Perhaps because we survived the process, the Harvard admissions procedures for admitting students has always held our fascination. L. Fred Jewett '57 knows that process better than anyone. These are some of his favorite stories about admissions.
Dean Jewett says this story is his all-time favorite and most bizzare admissions yarn:
Several years ago a student by the name of Joe Smith was admitted to the College. He was a rather exceptional boy with excellent academic and extra-curricular credentials. Soon after he was admitted, however, Smith notified the admissions office that he was turning down Harvard to go to another school in the area.
After a little less than a year, the College heard from Smith again. He wrote that he had decided not to go to another school after all and instead has taken several jobs in the past year. Now he was interested in enrolling again and was hoping that the College would let him. His letter enclosed several glowing recommendations from the past year's employers. There was nothing unusual about such a procedure so the College told Smith he could come in the fall.
Late that summer the College got a letter from Smith saying that he was having serious family problems. The letter said his father had passed away and now he needed a scholarship because his mother could not support the household. The College notified Smith that the arrangement would be made. Shortly after the receipt of the scholarship, Smith sent another letter saying that his mother was going to re-marry and he wanted to change his name to his new father's name. The College again said fine, provided the change was not done ad hoc but legally, and that he could show Harvard the documents. The College didn't hear anything from him for a while until right before school began when he wrote that the marriage hadn't worked out.
That fall Smith got into some academic trouble, including two unsatisfactories on his first two hourlies. A senior advisor was dispatched to counsel Smith. They got to talking and Smith said that he was having a bit of trouble commuting, that he was really taxing a friend of his, a teacher from Buckingham, Brown and Nichols who drove him to school everyday. The adviser told him to work harder and relax more.
There were other problems, however. Smith had given the University a post office box where he could be reached for all bill payments. The fiscal services office had been sending bills to that address but had yet to receive any money from Smith. After sending several notices, the fiscal services had called the freshman dean's office and asked them to find out what Smith's problem was.
The senior adviser who originally spoke with Smith took the call. Because Smith could only be reached through the post office box, the adviser did not know where to begin. He remembered Smith's friend, over at Buckingham, Brown and Nichols and gave the teacher a call. The adviser asked the teacher: "Hey, do you know how I can get a hold of that Harvard student, Joe Smith, that you drive to school each day?"
The teacher replied, "Yes, but his name is Pete Brown, not Joe Smith."
The situation was beginning to make sense. College officials huddled on the matter and decided they had to confront this Pete Brown/Joe Smith and find out what was going on. "We got everybody alerted--and started doing detective work," Jewett recalls.
Finally, after weeks of trying to get a hold of the guy, the officials nabbed him in a stake-out at Mem Hall where he was scheduled to take a fine arts mid-year exam. After several hours of denials Pete Brown offered the following explanation. Smith was a vague friend of Brown's who had gone to the same high school. When Smith decided not to go to Harvard--he had indeed enrolled in an area school--Brown decided to assume his identity. He forged letters of recommendation and, in order to get his name changed to Peter Brown, of course he concocted the story of his father's death and his mother's re-marriage. The story was further complicated by the fact that Peter Brown never told his parents what he was doing. The post office box kept them uninformed too. The secrecy at home explained why he needed the scholarship so badly. His double life was made even more difficult by his appearances on campus where other Harvard students from his high school knew and called him by his real name.
Jewett sums it all up by saying that perhaps Brown could have pulled the whole thing off if the College had let him change his name without asking for legal papers. There is one hitch, however--Brown wasn't that intelligent. Jewett says he had already flunked out of another college during the year between high school and Harvard and seemed to be headed in the same general direction at Harvard, too.
Some people, Jewett says, never give up hope of getting in here. One character has applied every year for the past five years. Some years he puts in two or even three applications with his names and essays slightly altered. He'll change a middle initial, or spell his first and last names a bit differently and make a few changes on his essays, Jewett says. Each time he is rejected the College gets a big long letter explaining how it must have made some mistake, "I don't think he'll ever make it," Jewett says.
When sorting out applications the admissions officials tends very early to group together those people who look like sure admits. One person's application about three or four years ago definitely footed that bill. A quick glance at his file revealed some amazing feats. But, under closer observance the officials began to smell a rat. The guy claimed to have danced with Nureyev, run a 9.3 hundred and played in the New York Philharmonic. He said he had gotten all 800s on every test. It's funny the straw that broke the camel's back was his claim that he was an All-American soccer player. "There was just too many things he was claiming to do that hadn't been done," Jewett says about the rejected culprit.