The Tip Factor

Or, Why Harvard Admissions Chose You And Not the Cellist From lowa

Judgment is not limited to the 15 or so fulltime employees of the admissions office, nor to the 2,000 alumni interviewers across the country and in many parts of the world. It also extends to about 20 members of the Faculty and administration who are official members of the committee with voting powers. Each year, depending on how much time the parttime members have to spare, up to 1,000 folders are distributed to faculty and administration members who use their individual expertise to evalute a student's work, Marcia M. Connolly '58, associate director of admissions, says. David G. Mitten, Loeb Professor of Art and Archaeology, says, "I've put in strong pleas for persons who were statistically marginal."

Mosely says he remembers an example of a few years ago when the initial decision to reject a female applicant was reversed when a professor in the Astronomy Department evaluated samples of her work in that field and pronounced them "incredible."

And how important is the alumni interview, shuddering applicants query as they emerge from a half-hour session they are convinced will decide their life. Actually, "the vast majority of interviews more of less support what we already know," Malin says, adding they become important in marginal cases.

Usually the interviewer is "trying to find out whether the alleged strength is a real strength," he says.

And has Harvard ever sent out the wrong decisions to people? Jewett admits to two clerical errors in recent years in which students with similar names were mixed up. In one case, the student admitted by mistake was a strong candidate anyway and Jewett allowed him to attend. Jewett says the students did remarkably well here. In the other case, the student was clearly unqualified and the dean notified the student of the mistake and reversed the decision because he believed Harvard "was not the place" for the applicant.


This year's cycle is finally ending. Harvard's 17-per-cent acceptance rate is the third lowest in the country. It is only higher than Amherst's 14-per-cent and Brown's 16-per-cent. It compares to Princeton's 22-per-cent and Yale's 25-per-cent rate of acceptance.

In Byerly Hall today, the last lists are being doublechecked and the last envelopes sealed. Brown manila folders are being put away. The decisions have gone to bed.

Starting next week, L. Fred Jewett will be a man with an even bigger problem. A phone in his office will tinkle and it will be joined by buzzing throughout Byerly Hall. Nervous students who cannot wait another moment will inquire about their fate. Angered parents of rejected applicants will deluge the office with tears, protests and hysteria. But the entreaties are in vain, for the admissions game for this year is over, and L. Fred Jewett will already be considering the transfer applicants.