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This admissions cycle, Harvard received a record-breaking number of applications: nearly 35,000, a 15 percent increase from last year. Applications from Southern states, Midwestern states, Mountain states, and the Pacific region, and abroad are up, accompanied by increases in the number of Black and Latino student applicants. We are encouraged by this increase in applications, particularly because it includes a higher number of applicants from underrepresented geographic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The diversity in the applicant pool reflects the successful outreach effort on behalf of the College, which we applaud. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 credited part of increase to the growing awareness of Harvard’s financial aid program, which has become even more attractive to many during the recent economic downturn. Some have also credited the University’s efforts to develop the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences for attracting more students to this particular school. In addition, the ongoing efforts of the Harvard Financial Aid Initaitive, Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, and targeted high school visits also likely contributed to the increased size of the applicant pool. These programs reflect a robust and strong commitment to continue to inform underrepresented students of the opportunities Harvard has to offer and which are available to them regardless of financial need.
We value geographic, racial, socioeconomic, and other types of diversity because they create a better campus climate, with more informed and socially conscious students. Discussions around the section table and in dining halls are more satisfying when they are truly contentious and include differing opinions, backed by a variety of real-world experiences. As long as this more diverse applicant pool actually translates into a more diverse incoming class, the Class of 2015 promises to be the best yet in this regard.
Socioeconomic diversity especially is welcome, because students from low socioeconomic backgrounds benefit the most from a Harvard education. The experience of a Harvard education is most distant from that which these students would have experienced, had they not gone to Harvard. Harvard exists, at least to some extent, to provide for the public good in ways like this.
However, the increase in applicants is not entirely positive. Despite the fact that applications have increased by more than 50 percent over the past four years, Fitzsimmons says the size of the freshman class will remain the same. This is good, in that it guarantees that the class of 2015 will receive the same high quality education as classes before them. Yet, this also means that the acceptance rate is likely to plummet.
One must pause to wonder what a Harvard with a six percent acceptance rate would look like. Further, as competitive institutions become more competitive, applicants are incentivized to apply to more schools in order to be assured acceptance into any. This makes the applications process even more stressful and demanding on high school students than it already is. That the number of students applying to seven or more colleges has doubled from 1999 to 2009 is only an example of this vicious circle.
Regardless, the benefits of an increased applicant pool outweigh the negatives. The benefits of diversity in our undergraduate student body are many and diffuse, and we are all enriched by the presence of truly different opinions and backgrounds in our academic and personal lives at the College.
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