Harvard College Reinstates Early Action

Along with the policy change, the College announced increases in tuition and financial aid for the upcoming year.

Starting in the fall, students will once again have the option of applying to Harvard College under a nonbinding early-action program.

Harvard announced in 2006 that it would eliminate early action and move to a single January 1 application deadline. Administrators voiced concerns that early action favored students from affluent families and communities; at the time, interim president Derek Bok said students of lesser means tended to wait for the later deadline to apply so they could compare financial-aid offers from multiple schools.

But after analyzing trends during the four intervening admissions cycles, the College has found that these patterns are changing, President Drew Faust said in a release announcing the program's restoration: "Over the past several years...interest in early admissions has increased, as students and families from across the economic spectrum seek certainty about college choices and financing. Our goal now is to reinstitute an early-action program consistent with our bedrock commitment to access, affordability, and excellence."

Without the program, said dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, "many highly talented students, including some of the best-prepared low-income and underrepresented minority students, were choosing programs with an early-action option, and therefore were missing out on the opportunity to consider Harvard. We have decided that the College and our students will be best served by restoring an early option." (After Harvard's 2006 announcement, some other schools followed suit; one of those, the University of Virginia, recently reversed course as well.)

Princeton announced a similar policy change the same day. "In eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same and they haven't," Princeton president Shirley M. Tilghman noted. "One consequence is that some students who really want to make their college decision as early as possible in their senior year apply to other schools early, even if their first choice is Princeton."

In a 2003 book review, dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons examined the factors that motivate schools to adopt nonbinding early-action and binding early-decision policies. Harvard has never had a binding early-decision policy, he wrote then, "because we want applicants to have their entire senior year not only to compare financial-aid offers, but to consider carefully whether Harvard provides the best 'fit' for them at this point in their lives." The newly restored early-action program remains nonbinding; students who apply by November 1 will receive a decision and financial-aid information by December 15. Students who apply by the regular deadline of January 1 are notified on April 1; the deadline for all students to declare their intent to attend is May 1.

Harvard College dean Evelynn Hammonds noted that the College has begun several initiatives to ensure that talented low-income and underrepresented minority students consider early action (and consider applying to Harvard in general). These initiatives include: a new program promoting transparency in the admissions process; targeted visits by admissions office staff members to schools where few students apply early to college; increased involvement of undergraduates in the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, and the Undergraduate Admissions Council's Return to High School Program; and enhanced Web features, including a tuition-cost calculator for families and perspectives on life at Harvard from students who receive financial aid.


in conjunction with President Faust’s announcement, the College announced tuition, room, and board costs for the 2011-2012 academic year: a total of $52,560, an increase of 3.8 percent above the current-year total of $50,724.

The College also announced that it would increase undergraduate financial aid next year to a record total of $160 million, up from $158 million in the current year (and from $97 million in 2006). This will allow Harvard to maintain its policy of requiring no contribution from families with annual incomes below $60,000, and of requiring families with incomes up to $180,000 to contribute no more than 10 percent of their income.

As peer institutions announce their tuition and financial-aid figures for the upcoming year, these announcements are revealing a variety of strategies. Princeton put in place its lowest increase in 45 years. Yale, on the other hand, adopted a steeper increase; raised financial aid at the low end of the spectrum—raising the income threshold for no contribution to $65,000—and trimmed financial aid at the upper end.

Meanwhile, some private institutions are lowering their tuition, room, and board costs in order to compete with cheaper public universities; the University of the South (Sewanee) announced such a decision last week.

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