When Lucerito L. Ortiz ’10 was in high school, she never believed attending Harvard was a remote possibility. “I applied as a dare,” she reminisces.
“It was like, ‘Yeah right, Harvard,’” she recounts, sitting at her desk in the admissions office of Harvard College.
Across the country, students who might be Harvard material in the eyes of the admissions office remain unaware that Harvard could be an option for them. Some believe the Ivy League is for the rich. Others have only seen students from their high schools go on to college in their home state. For many, the image they envision as the typical Harvard student does not look like them.
The admissions office has drastically cut back on its spending on recruiting in recent years. Officers no longer put on information sessions in high schools. Gone are the glossy viewbooks. But at least one goal has outweighed the office’s post-financial-crisis interest in saving money on recruiting.
The Office of Admissions still strives to ensure that when every talented high school student looks in the mirror, he or she sees a potential Harvard applicant.
Many students’ concerns about storied institutions like Harvard spring from anxieties or false impressions tied to race and ethnicity. To attract outstanding students from backgrounds that are underrepresented at Harvard, the College actively reaches out to minority students through the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program.
The effort, which has survived unscathed while many similar initiatives withered in the harsh financial climate of recent years, repays Harvard’s ongoing support with impressive results. Every year, according to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, the UMRP contacts 75 to 90 percent of the minority students who eventually end up at Harvard. The program enjoys a high success rate as it aims to convince students of color that they would indeed look right in crimson.
UMRP is staffed by a paid team of student coordinators who encourage minority students from across the nation to apply to Harvard.
The process starts in the summer, when the admissions office receives a list from the College Board of rising seniors who identified themselves as minority students on the PSAT and agreed to be contacted by colleges. UMRP employees send introductory emails to these students to pique their interest in applying to Harvard.
Ortiz, who is now the assistant director of UMRP, declined to state the scores these students must attain to receive an email from Harvard. “We tend to target students who we feel can fall in an academic range that would be feasible, that would make them feasible and competitive applicants for Harvard,” she said.
The admissions office sends another email to these students in the fall to remind them of the early action application deadline.
During the summer and fall, UMRP staffers often act as long-distance guidance counselors. High school students who have been targeted by minority recruits can call the office to ask for assistance with their application process.
“Their concerns are not very different from everyone else’s: concerns about transitioning, about community, about extracurriculars, academic transitions, all those things,” Ortiz said.
But having a dedicated phone line for responding to those questions is helpful for the students on UMRP’s list. “The program’s purpose is to act as a support network for students who may not find these resources or this information elsewhere,” Ortiz said.