Thirty-nine Harvard seniors submitted applications for the two-year program which trains and places college graduates as teachers in low income public schools across the country.
Last year, 23 Harvard students applied and 43 percent were accepted, according to program officials.
“Nationally speaking we had 16,000 applications, and we accepted about 2000 people—about a 12.5% acceptance rate,” said Crystal D. Brakke, the program’s former recruiting director. “Harvard is clearly blowing that number away.”
Despite Harvard’s traditional interest in the program, An said this year’s rise was still surprising.
“I think the level of application increase at Harvard is very unusual,” she said.
An said applications at other schools have remained consistent with previous years and said the factors behind Harvard’s increase aren’t obvious. Brakke cited increased social awareness after September 11 and the organization’s improved recruiting efforts as other ingredients which have increased the applicant pool.
The tough job market may also have contributed to the rise, but its level of effect is unclear.
“I think that the economy is just one factor among many,” she said.
But Brakke said she is confident that interest in Teach For America will continue to grow, as it has since its founding in 1990.
“4 years ago we received around 5,000 applications. This year, we got 16,000,” she said. “Even if the economy does shift, we will continue to receive the same quality applications.”
Harvard interest in Teach For America has always been strong, with an average of 15-25 teachers chosen from the College each year.
But Brakke said that Harvard applicants do not receive preferential treatment.
“We really are just looking for the people which meet the high bar of standard,” she said.
One such graduate is Andrew Mandel ’00, Teach for America’s National Director for Curriculum Development. Mandel, who is currently a student at the Graduate School of Education, said Teach for America helped him find his calling.
“You really develop a profound commitment to children and to the forces that are working against them,” he said.
Sixty percent of Teach For America teachers pursue careers in education, and Mandel said that potential employers and graduate schools are encouraging students to apply. The top 10 law schools, as well as several consulting firms, are now offering deferred acceptance to students who wish to participate in the program.
Mandel said he hopes this incentive “plants the seeds in peoples minds” to consider the option.
And Harvard still has a chance to break its own record—the second deadline for Teach for America applications is February 11, 2004.