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For the last few years, early action applications have kept the Cambridge post office busy in early November--and this season is no exception.
Another year has brought another record as preliminary numbers released by the admissions office show 6,098 early action applicants for the Class of 2005, an increase of 72 applications or 1.2 percent over last year's 6,026 applications.
While the early applicant pool is larger this year, the rate of growth has plummeted from the 31.8 percent Harvard experienced last year.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 said that he is pleased with the trend.
"It appears that interest in early programs has leveled off," Fitzsimmons said. "Counselors have been saying that at their own schools, questions about early action have calmed down this year."
While Harvard's non-binding early action program is almost a quarter-century old, participation in the program skyrocketed during the past decade, accelerating even further in 1995-96 when several other schools moved to binding early decision programs, which require students to attend if admitted.
Admissions officials attributed last year's extraordinary growth to a change in Harvard policy that allowed early action applicants to apply to more than one school early.
Fitzsimmons emphasizes, however, that as in past years students have no better chance of admission to Harvard when they apply early.
"We want to be 100 percent certain that we would take the person later on," Fitzsimmons said. "[In terms of chance of admission,] there is no advantage and no disadvantage to applying early."
With the applicant pool remaining roughly the same size as last year, he said the demographics are also virtually identical.
"It looks as though [the pool] will be at least as ethnically diverse as last year," Fitzsimmons said.
While the 48.2 percent of applicants who are women still makes up less than half of the pool, this year's numbers continue to inch closer to the fifty-fifty mark with a 0.6 percent change from last year.
Geographic diversity also remained largely unchanged.
Fitzsimmons said that financial aid continues to be among the questions that dominate student inquiries.
Last spring, Harvard made major changes to its financial aid program adding $2,000 to all student grants and changing the policy on outside awards so that they would no longer reduce the amount of the Harvard award.
"Our students earned over $10 million in outside awards," Fitzsimmons said, "and roughly half those students are on financial aid."
Even if the economy does not continue its current record pace over the coming years, he said, Harvard is prepared to maintain its commitment to financial aid.
"One of the reasons we've pushed so hard for the financial aid in the capital campaign is that no one here believes the good times will roll on forever," Fitzsimmons said. "We're as ready as we're going to be."
As Harvard has continued to emphasize minority recruitment, the recent appointment of Ruth J. Simmons as the next president of Brown University may play some role in how students ultimately choose their college.
Simmons will be the first black president in the Ivy League, and as another early action school, Brown competes with Harvard for students.
While Fitzsimmons said he thinks Simmons' appointment may affect admissions decisions this year, he expects that it will also benefit Harvard in portraying the Ivy League as more accessible.
"It sends a message," Fitzsimmons said. "While I think it will certainly be helpful to Brown, I think it will be helpful to the whole Ivy League and to higher education as a whole."
The admissions committee is scheduled to finish its deliberation on December 12 and send out decisions on December 15.
Last year, 18.9 percent of the early action pool was admitted in December, with the bulk of the rest being deferred to April decisions.
In recent years approximately half of College classes have been admitted through early action.
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