Prioritize Socioeconomic Diversity

If Early Action negatively impacts the applicant pool, it should not return

Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 announced last week that the College is in the process of re-evaluating its decision to eliminate early admissions. The program, known as Early Action, allowed applicants to receive a non-binding admissions notification in the winter. The college removed this option four years ago because top officials felt it gave an unfair edge to candidates from more affluent backgrounds. Such a groundbreaking decision deserves the critical reconsideration Harvard is currently undergoing, but administrators must stay true to their commitment to socioeconomic diversity. If such an evaluation reveals that a return to Early Action would compromise this priority, the program must not be reinstated.

This news comes on the heels of the University of Virginia’s announcement that it will reinstate early admissions; UVA had followed Harvard’s lead in eliminating its Early Decision option in 2006 and now exemplifies a growing trend of restoring related programs in competitive universities across the country. Whatever Harvard decides to do at the end of its evaluation, such actions should not be influenced by other schools’ choices. We hope that the admissions office acts solely according to what best serves Harvard and its goals.

With that established, it is important to note that although admissions officials have acknowledged the improved socioeconomic diversity in recent applicant pools, the admissions office should seek other ways to achieve this goal as well. Beyond the Early Action issue, Harvard can employ additional methods that can be useful in expanding the group of candidates to underrepresented populations.

For instance, financial aid officials should increase awareness about the generous financial assistance provided to accepted students. Harvard’s financial aid initiative is one of the most generous in the country, so publicizing it to students wary of the College’s high tuition costs can greatly improve the socioeconomic diversity of our applicants by encouraging less well-off students to apply. No interested student should receive the impression that Harvard’s price tag makes applying untenable, so the onus is on the school to ensure that all potential applicants are knowledgeable of our financial aid packages.

To this end, we urge greater cooperation between school officials and the Undergraduate Admissions Council, a student group dedicated to, among other things, reconnecting current Harvard students to their high schools through outreach efforts. The UAC runs the Return to High School program, which trains undergraduates to visit their high school classrooms and answer questions potential applicants have about Harvard. These educational efforts allow Harvard to engage with those in more unconventional locations and thus increase the variety of our applicants. Moving forward, we hope that regardless of their decision on Early Action, admissions officials will incorporate these ideas in their pursuit of greater socioeconomic diversity.



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