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Excerpts From Federal Report on Harvard Admissions


The following are excerpts from the statement of findings written by the Education Department Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about the College's admissions office.

In reviewing Summary Sheets for indication of specific factors which appear in a general sense to positively or negatively affect admissions, OCR found that the most frequent comments indicating why an applicant was rejected stated that an applicant was "hookless," "not special," "standard," "flat," or otherwise "not unique in the H/R pool," and, thus, would have difficulty getting admitted. The second most frequent comment for rejected applicants was that they were weak academically, in comparison to other applicants. On the plus side, the most clear indication of positive weight which appeared to significantly increase an applicant's chance of admissions was found in comments on recruited athlete and legacy files.

OCR found information in the readers' comments on the Summary Sheets which illustrated the significance of the weight given to recruited athletes. The following readers' comments from applicants who were admitted to the classes of 1991 and 1992, illustrate the weight and significance that athletics can play in in the admissions process:

"A shaky record and so-so scores don't bode well for [the applicant's] case,...nice personal qualities, and he'd make a fine addition to the team if the coaches go all out for him, but that's what it would take."

"...a straightforward case hanging on athletic ability. Easy to do if a needed `1' [athletic rating], pretty ordinary if not."

"As a swimmer who could `help the program' she is special. If she isn't really special, the case will be difficult to make."

"I fear that this may be tough without a field hockey push."

"If she's a `1' [athlete] she's one to compare on `the list.' Otherwise I'm afraid the mediocre scores will work against her."

These comments suggest that an applicant's ability and Harvard's need for such an athlete on its teams (reflected in the coaches' "lists"), can be crucial if not decisive in determining whether or not to admit the applicant.

OCR noted that both Asian Americans and white applicants received positive weight for athletic "tips." There was not evidence in the Summary Sheets to suggest that the implementation of athletic preference or "tip" was in any way designed to negatively treat or affect Asian Amer can applicants.

Legacy Leverage

Similarly, our review of the readers' comments on the Summary Sheets illustrated the significance of being a Harvard-Radcliffe legacy in the admissions process. OCR observed the following readers' comments on applicants who were ultimately admitted to the classes of 1991 and 1992 which illustrate the positive weight given for being a legacy:

"Well, not much to say here. [Applicant] is a good student, w/average EC's [extracurricular], standard athletic, middle-of-the-road scores, good support and two legacy legs to stand on...Let's see what alum thinks and how far the H/R [Harvard-Radcliffe] tip will go."

"Dad's...connections signify lineage of more than usual weight. That counted into the equation makes this a case which (assuming positive TRs and Alum IV) is well worth doing."

"This is a good folder, but without the lineage it seems shy of an absolutely clear hook."

"We'll need confirmation that dad is a legit S&S [Alumni Schools and Scholarship Committee participant] because this is a `luxury' case otherwise."

"Without lineage, there would be little case. With it, we will keep looking."

"Not a great profile but just enough #'s and grades to get the tip from lineage."

It is evident from some of these readers' comments that being the son or daughter of an alumnus of Harvard-Radcliffe was the critical or decisive factor in admitting the applicant. It is clear that the `lineage tip' can work to the advantage of an applicant by offsetting weaker credentials in virtually any of the rating categories. There is also some evidence to suggest that certain alumni parents' status may be weighed more heavily than others. For instance, the distinction made between alumni and "S&S" alumni suggests that legacies whose parent(s) participates on the Schools and Scholarship Committee are likely to get a bigger `tip' (more positive weight) in the admissions process than legacies whose parents are not as active with Harvard or Radcliffe.

OCR concluded from the file review that both Asian-American and white legacy applicants were given `tips' for their legacy status. OCR observed, however, that there were significantly fewer Asian-American applicants than white applicants in our sample of approximately 2000 Summary Sheets, who had the legacy status, and fewer still, who had several generations of lineage at Harvard.

With respect to the positive weight or `tip' assertedly given to Asian-American applicants, there were few comments in the approximately 1000 Summary Sheets which reflected this. The only comment suggesting an ethnic tip was found on a Filipino applicant's Summary Sheets which stated: "The number of Phillipino (sic) students in the pool is very small. Given the scores and support I don't see a problem." It should be noted that this applicant received a 2 POR and had strong ratings in all individual rating categories.

OCR found no readers' comments which suggested that an applicant's Asian ethnicity was a significant or important factor in deciding to admit the applicant in the same way that being a legacy or a recruited athlete was instrumental in admitting numerous applicants.

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