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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

The Jury Goes Out

1981

By Michel A. Calabrese

The applications have been read, and admissions officers are now huddled in committees to select the members of the Class of 1981.

While the candidates now being considered represent a record increase in female candidates and 8.5 per cent fewer blacks than last year, the minority figures may change if many of the 800 incomplete applications are validated before the end of the month.

"A number of these will end up completing. We hope to make it at least in the neighborhood of last year's total numbers of black applicants and it's possible we may even go slightly higher," William R. Fitzsimmons '67, director of admissions, said yesterday.

Fitzsimmons said the other figures, including the number of men and women, are approximately final figures, but that minority information was subject to change, particularly in the late cases, because it is tabulated by hand as applications complete.

Minority applications as a whole jumped from last year's 1405 to 1563. The overall increase was due mainly to a 33 per cent rise in the number of applicants of Asian background.

Total applications to the College reached a new high of 11,817, up 5 per cent from last year's 11,258 candidates. The surge in female applicants who increased their numbers by 434 applications, represented 78 per cent of the total increase.

Admissions officers attribute the increase in female applicants primarily to the establishment of an equal access policy for women and to improved recruiting resources brought by the merger of the Harvard and Radcliffe Admissions Offices.

Preliminary indications suggest that despite successive tuition hikes, the numbers of middle-income and lower-income applicants are proportionately the same, Fitzsimmons said.

There are, however, proportionately less students applying for financial aid this year.

Fitzsimmons also said he expects the trend towards increased public school applicants to continue, noting a decline in candidates from New England private schools and from overseas.

Even if the number of black applicants does not significantly increase in the next three weeks, Fitzsimmons said the totals would not represent a "precipitative drop downwards" since the final totals have fluctuated in a random pattern between 600 and 680 applicants over the last five years.

A survey of Ivy League admissions offices this week revealed that Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania experienced a rather large reduction in black applicants this year.

Penn fell from 700 to 595 black applicants and Dartmouth from 455 to 358. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the only one of eight schools contacted to report a significant increase in black applicants--up 155 from last year's total of 432.

University efforts to increase the number of minority applicants this year included a primary and secondary recruiting campaign using lists of potentially qualified students prepared by the Educational Testing Service. The University also encouraged Merit Scholarship winners to apply.

Minority student organizations have been very active in writing and going out to visit prospective applicants, Fitzsimmons said, adding that special target areas have been established and that members of the admissions staff visited many city public schools this year.

The Class of 1981, like this year's freshmen, will probably sport cumulative Scholastic Aptitude Test scores some 20 points higher than the Class of 1979.

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