Harvard Joins Rivals Reporting Record Low Admission Rates

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Harvard (3252), Yale, Princeton and Columbia universities reported record-low freshman admission rates for the 2013-2014 academic year as applications climbed above or held near all-time highs.

Harvard offered seats to 2,029 students, or 5.8 percent of a record 35,023 applicants, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school said yesterday in a statement. Yale accepted 6.7 percent, Princeton offered admission to 7.3 percent and Columbia accepted 6.89 percent, the schools said in statements.

Top U.S. colleges that offer generous financial aid are luring record numbers of applicants even as the cost to attend increases faster than the pace of inflation and the number of high school graduates declines. The Common Application, an online form that lets students apply to multiple schools, has helped drive the surge, said Robin Mamlet, former dean of admissions at Stanford University.

“More students are going for their reach or dream colleges through the use of the Common App,” Mamlet said in a phone interview. In years past, completing laborious paperwork for each school limited the number that most students applied to, Mamlet said. “That barrier has been taken away.”

Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, offered admission to 1,991 students, and expects 1,350 to attend, the college said in a statement. It received 29,610 applications. It admitted 6.8 percent last year.

Princeton accepted 1,931 students from a pool of almost 26,500, and expects about 1,290 to attend, the Princeton, New Jersey-based school said. A year ago, it accepted 7.9 percent, a record low at the time.

Financial Aid

The four schools, which make up half of the northeastern U.S.-based Ivy League, are among the wealthiest universities in the U.S. They are “need blind” institutions, where a student’s ability to pay isn’t taken into consideration for admissions.

Harvard increased its financial-aid budget for the coming year by 5.8 percent to $182 million, the school said earlier this week. Almost 60 percent of the new freshman class will need assistance, said financial-aid director Sarah Donahue.

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Much of the application increase over the past few years has been driven by students seeking Harvard’s aid, said William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, in a phone interview.

Harvard hasn’t increased marketing to potential applicants because it would be “counterproductive to invite people into a pool and then turn them down,” Fitzsimmons said.

Princeton said 60 percent of its current student body receives financial aid, and the average grant in the coming year is expected to be more than $39,000. Tuition, fees, room and board will rise 3.8 percent for the next academic year, totaling $53,250, Princeton said in January.

Ivy-Bound?

Columbia offered freshman seats to 2,311 students out of a pool of 33,500, the New York-based school said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. It accepted 7.4 percent of applicants a year ago, and 6.92 percent in 2011, less than half a percentage point above this year’s rate.

The competition for spots at the most selective colleges is also behind the surge in application numbers as students apply to more schools and cast wider nets, said Brenda Poznanski, president of the New England Association for College Admission Counseling.

“Our high-achieving, No. 1 students are not necessarily Ivy-bound anymore,” said Poznanski, a counselor at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, New Hampshire. “It’s very discouraging to the students. What we try to do is help them see that it’s not personal, it’s not because they’re not good enough.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein are alumni of Harvard. Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush attend Yale. President Barack Obama is an alumnus of Columbia’s undergraduate college, while first lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor attended Princeton.

Students have until May 1 to accept the schools’ offers.

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

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

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