In the past, students who went to elite New England prep schools largely benefitted in the admissions process due to their schools' close ties with Harvard. Today, these traditional feeder schools continue to send their graduates to the College in hordes, leaving many to speculate...
Like the patches of ivy that scale Harvard's aged buildings, a small group of elite New England prep schools seem now, as always, to have an intimate relationship with the College.
Graduates of feeder schools such as Choate Rosemary Hall, Boston Latin, Groton, Milton Academy, Phillips Exeter and Phillips Academy in Andover have attended Harvard for centuries, and until recently they often made up a great majority of the College's student body.
Indeed, 30 or 40 years ago, admission from these prep schools could be secured with "little more than a handshake," says Choate alum Ted B. Ayers '50.
"Harvard was the only place I applied to, and nobody seemed too concerned," Ayers says. "It was a more casual and friendly atmosphere."
Like about 80 percent of his Choate classmates, Ayers says, he was a legacy. With that attribute, and the Choate diploma in his pocket, admission to Harvard was no sweat.
Many feeder school alumni from Ayers' time echo his remarks, recalling the ease with which they passed from their prep schools to Harvard.
"If you had fairly decent grades, it wasn't a problem," says John A. Seymour '50, adding that 78 out of 80 applicants from his Exeter class of 1946 enrolled at Harvard. "I really didn't consider going anywhere else."
But the admissions policies that Seymour and Ayers knew have undergone considerable reform in the past several decades.
In 1952, shortly after his appointment as dean of admissions and financial aid, William J. Bender set up an alumni network to help recruit students from across the country, putting new emphasis on geographic diversity at the College.
Since that time, admissions standards overall have tightened considerably and the proportion of private school students at the College has plunged to less than a third.
Harvard alumni who graduated several decades ago, noting the changes in the admissions process and the dramatic rise in applications in recent years, question whether they could have succeeded in today's more competitive climate.
"I would have had to work one heck of a lot harder than I did if I were to get in today," says Oliver Brazier '56, a graduate of Exeter.
Still, despite the increased competitiveness of today's admissions process, the traditional feeder schools continue to send students to Harvard in droves.