The only child of immigrants from India, Meena Venkataramanan was unsure how to respond to her acceptance email from Harvard College. Then came a phone call from a coordinator at the admissions office’s Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program (UMRP). The coordinator explained how, “as a person of color, they had really found a home there,” said Venkataramanan, and the chat helped convince her Harvard “was the place for me.”
Venkataramanan said few students from her home area around Tucson, Ariz., attend Ivy League schools. A sophomore who plans to concentrate in English or government, Venkataramanan wants to make sure students understand the many choices they have for higher education. After arriving in Cambridge, she became a hometown recruiter for the UMRP, heading back to Arizona over winter break to meet with students from schools in and around Tucson, including in Nogales, a town on the Mexico border where students are almost entirely Latinx, she said, and where there’s a misconception that the “students there don’t care.”
So many teens turned out for her talk that it had to be moved from a classroom to the auditorium. “That was honestly the most rewarding thing,” said Venkataramanan, along with the news that a student from the school had recently been accepted to Harvard College.
Since 1971, the UMRP, a program of Harvard Admissions and the Financial Aid Office, has worked to raise awareness about Harvard’s diverse campus and application process among minority middle and high school students. Harvard’s oldest recruitment program, the UMRP is part of a range of efforts aimed at encouraging students from all backgrounds to consider applying. In addition to the UMRP, the office supports the Harvard First Generation Program, which promotes College awareness to future first-generation students; the Harvard College Connection, a digital media effort that encourages qualified candidates to apply; and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which raises awareness of College affordability for students interested in higher education.
Given the importance of financial aid to so many prospective students, the programs work closely with the Office of Financial Aid, whose mission is to ensure that a Harvard education is affordable for all. About 55 percent of students receive need-based scholarships and pay an average of $12,000 per year. Twenty percent of parents who send their children to Harvard pay nothing.
Students who have reached out to Harvard and opted to receive information via email about the College experience, as well as students who have taken an AP exam or received strong results on the SAT, constitute a broad search list that admissions officers refer to when identifying candidates who might fit well at the College.