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.