Harvard Freshman Applications Drop 1.9% Amid Early Program

Freshman applications to Harvard University for the 2012-2013 academic year fell 1.9 percent after the college reinstated its early application program.

Harvard received 34,285 applications, down from 34,950 a year earlier, William Fitzsimmons, dean of undergraduate admissions, said today. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school joins Ivy League members Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania in reporting declines after years of record increases.

“Even the world of college admissions can’t defy the laws of gravity forever,” Fitzsimmons said in a phone interview. “This may be a chance for everyone to step back and ask the more important question, not whether I should be applying to as many colleges as humanly possible, but focus instead on which college will be the best match.”

Harvard and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, reinstated early programs this year, where students apply in early November and find out whether they’ve been accepted in December, more than three months earlier than regular applications. Students aren’t bound to accept an offer. Those early programs may have led more students to make their college choices earlier and not apply to as many colleges in regular action, Fitzsimmons said.

A drop in the number of high school seniors, particularly in the northeastern U.S., also may have played a role in the applications decline, he said.

Columbia, Penn

Columbia in New York had a decline of 8.9 percent in its freshman applications, a year after the school began accepting the Common Application and experienced a 33 percent increase. The University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, dropped by 1.7 percent.

Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, which released its applications data last week, reported a 5.8 percent increase to 28,870.

Applications for freshman admission are often seen as a proxy for a school’s popularity. A boost in applications makes them appear more selective, based on the percentage of students that are admitted. Harvard admitted 6.2 percent of applicants last year.

Harvard is the wealthiest U.S. university with an endowment valued at $32 billion as of June 30. The cost to attend for the current year is estimated between $56,000 and $60,200 depending on travel costs, according to the school’s website.

More than 70 percent of Harvard College students receive some form of financial aid.

Alumni of the college, founded in 1636, include Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein. President Barack Obama is a graduate of Harvard’s law school.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Lorin in New York jlorin@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net.

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