Record Early Action Pool Receives Decisions

As current undergraduates rushed home to begin their winter vacation, prospective members of the Harvard Class of 2006 rushed to their mailboxes and—for the first time ever—their e-mail inboxes to learn the results of the College’s early action process.

A total of 1,174 applicants, 19.3 percent of the pool, received acceptances. Letters were mailed on Dec. 14.

The 6,126 applicants who applied for spots represented record-high numbers for the early action program.

“We had another very high quality pool this year,” said Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis ’70-’73. “There were a lot of compelling applicants—some of whom we were not able to admit.”

Early acceptance programs have come under significant criticism recently after Yale University President Richard C. Levin spoke out strongly against such programs, telling the New York Times in a Dec. 13 article, “If we all got rid of [early decision], it would be a good thing.”

However, Harvard admissions officials have noted that Harvard’s non-binding early action program avoids many of the pitfalls of the binding early decisions used by many colleges—including Yale.

The number of students accepted early was slightly higher this year than in the past couple of years, up from 1,105 last year.

However, the number admitted early remained slightly below the 1,185 accepted early in 1998 into the Class of 2003—the record for early acceptances.

All applicants were mailed notification by U.S. mail as in past years, but over 90 percent of the applicants chose to also receive the admissions committee’s decision by e-mail. These notifications were also sent on Dec. 14, giving applicants the chance to learn the committee’s decision before the traditional letters arrived.

According to the Boston Globe, a number of the e-mails sent to American Online (AOL) accounts never made it through because the service filtered them out as “spam”—useless junk e-mail that bombards many inboxes. But representatives of AOL deny the report.

AOL spokesperson Nicholas J. Graham said the service did not reject any Harvard admissions decisions as “spam.”

“The return of these e-mails was absolutely not caused by any filtering by AOL servers,” said Graham. “The fact is that we know that the overwhelming number of AOL members did receive Harvard’s e-mail.”

While Graham said that approximately 75 admissions e-mails sent to AOL addresses were returned to Harvard as undelivered, he said that given the approximately 2,000 messages that were sent to AOL accounts, such a rate of failure was reasonable.

Graham said that the undelivered e-mails could have been rejected for a variety of reasons, including users exceeding their disk space quota or incorrect recording of e-mail addresses by the admissions’ office.

Kate R. Ross, a senior at New York’s Horace Mann School who applied early action to Harvard, was among those students who did not receive e-mail notification on the appointed day.

She said the delay was particularly troubling for her because many of her classmates also applied early to Harvard had received their acceptances, thus forcing her to spend a weekend in ignorance of Harvard’s decision while most of her classmates already knew.

Despite her difficulties, she said she still thought the e-mail notification a good idea for future years.

“If it had worked, it would have been nice to know early,” Ross said.

However, Ross noted that because Harvard e-mailed applicants during the middle of the day, students at her school crowded into the school’s computer labs to learn Harvard’s decision, thus creating a stressful environment. She suggested in the future the admissions office should consider e-mailing after school hours,

The admitted members of the Class of 2006 are similar in demographic to their predecessors.

Women are slightly better represented in this year’s group of admitted students—making up 48 percent this year, instead of 46 percent last year. The percentage of Asian and black students in the early acceptance pool is also marginally higher than last year, while the percentage of Latino students has dropped slightly.

The admissions’ office deferred 4,677 applicants to consideration in the regular admissions process and rejected 191.

McGrath Lewis said that while the number significantly varies between years, typically a significant number of those who are deferred in the early action process are eventually accepted in the regular admissions process. Last year over 200 students were at first deferred but later admitted.

—Staff writer Daniel P. Mosteller can be reached at dmostell@fas.harvard.edu.