early admission starting next year (as have Princeton and UVA), all three institutions will continue this travel to reach out to students from modest economic backgrounds.

“Undergraduate recruitment has a long and distinguished history at Harvard,” said Roger Banks, director of recruitment. “Members of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program [UMRP] and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative [HFAI] once again played a vital role in attracting this year’s record pool of students.” Members of both organizations telephoned and sent email messages and letters to prospective applicants. They also conducted recruitment trips around the country and met with middle school and high school student groups who visited Harvard.

“HFAI is one of Harvard’s highest priorities, and once again we were able to attract outstanding students from families with annual incomes under $60,000 and $80,000,” said Monica Del Toro-Brown, co-director of HFAI. Precious Eboigbe, HFAI co-director, noted, “Our students worked closely with staff and alumni/ae, forming a partnership that enabled us to reach out to talented students from modest economic backgrounds who never dreamed Harvard was possible. We are particularly pleased to see a larger number of students admitted from families with incomes under $60,000.”

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 prospective applicants overnight, and visiting high schools. David L. Evans, co-director of the UAC, said that “prospective students need to learn firsthand about the Harvard experience from current undergraduates.” Added Elise Eggart, UAC co-director, “UAC members extend a warm welcome to students interested in Harvard. The UAC provides a human face to the Harvard community, and we hear often from students and families that UAC members made the difference in students’ decision to consider Harvard among their college choices.”

Banks, director of the Student Tour Program, said, “Our tour guides and greeters welcome students to Harvard throughout the year. They love to share personal anecdotes about life in the College, both inside and outside the classroom. Often, they are the first Harvard students a prospective applicant meets, and they introduce college life with grace, humor, and enthusiasm. Added Lucerito Ortiz, assistant director of the program, “Rain or shine, in small groups or large, you’ll find them walking through Harvard Yard, leading groups of prospective students and their families from around the world.”

McGrath emphasized the important role of the teaching faculty in the admissions process. Faculty members speak with many prospective students in person or on the phone and answer their letters and email 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 and creative disciplines,” she said.

Members of the teaching faculty serving on the Admissions Committee are Peter J. Burgard, John E. Dowling, Edward L. Glaeser, Benedict H. Gross, Guido Guidotti, Hammonds, Joseph D. Harris, J. Woodland Hastings, Eric N. Jacobsen, Thomas Jehn, Harry R. Lewis, Richard M. Losick, David R. McCann, James J. McCarthy, Louis Menand, Michael D. Mitzenmacher, Cherry Murray, Richard J. O’Connell, Orlando Patterson, Frans Spaepen, Christopher Stubbs, Richard F. Thomas, Thomas H. Waldo, Steven C. Wofsy, Robert M. Woollacott, and Amir Yacoby.

Personal contact with admitted students will be important over the next few weeks. Members of the UAC, the UMRP, the HFAI, the admissions and financial aid staff, and teaching faculty will telephone and meet with admitted students.

The admissions office reaches out to recruit students across the world through message boards and undergraduate student blogs. The message boards allow students to speak with Harvard undergraduates and one another, while the blogs offer an insider’s view of the College. Danielle Early, director of Internet communications, said, “The boards and blogs provide yet another way for students to meet and make connections with future classmates.”

To give admitted students the opportunity to experience Harvard life and meet future professors and classmates, a Visiting Program for admitted students is scheduled for April 16 to 18. The program, recently renamed “Visitas” by current undergraduates, enables guests to sample classes, attend faculty panel discussions, concerts, receptions, department open houses, symposia, and hundreds of events organized by extracurricular organizations. More than 1,300 admitted students are expected to visit during April, and 1,100 will do so during Visitas. “Contact with current undergraduates and faculty is critically important to students as they evaluate their college options. Students often cite the Visiting Program as pivotal in their decision to choose Harvard,” said director Valerie Beilenson.

Sarah C. Donahue, director of financial aid, and her colleagues will be available to talk with admitted students and their families on weekdays during April from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT and on Sunday (April 17) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during Visitas. “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 full financial aid to a number of financing alternatives: a monthly payment plan; the opportunity to prepay tuition at current rates; and a variety of parent loan programs that extend payments up to 15 years,” she said.

“Students and their families should know 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 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.

Admitted students have until May 1 to accept their offers.