The letters that will answer the Big Question for 13.158 high school seniors this week offer no conclusive answers to the question that has been preoccupying admissions and financial and administrators--how threatened and actual aid cuts and general economic uneasiness will affect the makeup of Harvard's future classes.
William R. Fitzsimmons '67, acting director of admissions and financial aid, predicted yesterday that this year's "yield"--the proportion of accepted applicants who decide to come here--will remain around its usual level of 73 percent, producing a freshman class of roughly 1600. But Fitzsimmons said the admissions office is keeping its prediction close to last year's yield simply because "cross-pressures" in society could push the yield radically either way.
The yield could drop because of increased financial pressure on families, or rise because other top colleges have not publicly reaffirmed aid-blind admissions as Harvard has, Fitzsimmons added.
Statistics released several weeks ago on applicants to the Class of '86 showed that only 2053. or 15.8 percent, came from families where the father had not attended college a drop of 1330 over the last three years. The drop, however, was not reflected in either minority applicants or minority admissions, which increased to an all-time high for Asian-Americans and dropped slightly for Blacks. Hispanics, and Native Americans.
Anxiety about Harvard's financial and policy probably sparked the decline in "non affluent" applicants, Fitzsimmons said. But he noted that minority applicants, because of fairly heavy recruiting before and during the application process, may have had a greater opportunity than non-minorities to learn that Harvard will continue guaranteeing full financial aid to all accepted applicants.
Stepping up recruitment of working class students--one possible solution to the problem--could prove difficult because working-class students still lack an "established focus" at Harvard. Fitzsimmons said. But he added that the admissions staff will try to restructure next fall's recruiting trips to encompass more schools with many working class students, and will distribute a new booklet called "How to Finance a Harvard-Radcliffe Education."
Recruiting aside, prospective minority applicants are probably "scared away at about the same rate as any other group" that is confused by rumors of the actual and proposed a Reagan budget cuts. Fitzsimmons added.
Though the bulk of the paperwork is over in the admissions office, the phones are ringing nonstop, and the words. "Sorry, we can't disclose any information until Monday" punctuate the waiting-room air.
All seven Ivy League schools, according to a longstanding pact, launched their notification letters through U.S. mail at 1201 a.m. on the 15th and then imposed a moratorium until the morning of the 19th, by which time most applicants should have learned their fates.
After that, minority recruiters enter another few days of frenzy, engaging in a "Call-a-Thon" to all accepted minority students and planning for a late-April "pre-freshman" minority weekend. For the rest of the staff the respite is briet: interviewing for the Class of 1987 begins May 1.