Dean Acknowledges Early Admission Disparity

Despite several Harvard initiatives to recruit high-achieving, low-income students, the College’s early action program tends to advantage applicants from higher income brackets in the short run, a trend that is expected to “continue to be the case for the foreseeable future,” Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 told The Crimson in an interview Tuesday.


Harvard continues to combat this with efforts like the recent launch of the Harvard College Connection, but Fitzsimmons explained that a lack resources at the high schools of many low-income students still remains an issue.


“What tends to happen with people of modest economic backgrounds is they tend to disproportionately attend schools where there are fewer counselors per student. Many also attend schools where there are fewer teachers per student,” he said.

Fitzsimmons added that these applicants are often first-generation college students.

Historically, early pools have contained fewer students from modest economic backgrounds when compared to the regular admission applicant pool, according to Fitzsimmons.

This disparity in representation did not come as a surprise to Bari Norman, president of Expert Admissions.

“Just as we know, [high-income] students have access to greater resources. As a result, they have a better handle on the process, and they’ll be more prepared, even if just by meeting the basic requirements to complete an application and submit it earlier,” Norman said.

Michael Goran, director and educational consultant at California college counseling firm IvySelect, also noted an information gap between these groups of students.

“[Among high-income students], there is almost a universal awareness of an early process,” he said. “It’s clear that there’s an information gap.”

The issue has been a common thread in the last five years. In 2007, when Harvard decided to eliminate the early action program, then-President Derek C. Bok argued that these programs “advantage the advantaged.”

Data collected from this year’s Class of 2017 survey also appeared to justify this concern with respondents from the two highest income categories being more likely to say they had been admitted early. The survey suggested that respondents from the two lowest income categories were underrepresented.

However, Harvard reinstated its early action program to meet the expectation of top students for whom applying early is “the new normal,” Fitzsimmons said Tuesday.

Fitzsimmons argued that further delay of bringing back the early program would have caused the College to miss out on students of all different economic backgrounds who would have applied early elsewhere.

Fitzsimmons said he did not predict that in the near future Harvard’s early applicant pools would be any more representative of economic diversity than in recent years. Still, he said that the College plans to develop more strategies and techniques to counteract the discrepancy.

“We’re going to run hard against the tide here,” Fitzsimmons said.

—Staff writer Zohra D. Yaqhubi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @zohradyaqhubi.