Harvard College’s early action acceptance rate decreased to 7.4 percent as the number of total applicants hit a record high, marking the most competitive early admissions cycle in Harvard history.
The College invited 747 of 10,086 early applicants to join its Class of 2025 Thursday at 7 p.m. Last year, the College accepted 895 of 6,424 applicants. The number of applicants increased by 57 percent from last year, while the College admitted 148 fewer students.
Since the College reinstated its early action program in 2011, the early action admissions rate has not dropped below 13.4 percent. Last year, the early action acceptance rate increased for the first time in six years to 13.9 percent.
In addition to the 747 accepted students, 8,023 students were deferred to the regular cycle, and 924 applications were rejected. Those who received early admission to the Class of 2025 will join the 349 students originally in the Class of 2024 who have deferred enrollment to the Class of 2025.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 said in an interview he believes the significant increase in the number of applicants can be attributed to three key factors: a financial aid program “unlike the world has ever seen” during a global recession, heightened online recruiting efforts for international students, and Harvard’s decision to make standardized tests optional.
The percentage of students accepted early action from first-generation college backgrounds increased by nearly 7 percentage points — from 10.1 percent last year to 17 percent this admission’s cycle.
Fitzsimmons said he believes the College’s financial aid program “was very attractive” during the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing financial recession.
The percentage of admitted students who identify as African American increased to 16.6 percent this year from 12.7 percent last year.
The percentage of Asian American and Latinx students admitted early to the College remains roughly the same as last year. Asian Americans constitute 23.4 percent of admitted students of this year's early admits, and Latinx students make up 10.4 percent, down slightly from 24 percent and 11 percent, respectively, from last year. The percentage of admitted students who identify as Native American and Native Hawaiian stayed constant at 1.3 percent.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Harvard’s race-conscious admissions process in a November opinion. The ruling, which affirms a previous District Court decision, marks the latest victory for Harvard in a high-profile discrimination lawsuit brought against the University by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions.
Despite a tumultuous year for international students due to immigration restrictions imposed by the Trump administration, the percentage of international applicants accepted early increased from 9.6 percent last year to 12.2 percent this year. This year’s admitted students hail from 67 countries.
Harvard and MIT sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in early July over the government’s decision to bar international students studying at colleges and universities that held only online classes from remaining in the country.
Despite recent immigration policies unveiled by the U.S. government that targeted international students, Fitzsimmons attributed the spike in accepted international students to increased remote outreach efforts by the College, including virtual tours and social media activity.
“Our hope is that we can make some real headway, not just for Harvard international students, but for the nation,” Fitzsimmons said. “This is a nation that has been built on the talents and the excellences of students from other countries.”
Peer institutions including Yale University and Dartmouth College also saw similar, but less pronounced, increases in early applicants this cycle. Yale and Dartmouth experienced a 38 percent and 29 percent increase in applications from last year, respectively.
Though this year’s applications may have looked different from previous years due to the global health crisis, Fitzsimmons said the College continues to look for applicant strength with the same criteria.
“The applications look different in lots of ways,” he said. “But I think the principle of seeing what people have done, and what we think they’re going to do in the future is probably the one to keep in mind.”
Calling this year’s applicant pool “amazingly diverse,” Fitzsimmons praised the students admitted to the Class of 2025 for their resiliency.
“We have people coming into this class who are great musicians, who are great at quantitative science. We have the usual excellences,” Fitzsimmons said. “But they’re doing it in the middle of a pandemic and also oftentimes in the middle of desperate financial circumstances.”
—Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfu_2.
—Staff writer Dohyun Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @dohyunkim__.