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After Fall Turmoil, Harvard Admissions Dean Says He Is Happy With Application Numbers

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After Harvard was rocked by nonstop controversy last semester, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said his office was heartened to see that application numbers remained consistent with past trends.

“We were, by the way, very pleased to see regular action numbers,” Fitzsimmons said in a Thursday interview with The Crimson.

Some higher education observers speculated that Harvard might see a massive drop-off in applications after a tumultuous year for the University — including a loss at the Supreme Court, a donor revolt, and the resignation of former President Claudine Gay.

Instead, the University received more than 50,000 applications for the fourth year in a row and witnessed its admissions rate only jump slightly from last year. Now, the College must shift from encouraging high school students to apply to convincing admitted students to join the Class of 2028.

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Fitzsimmons said that “any good admissions person” could see the College’s yield rate moving in either direction.

In the face of recent crises, there is no way to predict whether or not yield will rise or fall, he said.

The Class of 2028 — the first admissions cycle since the fall of affirmative action — forced Harvard to work closely with its lawyers to ensure it could adhere to the law in a substantially different admissions landscape.

“Over the summer, we made changes,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we were doing it absolutely to, not just the spirit, but the letter of the law.”

Many experts have predicted that the Class of 2028 will be less diverse than previous ones, a consequence of affirmative action’s fall last summer. However, Harvard will not release data on the racial composition of its newly admitted class until its makeup is confirmed — which will only happen after waitlist decisions are finalized, a process which may lead into the summer.

Harvard did, however, release some data about the socioeconomic composition of its accepted class. This year’s admissions cycle saw a 1.7 percent increase in Pell Grant-eligible admits from last year.

“I, as a first-gen student, of course, was particularly happy to see that and to see the Pell numbers,” Fitzsimmons said. “That is the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of recruiting.”

As Harvard shifted away from race-based policies, it has prioritized the recruitment of low-income and first-generation students. This year, the College joined the Small Town Outreach, Recruitment, and Yield consortium, a collection of universities that work to recruit applicants from rural backgrounds.

“If you care about making sure that talented people from all over the country and all over the world see that it’s possible to go to a great university like this — the financial aid is there, the opportunities are there — it can make a difference,” Fitzsimmons said.

“I don’t think anybody is more aggressive than Harvard is recruiting,” he added.

During the interview, Fitzsimmons also sidestepped questions about the future of Harvard’s test optional policy, which is increasingly under scrutiny as peer schools return to standardized testing.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra told The Crimson earlier this month that Harvard is still “in the midst of analyzing” whether it will extend the policy, and Fitzsimmons had nothing to add beyond Hoekstra’s comments.

Currently, the College has committed to remaining test-optional through the admitted Class of 2030.

“Any decision like that is a University-wide decision,” Fitzsimmons said, acknowledging that a return to standardized testing would require approval at the highest levels of the administration.

“Certainly interim President Garber and the Harvard Corporation, I know, would be interested,” he said. “That’s way above my pay grade.”

Fitzsimmons, who is in his 38th year leading the admissions and financial aid office, did not indicate when he expects to retire.

“Not yet,” he said. “We’ll take it a year at a time.”

Instead, Fitzsimmons said that he believes in the importance of his work as dean at a time when the University is facing challenges on multiple fronts.

“Harvard is never dull,” he said. “I love a crisis.”

—Staff writer Elyse C. Goncalves can be reached at elyse.goncalves@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @e1ysegoncalves or on Threads @elyse.goncalves.

—Staff writer Matan H. Josephy can be reached matan.josephy@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @matanjosephy.

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