In other words, 20 or so slots are already set aside each year before Harvard even receives its applications—spots that otherwise could have gone to the candidates who will be put on the Z-list to enroll the next year.
One conceivable reason to set up a system like the Z-list might be to single out a handful of talented students that the admission office feels may benefit from a year off even more than the average student.
According to Bruce Breimer, a college counselor at the Collegiate School in New York City, some Z-listers are chosen to take a year off because they “need a little seasoning.”
Others suggest students who were slightly immature and didn’t live up to their potential in high school may tend to be Z-listed.
“Had achievement matched ability, they might have made it the first round, but there was just enough to make them vulnerable,” says Barbara G. Melvoin, former college counselor at Roxbury Latin School in Boston.
But McGrath Lewis says there is no way to generalize about the composition of the Z-list.
“[The Z-list is] not a list of some category,” she insists. “It’s a bunch of individual people.”
According to McGrath Lewis, the admissions office has no available statistics about the composition of the Z-list and has no desire to compile them.
“It’s not something that’s in our interest to do,” she says. “We’re frantically busy. We’d have to pull up the folders and it would be work. We try to devote our work to questions that are interesting.”
But without any concrete numbers, she acknowledges that while she does not think there is a disproportionate number of legacies on the Z-list, she “can’t prove it.”
Based on Lewis’ estimate that 20 Z-listers come to Harvard each year, there were approximately 80 enrolled this past year. The Crimson was able to obtain information about the legacy status of 36 of these students, and 26 had parents who attended Harvard.
Moreover, of the 10 Z-listers The Crimson confirmed were not legacies and an additional nine about whom legacy information could not be determined, 79 percent went to private schools.
College counselors at Harvard’s feeder schools confirm that the list is dominated by legacy candidates and those with other connections.
According to David K. “Deke” Smith ’58, an independent college counselor who was director of admissions at Harvard from 1965 to 1969, the list is, “in general, legacy cases.”
“A very high percentage are alumni cases,” agrees Susan G. Case, a college counselor at Milton Academy, which in some years has sent Harvard a quarter of the Z-list all by itself. “There isn’t necessarily an academic pattern, but it’s usually institutional needs. That’s a phrase they use internally.”