Harvard College Admits Class of 2028

A smaller undergraduate applicant cohort—the first since Supreme Court ended affirmative action 

Harvard gates, John Harvard statue, Harvard building

1,937 of the 54,008 applicants to the class (3.6 percent) were granted admission. | PHOTOGRAPHS AND MONTAGE BY NIKO YAITANES/HARVARD MAGAZINE

Harvard College today offered regular admission to 1,245 applicants to the class of 2028; combined with the 692 early-action applicants granted admission in December, 1,937 of the 54,008 applicants to the class (3.6 percent) were granted admission. The applicant pool declined 2,929 (5.1 percent) from the 56,937 who applied to the class of 2027 and 11.8 percent from the pandemic-enlarged cohort of 61,220 who sought places in the class of 2026 .

The overall rate of decline in applications this year lessened somewhat from that among the early-action cohort: applicants by the fall deadline decreased by 17 percent (from 9,553 in 2022 to 7,921 in the autumn 2023 cycle).

Nonetheless, in light of the changes in admissions mandated by the Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action last June, and the turmoil on campus last fall, observers and critics may be expected to weigh in from several perspectives on the diminished interest in applying to the College as they seek evidence or draw conclusions about these questions:

With Harvard the highest-profile defendant in the admissions cases, will admissions of black and Hispanic applicants decline (testimony in the trial and appeals suggested that would happen), as prospective applicants hesitate and the College proceeds to make decisions absent consideration of race and ethnicity as part of its holistic review process?

Did prospective black applicants pursue other options, given the harsh attacks on President Claudine Gay, the institution’s first black leader, in the wake of the Hamas terrorism last October 7?

Were Jewish applicants disinclined to pursue a place in the College given the extensive coverage of campus protests and the associated controversies over antisemitism (and related debate about bias against Palestinians and Muslims)?

Answers are not likely to be immediately at hand. To comply with the Supreme Court ruling, the University noted, “Based on advice from counsel, admissions readers will not be accessing applicants’ self-reported race or ethnicity data or aggregated data…at any time until the admissions process has concluded”—presumably, after final admissions from the wait list (if any) this summer. Data on the admitted early-action applicants released in December addressed socioeconomic characteristics, but not the racial or ethnic diversity statistics published in prior years. And admissions officers maintain silence on the other matters—noting, reasonably, that they don’t know why people decide not to apply. For what it is worth, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale each indicated that their undergraduate applications increased about 10 percent this year. But multiple factors may influence Harvard’s results (see “Selective Schools’ Admissions in Flux,” below).

Financial Aid Competition

The College maintained the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative at the level announced last year and applied to the first-year class that enrolled last August. Attending Harvard remains free for children of families with incomes below $85,000: their tuition, housing, food, and fees will be waived. Each eligible student will also receive a $2,000 transition grant to help with move-in and other expenses., and a $2,000 “launch grant” during the junior year to help defray costs in preparing for life after graduation (job searching, for example). The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has to budget aid for both the College and graduate students, whose stipends—under sharp competitive pressure—were boosted substantially for the new academic year; see “Graduate Gains,” March-April, page 21.

The College thus has not increased the no-cost family-income threshold to approach or match peers Princeton (which is fully endowed for financial aid, unlike the FAS) and Stanford, both of which raised their threshold to $100,000 for the class of 2027. Upping the ante, on March 25, Dartmouth announced that a $150-million bequest would enable it to nearly double its free-attendance threshold from $65,000 of family income to $125,000—the highest in the country—effective with the new academic year: entering first-year students, and returning upperclassmen and -women, will be covered. More limited programs at Duke and the University of Virginia now make attendance tuition-free for students from local families with incomes under $150,000 (North and South Carolina) or $100,000 (Virginia), respectively, presenting still more competition.

At Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, roughly one-quarter of undergraduates come from families under the income thresholds.

The Rising Term Bill

Harvard’s term bill—tuition, room, board, and fees—will increase 4.3 percent, to $82,866 (up $3,416 from the current $79,450). That rate of increase is higher than the 3.5 percent imposed in the prior year and 3.0 percent in preceding years. The acceleration may represent an attempt to catch up with inflation measured by the Higher Education Price Index: up 4.0 percent in fiscal year 2023 (down somewhat from the 5.2 percent of fiscal 2022).

For students who received financial aid during the current academic year, the average parent contribution was $13,000.

Class Characteristics and Demographics

According to the announcement, 20.7 percent of accepted applicants qualified for federal Pell grants, awarded to students from lower-income backgrounds, and 20.5 of those admitted are first-generation college students. Both proportions slightly exceed those in the cohort admitted to the class of 2027.

Of those admitted, 53.1 percent are women and 46.9 percent are men. The cohort is, as always, geographically far-flung, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 94 countries beyond the United States. Some 15.4 percent are international students (9.6 percent are dual U.S. citizens). Among those accepted are 21 are veterans; 41 students expressed interest in ROTC.

Data on racial and ethnic diversity are no longer reported with this news release, as noted.

Selective Schools’ Admissions in Flux

Although much may be made of the size of Harvard’s applicant pool, it makes more sense to consider the changing context for admissions at the nation’s relatively few—if unquestionably high-profile—selective colleges and universities. Policies, practices, and prospective applicants’ responses to them are unsettled for numerous reasons, including:

•efforts to construct diverse classes in the wake of the June 2023 Supreme Court decision outlawing consideration of applicants’ race in schools’ holistic reviews of candidates (“The Supreme Court Rules,”September-October 2023, page 14)—and associated changes in outreach and recruiting;

•evolving attitudes toward standardized testing; and

•legacy and other traditional admissions preferences, and new preferences possibly under development now.

•Diversity. Given the court ruling, colleges’ policies for admitting diverse classes clearly must change. Harvard was at the center of the 1978 Bakke decision which defined permissible ways of considering race in admissions—and again in the most recent litigation, which eliminated such practices. So it might be expected that prospective applicants would wonder how the College’s procedures would be altered, beyond the immediate steps taken to comply with the law (removing information about applicants’ race or ethnicity from all files, admission reviews, and aggregate data available during the process). It is a reasonable assumption that defining and promulgating new policies and practices was a high priority for Harvard during this academic year—until the campus turmoil following the October 7 Hamas attacks upended the campus, University leadership, and any existing agenda. As a result, other matters have had to be addressed urgently—but Alan Garber, interim president, has indicated that he will push ahead with work on admissions.

In the meantime, other institutions have more public about the steps they are taking to construct diverse classes while complying fully with the new legal realities. For example, Yale has been outspoken about pursuing outreach to students from lower-income and other communities underrepresented in its undergraduate population, and recently announced that the record cohort of applicants to the class of 2028 “By some measures…set new marks for diversity.” Cornell recently joined QuestBridge, a program through which low-income applicants seek early admission to selective colleges, commit to attend the highest-ranked school with which they match, and receive a full scholarship from the organization. Harvard is now the only Ivy institution not participating, and the College has, generally, been quieter about such matters than several peers.

Two interesting developments bear on what schools can and will do. In February, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the admissions criteria adopted by the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Virginia. It eliminated an entrance exam and began offering admission to the top students from each middle school in its area (versus the top applicants from any school across the district), while also considering the “experience factors” students presented. Data on applicants’ race, sex, and name were withheld from admissions staff. Litigants objected that the effect was discriminatory, but an appeals court upheld the plan and the Supreme Court let that ruling stand. The school’s enrollment shifted from nearly three-quarters to slightly more than one-half Asian American, while becoming more nearly representative of the district’s population overall.

In light of that ruling, people who model admissions have theorized about what selective colleges might do to sustain diverse classes while considering data beyond test scores and applicants’ household income. In one vivid demonstration, a New York Times tool (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2024/03/09/upshot/affirmative-action-alternatives.html) illustrates how admitted classes can be made increasingly diverse racially and ethnically as increased preference is given to applicants based on the relative poverty of their high schools and each applicant’s outperformance compared to peers, combined with more effective outreach to such students who don’t often apply to the most selective colleges. Such preferences would have to be adapted alongside, or in place, of, traditional ones (discussed below).

•Standardized testing. During the pandemic, when it was difficult to sit for the exams, many institutions waived the requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT test scores. Since then, test-optional policies remained widely in place, in part, on the theory that the tests themselves and differential access to private tutoring disadvantage lower-income applicants or students enrolled in under-resourced high schools. Of late, however, the tide has begun to turn. MIT reinstituted a testing requirement, noting that SAT math scores indicate whether applicants have the capacity to take on a highly quantitative curriculum—and reported enrolling its most diverse class.

Citing research on the usefulness of test scores in identifying qualified but overlooked applicants, Dartmouth has reinstated its standardized test requirement beginning with its class of 2029. Yale followed suit, with a “test-flexible” standard requiring SAT, ACT, International Baccalaureate, or Advanced Placement scores. And Brown reinstituted a requirement for SAT or ACT scores. Harvard College remains test-optional through 2030. (Just ahead of today’s announcement about class of 2028 admissions, Emi Nietfeld ’15 argued in favor of mandatory standardized testing from the perspective of a disadvantaged applicant in this New York Times essay, “How the SAT Changed My Life.”) Updated April 11, 2024, 10:40 a.m.: The College today reinstituted mandatory testing for applicants, beginning this fall, as reported here.

•Legacy and other preferences. In March, Virginia outlawed legacy preferences for alumni-related applicants to public colleges; both the University of Virginia and William & Mary, which are selective-admissions schools, are public institutions covered by the measure. Something of a movement may be afoot. Similar legislation, covering all institutions in those states, has been introduced in Minnesota and Connecticut. (Yale has testified against; that state’s legislation would also ban preferences for donors.) In reinstituting its test requirement, Brown decided to retain early decision (thought to disadvantage students who need to compare aid offers) and family preferences (for children of alumni and Brown employees)—but with the latter subject to further review.

As on other matters, Harvard has yet to weigh in on legacies—but a conversation about such preferences, and perhaps how athletic preferences figure into the mix, has surely been percolating here as the College seeks to sustain a broadly diverse class, without resorting to practices now rendered impermissible.

 

In the meantime, the brilliant youngsters just granted admission can be thankful that luck favored them, too, with fewer applicants competing for spot in Harvard College’s class of 2028. Prospective students can kick the tires in person during Visitas, April 14-15, or virtually. They have until the end of the day on Wednesday, May 1, to reply to their offers of admission.

Read the University announcement here.

Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg
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