Amid turmoil, Harvard’s applications dip

Applications to Harvard College were down this year, even as many other highly selective schools hit record highs. The drop suggests that a year of turmoil – which went into overdrive with a student letter that said Israel was “entirely responsible” for the Oct 7 Hamas attacks – may’ve dented Harvard’s reputation.
Harvard’s announcement on Thursday came as all eight Ivy League schools sent out their notices of admission or rejection, known as Ivy Day.While Brown University also saw a drop in applications, applications rose at many other elite colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Columbia, the MIT, Bowdoin, Amherst and the University of Virginia. Harvard focused on the positive. “We are delighted by the stunning array of talents and lived experiences the class of 2028 will bring with them from throughout the US and around the world,” William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, said.
College counsellors and admissions experts said it was difficult to pin down the factors behind the decline in Harvard’s numbers, but that the scrutiny has been intense. It began with a historic Supreme Court decision June 29, striking down decades of affirmative action policy at Harvard that had become a model for higher education. It culminated in the resignation on Jan. 2 of Claudine Gay, who was Harvard’s first black president. At that point, she faced accusations of plagiarism in her scholarly work, on top of complaints about her evasive testimony on antisemitism in Dec before a House panel.
A private college admissions coach said the anxiety over campus climate was particularly acute in the fall. “Students were terrified about the doxxing trucks, the CEOs calling for protester names, students losing job offers for speaking up about Israel-Palestine,” he said. “That drove some applicants to less-spotlight schools.” But some families, even Jewish families, were not deterred by the bad publicity. “Getting accepted to Harvard is still getting accepted to Harvard,” said Rivka Scheinfeld, whose daughter was accepted.
Overall, Harvard got 54,008 undergraduate applications in this admissions cycle, compared with 56,937 last year, a drop of 5%. That continues a trend that began with early applications, which were down 17%. Regular applications were down by 3%, to 46,087 from 47,384. Harvard said despite the decline, this was the fourth year in a row that the college had got over 50,000 applications.
Pennsylvania saw record applications – 65,230 – a nearly 10% rise from the year before, despite criticism of its then-president, Elizabeth Magill, for her legalistic testimony on antisemitism in the House hearing. One big difference between Harvard and Penn: Magill resigned swiftly – on Dec. 9, four days after her testimony. Gay, who testified the same day, remained president until Jan 2.
Among the Ivies, applications to Brown were down almost 5% from last year, still the third-largest applicant pool it has ever had. A Brown spokesman said some students were put off by a longer application with more essay questions. Yale and Dartmouth said they had got a record number of applications, both up 10% from last year. At Columbia and MIT, which also were in the news because of student protests, applications rose about 5%.


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