Nearly 80 percent of applicants admitted to the Class of 2020 have chosen to enroll at Harvard College starting in August. This is the fourth year in a row that the yield on admitted students has been in the range of 80 percent, a level last reached more than four decades ago in 1969 with the Class of 1973.
“The Class of 2020 is remarkable by any standard,” said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “These students promise to be the kinds of citizens and citizen leaders who will make a critical difference to the nation and the world in the years ahead.”
Harvard’s wide-ranging financial aid program means that cost was no barrier to assembling such a strong class. More than half of the matriculating students will require need-based financial aid. “Many families face extremely challenging economic circumstances today, and it is central to Harvard’s mission that our doors are open to excellent students from all economic backgrounds,” said Fitzsimmons.
Since launching the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative in 2005, Harvard has awarded $1.5 billion in financial aid to undergraduates. One in five Harvard families has an annual income under $65,000 and pays nothing toward the cost of the student’s education. All students can graduate debt-free, as Harvard meets all demonstrated need and never requires students to take out loans to cover the cost of their education.
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“For 90 percent of American families, Harvard is more affordable than most public universities,” said Sally C. Donahue, Griffin Director of Financial Aid. Families with incomes up to $150,000 and with typical assets pay 10 percent or less of their annual income. In addition, families with higher incomes can qualify for financial aid depending on individual circumstances. For the more than 50 percent of Harvard students who receive financial aid, the average family contribution is $11,000.
As part of its financial aid program, Harvard spent more than $3.3 million last year to help students pay for health insurance, books, travel costs home, fees for events and performances, and other activities to ensure that every student can fully engage in the Harvard experience.
“This year, for the first time, students from these families will also receive a $2,000 ‘start-up’ grant as part of a three-year pilot program to help ease their transition to college and enable them to explore the many opportunities available to Harvard students during the school year and summer,” said Donahue.
The value of these investments is reflected in the accomplishments of the aided students, who have a 98 percent graduation rate in four years. “Harvard’s commitment to financial aid extends to every student accepted through our need-blind admissions process. We will pay your way if you can’t. We will support you with tuition, room, board, books, travel expenses, and more. And we will award grants and never require you to take out loans to cover the cost of your education,” said Fitzsimmons.
Harvard’s yield is particularly notable because the College does not offer athletic or merit-based scholarships. In addition, Harvard’s early action program, unlike binding early decision programs, allows admitted students to apply elsewhere, and asks only that they reply by May 1 after comparing other offers of admission and financial aid. Such freedom and flexibility allow students more time to choose the college that provides the best match, contributing to Harvard’s overall nearly 98 percent graduation rate.
The Class of 2020 is demographically similar to last year’s entering class. About 48 percent of the class is made up of women. Geographical origins are much the same as last year, and U.S. citizens and permanent residents make up more than 88 percent of the class.
Asian Americans are a record high 22.6 percent of the class, African-Americans or black students a record 11.4 percent, Hispanics and Latinos 11 percent, Native Americans 1.9 percent, and Native Hawaiians 0.4 percent.
For the third year in a row, there was an increase in the percentage of the class intending to concentrate in the humanities — from 14.1 percent to 15 to 16.5 this year. “The arts and humanities faculty, led by Diana Sorensen, continued their highly effective outreach for aspiring humanists,” said Marlyn E. McGrath, director of admissions. “The new concentration in Theater, Dance & Media, the re-opening of the Harvard Art Museums, and our vibrant theater opportunities, including the American Repertory Theater, have been met with great enthusiasm on the part of prospective students.”
As part of a multiyear trend, there also was an increase from last year in the number of students interested in engineering (from 10.7 to 12.5 percent) and computer science (from 5 to 6.2 percent). “The Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and its many new and enhanced opportunities — along with our Innovation Lab — are attracting more of the most promising engineers and computer scientists than ever before,” said McGrath.
“An unprecedented 1,300 admitted students attended ‘Visitas,’ our visiting program held this year from April 16-18,” said Timothy J. Smith, the program director. “The freshman dean’s office, under the leadership of Tom Dingman, and the faculty deans of all the Houses stepped forward in heroic fashion to welcome our prospective students. We are also grateful to the amazing work of our students — individually as hosts and collectively through the many student organizations that make Visitas possible.”
“From President Drew Faust’s enthusiastic welcome in Sanders Theatre to ‘Visitas Thinks Big’ and in all the many other events run by faculty, administrators, and students, the College’s breadth, depth, and humanity were never more evident to admitted students and their families, many of whom were seeing Harvard for the first time,” said Fitzsimmons.
“Admitted students who were unable to travel to Cambridge could still experience a ‘Virtual Visitas’ through a combination of livestreamed presentations, interactive Google Hangouts, and social media content shared through the hashtag #WelcometoHarvard,’” said Victoria Marzilli, manager of social media recruitment. “Such opportunities can make a real difference in helping students choose the college that will be the best match for them,” added Amy Lavoie, director of digital communications.
This year’s high yield means that only about 40 to 50 applicants will be admitted from the waitlist. That number will be determined over the next few weeks as admitted students decide whether to defer admission to pursue other opportunities that often develop during May and June.