29,000 High School Seniors Covet Place in the Class of 2013

Historically highest number of applications will lower the admission rate.

A record-breaking number of more than 29,000 students have applied for spots in Harvard’s class of 2013, up about 5 percent from last year’s 27,462 applicants, the admissions office announced today. With an increase in applicants but the same number of spots available, this year’s admissions season is poised to be even more competitive than last year’s.

“The admission rate will undoubtedly be lower,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 in a phone interview yesterday. “We only have about 1,660 places in the freshman class. We know the Houses are full to capacity and there are no places to put students in the Yard. As last year, we will be conservative in April and take more students from the waitlist in case there is a significant jump in the yield.”

Men make up 50.7 percent of applicants to the class of 2013 and women make up 49.3 percent. Applications have risen in greater Boston and the mid-Atlantic region, risen slightly in the South and West, and decreased slightly in the Northeast.

Other top universities expect an increase in applicants as well. The number of applications to Yale College is approaching 26,000, up from 22,817 applications last year, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel told the Yale Daily News last week. Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania expect to report their applicant numbers later this week or early next week, according to deans of admission at both schools. The University of Virginia, who like Harvard eliminated early admission two years ago, received 21,750 applications, up 17 percent from last year, according to Senior Associate Dean of Admission Greg Roberts.

There are several possible reasons for the increase in applicants, including last year’s expansion of financial aid and recruiting programs like the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative. This year 78 percent of applicants will apply for financial aid, up 5 percent from last year. After last year’s elimination of early admissions, applications rose 20 percent, a possible result of the increased emphasis on recruiting during a time when admissions officers would have formerly been considering early admissions applications, according to the Harvard Gazette.

One emphasis of recruiting efforts has been to sharpen the message that higher education is affordable for students from low-income backgrounds, said Fitzsimmons. Melanie B. Mueller '01, the director of HFAI, told the Gazette that the preliminary increase in African-American, Latino, and Asian-American applicants is partially due to the work of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program.

“Economic factors may affect demand greatly, and an increasing number of students in the next decade and beyond will come from less affluent families who will need to be encouraged to consider higher education,” Fitzsimmons told the Gazette. “Unless we are successful in reaching out to them, our nation will not realize its full potential.”

Though Fitzsimmons said that the overall population of American high school seniors will vary relatively little in the next decade, he said that it is unclear how applicant trends will move in higher education in the future.

“It depends on how severe the economic downturn is and whether or not that discourages students from applying especially from modest economic backgrounds,” Fitzsimmons said in a phone interview. “The question too is whether or not conditions in public schools across the country deteriorate because of continued budget cuts at state and local levels that could have a negative effect on students as they come through the pipeline. That will have an effect on whether students feel ready to apply and whether they even graduate.”

—Staff writer Jillian K. Kushner can be reached at kusher@fas.harvard.edu.