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Freshmen Skew Wealthy, As Always. Harvard Isn't Helping.

By Amy Y. Li
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Harvard College’s Class of 2025 is unsurprisingly, disproportionately wealthy, just like every class before it. According to The Crimson’s annual freshman survey, over a quarter of Harvard freshmen come from families that are wealthier than 94 percent of Americans. Nearly half have parents that make double the U.S average. This isn’t exactly shocking when we think of the extracurriculars that Harvard admits load their resumes with — starting a company, publishing novels, competing in national research competitions. Flashy but often unpaid high school internships.

Though not every student comes in with these credentials, it’s clear that the Harvard admissions process rewards shows of excellence for which wealth is often a prerequisite. This reality makes the additional boost legacy applicants get in Harvard’s admissions process particularly glaring. In its admissions FAQ, Harvard concedes that among “similarly distinguished applicants, the daughters and sons of Harvard College alumni/ae may receive an additional look.” This extra look (which, as we have continuously opined, needs abolishing) dials up the advantage of the advantaged in a highly competitive process only growing more exclusive.

This isn't a fringe issue. Legacy admits make up 15.5 percent of the Class of 2025, and they tend to be loaded: Nearly a third have parents that make half a million dollars. These students don’t deserve our ire for being rich, but, in an admissions process where wealth and a guiding hand helps plenty, it’s egregious that the College goes out of its way to privilege students who enter the rat race with a parent who can expertly aid them and likely finance experiences that showcase their child’s prowess.

Harvard’s first-generation, low-income applicants have hurdles to jump over that their wealthier counterparts simply don’t. Yet the fiscal acrobatics don't stop after acceptance. The chasm along class lines on campus is very present. To some extent, Harvard engineers it by privileging legacies and proxies of wealth, then admirably courting low-income students through its generous full financial aid initiative.

Harvard students can and should do their part to make groups on campus more financially inclusive by being cognizant of the many price tags that Harvard spaces hold. But the burden of improving the socioeconomic divide on campus falls upon the Harvard administration.

Harvard pumps an admirable amount of money into the hands of low-income freshmen through its various start-up grants. But the very nature of these grants means funds are being disbursed to students likely unaccustomed to handling large sums of money. Harvard should craft programming to walk freshmen on financial aid through what to prioritize buying, how much to save, and how to prolong the initial cash injection freshmen are granted — especially since support tapers off steeply after freshman year.

Students, per usual, have led the charge in bridging the gap between students from disparate economic backgrounds. Undergraduates fought to implement, then institutionalize, a program to acclimate disadvantaged pre-frosh to Harvard: the First-Year Retreat and Experience. During the two years FYRE was piloted in person, it was only a three-day program — among the shortest duration of any of Harvard’s pre-orientation programs, and a far cry from the five and seven-week summer programs Yale and Princeton have, respectively, to serve the same purpose. The time before freshmen arrive on campus is a critical juncture, and easing disadvantaged students into Harvard’s economically stratified ecosystem is the lord’s work. Harvard’s support of FYRE should reflect it.

In order for students to take advantage of the equalizing funds Harvard offers, they need to know they exist. Unfortunately, they’re miserably decentralized. There’s the Beneficiary Aid Scholarship which covers unforeseeable, one-time medical expenses for students on scholarship. The Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which offers a full-ride to students from families making under $65,000 has multiple grants: the Harvard winter coat fund, the Harvard start-up grant ($2,000 for freshmen on full aid to spend as they wish), and the Student Events Fund for five free campus event tickets. For those in need of technology, the First-Year Outside Award Computer Reimbursement reimburses those with outside scholarships the cost for a computer.

All of these initiatives are admirable attempts to bridge the socioeconomic divide on our campus. Hopefully, their existence makes students from low-income backgrounds less daunted by the fact that our campus skews so wealthy. But a generous splattering of grants doesn’t absolve Harvard of actively rewarding the students of legacies and donors in its admissions process, nor does it erase the need for the University to bolster the resources it offers low-income students acclimating to our dizzying, divided environment.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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