Intense Ivy Rivalry for 'Elite' of Applicants Puts Harvard Eyes on Nation-wide Promotion

Copyright, 1951, by The Harvard CRIMSON.

In New Haven this spring, a record number of men applied for admission to Yale College. In Princeton, the Committee on Admissions found its selection task "the most difficult in history" and had to turn down 700 whom it judged to be "fully qualified." Meanwhile in Hanover, officials at Dartmouth completed the processing of a total splash of 3,380 applicants for but 719 places in the class.

Harvard, too, has attracted a peak number of applicants; but since the war, it has suddenly become locked in a friendly but dead earnest rivalry with every other top eastern college to recruit the "most outstanding" students in the country.

Of course, Harvard has always sought a "Balance in the College" that includes not only top brains but also leaders in a variety of things other than scholarship. But over the last ten years, an especially keen competition has been developing among the Ivy "Big Four" of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth, who all essentially want the same kind of "scholar" and especially "scholar-leader" and "scholar-athlete"--and who all have nurtured the same desire to

What kind of nationally "balanced" student body does Harvard want? How has competition from other Ivy League schools affected that ideal makeup, and what steps has the University taken in response? How much is the problem linked with football? These are some of the questions raised by Harvard's new promotion program which this report aims to study.

achieve a student body that is also geographically representative of the nations.

The competition has not been without its effects, for certain fears have lately been growing in Cambridge that the large numbers of men seeking admission to Harvard do not represent the best possible of all applicants. Provost Buck framed the problem as early as 1946: "What is not obvious to outsiders--and even to many very close to the situation as it existed in the prewar years--is the paucity of applicants of the kind we most desire."

If the truth were to be told today, Harvard would probably finish a poor fourth behind Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale in the aggressiveness and enthusiasm of its schoolboy recruiting program. For one thing, Harvard alumni have long been more loyal with their dollars than with the amount of noise put into tub-thumping and attracting of prospective students.

Far more important has been the earlier start made by Harvard's rivals. Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale all stepped up Schools and Scholarship Committee activity immediately after the war; but Harvard was much slower to realize that it now usually takes more to attract a boy to a college than merely handing him an application form and the address of the Admissions Office.

1. Delayed Action

Both Provost Buck and Director of Admissions Richard M. Gummere early spotted the changing nature of college admissions programs; Buck was especially vigorous in spelling out Harvard's particular problems in two Alumni Bulletin articles in 1946 and 1947. A number of important organizational improvements in and out of Cambridge have since followed. But only the two most disastrous football seasons in Harvard history succeeded in arousing significant alumni recognition of the Administration's long-expressed desires to improve nation-wide promotion of a higher grade of applicants of all types.

Since 1949, over 50 Harvard Clubs have formed Schools Committees; still others have activated groups that had previously existed only as paper organizations. Some of the alumni have doubtless come, complaining loudly about football defeats, and have then gone out recruiting with but one aim in mind. However, interviews with officials and detailed surveys of alumni committees conducted by the writers strongly indicate that the majority of the newly interested alumni view the problem of "Balance in the College" as much bigger than a short-run deficiency of talented football players. Specific observations will be noted in the sections following.

The irony about Harvard's current problem of having to keep pace with its Ivy rivals in hunting nationally for applicants is that Harvard in the thirties was probably the first college to initiate such a policy. Admissions programs were then far calmer and more relaxed than they are today. In fact, President Conant's 1934 National Scholarship program was probably the biggest step ever taken up to that time by an eastern school to become a truly "national college." Alumni Scholarship Committees began multiplying in the West, where the early National Scholarships were concentrated.

One of the biggest aims of National Scholarships, Conant says, was to "present the advantages of Harvard in places where Harvard is not so obvious." This can lead to two kinds of results. First, it may interest many a new boy who can benefit from a Harvard education but who previously had never thought much about coming east. But, secondly, a strong geographical distribution injects a more varied and richer student body into the process of education.

2. The Changing Thirties

Although western enrollment indeed rose during the 'thirties, a glance at the statistics on the third page reveals that even before National Scholarships started, Harvard was able to attract many a man from great distances.

Those were the days, Provost Buck notes, when Harvard was "living easily on its past prestige." Nobody thought seriously of having to "recruit" top-quality students. Gummere recalls that admissions problems in those days were "open and shut": the committee could do its whole job of picking a class in just four days, and somehow there always seemed just the right supply of outstanding candidates.

During the 'thirties, however, several things began to complicate the picture. First, excellent state universities like Michigan, Illinois, and California, as well as private colleges like Stanford and Oberlin--grew in academic stature and thus gained appeal for men across the country. At first, Harvard, with her tremendously strong reputation could ignore the competition. Armed with National Scholarships, Harvard could continue to push for a national college without any real worries of having to step up recruiting.

"From the first foundation to the present, four main streams have watered the sell on which the Universities have flourished. These ultimate sources of strength are: . . . the cultivation of learning for its own sake; . . . the general educational stream of the liberal arts; . . . the educational stream that makes possible the professions; and the never failing river of student life . . . The cultivation of learning alone produces not a university but a research Institute. The sole concern with the student life produces an academic country club or merely a football team maneuvering under a collegiate banner. The future of the university tradition in America depends on keeping a proper balance between the four essential Ingredients. . ." PRESIDENT CONANT, TERCENTENARY ADDRESS, 1936. Classes of 1954 at a Glance   HARVARD  YALE  PRINCETON  DARTMOUTH Gross number of applicants  3000  3000  3200  3380 Number In class  1150  1049  763  719 Number Interviews (approximate)  2000  2000  1800  3300 Geographical Distribution: New England  44.4%  28.4%  7.1%  33.2% Middle Atlantic  26.3  35.9  57.1  39.8 Middle West  14.0  18.9  22.5  16.0 Far West  6.0  6.8  4.8  5.9 South  6.0  8.1  6.4  2.9 Foreign & Others  3.3  1.9  2.1  2.2 Private Schools  50  63  50  39.5 Public Schools  50  37  40  60.5 Scholarship Students  24  28  30 -40  23 Non-scholarship  76  72  70  77 Number Alumni Committees  90  300-400  87  300-400

COMMENT: The above figures indicate, that in pure numbers, Princeton is attracting the largest number of gross applications per places to be filled and that Dartmouth is well ahead in the number of interviews conducted. And despite Harvard's early National Scholarship program, both Yale and Princeton now have better national distribution percentages.

In the above figures, Princeton interviews omit unfiled interviews. Princeton scholarship figures include loans. And in the Alumni Committee statistics, Yale includes individuals as well as full committees.

But Eastern competitors like Princeton, Dartmouth, and Amherst started following Harvard's lead in looking west. The other eastern colleges naturally saw similar advantages in expanding their own clientele. Noting Harvard's success, they responded by sending their alumni on the road both to attract new students and to interview them for admission.

All the eastern colleges--Harvard especially--soon discovered that expanding westward and also increasing scholarships resulted in multiplying by three or four the number of schools contributing applicants. Harvard was no longer dealing with schools like Exeter, Groton, and Boston Latin, whose headmasters and principals knew well which men the College was looking for. As a result, the Admissions Committee could no longer count so heavily on school recommendations, and it then began to see the need for much more personal interviewing.

During the war, Harvard's drive for a national college was mothballed. Then, right after the war, the other Ivy colleges greatly intensified their efforts over anything they had ever done, but Harvard, meanwhile, seemed still to be suffering from its war-time stagnation. Conant himself believes that the movement for "Balance in the College," nationally and otherwise, lost some momentum right about that time.

3. Buck Notes Danger

Whatever the reasons, Harvard simply had not geared itself to the surge of alumni activity by other colleges, and it even found itself facing possible loss of its pre-war balance. The Provost's 1946-47 Bulletin articles pointed to the fact that many, many applications were "running to type," and he warned:

". . . We should take measures to increase the flow of good students who have other qualities that are needed to reach our ideal balance. . . . I believe there are many boys of the kind we want in the second quarter of classes that now send up only top men.

". . . (But) let me make it clear that I do not propose that we should take any action to stop the flow to Harvard of the studious or sensitive type of boys. This should be obvious. What is not obvious . . . is the paucity of applicants of the kind we desire.

". . . We need at Harvard an extended organization for making contacts with the 500 to 1,000 schools which now send us students, often only occasionally. . . . And we must more effectively carry our message of what Harvard is and what it offers to the country at large."

Buck's words did not long go unanswered. Since 1946-47 six things have happened to put Harvard on a virtual par with Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale in at least its physical capacity to spread its name and admissions data:

(1). The night before the 1949 Princeton football game, University administrators met Harvard Club delegates at the Harvard Club of Boston. Alumni agreed to revitalize and to man Schools Committees. The administrators on their part agreed to take appropriate steps in Cambridge to implement the program. Over 90 such Harvard Club committees are now in operation, although only half of these can currently be classified as truly "active."

(2). In early 1950 John U. Monro '34 was named to head a Financial Aid Center, which now integrates scholarship, employment, and loan aid to the men who have been admitted.

(3). Director of Scholarships F. Skiddy von Stade '38 compiled financial aid information into a 54-page "Alumni Handbook" which he sent out to all interested alumni. The book also lists criteria for selection, suggested interview techniques, and a system for evaluating and reporting data to the Admissions and Scholarships Committees. It is constantly being kept up-to-date.

4. Changes in Cambridge

(4). The Admissions Office added Graham R. Taylor '49 as Gummere's first full-time assistant, and Dana M. Cotton also began helping the office on a part-time basis. In addition other officials like Bender, von Stade, Monro, Dean Leighton, and Professors Lect and Menzel have aided Gum mere by making special trips to admissions "problem areas."

(5). Francis P. Kinnicutt '30 became the first full-time secretary to the president of the Associated Harvard Clubs. He was to be a roving liasion between Cambridge and the Schools and Scholarships Committee.

(6). Other groups joined the program, too. A reorganized and more compact Overseers' Visiting Committee on Athletics and the Varsity Club, both eyeing the "athlete" problem, pledged their aid. Even the Crimson Key formed a group of 85 undergraduates, who have already begun acting as contact men for the alumni Schools Committees.

These six steps have at last provided most of the necessary machinery to match similar Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale programs. Yet they represent no guarantee of successfully "balancing the College" without alert, aggressive alumni to fill committee ranks.

At the same time, however, the project carries certain grave dangers. Unleashed alumni who track down only football players could do the College much greater harm than those who overlook the athletes and other schoolboy leaders and hunt solely for scholars. Probably the basic questions to be faced are whether everyone has the same definition of "Balance in the College" and whether everything in Harvard's new program really helps this goal.

6. What Does 'Balance' Mean?

"Balance in the College" does not mean a student body of "all-around boys." As Dean Bender points out, it is not the mission of Harvard College to educate a vast horde of C-minus "good citizens." Bender and others realize that Harvard is too important an institution to tamper with. "Superior academic intelligence is still our primary concern," Bender emphasizes.

But beyond this common student base of top intelligence, the College is seeking a variety of skills and tastes in its undergraduate body. It seeks scholars. But it also wants top writers, athletes, politicians, musicians, debaters, and even some men who for the present seem to be merely dilettantes.

"Balance" is a crucial factor in education itself, Harvard has always felt. For a national student body possessing many and varied talents offers the most perfect cosmopolitan environment for teaching and for learning. Samuel Eliot Morrison '08 says in his "The Founding of Harvard College":

"As long as Harvard remains true to her early traditions, rich men's sons and poor, serious scholars and frivolous wasters, saints and sinners . . . will meet in her Houses, her Yard, and her athletic fields, rubbing off each others angularities, and learning from contact what cannot be learned from books."

Much of this balance is achieved almost automatically. Harvard still holds undisputed first place as the nation's top University, a reputation which will always attract a solid group of fine scholars.

For better or worse, the College's inevitable reputation as a "brain factory" will probably keep principals shunting to Harvard "the best boys we've had in years." But only about ten percent of the College form this absolute "scholar class"; it is below this top ten percent "balancing" qualities (like character, extra-curricular interests, and of intent) enter into the picture.

With such time-tested mechanical devices as College Board scores, the Admissions Committee can easily eliminate the academic dregs. But the large middle ground of applicants presents critical problems of evaluation.

As ever, the Committee on Admissions weights grades highest, but it also emphasizes geographical location by starting the selection process in the west and then working east. When it comes to appraising things like general seriousness of purpose or kinds of extra-curricular activity, the admissions process becomes a "highly individualized proposition," Gummere points out. This year a record number of personal interview reports were submitted, and each particular report must be evaluated in a different way. So big are today's problems that a quorum of the Committee on Admissions holds sessions almost daily from April through June.

6. Advertising Problems

Yet the feeling still persists that Harvard is not getting its full quota of men who are outstanding "leaders" as well as scholars.

President Conant describes the College's latest moves of promotion as a case of "running hard to stand still." The program of "running hard" involves sending officials and alumni into various schools where they contact possible applicants. A combination selling and information campaign follows in areas where Harvard feels it may have been cut off from its normal flow by the recruiting programs of rivals.

"Selling" a college, though, can become a performance approaching a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza.

In fact DeMille himself could probably take a few pointers from the annual "College Day" held at many large mid-western high schools. The schools, many of them no doubt irked at the unending parade of college admissions men, have in many cases had over 400 college officers assemble in the same place on one day to talk shop.

John Monro, who has been playing the Illinois circuit for Harvard during the past several years, says that "the travelling circus of admissions counselors descends on a high school like locusts." Monro explains that he takes a table, plunks down some pamphlets, hangs up a Harvard banner, sees a few harried students and parents, and then pulls up stakes for the next town's "College Day."

Monro feels that this type of selling and interviewing "doesn't do too much harm," but it isn't exactly his idea of how to conduct the program. He much prefers to deal with each school individually, and by virtue of his coming from the East, he usually does manage to conduct his business more calmly outside the arena.

Dean Bender does not want to see this high pressure selling get out of hand either. "We can certainly benefit from good salesmanship and the added evidence from interviews," he says, but the problem "must be approached with perspective and humility." Bender insists that any College of "real integrity" will inevitably be out of tune with some powerful currents in American life. As a result, Harvard would surely be wrong to try to become a "popular" college that was "all things to all men." Harvard's biggest selling point is its tremendously strong educational reputation; as Bender notes, "We cannot possibly hope to appeal to all the leaders of schools and still expect to maintain this basic integrity."

One other extremely delicate problem concerned with nation-wide promotion is that of judging applicants from one region against those of another. It could be easy to-accept large numbers of Western students while rejecting better qualified eastern students. Educational standards could be sacrificed through such a careless procedure.

7. What About Athletes?

To many both inside and outside the Harvard family it may seem that the College and all its Ivy rivals have gone on gigantic athlete-purchasing sprees. Some skeptics maintain that Harvard is abandoning its traditional policy of having students play football in favor of having football players attend colleges.

No Harvard administrator will flatly deny that the College is conducting an intensive search for scholar-athletes; but at the same time, the College will point out that it is not at all changing its amateur athletic policy. A "Balanced College," administrator say, requires an intercollegiate athletic program.

Since the war, however, rival Ivy League recruiting has unquestionably attracted many fine scholar-athletes who might normally have come to Cambridge. In striking back, Harvard may expect unpleasant consequences no matter what it does. Even when Crimson alumni try to convince a good scholar-athlete to come here, the boy will often construe such talk as the same old bribery they have heard from Big Time recruiters, albeit done up in a dignified package. Some Harvard alumni may even have made empty, irresponsible promises, but Dean Bender feels that any "disillusioned" football players here today are more likely victims of the current national mania that seems to say a college owes the athlete something special.

". . . There is an aristocracy to which the sons of Harvard have belonged, and let us hope will ever aspire to belong--the aristocracy which excels in many sports, carries off honors and prizes in learned professions and bears itself with distinction in all fields of intellectual labor and combat . . ." PRESIDENT ELIOT, INAUGURAL ADDRESS, 1869.

"Respectable" sales programs are often mere facades for many colleges that pretend they are "selling" the college when they are really buying the player. Princeton, however, and several other Ivy Leaguers seem to have made the program work so far without deliberately entering the professional circuit. Princeton seems intentionally to foster the reputation of being a place for the "all-around boy"--a reputation that automatically attracts a large number of student-athletes.

But the traditionally vociferous, Nassau alumni also have a recruiting machine which, according to one Harvard official, "is simply beautiful to watch." Well-organized Schools and Scholarship Committees scour the nation for scholar-athletes, and when they get one they feel can meet Princton's high standards, they apply continuous pressure. They seldom lose the boy to another college. They contact him at the crucial time just after acceptances have been mailed out. (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton acceptances are usually all sent on the same day, under a College Board agreement).

Princeton also encourages trips to the Nassau campus, shows athletic films around the country, and sends the affable Charley Caldwell on the chicken-salad circuit.

Furthermore, Princeton's press relations work, has been generally excellent. The Tigers' athletic successes have been vigorously publicized, and such publicity is particularly important in the prep school area where college sports are well followed. Harvard football defeats has seemingly blotted out much of the news about the many other successful Crimson teams. And yet Harvard sports publicists have looked strangely passive in their promoting of the good news about Harvard athletic teams.

Yale follows a similar program; Bob Kunned takes his swimming team to a Massachusetts prep school for an exhibition meet, and Bob Hall brings Yale movies along when he drops in at Connecticut schoolboy team banquets.5A map of Yale and Princeton alumni activity would show a similar pattern with different centers of strength. ST. LOUIS and BALTIMORE, for instance, are considered "Princeton towns." Harvard, on the other hand, is far more active in securing the top applicants from MINNEAPOLIS and CLEVELAND, while Yale at present is attracting top students from SEATTLE and PORTLAND. Closer to home, Harvard alumni just last month organized a Harvard Club and a Schools Committee in the Massachusetts North Shore area, a section which Dartmouth has been combing for years.