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At one minute past midnight this Saturday, envelopes bearing the Harvard admissions office's seal of approval began their journey to the homes of 898 anxious high school students.
Faced with a deluge of qualified applicants this year--18,691--admissions officials said they were forced to turn away a record number of potential Harvardians, leading to the College's lowest rate of acceptance ever.
When acceptance decisions from the Early Action pool are factored in, Harvard admitted 2,035 students, or just 10.9 percent of those who applied.
"The academic strength of the pool is extraordinary," said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67. "The pools have been getting larger and the quality of the pool has been getting better."
13,865 students applied for the Class of 1997, admitted in 1993, while 18,161 applied last year. Nearly 3,000 of this year's applicants were valedictorians of their high school classes, while 56 percent scored 1400 or higher on the SATs.
Fitzsimmons said the admissions office spent "an enormous amount of time" making its decisions.
"In some cases, we spent over an hour in full committee on single individuals," Fitzsimmons said. "We know the candidates very well. We think there are some absolutely first-rate people who are on the wait-list and some really great people who did not get admitted."
As they have done for years, the admissions office has released a detailed picture of the racial and geographic composition of the accepted applicants.
The number of admitted students from the West Coast rose, as did the number of students admitted from other countries. Admits from Southern areas of the U.S. dropped slightly.
The percentage of minority students admitted to the Class of 2004 is about equal to the percentage admitted last year, admissions officials said.
The number of Asian-American and Hispanic-American students admitted each dropped by a third of a percent, to 16.1 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.
The percentage of Mexican-American admits showed the biggest increase, from 3.1 to 3.6 percent.
The percentage of Puerto Rican students admitted increased negligibly from 1.7 to 1.8 percent, while the percentage of black and American Indian admits stayed steady at 9.9 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
"We do extremely well attracting the very best minority students in the country," Fitzsimmons said. "The numbers are obviously very good, but we're more happy with the quality."
In the first admissions cycle since the Harvard College Office of Admissions has dropped the Radcliffe name from its title, the number of women admits decreased negligibly.
"The recruitment processes for women have been in place for a long time, and this year is no different," he said.
Fitzsimmons said the admissions office has "great expectations" for the incoming class, but acknowledged that he and his staff "probably won't be alive" when the true strength of the class is revealed.
"We look at it in two ways," Fitzsimmons said. "What will people do over the next four years? But then what will people contribute over the course of their lives?"
He partly attributed the rising number of applicants to aggressive recruiting efforts.
And this spring, it begins again. Admissions staff will visit 50 cities, meeting with parents, students and guidance counselors, according to Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis '70-'73.
Staff members will visit 50 more cities in September and October, she said.
"Joint travel has allowed us to reach parents directly in a way that daytime school visits never did," Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons said the numbers of applicants could continue to grow until at least 2008.
"It's certainly possible that over the next decade, we'll see increasing numbers of applicants and thus lower admissions rates," Fitzsimmons said.
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