Amidst the debate on affirmative action, international students tend to be overlooked. Although it is important to consider students of different ethnic backgrounds within the United States, the College must not forget that international students are equally as important in creating a diverse Harvard community. And I’m not focusing on the international students from high-income families able to afford Harvard’s tuition ― I’m talking about the international students from less-privileged backgrounds who come to America in search of a college education of the highest quality.
During his inaugural address, University President Lawrence S. Bacowexplained that though many international students return to contribute to their home countries, many are also among the most successful and productive members of American society. Harvard, in steadily increasing the international student population, is continuing to make advances in admitting international applicants. Currently, international students make up 12 percent of admitted students in the Class of 2022. Yet there is still much room for improvement: The number of international students are significantly lower in comparison to students with U.S. citizenships. While the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid claims that Harvard does not categorize individual applicants based on whether or not they are applying from the United States, the College does distinguish in its own data based on whether or not applicants hold a US passport.
International students already face more hurdles than their American counterparts. Many have to navigate the nuances of the American college application system without a school counselor that is knowledgeable about the U.S. college application system. They also have to make sure that their application essays are on par with those of American students in demonstrating often-arbitrary qualities such as humor, sensitivity, or courage. Especially if English is not their primary language, the challenge is even more daunting. Even if Harvard actually does not distinguish between domestic and international applicants, disparities in the application material may filter through. International students without the resources of more privileged domestic applicants may lack prestigious awards or have application essays with less-polished sentences on the personal essay.
International students bring much-needed diversity on campus. They truly contribute to classes and College life in general by providing a global perspective. Although they may be slightly slow to pick up on certain aspects of American culture, they still blend in with the rest of the student body, thriving in their areas of interest. Harvard is already a leading institution in the nation in terms of accepting foreign students, and the College should continue to be a pioneer in embracing campus diversity by not only admitting more international students but also creating an accommodating space for non-Americans to settle into college life in a foreign country. In that way, Harvard would be able to create a welcoming environment that is truly conducive to promoting diversity.
What can Harvard do in order to admit more international students? One method is to reduce the number of often-white, legacy “Z-list” students who are admitted from the deferred admissions pool. Harvard should strengthen its commitment to upholding socioeconomic diversity, and admitting international students from low- or middle-income families is an effective way to do so. Before giving the upper hand to high-income, legacy students, Harvard should remind itself of its goals as a globally-influential institution of higher education with a mission to educate the world’s brightest minds. Another method is to use its alumni network to reach talented students from less-privileged backgrounds worldwide. Doing so would give international students a better idea of what Harvard is looking for when selecting students to admit. Moreover, these students may also be able to gain valuable advice on how to prepare a stronger application.
To quote Harvard’s newly elected president, “Over a third of our faculty were born somewhere else. Over a third of the Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans in chemistry, medicine, and physics since 2000 have gone to men and women who were foreign-born. Over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.” Harvard’s international students are definitely capable of making positive impacts on the world with their college education. So why not give more foreign students a chance?
Daniel Kim ‘21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator living in Leverett House.