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Harvard applications fall 5%, rival universities see jumps



Applications to Harvard College fell 5% from a year ago after a tumultuous period that included the resignation of its president and a defeat at the Supreme Court.

The school said 54,008 students sought admission for next fall’s freshman class. That marked the second consecutive year that Harvard’s undergraduate applications declined. They’re down from 61,220 two years ago, when numbers soared after colleges scrapped requirements for standardized testing to adjust to the pandemic.

It’s unclear what drove the decline in the numbers, which still show extraordinary interest in attending the oldest and richest US College. The school accepted just 3.6% of applicants.

In contrast, Yale University reported 57,465 applicants, the largest pool in its history and almost 10% more than the previous year. Duke University and Dartmouth College also saw similar jumps, and the University of Pennsylvania’s applications rose more than 9% to 65,000, the most of the cohort that reported.

The admissions landscape is being closely watched after the Supreme Court ruled in June against Harvard and the University of North Carolina that race couldn’t be a factor in admissions. Some of the schools have also been roiled by allegations of antisemitism after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with Harvard and Penn facing particular scrutiny from alumni and lawmakers.

Harvard disclosed data in December that showed applications for non-binding early admissions declined 17%. It was unclear why the numbers fell so sharply, but it fueled concerns among alumni and donors that the school’s reputation was being tarnished.

Regular applications for fall 2024 were due Jan. 1. The next day, Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned from her post after she was accused of plagiarism and for her widely criticized testimony about antisemitism at the college at a congressional hearing in December. Penn’s president, Liz Magill, also resigned after the hearing, in which both gave narrow legal responses to whether calling for the genocide of Jews was against school policy.

Citing the Supreme Court ruling, Harvard said it wouldn’t access self-reported information about the race and ethnicity of applicants this year until the admissions process is over. But the school shared other facts about the class of 2028, which will begin studying in the fall semester at the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Harvard admitted 1,937 students for the class, which will comprise about 53% women and 47% men. The Mid-Atlantic region accounted for the most students, with 20% of the total. That was down from about 22% a year earlier. In addition, 21 military veterans were admitted.

Beyond another strong applicant pool, we are delighted by the stunning array of talents and lived experiences the Class of 2028 will bring with them from throughout the United States and around the world,” William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, said in a statement.

Students whose family income is $85,000 or less will receive full financial support. The total cost of attendance, including tuition, housing and food, and fees, is scheduled to increase 4.3% to $82,866 for the 2024-2025 academic year for those families not receiving need-based aid. Nearly a quarter of students attend with no parental contribution, the school said.

Harvard estimates it will spend $260 million in undergraduate aid, up from $246 million the year prior.

The deadline to accept the decision from Harvard is May 1.

It’s hard to read into a 5% decline at Harvard, even when peers saw large jumps, said David Rion, director of college guidance at the Loomis Chaffee School, a boarding institution in Windsor, Connecticut. Perhaps some Jewish or conservative students might be staying away from Harvard, or Boston had a bad winter, he said.

“They are the protagonists of the higher education world and that will help sometimes and hurt sometimes,” Rion said.

Michael Motto, a former assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Yale and a private college counselor in New York, though said Harvard’s climate in the fall caused some Jewish students he worked with to omit Harvard from their lists.

“I had some students who focused their sights on schools that they felt were creating a more comfortable environment on campus,” Motto said.

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