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Applications for early admission to Harvard College’s class of 2017 numbered 4,856, marking a nearly 15 percent surge from last year’s figure, the University announced on Thursday.
This year’s early admissions cycle—only the second since the University reinstated early action in 2011—fell during a particularly inopportune time for many applicants. The November 1 deadline was just days after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast, damaging homes, closing schools, and leaving many without electricity.
The storm delayed the administration of standardized tests, and left teachers and students without power unable to submit materials online. The admissions office was lenient in accepting late material as a result, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said.
The College’s early admissions process allows students who apply by November 1 to receive a non-binding decision in mid-December. Under the program, known as single choice early action, students may not apply early to another college.
Fitzsimmons said that the rise in early applicants did not come as a surprise to the admissions office, as more students and college counselors have become aware of the renewal of the early action program and the College’s generous financial aid package.
The University’s major impetus for eliminating early action in 2007 was the notion that the program benefited students from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to Fitzsimmons, who recently returned from a recruiting trip with Princeton and the University of Virginia, financial aid is more important to families of college applicants than ever. “The anxiety about the economy is palpable when you’re out in the public,” he said.
A “Net-Price Calculator” on the Admissions and Financial Aid website allows families of any applicant to predict the approximate amount of aid they would receive from Harvard if the student is admitted.
There was a 39 percent increase in those requesting fee waivers among this year’s early applicants.
This year’s early applicant pool also saw increases in applications from certain minority groups, including a 22 percent increase in African American applicants and a 24 percent increase in Native American applicants.
Fitzsimmons said the increased awareness about Harvard’s financial aid program may have contributed to these shifting demographics.
“It is true that in minority communities generally there are large proportions of families that will be applying for financial aid,” Fitzsimmons said.
Other Ivy League institutions also saw increases in early applications this year. Yale received a total of 4,514 early applications, a 4.4 percent increase from the previous year, and Princeton received 3,791, a 10 percent increase. The University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Brown received 4,780, 3,126, and 2,957 early applications this year, up 5.6 percent, 1.3 percent, and 1 percent respectively from last year. Dartmouth, on the other hand, saw a 12.5 percent decrease in early applicants.
Fitzsimmons said that there has been a shift in how secondary school counselors approach early admissions programs since Princeton and the University of Virginia renewed their early action programs alongside Harvard in 2011. With all top-tier schools offering some form of early admissions, high-schoolers no longer have to hold off on the application process to get into their top choice university.
“The new normal is that there is a chunk of people who would apply early and then another chunk who would apply regular,” he said. “In a sense, one might argue that early is no longer early.”
But Fitzsimmons added that his office is aware that not all students are well suited to apply early, and the the admissions office will be prudent in extending admissions offers to students given the limited number of beds for the freshman class.
“One size does not fit all,” Fitzsimmons said.
Last year, the admissions office sent acceptance letters to 18 percent of the 4,228 early action applicants. These students were the first group of early applicants to be admitted after the College discontinued the early action program for a four-year period.
Last year, the overall acceptance rate fell to a record low 5.9 percent, with the rate for those considered under regular decision, including early applicants deferred to regular decision, sitting at a miniscule 3.8 percent.
Fitzsimmons said the admissions office ultimately admitted about 100 students who had been deferred from early admission last year, either during the regular decision round or from the waitlist.
The admissions office will notify students of their early admissions decisions this year by Dec. 13.
—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Auritt can be reached at email@example.com.
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