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Report: Grad Student Aid Increased Applications, Yield

By Jenifer L. Steinhardt, Crimson Staff Writer

Increases in graduate student financial aid implemented in 1998 have greatly improved the competitiveness of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), according to a report released at last week’s Faculty Council meeting.

The improvements in the financial aid packages offered by GSAS, which mainly target Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences, have led to increases in both the number of applicants as well as the percentage of accepted applicants who choose to attend, according the report, which was written by GSAS Dean Peter T. Ellison.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) implemented the improvements during the 1998-1999 academic year with the goal of making GSAS more competitive with other leading programs by offering students more money over a longer period of time.

Previously, the “full” financial aid package—which was offered to about half of incoming graduate students— guaranteed stipends of $11,600 per year for two years.

But under the new policy, over 95 percent of humanities and social sciences Ph.D. students are offered a stipend of $17,600 per year.

GSAS has also begun to offer students financial assistance during summers between their first two years of study.

According to the report, new initiatives have also been aimed at attracting students in the natural sciences. These policies—begun last year—include lightening teaching requirements in the first year of study and assisting departments with aid for international students.

From 1997 to 2002, the report states, the percentage of accepted humanities and social sciences Ph.D. students who chose to enroll at GSAS rose from 53 percent in 1997 to 65 percent in 2002.

The new policies affecting the natural sciences also appear to have born fruit, the report said, with the percentage of accepted students in the natural sciences who came to Harvard in 2002 increasing from an average of 49 percent over the past five years to 58 percent in 2002—a figure the report called “unprecedented.”

And applications increased to 10,000 this year for a class of approximately 650, Ellison wrote in an e-mail. As a result, selectivity in GSAS admission has fallen below that of the College—to 9 percent.

Such a figure, Ellison wrote in his e-mail, is important “so people will appreciate the quality of the students that come.”

But Ellison also wrote that the increased aid was only one of many factors which likely caused the increases.

“[The increases] represent a number of factors, including the strength of the school and its specific programs, the availability of financial aid and social and economic factors,” he wrote. “It’s interesting that the increase in GSAS applications has been equally great from the U.S. and from overseas.”

Former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, who oversaw the financial aid increases in the late 1990s, wrote in an e-mail that the campaign “allowed us to make these permanent improvements in student support.”

But Knowles also wrote that GSAS still has work to do down the road.

“There are continuing challenges ahead, particularly in the area of dissertation fellowships in the humanities and social sciences, early support for students in the natural sciences and in the provision of more housing for all of our graduate students,” Knowles wrote.

Ellison also acknowledged that the rough economic environment may also present future difficulties, but he said they will not thwart FAS’s “strong commitment” to financial support.

“I think it will be very important for us to build our base of endowed support, both to make us less vulnerable during difficult economic times and to improve things still further,” Ellison wrote in an e-mail.

—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at steinhar@fas.harvard.edu.

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