Excerpts From Federal Report on Harvard Admissions

The following are excerpts from the statement of findings written by the Education Department Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about the College's admissions office.

In reviewing Summary Sheets for indication of specific factors which appear in a general sense to positively or negatively affect admissions, OCR found that the most frequent comments indicating why an applicant was rejected stated that an applicant was "hookless," "not special," "standard," "flat," or otherwise "not unique in the H/R pool," and, thus, would have difficulty getting admitted. The second most frequent comment for rejected applicants was that they were weak academically, in comparison to other applicants. On the plus side, the most clear indication of positive weight which appeared to significantly increase an applicant's chance of admissions was found in comments on recruited athlete and legacy files.

OCR found information in the readers' comments on the Summary Sheets which illustrated the significance of the weight given to recruited athletes. The following readers' comments from applicants who were admitted to the classes of 1991 and 1992, illustrate the weight and significance that athletics can play in in the admissions process:

"A shaky record and so-so scores don't bode well for [the applicant's] case,...nice personal qualities, and he'd make a fine addition to the team if the coaches go all out for him, but that's what it would take."

"...a straightforward case hanging on athletic ability. Easy to do if a needed `1' [athletic rating], pretty ordinary if not."

"As a swimmer who could `help the program' she is special. If she isn't really special, the case will be difficult to make."

"I fear that this may be tough without a field hockey push."

"If she's a `1' [athlete] she's one to compare on `the list.' Otherwise I'm afraid the mediocre scores will work against her."

These comments suggest that an applicant's ability and Harvard's need for such an athlete on its teams (reflected in the coaches' "lists"), can be crucial if not decisive in determining whether or not to admit the applicant.

OCR noted that both Asian Americans and white applicants received positive weight for athletic "tips." There was not evidence in the Summary Sheets to suggest that the implementation of athletic preference or "tip" was in any way designed to negatively treat or affect Asian Amer can applicants.

Legacy Leverage

Similarly, our review of the readers' comments on the Summary Sheets illustrated the significance of being a Harvard-Radcliffe legacy in the admissions process. OCR observed the following readers' comments on applicants who were ultimately admitted to the classes of 1991 and 1992 which illustrate the positive weight given for being a legacy:

"Well, not much to say here. [Applicant] is a good student, w/average EC's [extracurricular], standard athletic, middle-of-the-road scores, good support and two legacy legs to stand on...Let's see what alum thinks and how far the H/R [Harvard-Radcliffe] tip will go."

"Dad's...connections signify lineage of more than usual weight. That counted into the equation makes this a case which (assuming positive TRs and Alum IV) is well worth doing."

"This is a good folder, but without the lineage it seems shy of an absolutely clear hook."