Harvard Admits Slightly Fewer Early Action Applicants
1,137 thick envelopes consistent with recent years
1,137 early action applicants will start this year's holiday season with cheer when they learn that they have been accepted to Harvard's Class of 2004.
They are only a slightly smaller group than last year's 1,185 early admits, but they are a much smaller fraction of the early applicant pool--only 18.9 percent--compared to last year's 25.9 percent. The total number of early applicants jumped 31.8 percent this year.
The acceptances were mailed out yesterday--along with 4,617 notices of deferral and 220 rejections.
"The admitted group included unusually promising potential scholars in all fields," said Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis '70. "We believe they have much to offer their teachers and fellow classmates in the years ahead."
According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67, this year's outcome is not a complete surprise. He said that the number of admits is consistent with the range of 900 to 1,200 established over the last few years, since the admissions staff acts conservatively in extending early offers of admission.
"We've always been conscious of the need to make certain that we don't find ourselves in the position of turning down stronger students later," Fitzsimmons said, "and this year is no exception."
Harvard's early action program, now almost a quarter-century old, has become the choice of an increasingly large number of college applicants, particularly over the past decade. The program's growth accelerated even further in 1995-96, when several other top schools moved to binding early decision programs, which require students to attend if they are admitted.
Yale and Princeton both use early decision rather than early action.
Early admission programs have garnered a great deal of media attention in the past few years--another explanation for this year's record number of applicants.
Admissions officials also cite the cumulative effect of increased recruiting efforts and the new financial aid program announced in September 1998 as factors in the growth of the early applicant pool.
And high school guidance counselors have said that the large number of successful early applicants have encouraged more students to apply early, despite the long-standing admissions office policy that applying early won't give students a better chance of being accepted.
With this year's numbers bucking the trend in admits, Fitzsimmons said he hopes prospective applicants across the country will find themselves reconsidering the idea that an early application is a better application.
"It certainly wouldn't hurt if this year's numbers encourage students--and their parents and counselors--to think twice about applying early," he said. "There are many students who would be much better served by applying regular action."
From a demographic perspective, 48.4 percent of this year's early admits were female, up from last year's rate of 47.3 percent. Geographic diversity was similar to last year, with a slightly higher number of admits from New England and mid-Atlantic regions and slightly lower admits from Canada and abroad.
The early admits represented a more ethnically diverse group, with African-American students comprising 7.7 percent, up from 5.9 percent last year, and Latino students rising from 6.3 to 7.1 percent. Asian-American and Native American admits both dropped slightly.
The diversity in both the applicant pool and the admit group represents a victory for the admissions office, which recognizes that early action applicants historically tend to be more affluent, and more white, officials said.
Deferred students--who make up the bulk of the applicants--can still hope to color themselves Crimson in April. In recent years, 85 to 220 deferred early action applicants have been admitted in the spring.
"People have honored us by applying and if they have any chance of getting in later, we give them the chance to do so [by rolling them into the regular applicant pool]," Fitzsimmons said. "I know there are people who think we should reject more, but we try to be positive about this."
With regular applications flowing in this month, admissions officers still have most of their year's work ahead, even though the spring cycle puts them under slightly less time pressure.
"I talked to the staff yesterday and I reminded them that they have been through an extremely difficult time," Fitzsimmons said. "It is critically important that they take their vacation time to prepare for regular action."