The announcement from Harvard officials yesterday indicates that the composition of the College’s classes is following nationwide demographic trends, but it also demonstrates that Harvard still lags behind the rest of the country in the growth of its Latino population. Individuals of Hispanic origin compose 14.0 percent of the U.S. population, according to Census Bureau data from 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available.
The composition of the Class of 2010 reflects another nationwide demographic trend as well—women now outnumber men among Harvard’s admitted students, just as they do at undergraduate institutions across the country. According to Harvard officials, a record 51.8 percent of admitted students are female, up from 49.5 percent last year.
This year marks just the second time that women composed a majority of Harvard’s admitted class—50.1 percent of students who were accepted to the Class of 2008 were women. Nationwide, more than 56 percent of undergraduates are female.
The percentage of African-Americans in the admitted freshman class remained constant at 10.5 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of Asian-Americans rose to 17.7 percent, still a full percentage point below the Class of 1998’s mark.
ACROSS CLASS LINES
The increased diversity of this year’s admitted class is a result of Harvard’s expanded financial aid program and the admissions office’s outreach efforts targeting students from low-income families, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in an interview yesterday.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the welcoming message from the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative has had a major effect in the way that we and other institutions are perceived,” Fitzsimmons said. The Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, announced in 2004 and broadened yesterday, eliminates parental contributions for families earning less than $60,000 a year and substantially reduces the costs to parents with annual incomes between $60,000 and $80,000.
Fitzsimmons said he projects that 481 of the 2,109 students admitted to the Class of 2010 will qualify for HFAI, but emphasizes that the number is only an estimate.
The admissions office also chose from an applicant pool that was more ethnically diverse than last year. The office said in February that more African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans applied for admission this year than in 2005. In addition, a record 51.6 percent of this year's pool was female. Today's announcement indicates that the acceptance rate for females this year was slightly higher than it was for male applicants.
The admissions office also accepted more low-income students than last year, even though the number of low-income applicants to Harvard did not rise. The College received 2,353 fee-waiver requests this year, precisely the same number as it did last year—an indication that the number of freshmen from low-income backgrounds next year would remain roughly the same. The current admit pool, however, is projected to see a 10 percent increase in eligibility for HFAI.
Harvard also took 9 percent fewer early action applicants—a group that tends to be wealthier than the regular applicant pool—to the Class of 2010 this past fall than it did for the Class of 2009.
“We were pretty conservative this year with early admission, in part because we certainly had more than an inkling of the success of the HFAI program,” Fitzsimmons said. “We were pretty sure that there was going to be a pretty diverse regular applicant pool.”
MORE THICK ENVELOPES
Harvard’s acceptance rate will also rise this spring from the record low of 9.2 percent set last year. This year, 22,753 students applied to the College, and 2,109—or 9.3 percent—have been admitted. That percentage is likely to increase slightly after the College takes in more applicants off the waiting list.
And the number of applicants admitted to the Class of 2010 is greater than the 2,074 applicants who were accepted at this stage in the process last year.
In other words, while slightly fewer students applied for admission to the Class of 2010 than to the Class of 2009, more applicants will open thick envelopes this year than last.
Fitzsimmons said that the admissions office is letting in more students this year because the College expects to have a slightly larger freshman class next fall.
“We have about 25 or 30 more spaces, and there are two reasons for that,” Fitzsimmons said. “One is the great success of the study abroad program. The second is that Apley Court”—a freshman dorm that was closed to first-year students this year because of construction on the nearby Hasty Pudding building—“came back online.”
“This year, we’re shooting for 1,684 new students,” he added, referring to a presentation made by Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and Deputy Dean of the College Patricia O’Brien at a recent Faculty Council meeting. “In the future, we hope to have a steady state of 1,675.”
THE 30-DAY YIELD
Fitzsimmons said that the College’s yield—the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll here—has hovered around 78 percent in recent years, but he noted that it is impossible to predict precisely how many students will accept Harvard’s offer.
Students have until May 1 to reply to Harvard’s offer of admissions. If 78 percent of the 2,109 admitted students decide to come to Cambridge in the fall, the Class of 2010 would have 1,645 confirmed members, leaving 39 more places for the admissions office before reaching the target size of 1,684.
But if a slightly lower yield leads more open spots in the Class of 2010, "we'd love to take 50 to 100 students off the waiting list," Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons also said that he doubts that the recent turmoil at the University’s highest ranks—including the resignation of its president and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—will affect the College’s yield.
“There were some controversies at this time last year, but there was very little activity last year on our message boards or elsewhere,” he explained. “While there’s been a lot in the newspapers this year, there’s been very little concern coming from the students themselves.”
“What it comes down to is that people make their decisions about college with the long-term perspective in mind,” not based on current events, Fitzsimmons added.
In 2005, after University President Lawrence H. Summers’ comments on women in science aroused a controversy that made headlines worldwide, the College’s yield rose by one percentage point over the previous year to 78.5 percent.
Last spring, the admissions office enlisted more than two dozen female math and science concentrators to call all accepted female students who expressed a strong interest in science on their applications—an effort intended to “make sure we cover every possible base,” Fitzsimmons said at the time.
The admitted members of the Class of 2010’s academic interests and geographic distribution are very similar to the figures for last year. The most marked divergence is that foreign citizens, U.S. dual citizens, and U.S. permanent residents make up 19.2 percent of this year’s admit pool, versus 16.9 percent last year.
Fitzsimmons also said yesterday that the recently uncovered grading errors on the SAT did not influence Harvard’s admissions decisions.
“We looked at the people who had score differences, and there was no effect,” he said. “Scores truly are one factor among many.”
—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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