Harvard College received 4,245 applications for early admission to the Class of 2016, the University announced on Monday. This year marks the first time that the College has offered early admission since it eliminated the program four years ago.
The revived early program allows students to apply to the College by Nov. 1 and receive a non-binding decision in mid-December. The process, referred to as single-choice early action, stipulates that students only apply to one school early.
“We’re never concerned about the numbers. It’s always about the quality. And the impression so far is that the quality is very, very high,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67. “It’s also the case that this is a very diverse group ethnically.”
Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia eliminated their early admissions programs in 2006, arguing that they unfairly benefited students from privileged backgrounds.
“Early admission programs tend to advantage the advantaged,” then-Interim University President Derek C. Bok said in a statement in 2006. “Students from more sophisticated backgrounds and affluent high schools often apply early to increase their chances of admission, while minority students and students from rural areas, other countries, and high schools with fewer resources miss out.”
Harvard and Princeton retreated from that stance earlier this year, with each announcing the return of early admissions within hours of each other. Though Harvard administrators had hoped other colleges and universities would follow suit in eliminating early admission, that trend never materialized.
In the February announcement of early admission's return, Fitzsimmons argued that the circumstances had changed and that a broader group of students sought to apply early.
In this year’s early admissions pool, nine percent of the applicants are African American, up nearly two-thirds from four years ago and nine percent are Latino, up almost one-third. Seventy-two percent of applicants applied for financial aid, also an increase.
Still, Fitzsimmons acknowledged that the pool would likely be less diverse than the class as a whole.
“It is certainly true that if you look at students from most ethnic backgrounds and certainly true for students who need financial aid, they are much less likely to have access to counseling that other students would have,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s certainly far [more diverse] than it was in the past. I still believe that differential opportunities will continue to produce the kind of results we’ve seen in early admission.”
Early application numbers at Harvard’s peer institutions varied greatly. Yale received 4,310 applications, down 18 percent from the previous year. Application numbers at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania declined by less than one percent, from 5,929 to 5,880 and from 4,571 to 4,526 respectively. Princeton received 3,547 early applications.
Speaking to the Yale Daily News, Yale Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel acknowledged the impact of Harvard and Princeton’s decisions to bring back early admission.
“Though it is impossible to identify all of the factors that influence early admissions numbers, it is clear that the policies this year are allowing students to sort themselves out more among schools,” he said.
Fitzsimmons offered no estimate of the number of students that will be admitted through the early action process.
“What we’re going to do is what we always did. If we’re 100 percent certain that we would take the person later, we’ll take the person early,” said Fitzsimmons, noting that there was a very high bar of certainty. “We have no quotas in our minds, no numbers. We don’t go there.”
More than 21 percent of approximately 4,000 early applicants to the Class of 2011 received acceptance letters early, compared with an overall admissions rate of less than 9 percent. The acceptance rate for the Class of 2015 stood at a record low 6.2 percent.
Asked how the admissions office has adjusted to reading applications early, Fitzsimmons smiled and laughed.
“We’ve done this before, we know how to do this,” he said.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.